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Acrylics…getting technical

Acrylic painting of a crow including the text 'Acrylics... getting technical -'

A few tips on how I like to use acrylics in my art.  

There’s so many ways, great books and good advice out there on the internet.

Classes and demos also give you a fantastic insight into painting methods and tricks in action.

I’m just going to get stuck straight in and tell you the things that make it all more fun and effective for me…

1. Lay it on thick

Abstract acrylic painting detail in rose pink, lemon yellow, stormy grey and light blues.

Detail from Winter Scene

Hold back on that water.  

Like our first experiences of ‘poster paint’ at school, we know we can use water to dilute acrylics, but that doesn’t mean we should.  If you apply paint straight from your palette with only enough water to loosen the brush, you get vibrant colour, texture and quite bit more control over the paint.  By comparison a wetter mix has a lot of beautiful watercolour features, but is very different to the undiluted version which is my favourite way of working with acrylics.

There’s different brands and paint products that help you choose more of a ‘heavy-body’ or ‘high viscosity’ paint, you can also buy thickening products to add to your paint and make it thicker to work with.  It’s fun to experiment, push paint around a bit and see what suits you and the work you are doing best.  I use my texture and colour to create movement and energy in bold, vibrant colours.  

2.  Use a ground.

An acrylic painting with an abstracted tree line with bright orange pops of colour as well as brown bracken and bough lines.

Treeline - enquiries

A ground is a basecoat, covering your canvas or page, giving you a starting wash of colour, allowing a pop of colour or tone to infiltrate across your artwork.  A contrasting or complimentary colour can be very bold and exciting (the artwork above had an orange ground which is poking through the trees and zipping against the browns and blues), or if using a more harmonious colour you can instantly and helpfully block out big sections (i.e. the blue of a sky on top of which you are painting a horizon and trees) which can stop you feeling like you have to ‘colour in’ your white sections, and instead focus on the energy, layers and atmosphere, even if it gets covered over - it gives you a supporting backdrop at all times as you work through the painting… nothing is missing from the get go… it’s just changing.

3.  Big brushes for as long as possible

Picture of artist Lucia Hardy painting at a desk easel using a large flat brush on a big canvas.

A tip I got (along with many others) from the talented artist and tutor Marie Antoniou  was to always use big brushes for as long as you could manage in a painting and I hold to that excellent advice.  I use flat, broad brushes - you can pick up a pack of three sizes in most art and crafty shops for very little money (often as good as the expensive versions) and use these a lot before moving to my smaller/weirder brush selection to help me out at the end of the painting or for particular effects.

The biggest reason to use big brushes?  It forces you to be expressive, bold and decisive, it makes your work fresh and instinctive and importantly it stops you fiddling and fussing too early on.  It will seem scary at first, but trust me stick with it and you will get results.  Promise.

4. Mix Colours

Detail of an artist's palette in yellows, oranges and light blues.

The magic of getting an artwork to ‘sing’ is often in the colour choices you make, and more specifically, the mixing of colour you do.  All too often paints are used in standard colours, straight from the tube and just a simple mix or two might have elevated that work to a different level.  It’s always worth having an experiment, and if you’re a real details man - you could make yourself colour charts starting with one colour and adding just different quantities of white and black to start, and seeing how different the qualities and applications changes as you go.  

The other thing I like to do is harmonising my colours, so keeping a relatively small palette of colours and using different variations and mixes of these within a work.  This means that these mixed ‘children’ colours are all linked together by their original ‘parent’ palette giving a consistency of tone and a coherent atmosphere across the painting that can really be beautiful if all goes to plan.  

 5.  Sensing your painting and what it needs from the paint

an acrylic painting in blues and purples of an abstract mountain reflected in a loch, clouds, drips and ripples intertwine to create atmosphere and a sense of place.

Loch Assapol - enquiries

I look at a lot of artist’s content on the web, I watch you tube videos and I read many artist’s guides to this and that… one thing that comes up a lot is about your personal style, finding it, perfecting it, being consistent.   This really helps when you’re an artist trying to be seen in a big, big, big online and real world marketplace for art… but… I like to think that on the very top of your priority list when initiating a painting is what that painting needs (and if your style is really your natural style - it’s going to come out anyway without too much bossing from your sensible, responsible side) so this means you have my permission to scrap any of the rules aforementioned… to use a biscuit to paint with - if biscuits feels required… to experiment and think about the feelings of your work and how you might communicate them to the viewer… could you flick, scratch or drip paint to get a sense of weather / emotion / charge?  What marks could you make to evoke the atmosphere you are feeling as you paint?

The beauty of acrylic is that when your mind goes off piste - the paint says ‘great, I can do that too!’  Watery transparency to tactile, craggy ridges.  Flicks and tricks, solid blocks or skittery scumbles - you name it, it’s got your back.  

So be creative, see what happens and if you fancy - come back and tell me all about it.

An abstract acrylic painting of a pond surrounded by trees and vegetation, a small black moorhen swims in the foreground.

Moorhen - enquiries

Thank you for reading x

Check me out on Instagramfacebook or keep in touch via my bi-monthly art journal here.

Getting started

black and white twigs

One of the most common questions I’m asked when chatting about art is the fundamental: ‘Where do I begin?’

I thought I’d share a few of my answers to people who are trying to be more creative / trying to rekindle some creative energy / keen but stumped.  

1. Be clear about what you’d like to do 

I know it sounds silly, but many of us do a ‘bundle package’ style wish list of all the things they’d like to do right from the off.  Although it’s great to have goals and big dreams, when you unpack something you think sounds quite simple, you might find it is actually a big old bag of stuff that might be a bit difficult to achieve all together, especially if it’s your first time ever (or in a long time) of trying something.  

Be really specific if you can.  Try and reduce your goals and expectations to smaller steps that fit in to the time, places, and equipment you can get your hands on right now.  Focus on taking the first, smallest step of the activity you’re thinking about, and think of it as a trial.  

It will become a lot less stressful, less pressurised and more playful to use a step by step approach.  It also gives you lots of flexibility about what you might want to do next.  

We all know trying things out gives you an insight you didn’t have before, and who knows, this may well be the permission you need to have a bit of fun and not take things too seriously from the get-go.

2. Pick a subject that you LOVE

Or feel deeply about.  Don’t do what you think ‘artists’ do.   Don’t do what other people ask you to do.  Don’t do something that you feel would make a good picture.  Do what YOU want to do.

Not fussed about landscapes but feel like you should be able to do them - walk away.  

Mum’s asked for a portrait of her beloved dog, but you secretly hate him and you find it really hard doing animals - don’t bother.   

Love looking at a vase of gorgeous flowers but trying to draw them always seems meh.  You’re probably working on the wrong subject.

Think again guys, don’t stress, make up an excuse.   I promise it will be the right move.  

Think about something you really care about, something that makes you react, that stirs real emotion (in YOU not others).  If you’re really struggling, something if you died tomorrow you’d love to have thrashed out and tried to capture.  Have a go at that.

Think about why you care about it? What does it represent?  

Wallow in that love for a while and then think about how you’re best going to get creative about it.   Once you are in the flow of making and creating, you might not need such big guns (heart-tugging emotional inspirations) all the time, it’s likely you’ll find more and more inspiration/motivation in much smaller and subtler subjects, but I find these epically personal ideas really help to spur you over the hump and into the meadow of creative frolicking.

So for example you could…  

  • Think of a plant growing in the garden when you grew up that brings back memories.
  • Imagine illustrating your favourite book of all time.
  • How would you create an abstract work telling the story of an amazing song.
  • Imagine the view from the door/window/veranda from a great holiday/your favourite place, what’s happening in the scene? What items are there?
  • What would a self portrait of yourself back in time look like? Where would you go?
  • What item/s in your house summarises life right now?  What would a still life arrangement of these items signify? 
  • What’s your guilty pleasure? Make an artwork about it (we won’t tell :))

‘The Witching Hour’ available at Gallery No.3

3.  Give yourself a break

The truth is anything worth doing takes time, energy and a mountain of mistakes to help us learn and shape the best way forward.  We know all this and yet it’s so easy to keep piling pressure on ourselves to deliver more and do better from the outset.   Be good to yourself, be forgiving, be loving.  The chances are you deserve it.  Some days are good days and some days are bad, pick your timing carefully.  Don’t feel bad because today is not going to be a creative day, if you feel it in your gut, that’s a wise move.  Do the other jobs (see below).

Positivity must balance any critique you are giving yourself for any work you’ve tried, or worse you haven’t tried yet, but you’re berating yourself for it anyway in advance!  Put a kind arm around your own shoulder and whisper “Let’s go for it, fortune favours the brave!” and when you’ve got started - “We’re getting somewhere. High-five”(P.S. don’t leave yourself hanging).  

Detail of ‘Winter Scene’ 

4. Don’t overcommit too early

Trust me when I say that I have splashed on equipment and gone all-in on my newest creative addiction more than a few times in my life, only to later discover that the buzz of finding ‘my thing’ was far greater than my interest in that particular fad I thought I was into for life.  

Save yourself the dosh and the compounded confusion, by making an effort to manage your expectations.  Buy/commit small and simple to start.  If you can borrow, consider and try it out - do that.  Time really does tell.   If you try, give it some time and it sticks…fantastic!  

Detail of ‘Three Crows’

5.  Trick yourself into it. 

You’ve tried everything, something always gets in the way… it’s time to get underhand and trick yourself into it.  Try these sneaky methods out individually or together and get past that clever rationalising part of your brain that always has an answer (or dig) to share…

*Telling someone what you are planning / find a creative buddy - this can really help to motivate us to deliver.  i.e. ‘I’ve told Sarah I’m going to do it so I have to do it now.’  Hell you could even ask Sarah to help you by reminding you or encouraging you…maybe Sarah was thinking the same thing and you arrange a creative get together.  Sarah’s nice. 

*Set a deadline - not always one of my favourites, but for some people, who like targets and structure, it can work really well.  Creating a strict (or more relaxed) timeline, for a task / project / series can spur you into action and tick off the jobs that you didn’t want to start but actually now you have, you’re having fun.  

*Incentivise - i.e. ‘I’m going to treat myself this evening if I manage to get started on this project today.’  ‘I’m going to spend this hour just on my art and then I’m making myself a really nice lunch.’ You know the drill.  Everyone loves a nice lunch.

*Beware the other jobs - there are always other jobs.  Other jobs are poisonous and sometimes fatal to your freelove-on-the-freeway creative vibes.  You must freeze the other jobs with all your mental and physical weapons - go for a walk, work in a cafe, sit in the tidiest room in the house and close the door, turn your phone on silent, turn off whatsapp notifications… whatever it takes - it you can buy yourself some time it might just be enough to get you started.

With any luck once you’ve started - there’ll be no holding you back.


Thank you for reading x

Check me out on Instagramfacebook or keep in touch via my bi-monthly art journal here.

Wolf Moon

wolf moon graphic, including my website and a ink drawing of a pack of wolves in profile, all staring intently together, dark woods in the background.

So… I’ve recently developed a small obsession with wolves.  

I never before felt the calling for a funky jumper with a dreamcatcher and a wolf howling at the moon on it, but, you know, this just might be the time.  

It all started with a story I wrote about a heroine lost in a wood.  She was being chased and hunted down by a pack of wolves, which spurred some research and the more I found out, the more I wanted to know.   

In creative terms, I started filling the ‘pot’ with everything wolves… wherever I looked I saw wolf symbolism, pack dynamics, parallels with us, another highly social, intelligent species, I wrote stuff down and started making sketches.  

One day an animal life-drawing class I follow ( sent word of a Wolf life-drawing class, in-person (I had done some great zoom sessions of Hawks and Owls before with them over lockdown).  This class was with wolf-dogs, a wolf hybrid very close genetically to wild grey wolves.  I jumped at the chance to join the fun, and when the time came, off I went with my art supplies and a big smile.

three wolf dogs are sleeping in a room surrounded by a square of artists head-down, sketching away

And I didn’t really stop smiling…the experience was fantastic.

Run in partnership with the Watermill Wolves who brought their beautiful beasts along for us to draw, paint and pet carefully :)

As well as great sitters, who snoozed a fair bit, they are talented animal actors, able to jump up, howl and snarl all for the price of a secretly supplied snack.

I had the pleasure to be sitting close to the handsome ‘James Bond’ who napped in front of me for a good period, giving me a chance for some great drawing time. 

pencil drawing of a wolf-dog snoozing, his head laid over his paws.

When they weren’t relaxing, the wolves were up, playfully pacing their area.  Sniffing around, alert and very lean in real life.  They were tall, for me their most distinguishing feature from dogs, that and their long nose and distinct mask-like fur colouring on their faces and along the tops of their bodies.

They were calm at times and intensely boisterous at others, and although a lot like dogs they had a more wired, intense energy.  

When the session was closing and artists were giving their final pats, I got an unexpected wolf-hug from 007 - I felt very honoured.  I like to think it was our deep wild connection that forged our connection and not the five minute belly scratch I’d given him earlier.

pencil drawing of a wolfs head from above and a wolf curled up in a ball

In drawing terms, sketching an animal in real life or from a reference photo, gets easier and stronger the better you know your subject.  So it helped that I had done research, spent time observing wolves online, in videos or books and also explored that knowledge through my own sketches and writing.  

I also find I check back often to what I believe the unique elements of my subjects are.  Both in their physical makeup and their psychological identity as far as it relates to us, and most specifically to me.  Symbolism, connection and emotional resonance all seem to play a part and I try to incorporate all of this into my work to bring an energy, narrative or sense of character to it.   

It’s true that some of this energy, we bring without trying, without realising, it just comes as part of the expression package… but I find understanding the layers of knowledge and attention we bring to the creative process can help to inspire us and allow us to be more expressive and make more exciting work.  Accentuating differences, allowing feelings and symbolism around a subject filter into the work, or ensuring dynamic lines are strong and characteristic, are just some examples of the tools of the trade.  

A friend mentioned to me that all of my wolf-related energy and endeavour coincided with the time of the wolf moon, a full moon in January traditionally was said to have been a time that the wolves were more likely to howl.   

Perhaps then I have just been a little moon-crazed lately.  Howling in my own way.  

Since the session, I’ve been making other work that feeds off my thoughts and experiences with these beautiful animals, it plays off all the wonderful things about wolves and what they represent to me. 

I hope to have some more beautiful work to share with you one of these days, when everything comes together and the time is right.

Perhaps by the next Wolf moon :)

wolf dog and artist smiling into the camera!

Thank you for reading x

Check me out on Instagramfacebook or keep in touch via my bi-monthly art journal here.

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