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July 2010




  • Behind the Art:
    From the Ground Up in Acrylic
  • Artist Spotlight:
    Interview With Ciruelo Cabral
  • Ask an Artist:
    Life Drawing
  • EMG News:
    News for July


  • Basic Framing, Pt 1


  • Fiction: The Naked Woods

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  • From the Ground Up in Acrylic
    Behind the Art
    by Melissa Acker

    I can't even remember the last time I'd done an acrylic tutorial -- years, at least -- so I thought it was about time I did another one. And with the sad passing of Frank Frazetta last month, I decided to do something more in that style than in my usual one.

    This was also the first small acrylic painting I've done in months; I've been working on a rather gigantic mural project since November, and I was curious to see how it might have affected my style.

    You begin an acrylic painting in the same manner you begin any other: with drawing. This painting is done on a nine-by-twelve inch stretched canvas. The pencil lines are actually quite dark, and I've even blocked in some of the shadows. I use acrylic in a very opaque manner, and so I know every one of those lines will be obscured soon enough. Some artists rough in their drawings in acrylic for that reason (the mural I am working on right now is done in this fashion).

    Unless I'm painting in watercolor (and, heck, sometimes even then), getting rid of the white is the first thing to do; it banishes the apprehension that the glaring, intimidating white of the surface sometimes conjures.

    In this case, I used a thin but rather dark coat of burnt sienna over the whole painting, making no attempt to even hint at the form of the characters, although some parts of the background are darker than others. I also wasn't worried about brush strokes showing or obscuring a few of the pencil lines. The most wonderful, freeing aspect of acrylic is that you can paint over anything. ANYTHING. So go crazy.

    It looks like an awful happened between this next step and the last, but it really isn't. Almost all the paint colors I used for this painting were opaque, and for this step it was mostly yellow ochre, raw umber, titanium white and cadmium red deep. For later steps I also sometimes used hansa yellow light, payne's grey and cobalt blue.

    As a side note, while all acrylics can certainly be applied opaquely, some are better suited for glazing than others; these are known as transparent colors. It is usually noted on the tube of paint whether it is opaque or transparent, or, better yet, you can create your own test swatches to check.

    Basically, this step was about building form. I filled in the light and dark areas on the creatures. I kept the brush strokes going either in the direction of the fur, or had them contouring the shapes to better illustrate form (note the strokes on the cat's forelimb in particular). There is no fine detail at all.

    This is only one coat of paint, applied rapidly and rather thickly. Very little of the undercoat shows on the cat, some shows on the woman, and a great deal of it shows through the background.

    The spots, oh dear, the spots... They are unpleasant to paint. But there is work to be done, and the sooner you get started the sooner it will be finished.

    The key to painting pattern, on any creature, is to ensure that pattern changes in value as the light source dictates that it should. This is well illustrated on the cat's torso: the spots in the light are lighter and warmer in color than the spots hidden in shadow nearer the forelimb.
    Most of the this step involved painting the spots on, darkening the shadows, and adding fur texture, especially to the head. Fur texture it easiest to do by painting the dark shadows within the fur, and laying several (or dozens, depending on your style and the level of realism you wish to achieve) of thin layers of hairs over.

    Some of the details of the face have also begun to show themselves. For the woman, I tightened up the lights and darks on her back.

    When doing details like this, you may be tempted to thin the paint out to make it easier to control. Be careful when you do this; you should never thin acrylic with more than about 25% water. Any more than this, and the molecular structure of the paint begins to break down, and once dry it will not be as sturdy and permanent as it otherwise should have been. If you need really thin paint, you can add a medium to the paint, such as the matte medium that is my personal favorite (although I did not use any in this painting). It tends to effect any colors you mix with it, particularly lighter colors, in a similar although much more subtle way than white paint. Not only will you get thinner mixes, but you will get longer drying times for your paint, as well. Highly recommended for painting detailed fur and feathers.

    Fine-tuning is always the last step, and often the hardest one; it can very difficult to tell when it's time to put the brushes away and leave it be.

    Most of the work on the cat was done on the face, and the highlighted areas of the fur: adding texture, darkening shadows, tightening up and refining the details. Similar touches were added to the woman, including some jewelry. I made certain to darken the reflections and shadows on the gold with the colors used in the cat and in the background. Note that the background has not been touched since step three at all.

    And it looks like we finished yet another one, folks! Hope you enjoyed my first acrylic tutorial since... 2007? My goodness, it's been awhile. Have a great summer!

    Melissa Acker

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