Although many of the materials used in acrylic painting–paint, brushes, mediums, and a surface–will be familiar to any painter, to approach acrylic in the same way you would oil or watercolor, for example, would inhibit you from exploiting the medium’s full capabilities. The more you know about acrylic, the better prepared you are to explore the unique characteristics of this versatile medium, experimenting and varying techniques to suit your needs.
There are two choices for thinning acrylic paint: water or acrylic medium. Water breaks down the binder in acrylic, thinning the paint so that it looks like watercolor and allows it to sink into the surface, resulting in a matte finish. Acrylic medium minimizes the need for the addition of water and allows the paint to sit on top of the surface, maintaining a rich, glossy appearance. The amount of water you add depends on the desired effect and the surface. Adding up to 30 percent water to acrylic paint thins it but still allows it to coat a surface. Adding 60 percent or more water creates a watery paint application called a wash. Rubbing a wash into an absorbent surface so that only a hint of the color remains is called a stain.
Similarly, adding more or less medium to acrylic paint creates different qualities. Up to 30 percent medium added to paint will thin it, but still allow it to coat the surface. Adding 60 percent or more medium creates more transparency, often called a glaze.
Learn more >>> Acrylic Painting for Beginners (eMagazine) from Acrylic Artist
A watercolor painter who harbored admiration of impasto oil painters, Bev Jozwiak has found a happy medium in acrylics.
By Amanda Metcalf
From family beach vacations to children at play, Bev Jozwiak‘s subjects are the stuff of countless family photo albums. Her thick acrylic brushstrokes, however, capture the energy and feeling of the candid moment better than any camera ever could.
The Camera’s Role in the Process
Don’t be mistaken, however. Jozwiak loves her camera and the thousands of reference photos it’s produced. So pervasive is the camera in her life that her kids and grandkids ignore it. Years ago, when her daughter Briley was in a wedding, the photographer had to instruct Briley to look into the camera.
Jozwiak loves the authenticity, the real-life feel of truly candid pictures. Many of her paintings, such as Universal Canvas, depict the subjects from behind. “I don’t like people to know I’m photographing them,” she says, adding that she prefers to capture them “doing their everyday thing, not posed.”
Frankly, that approach sells better, too, she explains. It’s easier to project one’s own experiences onto the paintings that don’t include detailed, recognizable faces, she says, adding that she often hears viewers of her art say, “That looks like my kid.”
Jozwiak takes 50 or 60 photos for every few she prints out for reference. Still, she has about 10 boxes of categorized photos that come out during her downtime. (Ballet, birds, and beach represent just the Bs in her collection.) So “watching TV” actually means having background noise playing while flipping through her boxes for inspiration for her next painting. It’s a habit that drives her husband a bit bonkers, but, she asks, “How can I change?”
The Photograph as Starting Point
Jozwiak often combines figures from multiple photos into one painting. In fact, her daughter, now a professional ballet dancer with Ballet Tucson, has appeared multiple times in individual paintings. It helps that Jozwiak often photographs potential subjects in consistent light: either indoors near a window or in the early evening to capture long, dramatic shadows.
She’s not one for experimental sketches but rather plans a strong horizontal and a strong vertical, both at least a little off center. The vertical typically is the figure she’s painting, and it stands out from Jozwiak’s blurred backgrounds, which has become typical of her work over the past three years. She almost always starts with a warm base coat and then draws a detailed depiction of her subject. Once the paint starts to go on, though, she forgets about the lines. They help her paint anatomically accurate figures, but the rest is artistic license.
Jozwiak works swiftly, usually producing four paintings a week and sometimes as many as eight. The day before we talked, she had finished one painting, started and finished another, and begun a third. Jozwiak always was fast, but the speedy approach also allows her to achieve the impasto look using acrylics. She starts at the top of a painting, working on the heads and skies or backgrounds simultaneously, and then moves downward. She paints just one, thick layer, only occasionally adding fresh paint to the background near the head if she takes too long on the face and hair.
Lost and Found
Jozwiak had painted with acrylics in college, but thinning the paints as much as her fellow students did struck her as ridiculous. If she was going to paint in watermedia, why not watercolors? And so, she became a watercolor painter.
For 18 years after college, though, the painting stopped, other than the occasional hobbyist piece. She worked as a packager for Lay’s potato chips until her dissatisfaction with the job led her to panic. With her husband’s support, she took the plunge to painting full-time.
Over the years, she found her watercolor applications getting thicker and thicker. And so, six years ago, she tried out a few tubes of acrylics leftover from her early college days. Miraculously, they still worked, and she liked the feel. (The odor of oil solvents simply won’t do for her small studio.)
She found that acrylics gave her an outlet for when she wants to paint thickly, and that freed her watercolors for days when she wants to let the paint run. Neither medium has to pull double-duty anymore, though she does borrow tricks and techniques from one medium for use in the other. Lean on Me borrows a signature of her watercolor paintings: unfinished works in which the paint drips to the bottom of the paper. In both media, she loves lost-and-found edges.
An Artistic Instinct
Following her gut has worked out so far. The woman who made $3,000 in her first year of full-time painting now shows in eight galleries and teaches across the U.S. And she expects to evolve plenty more. Just as she started with photorealism in college and moved on to Impressionism, she’s lately begun to embrace abstracted backgrounds. You can witness the evolution from Backstage Butterflies to A Loving Hand. The longer you paint, the freer you are with your vision, she says.
“And the more I enjoy the process, sales skyrocket.” In 10 years, she predicts, she won’t be a big fan of the stuff she’s doing in 2015. But for now, both she and the viewers of her art are enjoying the “confidence in a confident brushstroke.”
Tools of the Trade
Bev Jozwiak shares her thoughts on a few of her favorite products.
- FABRIANO ARTISTICO 140-LB., HOT-PRESSED PAPER OR GESSOBORD: Jozwiak likes movement in her work and likes the paint to slide. These surfaces are ideal to achieve the results she wants.
- M. GRAHAM AND GOLDEN HEAVY BODY ACRYLICS: She had tried the long- drying, open acrylics, but she never could comfortably adjust to them in her painting routines. As a fast painter, she doesn’t need them anyway.
- M. GRAHAM QUINACRIDONE RED AND GOLDEN INDIAN YELLOW HUE: Jozwiak employs thick layers of paint in her basecoat, but using these two colors for her warm basecoat shade makes it okay if she misses a spot or two.
- 2B PENCIL: She tried a water-soluble pencil but this simple classroom staple feels more comfortable and gives her better results.
- PALETTE KNIFE: Jozwiak scratches into the paint to convey rain, typical weather for her home state of Washington.
About the Artist
A fine arts graduate of Western Washington University, 90 minutes north of Seattle, Bev Jozwiak followed her great-aunts, grandmother, aunt and father into painting. Whether acrylic or watercolor, her Impressionistic works have earned her shows in prestigious galleries, signature status in The American Watercolor Society, the Northwest Watercolor Society, Watercolor West and the National Watercolor Society, and a spot among the Who’s Who in American Art. Jozwiak resides in her hometown of Vancouver, Washington, with her husband of more than 30 years. You’ll find her in-person workshop schedule, additional paintings and more info on her website at bevjozwiak.com.
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Carole Malcolm, Bruno Capolongo and Patti Brady share their stories of transitioning from other mediums to acrylic paint.
By Maureen Bloomfield
From Watercolor to Acrylic: Carole Malcolm
After having painted for years in watercolor, Carole Malcolm started feeling a limitation. “I loved the unplanned, wet-into-wet mixing that happened on paper. But at some point I wanted to paint larger than the average full sheet of watercolor paper,” she says. Fortuitously she walked into a free workshop at a local art store. “The topic was acrylics, and it was all so interesting. But then the instructor pulled out a bottle of Golden Fluid Acrylic paint and poured it on canvas. Woohoo! My problem was solved right there!”
Though switching to acrylic paint, Malcolm retained what she calls “all of the techniques and tricks I’d accumulated using watercolor.” For example, the technique for flat or graded washes is the same, except that with acrylic, once the wash is dry, you can paint over it or redo it without disturbing the previous layer.
An Easy Transition
“Wet- into-wet technique with acrylic on canvas is the same as with watercolor on paper,” she says. “Drybrushing with acrylic or with watercolor is also the same, except that with acrylic paint you have several viscosities of paint to choose from — depending on how much texture you’re looking for.”
Because of these similarities, the transition between watercolor and acrylic was easy.
Today she works simultaneously on two ongoing series: treescapes and seascapes. The origin of both lies in her childhood, when her parents took her and her siblings on trips to the woods and the seashore in eastern Canada. “I feel so at peace with the world within the forest or by the ocean. I hope to have passed that feeling on to my sons.”
Modeling Paste and Water
Malcolm prepares the canvas not with acrylic gesso but with watered down modeling paste, since it allows her to create “chunkier texture.” Once the layer of modeling paste dries, she wets the canvas with a sponge. What she wants is for the surface to “glisten” but not form puddles. “If it’s a large canvas, I pull out my extra-wide brushes to get those first washes down quickly before the surface begins to dry,” she says.
She premixes her acrylic paints (she develops and uses her own formulas) and stores the paint in buckets or tupperware cases with lids. “I just dunk those big brushes in and start the washes,” she says. “Because of the texture that’s already built up on the canvas, the wet paint finds the crevices in some places and runs off in other places — it’s kind of like painting wet-into-wet on watercolor paper.”
A Range of Effects
She usually paints a series of eight to 12 paintings at a time, starting each painting with the application of modeling paste and water, on top of which she works out the composition, all the while causing blooms to happen on purpose. For an even broader range of effects, she often sprays diluted rubbing alcohol on the washes. “Spraying alcohol helps me see the previous layers of washes,” she says. “It’s like a resist technique that causes more visual texture.”
Go to carolemalcolm.com to see more of her work.
From Oil to Acrylic: Bruno Capolongo
“Acrylic is now the king of media, especially for artists who like to work in impasto and in multiple layers of transparence and translucence,” says Bruno Capolongo, who started painting in oil when he was 12 years old. When, as an adult artist, he became affiliated with BANK — Buy Art Not Kids, an annual auction that raises money to rescue children from slavery, he learned of the concept of Kintsugi, the Japanese practice of repairing broken pieces of pottery with inlays of gold. Rather than trying to conceal the fissures in order to make the rifts between shards invisible, as we would in the West, the Japanese honor the broken vessel by drawing attention to its altered state, inserting gold as the paste that holds the pieces together.
The aesthetic of Kintsugi (golden joinery) is akin to the notion of wabi sabi: Beauty follows from evidence of use. Beauty is inseparable from the decay/death that is the inevitable consequence of the passage of time.
Capolongo’s Kintsugi series, which shows pottery from the Ming and Qing dynasties, asserts that the past can be resurrected, repaired and restored, processes that have their correspondences in our lives — in the moment and over time.
Impasto and Glaze Techniques
“Nearly all the Kintsugi paintings begin with flat, slate-like panels that I break, smash and cut, then reassemble and mount onto a rigid support with gaps between the pieces,” Capolongo explains. He fills the gaps with acrylic; then he covers those painted passages with pure, 24 karat gold leaf. “While my process differs with every painting, it invariably includes multiple layers, roughly summarized as follows: gesso; initial veils of color applied with brushes and knives; then a rough- in of the image in paint or China marker; after this, a lightly colored underpainting of the image, which I then cover with a thick layer of pouring medium or self-leveling gel.”
The Layered Effect
For subsequent and partial layers, he uses palette knives, rags, brushes and fingers; he also drips and sprays paint. The effect from all these layers, mostly translucent, is a depth of surface, whose luster Capolongo likens to the subtleties of porcelain. In addition to the pottery, bronze artifacts appear, evoking Byzantium, as well as ancient China. Conjuring bronze is less an illusion, more a reality, as the artist applies actual bronze and copper dust to create the patina of treasures subjected to and rescued from time.
Go to brunocapolongo.com to see more of his work.
From Canvas to Collage and Plexiglass: Patti Brady
It’s not an exaggeration to say that Patti Brady wrote the book on acrylic (Rethinking Acrylic: Radical Solutions for Exploiting the World’s Most Versatile Medium). As the director of the Golden Working Artists program, she has trained more than one generation of painters/teachers. Her art is constantly changing, but it is always characterized by a spirit of playfulness that encompasses a flawless sense of color and design.
Prints and Lace
Her works in collage (above) begin with a large sheet of Arches 88 printmaking paper. The base layers are composed of multiple prints pulled from a large Gelli Arts Printing Plate, using handcut Yupo masks and various brushes, plus a faux finisher’s wood grainer. “Over or under, I draw graffitilike calligraphic lines with Golden Flourescent Acrylic Colors with a dauber tip,” says Brady. “The cut pieces for the final layers come from a drawer filled with paper stencils, remnants of prints and pieces of lace.”
Her newest work, on Plexiglas, has its origin in a commission for a Whole Foods in Greenville, S.C. The task was to work with eight 36×36 Plexiglas squares that would be mounted on the walls of the store. “It was my first experience working with a two-sided, two-dimensional surface,” says Brady. “Whole Foods provided me with the exact color of the wall, a mustard yellow, and I designed all the images with that color as the background.” Inspired by that process, Brady, for her new series (an example of which is below) either uses Autodesk Sketchbook Pro (on an iPad) to create symmetrical shapes, often “doilies,” or she simply folds a piece of paper and uses scissors.
Following a JPEG or the actual design on paper, a local Plexiglas company cuts the shapes. “The rest is all absolutely unplanned,” says Brady. “I begin to paint or stencil or draw, and once I have a large selection of painted or decorative pieces, I begin to place them on top of the armature.” The artist, after studying and rearranging, fastens the pieces together with a Plexi glue that actually melts the sheets of Plexiglas, binding the layers together. Installed, each piece extends an inch from the wall, on what she calls “little legs, Plexiglas rods.”
Many of the back layers are created with mirrored Plexiglas, but the top, final layer, is always clear. The result of all the layering, Brady says, is an array of “mysterious reflections.”
The shadows created by the shapes of the Plexiglas pieces commingle with the reflections. The shadows and reflections change, of course, in response to the color of the wall they’re installed on. “I recently had a show where the walls were dark gray carpet,” says Brady. “At first, I despaired, but they looked fantastic; the lighting was perfect!”
Lynn Whipple’s mixed-media floral paintings meld line drawing, pastel and acrylic into joyful works of stunning beauty.
By Robert K. Carsten
With a mother and grandfather who painted, and a grandmother who played the piano, art and music surrounded and inspired Lynn Whipple throughout her childhood. “Art has always been a wonderful family thing for me,” Whipple says. “I’d come home from school and the magical scent of turps would waft from the living room, which was set up with painting supplies. We always made art, and it was such a joy.”
Today the artist works from her home studio that overlooks a lake in Winter Park, Fla., as well as at McRae Studios, which her husband’s family founded. A nature lover at heart, Whipple also brings her supplies and flower arrangements outside to paint en plein air.
Embracing Media of All Sorts
Primarily self-taught, Whipple read art books and occasionally took art workshops. For a decade, she worked for the Nickelodeon television network, moving her way up from shopper to prop designer, set decorator, assistant art director to art director. “I loved working there with all those great people,” says Whipple. But, she finally took the leap to become a full-time artist. “As difficult as it was, I just had to say ’no’ to them, which turned out to be a giant ‘yes’ to my own work.”
Since then, Whipple has authored a book on creating art and conducts popular online classes. She’s worked in almost every 2-D medium and with mixed media for over 20 years. “I find I just can’t focus on one medium,” she says, gleefully adding, “so why not experience them all?”
A Matter of Layers
One of Whipple’s greatest joys is to pick or buy bunches of flowers and arrange them in vases. She is motivated by their brilliant hues, subtle tints or rich shades, and endless variety of shapes. Additionally, she collects branches, berries, ferns, moss and more to lend textural interest to arrangements.
Whipple prefers to work on large canvases for her expressive floral paintings. This allows her to capture the passion, energy and emotions she feels while painting her subject. “It’s easier to work big,” Whipple explains, “because I can be more gestural and free.” She typically works on three canvases at a time to avoid being idle when one is drying. Whipple first tones each with a warm or cool single color of acrylic.
After selecting flower shapes for each painting from several arrangements, she usually picks one bouquet as her dominant “hero” design. Whipple then creates several, quickly drawn pencil thumbnails in square, horizontal and vertical formats to determine the most effective design.
Next, she rapidly and freely sketches some flowers onto the toned canvas using vine charcoal. And then she gently wipes off some of the charcoal with her hand before rotating the canvas 90 degrees. Next, she sketches the flowers again, this time using pastel. Her goal is to keep the drawing quick, fresh and spontaneous, preferring expression over realistic description.
She often draws with her non-dominant hand or both hands simultaneously, each yielding a different color of pastel. She draws the contours of flowers, leaves and stems and then masses in shapes using various colors of Schmincke, Sennelier, Rembrandt or an assortment of harder pastels.
Making in the Moment
While working, she listens to lively music to keep a flow of energetic movement in her line drawing, mark-making and form painting. She partially smears the sketch. Then she rotates the canvas, drawing more flowers over and around existing forms, this time using graphite, charcoal and/or pastel. Whipple rotates the canvas a final time, drawing more flowers. Finally, she uses charcoal to draw several crisscross lines from one edge to the other. These lines build interesting patterns of organic and geometric shapes upon which she’ll build the next layers.
“It all boils down to layers,” Whipple says. “Layers give me the opportunity to feel free and have fun, because there are going to be more of them. Nothing is fixed until I want it to be. I can keep the process and the painting open and not ‘choke’ it by making it precious with an overly finished, too-detailed look.”
Forms and Values
Whipple proceeds to acrylic painting with mid-toned neutral colors that are roughly complementary to the underpainting. So, for example, if the underpainting is orange, she’ll apply grayed blues using a 1- or 2-inch flat brush. And she makes sure to allow for spaces where the orange can show through. Her palette of neutral colors ensures that later, vibrant colors of flowers will “pop” against it.
After the paint dries, Whipple determines the best orientation for the bouquet and vase in the compositions of her floral paintings. Then she loosely sketches them in again using charcoal and pastel, quickly drawing flower shapes and a suggested vase. She then spins the canvas a total of three times, each time redrawing and lightly smudging parts of the drawing with her hands.
Finally, Whipple studies the different orientations from afar to determine the best option, and observe the forms and values. She then proceeds to draw using pastels—ascertaining flowers, and loosely outlining leaf shapes and stems, and vase and table plane. It’s at this time that she places the darkest darks and lightest lights throughout the composition.
Next comes a layer of acrylic paint in vibrant colors applied with large brushes. Whipple prefers to use inexpensive “throwaway” hardware store brushes at this stage because of their imprecise edges. She uses Liquitex or Golden heavy-body acrylics, preferably in jars, so she can dip the brush for ease and speed. She strives to allow portions of each layer of a painting to play a visible role in the completed design. So she leaves breathing room for charcoal and graphite sketch lines, partial erasures, acrylic shapes, drips, spatters, pastel forms, lines and mark-making. The combination of these layers expresses a highly creative and energetic quality in Whipple’s floral paintings.
The Hand of the Artist
Whipple illuminates her subject with a warm-colored bulb in a clamp light with reflector, placing it in close proximity to her bouquet to create brilliant lights and strong darks. Then she begins painting the lights, mid-tones and darks of flower shapes. She’s careful not to crowd or fill in areas densely, opting to let the underpainting and drawing show through. Whipple sometimes spatters, drips or draws into the wet paint with her brush handle for texture and interest. After the surface dries, she decides on a background color, light or dark. Then she “carves” in around the blooms, leaves, vase and table, again ensuring that she leaves room at the edges so underlayers can show through.
She applies a layer of loose line drawing and mark-making in various colors of pastel over the dried acrylic. The artist does this to restate or emphasize shapes of flowers and leaves—often in vibrating, contrasting colors. Lines both follow and deviate from their respective forms. Energetic, playful and expressive, this important layer “reveals the hand of the artist,” Whipple says. She then adds final touches of acrylic using a No. 10 or smaller round brush for details. Graphite or charcoal lines may be added and smudged to add a halo effect.
Finally, Whipple sprays her floral paintings with several coats of SpectraFix fixative, allowing each coat to dry thoroughly before the next. Finally, she sprays a coat of Golden or Krylon gloss varnish as the overall sealant. Her framer then uses a simple, contemporary floater frame to accentuate the painting subtly.
Expressive Floral Paintings
“A whole series began with Blooming Fresh Flower Ladies (above),” says Whipple. “I was co-teaching a class and doing a drawing assignment in which my colleague, Carla Sonheim, was having us draw and paint figures to represent childhood. I was drawing from an old photo, and she had each of us spin our canvas and draw again. By chance, after a few spins, I saw this lovely bouquet on the table and wanted to paint it, so I did. I kept the background loose, not editing much of what I’d done before or even depicting a table plane. This resulted in the flowers being superimposed over some vertical and horizontal figures. I liked the effect, and now I’ve been painting flowers, sometimes with hidden figures, for years.”
Whipple painted Fiesta Blooms (above) as a demonstration for a workshop in Mexico. “We were all using this raw, open-weave canvas,” she says. “It was difficult to get the paint to fill in the nooks and crannies. But it caught the pastel in a magnificent way. It was quickly done and spoke to every layer we did. The coarse weave deterred students from that ubiquitous tendency of over-detailing; it has that raw impression I’m always after. It shows excitement and celebration, and how fun painting can be.”
“As an artist and teacher, I think the biggest thing I can give people—and myself—is permission to play, to have fun and to explore so we can come to know ourselves, one another and the world better through exercising freedom in our creativity,” Whipple says. “Art is my absolute favorite thing to do.”
About the Artist
After seven-years as an art director, prop master and set decorator for Nickelodeon Studios, Lynn Whipple has been a full-time professional artist for over 25 years. She’s the recipient of two individual artist fellowship grants from the State of Florida Department of Cultural Affairs. Her award-winning work has been featured in exhibitions, art festivals and numerous publications over the years, and is collected extensively. Most recently, Whipple authored the book, Expressive Flower Painting (Quarry Books, 2017). She also teaches in-person and online workshops. She lives in her hometown of Winter Park, Fla., with her artist husband, John Whipple.
Artist, instructor and writer Robert K. Carsten enjoys painting in various media and writing about artists and their work. This article is adapted from a feature in Pastel Journal, October 2018 issue.