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techniques

Experimenting with by

Acrylics
the Editors of
American Artist

S
ince acrylics were introduced in the 1950s, a
wide variety of mediums and additives have been
designed. Experimenting with these materials in
conjunction with acrylics can often lead to new ways of
working and produce a variety of effects that give a fresh
look to your paintings.

The range of materials for acrylic painters to experiment


with continues to grow. In addition to the mediums and
pastes discussed in the previous article, artists can mix a
variety of additives with the paint, including fluorescent pig-
ments, iridescent glazes (made with mica chips to give the
appearance of shifting color as you walk by the painting),
marble dust for texture, or glass beads to add reflectivity. If
this weren’t enough, one can apply acrylics with anything
from traditional brushes to palette knives to spray guns and
Above: even cake decorators, with their wide assortment of icing
Raft, by David Newton, 1993,
stucco and acrylic on canvas, 18 x 18. nozzles.
Collection Michelle Weisman.
One artist who loves to experiment with acrylics is
Katherine Chang Liu of Westlake, California. While her
paintings are generally abstract and based on personal
ideas and reflections, she sometimes depicts a recogniz-
able object. “When I first started painting, I worked in a land-
scape tradition with watercolors,” says Liu. “Then as I began
Opposite page, above:
Temptation, by Katherine Chang Liu, 1996, to build up more layers in my paintings, I thought acrylics
mixed media, 30 x 50. Collection Hansen, would better fit my method and personality. Now, I work
Jacobson, Teller & Hoberman.
in acrylics mixed with water or acrylic mediums to achieve
Opposite page, below:
thinner or thicker layers of paint.”
New Cycle, Same Spin, by Katherine Chang Liu, 1995,
mixed media, 34 x 34. Collection Hong Kong University of
Science and Technology, Kowtoon, Hong Kong.

3
The initial lay-in. I establish the large shapes as well as the
rough value and color relationships without bothering with a
preliminary drawing. At this point, I step back and see if the
composition satisfies me before going ahead.

I complete the painting by gradually adjusting shapes and


refining. I arrange the easel so I can look back and forth
from the scene to my painting with minimal effort.
s u b j e c t m at t e r

Plein Air Acrylics: by

One Artist’s Methods Marcia Burtt

E
ven in the 1950s, when I was a high-school stu-
dent taking my first summer painting course, I
resisted working in oils. I felt more comfortable
with watercolor and pastel, so I thinned the oils as much
as I could to make them dry faster. By the time I started
graduate school, acrylics had arrived on the scene, and I
took to them like a duck to water. They dried fast and thin,
enabling me to continually rework areas without losing
the paint’s freshness. If my first thin wash worked, I could
leave it alone, enjoy its brilliance, and have it almost pass
for a watercolor. If I wanted to rework or adjust shapes—a
more common occurrence—I could immediately paint over
the dry layer and treat it as an underpainting.

I’ve now been an acrylic landscape painter for nearly fif-


teen years and am still crazy about the medium. In order
to adapt to the requirements of painting on location, I’ve
devised a simple paint- and time-saving system for success-
Above: fully working outdoors in acrylics.
Evening From the Ridge, 1993, acrylic, 20 x 20. Collection
Rosemary and Bernard Parent.
M at e r i a l s
There are five elements I focus on in respect to materials:
paint box, spray bottle, easel, palette, and substrate. My
paint box is a three-tier fishing-tackle box with molded divid-
ers to hold my colors (I use one compartment for each
color). The molded dividers are important because paint
can leak from one compartment to another if the divid-
ers are the slip-in kind. I squeeze enough color into each

Opposite page, above:


Spring Light at the Wilcox Property, 1995, acrylic, 24 x 20.
Collection the artist.

5
color

Mixing Acrylics: by

Triads Bonnie Brown Fergus

Chart 1

A
crylic paint is a very flexible medium to work with,
but in order to use it more effectively, I’ve devel-
oped my own system of mixing the primary colors
to create other hues. My method of working relies on color
charts I experiment with to help me map out the colors I
need for a given painting.

Chart 2
The Preliminary Steps
To begin, I prime both sides of a sheet of Arches 300 lb
watercolor paper with two coats of soft gel matte medium.
While doing so, I also prepare a small 8" x 8" piece to use
as a color card for the painting. This essential tool helps me
maintain an accurate record of the various colors I’ve used
in my paintings and remember unusual ones.

After the priming is dry, I sort through my slides to find a


subject. I take all my own photos and often combine two
or more for the final composition. For Summer Song, for
Above:
Chart 1. example, I chose an arrangement of
This color chart shows how the three primary colors, flowers and a vase. I first projected
when mixed together in equal amounts, produce a
neutral tone. the vase onto the primed paper and
Chart 2. then carefully rendered it in graph-
When two primaries are mixed together, the result is a ite, making sure to capture all the
secondary color. This chart shows the three pairs of
complementary colors (red and green, blue and orange, details of the intricate pattern. Next,
and yellow and purple).
I projected the flowers. Because I
used two different slides, I made
sure the flowers appeared to fit into
the vase. (Sometimes this means I
must adjust the projections so the
Opposite Page:
Michigan Memories (detail),1995, acrylic, 25 x 25.
Collection Mr. and Mrs. Jack Myers.

7
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