Acrylic Painting in Layers and Thinking About a New Project for 2015

I recently got a great deal on some Golden acrylics, and I’ve been having fun trying them out.

I’d been working regularly with watercolor before getting these new paints, and switching between the two is always a bit of a challenge until I get the feel for it again.

When I got back into watercolor a few months ago, I found myself laying it on way too thick and wanting to layer it. Now that I’ve gotten used to watercolor, my initial acrylic efforts were getting kind of muddy until I “remembered” the magic of layering.

After a few layers of paint, I had a somewhat muddy dark gray surface with light speckles. I wasn’t too impressed at first, but coming back to my art table after a break and taking another look, the speckled surface reminded me of cactus prickles. I ran with the idea!

Close up of Cactus Painting

I drew the outline of the cactus shape (you can see pencil lines where the segments meet) on the page, and then painted around the edges with a layer of purple and then blue. For those two layers I thinned out the paint and painted it thickly in sections, then dabbed it off with a paper towel before it could completely dry. That technique allows you to see through to the speckled layer, as well as the lighter purple layer under the ultramarine blue. It also gives the piece the vibrant luminous color that it needed.

The final touch was adding red cactus blossoms here and there.

Not only was I trying out paint, but I was also trying out different sizes of paper. I’ve been contemplating another year-long daily project, and one of my thoughts was to work on a specific size of paper. This one is 5×7 which feels pretty good to me, but I’m also trying out 4×6 and 6×8.

Are you considering a year-long project for 2015? I’ve also been thinking about working with a time limit, or possibly working digitally, but I still haven’t decided. I would love to hear what you have planned for the new year!

Inspired by Long Skinny Paper

My friend Liz Nugent recently gave me the coolest pad of paper. I just love it. The paper quality isn’t the best and there are lines across it (which I tend to avoid), but it sparked a bunch of creative ideas for both me and Liz because: It’s really long and skinny.

I couldn’t wait to let my mind wander and doodles some shapes.

Watercolor Doodles

Here are several drawings of dragons by Liz on the same paper:

Artwork by Liz Nugent

Aren’t they the cutest!? Here are some plants by Liz too:

Artwork by Liz Nugent

If you’re curious, the dimensions of the paper are 1.75″ x 11″. It’s amazing how such a simple change, like using an unusual sized paper can inspire so many new ideas. Now I’m thinking of all those scraps I’ve tossed over the years from cutting down paper. If only I’d known! I’ll certainly be keeping them in the future.

Liz is a wonderful illustrator who I’m honored to call a friend. If you want to check out more of her work, please visit Liz’s website or say hi to Liz on twitter!

Chocolate Easter Bunny Foil Collage for Glue It Tuesday

Last week I saw Aimee from Artsyville’s announcement for a new feature on her blog, “Glue it Tuesday,” and I knew it was an activity I could really get into.

I’ve been interested in collage for years, but my early attempts were less than successful. I would carefully cut out people, flowers, and other objects from magazines, and then try to come up with arrangements that were clever, thoughtful, or good looking. Each attempt fell flat (to say the least), so eventually I stopped trying, and instead just enjoyed other collage artists’ works.

More recently I made my first positive strides with collage, pursuing a more abstract style. The best example of this is the collaged sketchbook I put together for the Sketchbook Project, Limited Edition. I worked intuitively, arranging shapes into balanced compositions that sometimes felt clever, thoughtful, and good looking!

I’m excited about this opportunity to explore the medium more and plan have my own Glue it Tuesdays here on my blog.

On Aimee’s intro post, I commented that I’ve been collecting thrift store books to collage with, and at first I thought I would use those for today’s collage. But then I ate part of a chocolate easter bunny. I noticed how pretty the little scraps of foil were, laying where they fell on the table, and I thought it would be fun to arrange them and glue them down.

easter bunny

So that’s what I did! I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to capture the shiny texture of the foil, but my scanner did a pretty good job.

I must say, the feeling of gluing down foil is very satisfying. If you’ve never done it, I highly recommend trying it out.

Next week I’ll probably work with paper of some sort. Although, I suppose I could buy a couple more chocolate easter bunnies in the name of art, right?

Be sure to visit Artsyville to see what Aimee created this week and to find links to other Glue it Tuesday creations.

Painting Experiments

This month I’ve been creating a doodle a day along with several other artists on Instagram (#doodleadayaug). I wasn’t intending to have a theme when I started, but after the first few days, I realized I kept drawing flowers. They are one of my favorite things to draw, so it’s been a fun month!

One doodle in particular inspired me to take the subject a little further.

initial sketches

I enjoyed the sketchy line quality, but felt it could be improved upon with some added color. An idea formulated in my head to do a loose underpainting of color with gouache and then add the sketchy line work on top of it with an acrylic paint marker.

The first step was to print out a quick copy of the original sketch, and transfer each drawing to watercolor paper using graphite transfer paper.

Transferring sketches with graphite paper

I really love the way these taped down sketches look, so I had to share!

Once the doodles were transferred, I painted each one using various colors of gouache. I liked the paintings at this stage, but I felt they were missing something. At this point, I was wondering if the intense black outlines would be “too much,” but I still wanted to go ahead and try out my original idea, just to see what the result would be. One of the thoughts I like to keep in mind when I make art is to not be afraid of “ruining” a painting or drawing by trying something new. True, sometimes ideas don’t translate well, but I figure that if I’ve done something I like once, I can always make it again if I mess up!

all flower paintings, side by side

After seeing the side by side comparison of all the paintings before and after the addition of the black outlines, I’m on the fence about which I like better. I still think that at least some of the paintings without the outlines are missing something, but maybe the black lines are too overpowering?

Taken on their own, I don’t mind most of the outlined versions, but I also wonder if they read as paintings, or just as colored-in drawings. If that’s the case, I could probably achieve this look in a much faster way, maybe using marker or colored pencil instead of paint.

Now that I’ve tried out my idea but am not 100% satisfied with it, I’m planning to redo the paintings to see if I can come up with a result that I really feel is “it”. Instead of outlining with black, I’ll work on adding depth and maybe outlines with more layers/colors of paint. So the experiment will continue!

Do you have a favorite of the above paintings? Do you think the outline works better for one painting more than another? I’d love to hear what you think!

From My Garden, Days 2 & 3

Today I suddenly realized that what I’d called lupine seed pods in my last post are actually *larkspur* seed pods! It hit me out of the blue and I was like, “duh, of course i knew that!”


The larkspur seed pods I used as part of Day 1’s exploration didn’t really show up in the art piece I created, so for Day 2, I decided to draw them since I really love their shape.

Larkspur seed pod pencil drawing

pencil drawing of larkspur seed pods

I took a photo of the drawing with a clematis plant on the steps of my back porch. My brother’s dog, Chief, jumped in the shot at the last second, helping created the perfect photo!

For Day 3, I wanted to take the larkspur drawing a little further. I saw this amazing, huge grape leaf that is lacy with holes in some areas. It seemed perfect for a spray paint stencil.

huge grape leaf

Otto & huge grape leaf

(Pictured with Otto to show a sense of scale. Isn’t it big!?)

I really like how the drawing of the seed pods turned out, so instead of experimenting with the original, I printed out a copy and refined the drawn lines with black ink before spray painting.

Outdoor Studio 2

Again I used a very simple outdoor studio set up. I placed the paper on the grass with the leaf on top and sprayed the desired color, adjusting the leaf slightly before spraying the next color. I used a combination of bright red, lavender and light blue, which all blended very nicely together.

larkspur drawing & spray paint

I really enjoy the speckled texture that the spray paint lends, and I’m happy that the paint managed to make its way through some of the holey areas of the leaf.

I was also happy to notice that the spray painted leaf itself was quite beautiful. I find it interesting how the colors combined with the dull yellowish green of the back of the leaf to create a neutral gray color that almost matches the wood of the porch!

spray painted grape leaf

I know I’m only on Day 3, but I’m loving this project. Everyday I see more & more. I could have easily created 20 drawings inspired by the plants I’ve examined, but I’m taking it easy and having fun with it. At least I know I won’t run out of ideas any time soon!

From My Garden, Part 1

During June’s 20 in 20 project, I started taking photos of the daily paintings I created with various items in the environment; sometimes surrounded by paints, with potted plants, or next to wild flowers I picked from my garden. It’s not the first time I’ve photographed art in the environment, but it’s been a while since I did, and I forgot how much I enjoyed it.

It was a lot of fun to go exploring in my garden to find just the right grass or flower to pair with the paintings. I’ve decided to keep the fun of that exploration going for the month of July. This project won’t be as structured as the 20 in 20 project. My goal will be to create 12 to 15 pieces by the end of the month, but it’s less about the final product, and more about the exploration of the plants in my garden and whatever techniques I feel inspired to pursue.

For the first day I ended up using spray paint and cuttings from a couple of plants: larkspur seed pods and morning glory leaves to be exact.

I worked spontaneously. I snipped a few of the larkspur seed pods, and then remembered the cabinet of spray paint in the basement. I grabbed three cans and brought them outside. I arranged the larkspur pods on paper and in the process, some of the seeds scattered on the surface. Since the seed pod stems weren’t flat, they didn’t leave much of a silhouette on the paper, so thinking quick, I cut a few morning glory leaves & arranged them in layers. I sprayed the dark blue paint, removed a few leaves, sprayed again, and so on.

Outdoor Studio

When I finished spraying the dark blue, I shook off the seeds, revealing the little white spots which reminded me of the background of my friend Jessica Gowling’s recently completed collage; although she achieved the affect with an entirely different technique!


The larkspur pods themselves aren’t visible in the artwork, but they became quite colorful after a layer or two of paint and make the perfect arrangement to photograph with the piece.



So there you have it! I see this project as a collaboration of sorts between me and my garden, and I, for one, am looking forward to see what “we” come up with!

making a mess

I had jury duty earlier this week, and the one silver lining to the whole process was that I could stop at the nearby art store and pick up some rice paper which has been on my list for a while now. In the aisle with the rice paper, and I met an older gentleman who inquired if I’d used rice paper before. I told him I hadn’t and asked if he had any advice. He gave me some suggestions and even pointed out the cheapest pack of paper as a good one to try out.

My hopes for the rice paper were that it would be absorbent and translucent like tissue paper, but would have a little more strength to it so it wouldn’t actually disintegrate and tear almost immediately, like I’ve experienced with tissue paper.

I started out by painting a few lines on the rice paper, and before I knew it, I’d filled in almost the entire sheet with watercolor. Well on my way to making a total mess, I finished the process by painting all the way to the edge of the paper.

making a mess

I was very pleased with the look of the sopping wet rice paper, but as I looked down on it, I suddenly realized what a mess I’d made! I had laid the sheet of paper directly on the table. I decided it wouldn’t be a great idea to let it dry there, so I carefully transferred the paper to some cardboard to dry.

Quite a bit of watercolor was left behind on the table, so it was a good thing that I’d moved the paper.

making a mess

The table was plastic, so the clean up of the wet paint was easy, but I was concerned that if left on the surface long enough, the pigment might actually stain the table. I’ll have to figure out a better surface to work on if I do this again.

Once the paper was dry, the color was a lot more subtle, as often happens with watercolor. Curious about how translucent the paper would be, I drew a couple of abstract patterns on some bristol with a pencil. After cutting out water drop shapes, I glued them to the bristol in two similar rain-inspired arrangements.

light rain

sudden shower

The rice paper is quite translucent, even with the added watercolor. I think the effect would be yet more obvious if the lines of the background were darker, maybe drawn with a heavy hand if using a pencil, or with pen.

Overall the rice paper was pretty strong and flexible when dry, and although fragile when wet, it’s a lot tougher than tissue paper. I have a few more experiments planned to see what rice paper can do, but so far so good.

watercolor on tissue paper

I’ve been thinking about making some videos to share, and I remembered that I had a couple that I made back in September. I never wrote about the experiments I did with watercolor and tissue paper, but I took some video of the process. It’s not the most exciting video, but they are relatively short, and pretty in a meditative way, so I hope you will enjoy them.

I was inspired after watching a short video about one-fold origami. I was captivated by the simplicity of the technique and by the beautiful shapes that could result.

My interest was piqued enough to try out an experiment. The idea I started with was to fold a piece of tissue paper once, drop watercolor along the fold with the help of a water brush, and see what would happen. I knew that the results couldn’t be predicted which appealed to my interest in chance operations.

I tried it a few times, and took photos of the result.

Watercolor on Tissue Paper

Watercolor on Tissue Paper

I was happy with the final look, but the photos couldn’t capture the best part–actually watching as the paint dropped, spilled, and spread along the fold and across the paper. On a whim I took a couple videos.

I was holding the camera while I was painting, so it’s a little wiggly, but I think they are neat to watch.

As I worked, I layered the pieces of tissue paper on top of each other, so in the end I had a small arrangement of different sheets of painted, once-folded paper.

Watercolor on Tissue Paper, Wet

Layering the tissue paper had the added benefit of the different colors soaking through the top papers, adding to the unexpected look of the final papers.

tissue paper & watercolor 1

tissue paper & watercolor 2

tissue paper & watercolor 3

tissue paper & watercolor 4

I haven’t done more with this technique since then, but it’s definitely fun to play around with, and there are infinite variations.

What do you think of the videos? Would you be interested in me posting more video content in the future, possibly with me talking, and if I’m feeling very brave, maybe with me on camera?

wet watercolor & alcohol

The other day I was searching through the basement, looking for paint brushes, and I stumbled upon an old palette box that was filled with watercolor paint. I’d completely forgotten about the set that I’d purchased in Saipan about 7 years ago. The entire set of Pentel watercolors cost about $18. Probably not the best quality, but they still work.

watercolors in metal palette box

The Daniel Smith watercolors I ordered won’t be here before Wednesday, and after having so-so results with my last alcohol and watercolor test, I was itching to try out alcohol with wet watercolors. I found the forgotten paints at the perfect time!

Some of the names of the colors are very basic: purple, red, and orange. Others have more commonly used paint names: vermillion, naples yellow, and cobalt blue.

I squirted a few colors onto the palette side of the box and got started.

alcohol and watercolor paint, take 2

For each color, the stripe on the left is the straight alcohol mixed with paint. The next stripe to the right is watercolor and pure water, and the smaller stripe (an afterthought, so I didn’t leave enough room to properly experiment) is a combination of alcohol and water.

When I mixed in the alcohol, the smooth wet paint almost immediately curdled into small particles. When I painted the mixture onto the paper, it felt very waxy. Because the watercolor paint was wet, I was able to gather up more pigment on my brush to smear on the paper than when I tried to lift up pigment from the dry Daniel Smith sample dots. The resulting texture is very streaky and gritty.

As with the dried paint dots, some of the colors seemed more willing to mix with alcohol than others. The red was very stubborn about the whole thing, but red purple (second from left) almost seemed to like the alcohol. The prussian blue (far right) also mixed relatively well with the alcohol, and the purple and ultramarine fell somewhere in the middle.

I finally realize that watercolor paint isn’t made to be used with straight alcohol. It pretty much doesn’t like it at all, but that’s what makes the effect of adding drops of alcohol to watery watercolor interesting–the watercolor practically runs away from the alcohol.

However, just because watercolors weren’t made to mix with alcohol doesn’t mean the effect isn’t interesting. Although I’m sure some watercolor purists would probably disagree, it could have some applications in future paintings where a rough texture is in order.

watercolor & alcohol

I’m sure that some day I’ll stop writing about all the experiments and studies I do with watercolors, but today is not that day.

I’ve been reading up on watercolor and came across the techniques where you sprinkle salt or drops of alcohol on wet paint to create texture-rich effects. I read an article about alternative watercolor mediums that suggested adding some alcohol to painting water to lower the freezing point for artists who paint outside in very cold weather. This got me thinking about the alcohol-based prismacolor markers that I’ve used for years. The markers produce very smooth color and the alcohol evaporates quickly enough that the paper doesn’t wrinkle or buckle. I wondered what it would be like to use straight-alcohol instead of water with watercolors. I wasn’t sure if it would work at all, but I love experimenting, so I gave it a try.


Still working from the 66 color try it sheet, I tried to pull up paint from the dried watercolor paint dots and had varying success.

Suprisingly, some of the colors wouldn’t budge at all, while others seemed not to mind the alcohol and mixed with it readily. Some of the stubborn ones were English Red Ochre, Burnt Tiger’s Eye Genuine, and Zoisite Genuine, and the easiest to mix were the cadmiums. Many fell somewhere in between including most of the Quinacridones. The one that surprised me the most was Cascade Green which is a mix of two pigments, one blue and one green. The green stayed put while the blue soaked into my brush!

Painting with the watercolor-alcohol mix was, in a word, weird. It feels almost like dry brushing, but with a wet brush.The alcohol soaked into the paper very quickly, along with whatever pigment I managed to scrape up. There was a little bit of working time, but not much, and overall no matter how easy or difficult it was to get color on my brush, the results were relatively light and washed out. Some of the colors that appear more saturated are a result of overlapping and repainting some areas. When I added a little more alcohol to paint that was on the paper, it might spread out a little more, but not as much as I could achieve if I’d been using water.

I wasn’t expecting the result to be the same as working with water, but it felt a lot stranger to work with alcohol than I thought it would. I was most surprised that I had such difficulty lifting the dried paint samples in the first place.

There might be scientific reasons that are unknown to me to explain why alcohol and watercolor don’t work together, or don’t work well, but in any case, I’ll have to try out using alcohol as a painting medium again when I get my tubes of paint. Maybe I’ll have more luck starting with wet watercolors?