Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Suitable Art Surfaces for Acrylic Painting in Art Class

Acrylic painting is one of most popular means of expression within generic art classes due to the paints’ durability, versatility and simplicity. But although acrylics and watercolours are both watersoluble, they possess vital differences. This means the preparation of different types of supports. What is the best art support required for acrylic painting?

What is Acrylic Paint?

Put simply, acrylic paints are ground pigment suspended in a polymer – a plastic-based polyethylene that dries stable. Acrylic paint is defined by the following properties:
It is water based. You can thin this paint with water into watercolour-like washes, or you can apply the paint neat from the tube for impasto-like effects. Being a watersoluble paint, you require only water to clean the brushes.

Once the acrylic paint is dry, it becomes water-resistant. This means the paint cannot be reworked. So you really need to get the effects desired before it dries. Depending upon the atmospheric conditions, acrylics will become touch-dry in around half-an-hour to a few hours. In very dry conditions, it could dry within a few minutes.

Like oil paint, acrylic paint is essentially an opaque medium in that most of the colours have great covering power, although some pigments (like lemon yellow and ultramarine) are transparent by nature and require white to make it opaque.

Acrylic paint is versatile, robust and forgiving. However, you need to avoid storing acrylic paintings in very cold conditions as the paint (could, but not always) crack.

Preparing Surfaces for Acrylic Paint

Although this medium is robust, the proper preparation of the art surface is required prior to painting, particularly if the painting is to be an ambitious project. This will prevent problems arising in the future.

Surfaces Suitable for Acrylics
Like with oil paint, I would personally ‘seal’ (or size) the art surface (known as a ‘support’) prior to applying the acrylic paint. Paper or card can be used for acrylic painting, but having absorbent properties will cause the paint to dry too quickly and the paper to buckle. This is why I would apply a thin coat of acrylic primer beforehand.

Many supports are suitable for acrylic painting, which includes thick paper, watercolour paper, card, board, hardboard, MDF and stretched-canvas. For convenience, ready-sized surfaces such as Daler-boards and sketch pads can be purchased from art shops.

How to Size Surfaces for Acrylic Painting

However, if you wish to prepare your own art surface and save money, you can purchase a tin of white primer, (in art shops known as ‘acrylic gesso’). Acrylic gesso is merely white pigment suspended in a polymer. One coat applied via a wide brush is all that is required. If priming paper or card, clip it onto some backing-board to minimize buckling. The surface will flatten out once dry. Clean the brushes immediately afterwards as the paint dries water-resistant.

If you are conducting a few rough acrylic sketches, you can cut cost by purchasing a tin of good quality white emulsion paint from a DIY store instead. A large tin will last years. Save the acrylic gesso for the finished works.

Which Surface for Acrylic Painting

If you wish to render a highly-expressive artwork, then coarse canvas will provide the ideal weave on which to allow the acrylic paint to ‘skid’ over the surface. This might be ideal for impressionist-type landscapes or sea studies. Cold pressed paper (or ‘Not’) can also be used, as this type of watercolour paper has a pleasing rough texture.
Highly detailed acrylic paintings will require smooth surfaces such as card or hot-pressed paper (or HP paper). You may prepare hardboard by sanding the surface with fine glasspaper before applying a thin coat of acrylic gesso. The gesso may ‘burr’ up once dry. Sand lightly and apply another coat for an extra smooth surface. For a fine texture, you may also used fine canvas.

Preparing Acrylic Art Boards for Art Class

Acrylic paints are a popular medium as they require few associated mediums and are water-soluble. However, proper preparation of art surfaces is needed before applying this paint. Many different types of supports can be used for acrylic painting, including paper and wood. Although you may paint straight onto these supports, I would size it beforehand. Acrylic gesso can be used, but for quick sketches, a good-quality emulsion can be applied instead.

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Monday, 23 April 2012

Art Class Challenge: Step by Step Exercise in Shading a Sphere

An ideal art exercise for beginners on shading technique, the budding artist cannot fail to get satisfactory results by following this step by step drawing demo to improve drawing skills. See my video clip on this great shading technique.



Perfect Shading Technique

Shading does not always come easily for some. The key is to select subject matter that enables the practice of pure shading without having to worry about the linear aspect of the subject matter. For this reason, the object concerned is a hypothetical sphere. All that is required is decent quality sketching paper (A4 or A5), a soft pencil: HB to 2B. An eraser, ruler and a circular objet that can be used a stencil. Bottle tops, large coins or a small saucer can be used. Dispense if you are confident in drawing a circular shape with accuracy freehand.

Master Class in Shading Method

Remember to start light and work darker as the drawing progresses. Don’t’ make dark lines first off or erasing a mistake may cause damage to the surface of the paper. Work progressively darker in steady increments. Don’t use the nib of the pencil or it will create unwanted lines within the shading area. Hold the pencil around 45 degrees, allowing the graphite to contact the paper obliquely. Move it in small, circular movements. Not perpendicular, (horizontally or vertically). Work over and over the area eradicating unwanted steep tonal increments.

Flat Shading with a Pencil

Follow this guide on how to shade the background to a simple object. The illustration provides a simplified view.

1 Roughly in the centre of the page, draw a circle. On either side, faintly draw a horizontal line to represent a resting surface. Use a ruler if necessary.

2 Very faintly, draw a small circular shape near the top right of the sphere. This is to represent the highlight. Be careful not to apply shading there when it comes to shading the sphere.

3 To the left of the sphere, roughly three-quarters of its width, across, draw a very faint ‘C’ shape to echo the contour the sphere.

4 with the soft pencil, shade the background to the sphere, aiming for a pale grey tone. Move the nib of the pencil in all directions, eradicating unwanted lines.

5 Shade the tabletop a little paler than the background described in step 4.

Step by Step Demo on Shading

Now it is time to shade the sphere itself. This will involve gradating the tone from light to dark. 6 Begin by shading faintly over the sphere, avoiding the circular highlight shape described in step 2. Aim this shading to be as light as possible at first.

7 Now working from the ‘C’ shape described in step 3, shade a little darker here, tapering off to either side, aiming for a very fuzzy ‘C’ shape.

8 Repeat step 7 beginning a little darker this time. Like paint, pencil shading is best applied in layers, working a little darker each time. Apply less shading towards the highlight and the far left of the orb. This faintly paler area is to represent reflected light – light reflected back into shadow from a neighbouring bright surface. Reflected light is the key to making objects appear three-dimensional. Work in small circular strokes, aiming for a seamless finish.

Drawing Shadows Step by Step

Now draw a flattened ‘C’ shape extending from the left of the orb to represent the shadow cast over the tabletop. Again, start light, working progressively darker. Shade in this shadow, aiming for a slightly darker shade near the orb than further away. Practice this exercise as often as you wish. You don’t have to take visual resources with your. It can be done anywhere. Aim for smooth gradations within the orb, getting the tonal balances right.

This excerpt has been taken from my drawing art instruction book, Draw What You See Not What You Think You See by Rachel Shirley available on Kindle and hardback.

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Thursday, 19 April 2012

Draw What You See Not What You Think You See

A drawing instruction book for those who believe they cannot draw might prove helpful. Picture dyslexia, a lifetime away from creative activities or a chronic lack of confidence in drawing could foster the belief that drawing is a gift bestowed to others. My book might prove that drawing ability can be developed regardless of the cause.

Overcome Picture Blindness

During my teaching, I came across certain students who really struggled to draw. Issues with a low visual awareness and an imbalance with the field of vision would manifest itself as any of the following:
  • A drawing that gravitates to one side of the page.
  • Skewed-looking symmetrical objects such as vases, cups, flowers, faces and scissors.
  • Lines intended to be perpendicular leaning to one side, such as rigging on ships, table legs and horizon lines.
  • Elements of an object are out of proportion with one another (most commonly seen in figure drawing). Examples are: arms and legs too spindly, eyes too far up the head and hands/feet too small.
  • Long objects viewed in foreshortening appear skewed in the drawing, such as teapot spouts and pointing fingers.
  • Ellipses with corners or skewed curves.
  • A childish, symbolic quality to the drawings that signify a lack of sensitive observation.

A Guide to Drawing


My book opens with a test on visual awareness and informs on the possible underlying causes of low drawing ability which most often is a distorted perception of an object’s appearance. An overbearing left-brain interferes with what the right brain is seeing – the left brain possesses language and logic; the right-brain possesses spacial interpretation. As explained in the preliminary chapters, the right-brain needs to be tapped into when drawing accurately. Some understanding of why low drawing ability occurs informs on my choice for the drawing exercises within my book, which begin from the very beginning: to learn the language of line from A, B and C.

A Book on How to Draw Well

Exercises ensue with drawing hypothetical lines: whether a line is truly perpendicular, symmetrical and whether a circle is truly circular. This forces the brain to make accurate visual judgments and exercise all fields of vision. Heightening visual awareness of whether something is ‘balanced’ or not is prescribed to counter an ignorance to drawing errors.

The exercises progress to unorthodox drawing methods which include upside-down drawing, abstract drawing, drawing within a frame and rendering negative shapes. Exercises progress steadily, not abruptly, enhancing success on each task.

Advanced Shading Techniques with Pencil


The latter part of the book moves on to the language of tone, again, starting from the very beginning with the ‘weight of marks’. Too often, those with low drawing ability render everything as linear, not with visual ‘weight.’ Applying tones to lines prior to areas provides the ideal starting point for shading.

Exercises on shading techniques begin with shading flat areas and abstract shapes before moving onto shading simple objects which are ‘keyed’ according to tonality. Objects are presented in order of challenge, offering opportunities to progress in drawing.

The latter part of the book inform on shading on grey paper by the use of pastel pencils. Step by step instructions are given for each drawing demonstration.

Understanding Perspectives on Drawing

The final chapter informs on the prescriptive areas of drawing for reference, which includes a section on plotting methods for drawing, making and using a viewfinder, understanding vanishing points and how to draw an ellipse.

Book’s Statistics

My book is available on Kindle and as a hardcopy. It has approximately 15,600 words and 90 images broken down into 12 chapters. The hardback version measures: 8.5x5.5in and is 114 pages long.

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