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Painting with Acrylics

Robin's nest

All painting start with an image in your mind. For several years I had visualized a painting of an adult robin with it's babies in a nest.

One spring I came back to my log cabin and found a nest full of very young robins. It was on the outcropping of one of the logs on the porch just outside the screen.  I was able to get a lot of great pictures of the babies. The adult would not come near the nest while I was on the porch but would sit on a limb close by so I was able to get good pictures of him, also.

This painting called "The Robin's Nest" is a 16 x 20 Acrylic on canvas.

Painting with acrylics made it possible to paint it relatively quickly because of the short drying time of the acrylics.

I could switch between the bark and the nest, painting layers over each other as quickly as each dried and add highlights to the bird if one of the other layers wasn't quite dry enough.


Further down the page, you can see the steps I took in painting a sailboat.

This next painting was also done in acrylics and is called "Winter Reflections" and was painted on a 16 x 20 canvas.

winter reflection

This was taken from a photograph by a very good friend of mine, John Horanzy, who braved the elements to get a perfect picture for me while I was enjoying the warmth of southern Arizona.

As I mentioned above, painting with acrylics means the work dries very quickly, which you can use to your advantage.

Or, it might put you at a disadvantage, especially if you are use to working with slow-drying oils.

In order to blend colors smoothly as you see in this painting, you must keep the canvas and the paints wet. There are several ways to do this.
  1. You can keep the canvas wet where you are working by spraying it with a fine mist. You have to do this cautiously though, because paint will tend to lift if you get it too wet.

  2. You have to keep your paints wet by either spraying them or using a wet pallet that has a special paper over a sponge which will whisk moisture up from the sponge below without diluting your paints. 

  3. Adding a flow medium rather than using water, helps make the paint go on more smoothly without diluting the pigment.

  4. You can add an acrylic medium to the paint which is designed to slow down the drying time.

  5. Better yet, you can purchase several brands which all ready have the medium mixed into them. The best one I have found is Golden's Open Acrylic Paints.

  6. One additional option is to mix the acrylics with water-soluble oils, WS oils. I know that Holbein Duo Aqua blends very well with acrylics. Mixing them not only slows the drying of the acrylics, It also speeds up the drying of the WS Oils. I've writen more about this on my web page about water soluble oils.

I live in a very dry climate part of the year, so the paints dry out even faster. A combination of these methods have helped keep the paint blend able for me no matter what the climate.

When I first started using acrylics, I used mainly Windsor Newton Acrylics, Liquitex Acrylics and Grumbacher Acrylics. More recently, I have been adding the Golden Open Acrylics. When I paint now, I mix Golden Open with the other ones to get the colors I want and take advantage of the increased drying time.


It was critical to keep the paints workable to blend the sky in this painting, "Wind and Water" which was painted on a 24 x 36 canvas with acrylics.

In order to get all the blades of the windmill in the right perspective,

  • I scanned the photograph I had taken,

  • enlarged it until the size was right for the canvas,

  • printed it out and

  • then traced it onto the canvas with artist tracing paper.
  • When I took the original photograph at Holy Trinity Monestary, St. David, AZ, the sunset sky was not where I wanted it, so I took a photograph of the sunset and just moved it over to behind the windmill.

    I guess that is what they call "artist's license."

    There really are no rules about how you accomplish a painting. The only rule, is that you do not copy other people's work. I hope you all respect this rule as it applies to my work and the work of others. I would really appreciate it.

    Painting a Sailboat

    I thought you might be interested in the sequence I used in painting a sailboat from a picture. It is a picture taken by my friend , John Hornazy, of his sailboat which was docked in Cape Cod one winter.

    copyright: John Horanzy, 2010

    I started out by drawing with a grid to get perspective specifically of the boat angles.

    To see a demonstration of How to Draw With a Grid follow this link.

    i used a white gesso to prepare the canvas for an acrylic painting.

    I used a blue pastel pencil to do the sketching. It is water soluble, so it dissolves easily into the acrylics.

    It is also easy to wipe off with a dry or wet clothe to make corrections in the sketch as needed.

    I started in by blocking in the sky and horizon details.

    Next I blocked in the blue areas of the boat.

    I used masking fluid on the masts so I could do more work on the sky and background and still keep the masts sketched in for later reference.

    The next step was to finalize the sky. Then I start detailing in some of the sailboat.

    I probably should have worked more on the background, but I couldn't resist seeing what the boat was going to look like as it progressed.

    Once I was satisfied with the sky, I started putting in the layer of trees and some of the brush on the snowy slope.,/p>

    I used burnt sienna, burnt umber, some jenkins green with burnt umber in it to darken it, and some azo gold. These were all Golden Open Acrylic colors.

    To tone down the gray in the body of the sailboat, I used zinc white since it tends to be more translucent than titanium white which is very opaque. That way I could maintain the gray color while lightening it to the level I wanted.

    I added reflections in the water and worked on the snow.

    This is the latest image. I have done a great deal of detailing on the boat including putting the masts in, putting details into the windows and other odds and ends. Hopefully the next picture will be the completed painting.

    One thing you may have noticed is that I have left out the other dock on the left side. I felt that it would detract from the sailboat which is my main focus.

    Acrylics Under Oils

    Acrylics are perfect to use under oil paints, both traditional oils or water-soluble oils.

    Because oils dry so slowly, it is not uncommon for artists to do a lot of the background painting in acrylics and then do more of the detailed finish painting over the acrylic paint.

    For finished painting that requires more blending and a more fluid application, apply a thin film of oil (I prefer walnut oil) over the acrylic painting. This helps bond the two different types of paints and gives you a perfect surface for applying your oils.

    If you are using a dry brush techniques with your oils, do not apply the film of oil to that area and it will give you the perfect surface for the dry brush effect.

    For more details about painting with Water Soluble Oils follow this link.

    *****work in progress*****

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