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!”
Go to pattibrady.com to see more of her work.