Category Archives: 5.2 Adding other materials

5.2.1 preparing a textured ground

Here are two paintings I’ve done for this exercise


The experience of painting purely abstractly, with no outcome in mind, and on a relief surface was completely new to me in all respects.  In both paintings I followed the course suggestions, starting with an overall midtone, adding dark areas in the flatter parts of the surface, and then applying highlights to exaggerate the relief effects, and that worked, but I did fail rather to develop simple, coherent designs for my paintings.

I felt uneasy about having no design in mind at the outset.  The outcomes reflect my confusion, particularly the second painting, which is over-busy and lacks a coherent idea.  The first  painting is more successful because it has one definite characteristic, harmonious colour.

Nevertheless, the value of this exercise for me has been the experience gained in using textured surfaces, and making a first step on the road to abstraction.


I started exploring the use of textured surfaces earlier in the course.  For the exercise ‘Telling a Story’ I scratched into thick gesso with harsh stabbing marks to make the connection between subject and use of media.  In part 4, in my Meadow painting,  I incorporated dried grasses, seed heads, flowers, texture paste and pva glue, some applied to the surface, others between layers of paint.  For his exercise I used 300gsm mixed media gessoed paper for both surfaces.

My first textured surface for this exercise has similar ingredients to Meadow, but applied before painting, and more thickly and densely, so that texture will become a more significant part of the composition.  I also scattered on some metallic beads, cutouts of card and globs of solid acrylic paint from the top of my tubes.  I’m not sure about a dried flower, which wouldn’t be glued down in the middle, leaving space between it and the support…we’ll have to see how that turns out.  I gave the whole thing a couple of coats of white gesso then collaged on two torn out butterfly images from a magazine.



I read that Jackson Pollock’s Full Fathom Five‘s 1947 incorporates nails, tacks, coins, buttons, key, cigarettes, matches, artists oil paints applied with brushes and palette knives, in its dense, encrusted canvas surface.  Pours of black and aluminium paint crisscross these under layers. Encouraged by this to be more ambitious, my second surface has a collection of rags, lace, tassels, wool and a zip; and buttons and beads set into texture paste, the whole crisscrossed with pva lines.  Two coats of white gesso were followed by a few images from a fashion page in a magazine, stuck on with pva.



My surfaces were now ready. Painting with this amount of texture represents a whole new dimension for me, literally and figuratively, so I didn’t really know how to start; I decided to paint follow my nose, choosing colours, tools, where and how to apply the paint intuitively, as the mood took me.  It would be a learning process anyway, and I expected to make ‘mistakes’.

Starting with the first prepared surface (above), deciding to go with the idea of a carpet of grasses, flowers, leaves etc, I mixed phth green and lemon yellow and quickly painted all over,  which left some parts white.  Then dribbled yellow and blue acrylic ink from the top.  Left to dry then quickly painted indigo in varying concentrations in patches using a wide, flat brush held flat, sort of dragging it softly from right to left over the surface.  This I found left lots of skips on the right side of raised elements.  I remembered the advice to place darks in flat areas to exaggerate the relief effect so went back in with indigo and placed some darks more carefully.  This had the predicted effect, and really highlighted the central flower head.  Following the suggestion to then add highlights I placed some of my original green mix, mixed with tit white, and then a tint of lemon yellow, with a palette knife, carefully highlighting raised areas of texture especially the scattered rice beads.  Standing back and assessing the effects constantly, I made more adjustments with darks and lights until I was satisfied. Here’s my painting at various stages, the final one taken after varnishing and lit from the side to accentuate the relief.

One observation is that with this painting it was harder to judge when it was ‘finished’…in fact I think perhaps I could never categorically say that.  I’m satisfied with the final stage…although I think the first version above is more unified.  Perhaps more subtle highlights would have been good.

The two butterfly images were almost obliterated, but remained just visible as a dark, warm contrast, which I accentuated in the final version with a few touches of burnt sienna. I think they lift the painting and attract the eye.

As for the process generally, I was quite amazed and surprised at the effects that were easily produced using a relief surface, brush  and a palette knife.  It’s a different way of painting that will be fun to explore, and that will need lots of experience to exploit to the full.


The second surface is more extreme relief, over 1cm in places.  With no experience of painting on such a surface it was difficult to know where to start.  The theme is dressmaking, or my sewing box, so I thought I’d retain and exaggerate some of the shapes – teeth of zip, discs of buttons, triangular tassels, and the pattern of lace snaking through.  This time I wanted the collaged photos to be visible and form a focal point in the final version, so the paint colours I select should complement the colours of the photos.  All this seemed to call for a more controlled application of paint than in the first painting.

I started with burnt sienna painted overall, but leaving the collaged images and some white spaces untouched where the brush skipped over the relief.  a very dark layer of indigo/Prussian blue mix followed, leaving shapes created by textural lines. Now I thought about highlights.  Slowly I built them up in cad yellow, phth green, pr blue and pr magenta/napth red mix, just following my eye as I stood back and pondered frequently how my design was developing.  I could never call this finished; it could change forever like a chameleon and change character many times.  I left it at the stage above as I quite like the design of dark and light values, warm and cool colours, and intriguing shapes, textures and marks.  The collage integrates with the whole; the main image, the girl, remains the focus and anchor point in a busy surface.




5.2.2 mixing materials into paint

This was a great technical exercise in which I started to experience the potential outcomes of adding various materials to my paint.  They’re described below, with my observations.  

I can see great potential for developing these ideas to use in real paintings.  Many of the textures would readily lend themselves to describing natural subjects such as elements of the landscape – trees, rough ground, grass and scrub.  They’d also enhance the interest in abstract paintings, adding a further dimension of interest and variety of surface.  

But the real advantage of these techniques and those in the previous exercises in part 5 (creating textured surfaces) is their potential to become a powerful expressive tool.  My mind keeps coming back to one in particular of my paintings – Man and Boy, which although a powerful subject competently painted, disappointingly lacked painterly expression.  I handled it then in the way of ‘painting in an illustration’, without feeling the connection between subject and use of materials.  If I were doing that painting now I’d approach it very differently, developing the techniques learned so far in part 5 to express and communicate my ideas more effectively.



Mixing materials into paint…what I did

Collected some materials, mixed them with cheap acrylic paint and did some tryouts on scraps of paper, using a palette knife to apply the mixes.


The texture varied according to the relative proportions of paint and added materials; if I added a lot it became more solid, or mortar-like and harde to manipulate; less material added meant the paint was more spreadable. 


Looking at the textured effects, from top left to bottom right :-

  • Chilli pepper seeds and stalks.  Gives a natural look, could be used for texture in the foreground of a landscape to suggest eg leaf litter, soil etc.  Interesting using two different materials in one mix.
  • Coarse sea salt also gave a natural looking texture, clumping together in the fairly solid mixture I made
  • Loose tea leaves makes an even, rough texture with low relief compared to the previous two
  • Vermicelli is unusual – could be ordered to resemble grass.  An interesting one.
  • Little round pieces of soup pasta make a nice bubbly, high relief texture
  • Cloves are very big for this work, but could be used to good effect in a large scale painting with a thick, crusty surface
  • Granite flakes make a crackled texture
  • Black lava texture gel may be more noticeable in a more transparent colour – this opaque blue swallows it up, but leaves a gritty surface
  • Same gel plus chilli seeds mixed –  it could be interesting to mix materials of different sizes in one paint application, it gives more variety to the texture
  • Glass powder taken from a bag and of builders materials, also gives a nice gritty texture without the black of the lava get.  I made a lot of this mix so painted it on thickly and created further texture by pushing it around and scratching into it with my palette knife
Painting other colours over the textured areas, in patches and in washes.
Using a flat brush, held at a shallow angle to the support, paint adheres to the raised areas and skips over the valleys, accentuating the texture. (Pools of paint created by this technique need longer to dry, as I found by trial and error…I need to be aware of this if I want to keep layers of different colours from mixing.)
Using a palette knife to scrape the second layer across the textured area accentuates the texture even more.  This is the way to go if I want to paint my raised areas a different colour to the flatter areas.
I found I’d mixed in too much salt for the quantity of paint, and brushing loosened it – a lesson learned.
I painted both a solid patch and a loose wash over the tea leaves.  Because of the lower relief, the base coat was thoroughly dry before I applied the loose wash, and I got a good, distinct separation of turquoise over pink. 
I squeezed paint from the tube along the short edges of the glass powder tryout, and scraped them down the length of the paper towards the middle with a palette knife.  
Adding highlights
Now my textures started to really come alive with the simple addition of highlights in contrasting colours on the raised surfaces.
Yellow acrylic ink collected in the valleys between the granite flakes, while the flakes themselves were a yellow-pink blend.
I brushed a very dilute wash of yellow over the lava, holding the brush almost flat…yellow pigment collected around the small grits, creating an overall green textured area.  
The two different types of pasta took highlights very well with a palette knife, giving useful textures.   The cloves are really too big.
After the photo below I varnished a couple of the tryouts with dilute pva, and brushed another with iridescent copper paint to help highlight the relief.  I particularly like the copper paint; when I move around, looking at the surface from different angles, and lighting from the side, the image changes.