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Lesson 1
Acrylic Painting
Introduction & Supplies

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Learn The Basics

free acrylic painting lesson In this lesson, I will cover supplies and assistive tools and how they are used. This includes more than just the necessary items such as brushes, paints, special mediums, and painting surface. I will also cover photographs, computer/printer, rulers and other items, and describe how they can be very effective helpers.

This lesson covers painting with acrylics. Although some of the techniques and supplies are also used in oils, this lesson is specific to acrylic painting.

Acrylic Paint

acrylic paint There are many brands of acrylic paint to choose from. I have used Liquetex, Golden and Grumbacher. All can be purchased at most arts and crafts stores (Michaels, Dick Blick and others). I use Grumbacher for most of my work; I like the Liquetex Heavy Body Titanium White when I want a thick paint effect. It is good for mixing with thinner paints and hues.

Some colors cover well alone; others are much thinner and need to be mixed with a thicker paint, such as Titanium White.

In the image, the Payne's Gray is thin, compared to the Heavy Body Deep Green. The texture of the canvas board shows through more with the Payne's Gray. The heavier body (green) adds opacity, as well as texture to the brush strokes. The bottom row of paints are the same as the top row, but mixed with Heavy Body Titanium White. The paint goes on much heavier, and the strokes are more visible. Adding heavy body titanium white is very helpful when there is a need to cover darker colors in an underlying layer. Mixing in this way also adds "shading". Adding one color to one side of the brush, and another color, such as white, to the opposite side of the brush is called "loading the brush". I will show this technique in a future lesson. Hues are thinner paints. They can be used alone, or added to heavier body paints.

Mediums & Primers

gesso, glazing, molding gel Mediums are used for adding texture and body to paints and surfaces - or changing reflective qualities. Gesso is used to prime the surface. Adding more layers of gesso can assist in smoothing out the surface. It can alsoadd texture, depending on how it is applied. Glazes thin paint and can also add a sheen (increase reflection - nice when painting a water surface).

Primers are used to create a surface that the paint can attach to. Gesso is used as a primer; it can also change the texture of the surface (see the paragraph below on gesso). Gesso can be clear or white. White is usually the type used for priming. Use clear if you wish to add color to the gesso. Black gesso primer is also available; I have not used it so cannot comment. It would be interesting to try.

I like to add molding gel and gesso for interesting textures on the surface of a painting. Add the gel or gesso with a brush, or other item, drag the brush to create the desired effect, then let it dry before painting.

gesso, glazing, molding gelI used this method for creating textures in my kitchen tulip painting. The gel created a dull surface when painted; the gesso created a raised texture, but was not as dull when painted. The photograph has shading, which shows the texture. I was very happy with the effect.

Painting Surface

Acrylic paint can be used on many different surfaces, including wood, glass, paper, gesso board and others. I use stretched canvas, canvas board or gesso board. Canvas is either cotton or linen. Linen is more expensive, and is said to remain more flexible over time due to its natural oils. It comes in rough or smooth textures. The canvas I use is a cotton duck cloth, and I use the highest quality cotton canvas offered by a store. For a finer texture, I sometimes add more layers of gesso. A heavy cotton canvas will retain its shape better over time (important if stretched around a bar - see "gallery wrapped" below).

canvas board Canvas Board: A canvas board is a hard surface, rather than in a somewhat flexible surface (such as gallery wrapped, or stretched, canvas). The canvas is pulled around a board and the edges stapled or glued onto the back of the board. A few layers of gesso have been applied (meaning it has been primed), and it is ready for painting. A canvas board has no sides to paint, although there is a thin edge that can be painted if the board will not be framed. Canvas boards are usualy framed. I have also seen canvas boards mounted onto wood or other surfaces. I scan my paintings to create prints and cards, which is more easily done with a hard, flat surface. I have tried various brands of board and find that I like the Fredrix Pro Series Dixie 12 oz Cotton Archival Canvas Board.

gesso wood panel Gessobord - Gessoed Wood Panel: A pre-gessoed wood panel provides a surface that is very smooth - like a Formica counter top. It doesn't have the texture that canvas has, so is wonderful for tiny, detailed work.

gesso board acrylic painting When I first used it, I wasn't sure I liked it. The paint slid around a bit. After getting used to the feel, I decided I liked it for detailed work. I was able to create tiny details in the lighthouse painting. I used the Museum Series Gessobord by Ampersand shown above.

MDF Board: MDF (medium density fiber) board can be purchased at most home improvement type stores. It is made from wooden fibers that have been compressed with glues under high pressure. It must be primed before use. It is inexpensive, and can be purchased in sheets for cutting to your desired sizes.

stretched canvas gallery wrapped Gallery Wrapped Canvas (Stretched Canvas): Canvas can be stretched over a board frame. The canvas edges are stapled onto the back of the frame. The frame is made of four bars (and reinforced in the corners in the larger sizes of frame). The canvas is called "gallery wrapped" because there are sides that are painted; therefore, a frame is not necessary. The painting is ready to be hung when finished. There are pros and cons. Which is pro and which is con depends on your own tastes and preferences. The canvas is flexible, rather than hard - sort of like painting on a flexible drum. Also, the sides must be painted (the image can wrap around the sides, or the sides can be painted a solid color). There is no need for a frame, which saves expense. Gallery wrapped canvas is wonderful for large paintings because it is not as heavy as a solid wood panel.


acrylic paint brushes free painting lesson There are a wide variety of brushes. They vary in shape, size, stiffness, and quality. I actually love some of my old, frazzly, well worn brushes, because they give me some nice brush strokes.

Size: The higher the number, the larger the brush. I start out with a size 8. I lay down my background colors with a size 8 (sky and ground). By the time I am adding detail, I am down to a size 2 or 1 (or even a zero).

Basic Shapes: The painting end of a brush can be chiseled (flat - with a thin edge) and straight across, with bristles that are longer than the width of the bristles area (called a Flat Brush), shorter flat brush with bristle length and width almost the same (Bright), or flat and rounded all the way across (Filbert). Or, the brush can have a blunt end, that can be straight or angled (Deer Foot brush). The brush might be very fine, with just a few bristles (used for detail). A Round brush does not have a chiseled edge - the bristles come out from a circular base, and the end can be pointed, very pointed, or very fine. There are also variations of these shapes, such as angled flat brush. Fan brushes are flat, with bristles that come out in a fan shape from the base.

Special Shapes: I use brushes that are old and worn due to the effects I can get from them. I have a brush that used to be used for detail, that I call my frazzled brush. It is perfect for creating "trees".

Flexible vs Stiff: I prefer a stiff brush when doing fine detail (such as writing my name, or adding fine lines). At other times I might prefer a more flexible brush - one that bends a bit when I apply pressure. This spreads out the paint more. There is no right or wrong - experiment with brushes to discover your preferences. Flexibility changes with quality and materials used for the bristles.

Price: Prices range from a few dollars to much more expensive ($55.00 and more per brush). I use the best quality found at arts and crafts stores ($5 - $25 or so). I am starting to use more expensive brushes on some of my work. I prefer my brushes to be somewhat stiff (very stiff for detail), and I do not get that with inexpensive brushes. Also, really inexpensive brushes do not manage paint well. Practice with various brands and choose what works for you.

Sources Of Inspiration

using photograph for painting Plein Air: Many painters paint in a real life setting, with the scene or object of the painting within site. This is called Plein Air Painting. The actual scene is before them. If outdoors, a large easel is usually used. This is a wonderful method of painting.

Photographs: What if the scene you wish to paint is not within a distance you can easily cover? I grew up in the Northwest, and love mountains and coastal scenes. I now live in the desert Southwest. Photographs are an essential part of my work. I travel and collect numerous photos. When I get back to my home studio, I get out my photos and go through them. Photography was a hobby of mine for years before I started painting, and I have turned many of my favorite photos (or mixture of different photos) into paintings. I view them on my computer, and often work from several. My purpose is not to copy the photograph; I use it for inspriration, analysis on perspective, and refreshing my memory.

Memory Or Feeling: I was looking out past the top of my back yard fence one morning, and noticed a very pretty Mexican Bird Of Paradise. I liked how it caught the light. The scene wasn't very pretty - it was a pretty shrub that showed above the corner of a yard, with two block fences meeting next to it. Late in the day, I was talking to my friend about the pretty shrub. She described her Tucson garden to me, stating that it was now full of butterflies.

computer sketch for painting I quickly sketched the image of the actual shrub, but added what I could imagine from her garden description. I wanted a pretty scene for my Mexican Bird Of Paradise. I used a computer to lay out the composition in the actual size of my canvas board. The painting isn't of any actual place - it is a mixture of what I saw, felt and imagined. That is the basis of most of my paintings.

using computer sketch for painting I was quite happy with the final painting. It captured what I had seen, felt and imagined.

Special Tools

grid transfer image to canvas paintingOther items that I use are: water cup, spray bottle, chalk, pencil, paper towel, saran wrap, large ruler, carbon paper, and copier for enlarging images.

I usually paint from memory or imagination. If, however, if I wish to keep proportions of an actual place or sketch I have made, it helps to create the image on the computer (or use a photograph), then print it out in the size of the canvas (I change to gray scale). I then transfer the image onto the canvas using carbon paper. If the image is smaller than the canvas size, a grid system can be used. In the example shown, my actual paper was small, but I set each square to equal 12". I then made small marks on my canvas 12" apart, then free hand drew the image onto the canvas using my marks as guides.

grid transfer image to canvas painting This is the finished product. Although my drawing (based on a photograph) was small, it created a painting that was 24" x 48".

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