As part of the usual New Year’s resolutions I make (and remake) each year (e.g. exercise more, eat less, etc.), I decided to go back to my acrylic painting roots. In high school as part of my final year portfolio, I played with acrylic paints and mediums to paint a series of abstract self-portraits. It was a good experience to have to generate a large body of work on a single theme, but I can’t say that I really learned much the potential of acrylic paints and mediums (aside from trying to dry them faster with my hair dryer the night before a deadline). I am going to try to keep one of my many resolutions – try new things, or better yet – get back to basics!
I had been doing my usual deep dive into a subject by collecting books on acrylic painting and mediums with an eye to doing mixed media applications (still my main interest). In addition to reading, I also watched a number of DVDs – my favourite artist by far is Chris Cozen – she is a fun and enthusiastic teacher – educator first, artist second. She has a book out with Julie Prichard, “Acrylic Solutions” and several DVDs. I’ve always been interested in learning about glazing with acrylics, and Chris has a DVD just on glazing – plus, tons of other great tips!
My first step in my acrylic painting journey started with prepping my substrate – 90 lbs watercolour paper. I always find it to be more efficient to perform experiments in bulk – steamline all that repetition. I prepped a series of watercolour sheets with stripes of different coloured grounds – beige -tinted clear gesso, white gesso and black gesso, plus a mix of the white with each to see how paints performed over a varied colour base.
I started with a 1:1 mix of Titan Buff mixed with clear gesso, mixed well with a spatula and then painted on with a broad bristle brush on to the end of the watercolour paper.
White gesso was painted next in the centre stripe of the paper. Next, I used a cosmetic sponge wedge to pounce both the beige gesso mixture and white gesso in the column between the solid light colours to give a varied background colour.
I rotated the paper to paint the other outer edge of the paper with black gesso and also pounced with the sponge wedge in the column between the black and centre white gesso stripes. This gave me a prepped watercolour paper substrate with different colour underpainting.
Once completely dry, I divided the painted paper into each nine one-inch strips (the paper was 9 x 12 inches), twelve inches long. I used a paper cutter to cut each of the strips.
My goal now was to create a series of colour swatches of all my acrylic paints. By painting each colour over the different underpainted zones, I could see how sheer or opaque the coloured glaze would be. Plus, now I would also see how strongly pigmented different brands of paint were, and be able to compare and contrast for whichever shade of blue I needed in the future. Using an Excel spreadsheet, I entered each paint colour’s name, type of paint (e.g. fluid, solid body, etc.), brand and reference number in a separate column – this information would be used to make labels for each paint colour swatch.
I went through each batch of paints in groups of ten, doing some mild eye-balling of colours to pick colour families. I also had ten paintbrushes ready to go (I would clean them after each set was complete) and deli paper to wipe off excess paint (no need to waste good paint).
I used about a quarter-sized amount of Golden’s Acrylic Glazing Liquid (Satin) and a drop of the Golden Fluid acrylic paint. I wanted to get a sense of how each paint colour would act a glaze and get a sense of the pigment load – so lots of glazing liquid to paint ratio!
You can see how the colour pops over the white, warms up in tone over the beige and disappears over the black. You can also see how a tonal variation in the underpainting also gives some structure and volume to the painted colour.
Excess paint on the brush is brushed on to deli paper which can then be used later on as a collage element in a mixed media paining. If matte gel medium is applied to the art work as an adhesive, the frosted look of the deli paper disappears and the paint will appear to ‘float’ over the collage surface.
Knowing that I was going to generate a lot of painted deli paper, I used a clothing drying rack to hang each wet deli paper. I use this system when doing Gelli monoprints, generating lots of wet artwork at fast rate.
After repeating all these steps for each one of my acrylic paints, I organized all my painted strips into a big colour family, starting with warm tones and ending with cool tones. You can see that some paints were actually visible over the black, indicating that they are fairly opaque and not a good choice for glazing.
I divided each set of painted strips into groups of 12, which gave an overall sized square of 12 x 12 inches. I applied each cut out paper label (from the Excel sheet prepared earlier and printed) with a glue stick to its corresponding reference number. Next, I applied blue decorator’s tape in strips to hold down the painted paper strips, without masking the labels.
This taped 12 x 12 painted square fits inside a scrapbook clear plastic page protector and can be stored inside a scrapbook three ring binder (found at any big-box craft store). This gives you an easy to see swatch of each paint colour tone, and its name, band and type of paint. Plus it lets you see the paint opacity/transparency over a variety of underpainted substrates.
This acrylic glazing experiment was a a bit labour-intensive, but it also a fairly Zen-like process – one that gives a me a great reference tool to all of my paint colours and what they actually look like when dry on a substrate.