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Acrylic Mediums

Acrylic Mediums

Since I started on a painting tangent yesterday with my Caffeinated Artwork post, I thought I’d continue today and share my second love, Acrylic Mediums.  Now, now, don’t run away yet!  I used to make that SAME FACE when someone suggested I try acrylics, too.  When the topic of acrylics came up, I’d think of the thick, fast-drying, hard to blend and work with stuff handed out in elementary and high school art class that just kind of…well, it just kinda sucked, to be totally frank.

 So let me begin by layin’ a little science on yo’ brain.  Mediums are acrylic polymers without the pigment added to it (i.e. just the plastic, Jack), and are used to alter the behavior and finished product of acrylic paint.  So basically it takes an already versatile medium and adds untold layers of potential into ANY application.  (By the way, this blog post here actually gives a great explanation of some of the various types of acrylics, check it out if your brains are feeling hungry!)

 After one of my college professors recommended that I explore working with acrylics, I spent some time doing a little research on the possibilities.  Needless to say, after only a short time spent viewing the work of any number of talented artists, I was hooked!  I headed off for a trip to the art supply store!

 The first time I walked to the acrylics section, I have to admit I was suddenly overwhelmed.  Here in front of me were more bottles, tubs, jars, and tubes of different types of acrylic mediums, in several different brands (which mean that two might be similar but still slightly different) than I had imagined possible; things that I had seen being used in my research and other things I hadn’t .  Sometimes the names are helpfully descriptive, like Fiber Paste or Glass Bead Gel, while others are far more difficult to interpret or guess about the uses for without a little more information, like GAC-100 or other formula names.

 I was lucky enough to find a 6 pack sampler of several different modeling pastes and mediums from Liquitex (though I think that I noticed Golden was promoting a similar type sampler pack with some different mediums included as well).  I also found an Iridescent Medium that I was completely enthralled with.  [I’m not actually promoting that you choose one of these brands over any other, I just want to be as clear about what I found available to me as possible, since I’m still exploring which brands I prefer.]  I also bought one book in particular that I found to be particularly helpful and inspirational, called “Rethinking Acrylic: Radical Solutions For Exploiting The World’s Most Versatile Medium” by Patti Brady.   This book totally blew my mind and really opened my eyes to some of the incredible things being done in acrylics these days, it gives a lot of great information as well as exploring a wide variety of techniques without becoming totally overwhelming.

Finished Canvas

So the project I’m going to share with you is a rose I painted.  The shimmering of the Iridescent Medium is tricky to capture with a camera, so there are a few different shots of the finished product at the bottom of this post.  These photos were taken one immediately following the other at slightly different angles and positions in the room to try to show how much the actual painting varies in luminescence.

The Original Photo Reference

The finished piece is acrylic on canvas.  I found a photo of a rose that I really liked, but felt that there was too much noise going on in the background so I opted to focus on the rose and the two most prominent leaves.  As the original was a full-color photo, I considered using an opposing color scheme, but after more consideration, I decided to go with a grey-scale approach.

I started by tracing the outline of the rose and leaves using my lightbox, and then scanned the outline into Photoshop, where I greatly increased the size of the picture, cropped the image to heighten the sense of drama, and sectioned it into quarters, printing each quarter onto a page.  After using the light-box again to cover the back of the outlines with white charcoal, I taped the quarters onto a canvas I had prepared with black gesso.  After tracing and transferring the lines in white charcoal onto the canvas, I spent a little time tweaking the outline.

Phase 1, The Charcoal Transfer

I went over the white charcoal with a white acrylic paint marker, and then went back and intensified the lines with a brush and white acrylic paint.  I attempted to add dimension and style by varying my line weights.

Phase 2, The Outline

I used a mixture of Liquitex Iridescent Medium, Liquitex Slow-Dri Blending Medium, white acrylic paint, and in some areas a little water to do the fill.  This has given a very luminescent quality to the image, inspiring thoughts of moonlight. I essentially wanted to have a translucent gossamer feel to the overall piece, something completely opposite to the organic, color-filled original picture.

So what do you think?  Got the guts to try some acrylic mediums for yourself?  If you do, I want to know what you tried, what you liked, what you didn’t, and if any of this was any help to you! I’m telling you, once I kicked the door down, there was no going back.  Keep an eye out for the next installment of acrylic mediums, where I take on the 3rd dimension!

Caffeinated Artwork

In an effort to step away from recipe blogging for a hot minute, I thought I’d share a painting technique I really enjoy.  Obviously my influences come from my career as a tattoo artist and my background in watercolors, but I think this is something that can be easily mastered and used to enhance a lot of differently styled projects.  Also, it makes your artwork smell kinda yummy.

 I decided, not so long ago, that it was high time that I get myself a professional website with which to promote my artwork (although, to date, it’s not up yet so you’ll have to sate your eyeballs’ cravings for artwork on my Facebook Fan Page or my Deviant Art Page).  Since Adam has built webpages for a living in the past, I put him on the job.  We decided on a domain name, got it registered with a host and now it’s on to the tougher parts!  I decided that I’d like to paint the background textures to be used for my site.  Since the focus is going to be photographs of my artwork and tattoos, I want to avoid excessive colors that might mute the brightness of the images.   One of my favorite ways to introduce monochromatic texture into a watercolor painting (which tends to be my painting medium of choice for the moment) is by using something called a coffee wash.

Many artists (especially tattoo artists who paint flash) use the coffee wash technique to tone the painting, or to make a piece look aged or antique.  Some use tea, some coffee, there are even artists who paint using only these as their pigments.   It’s a fun and easy way to add texture to a design without taking away from the focus, and can make painting of a tattoo design look more like it would on the skin, since skin isn’t paper white, but tinted to varying degrees.  Using coffee wash can yield a great variety of textures and can provide an excellent vehicle for creative unblocking and abstract play.

Coffee wash is often seen in the artwork generated by the tattoo community, such as seen in the work of Angelique Houtkamp for example.  (She’s totally one of my favorite artists lately, I just love her style)

So where to get started?   I like to work on watercolor paper, though some prefer Bristol board.  The bottom line is that it’s all personal preference and experimentation is your BFF.  As you can see in the photo, for this exercise, I taped four squares cut from one larger sheet with masking tape to separate my effects but allow me to work fairly closely together.  (Once again, you can see that clearly I don’t do anything halfway…or with much patience for drying time, though I’m working on that)

the highly organized creation station

As you can see from this picture, I like to keep a variety of sizes and shapes of paintbrushes on hand, as well as a clear-water rinse for my brushes.  In the center, you can see a cup of coffee that was leftover in the coffeepot this morning.  Some people have ideas about instant coffee or brewing the coffee extra strong to make darker tints.  I’ve generally just used coffee that sat on the burner all morning, but just like any other watercolor, you can layer to make it darker as needed once the initial wash dries.  The one thing I do need to mention is that the washes ALWAYS dry darker than they look!  Sometimes it looks like nothing is happening at all, you walk away for 10 minutes and BOOM, suddenly there’s this crazy cool looking stuff going on all over the paper you were about to give up as a “redo”.

 Now there are a variety to effects that can be created by simply wetting the surface evenly with the coffee and then allowing it to settle or dry unevenly by periodically adding drops, drips, splatters or streaks as the initial wash slowly dries, as seen in this close-up.

Drips and Dribbles, all dried up

Another approach involves adding things to the drying process.  After flooding the paper with coffee and allowing either an even amount of settling, or by adding wetter strokes/areas, sprinkle salt over the area and allow to dry flat.

The salts I happend to have on hand in the pantry

Try both coarse and fine grain salt, as well as varying the concentration of your sprinkles, you’ll be amazed by how varied they can each be when you play with them a little!

Salty, just like me

The salt grains melt and push the stain into feathery lines as it dries.  Once it’s completely dry, you can remove the excess salt (gently) with a soft gum eraser.  There are any number of other wonderful techniques described in detail here that can be applied to coffee wash experimentation, so give it a try!  I’d love to see what you came up with!