Monday 28 January 2013

Make Stuff: Painting for Amateurs


I’ve been painting for years, and I absolutely love it. I used to do a lot of commissions and art shows, but recent years has seen me focused more on craft and writing. But with my bedroom makeover slowly coming along, I realized I needed a big painting to start tying the space together. I hate buying art at a department-type store because I’d always rather  do something myself; but I know that both these options can seem intimidating to people who don’t fancy themselves as artists. Well, perhaps this tutorial will make the process of creating a painting a bit less daunting.


A good painting is always at least 50% about planning. Painting is (generally speaking) about layering, and layering needs to be done in a logical order or you end up with a mess. Think about getting dressed in the morning: if you put your jeans on first, then your underwear, you’d probably deem that an outfit fail. The same concept applies to paintings.

Inexpensive craft acrylics like these are
quite useful.


-Acrylic paint—any type is fine. I used a mix here of the little craft bottles, and some student-quality thicker acrylics that come in metallic ‘toothpaste tubes’.
-Textured things that are okay to ruin—I used a piece of cardboard box, a sheet of weird pressed hay meant for scrapbooking, and a couple of round caps off of some old cosmetics.
-A canvas or wood canvas—I painted this one onto a wooden canvas, which I’d primed a while ago. A stretched canvas, sold at your local art store, is also a great option. If you want to leave it unframed, go with the ‘gallery style’, which has a deeper built-in frame and looks better.
-Paintbrushes—some big, some small. I like soft bristles for a smoother look but it depends on what you’re painting. A rough, rustic look may work for you. Be sure to have lots of fresh water to clean your brushes and keep them wet if you haven’t cleaned them.

Start with the background.
The background will likely show through in a lot of spots, even if you paint a whole bunch of stuff on it. It will certainly set the tone in terms of colour and texture. For this painting, I worked in long, vertical streaks of red, warm yellow, and gold. I went a bit crazy purchasing little tubes of gold paint in different tones, and it was worth it because the look is very neat.


Remember your colourwheel. If you want a painting to give off a harmonious vibe, keep your colour choices within the same ¼ of the wheel. If you want to add some energy or purposeful dischord, you can choose colours from other sectors of the wheel to add in. Read about complementary colours for more help here. For this painting, I stuck with red and yellow, and added some white to make things a bit pinky. So it’s a harmonious set of colours.

Make a lot of streaks. 
For this type of painting, we want to blend the colours together, but not too much. You’ll see big streaks of gold and yellow all through my piece. Everything on the background layer is very smooth, though: you can use acrylics to be textured and 3D, but with the background you probably don’t want a lot of texture yet because it will interfere with the next step…

Paint something contrasting.
I looked up some lotus images and freehanded these onto the canvas…because I have a lot of practice. I don’t recommend you freehand something like a flower onto your painting if you don’t have practice under your belt. Once your background is dry (anywhere from 20-60 minutes), you can use a piece of chalk or even a light-coloured pencil crayon to draw your design onto the canvas. Or better yet, use a stencil or a projector. Projectors are a great way to ‘cheat’ in art—and trust me, art is all about cheating.

Once you get your chalk or pencil crayon onto the canvas, choose a contrasting colour to paint your design on. If you want to do your flowers (or whatever you drew) in a colour that is lighter than the background, do them in white first, let them dry, and then paint over top of the white. It’ll work like primer. Remember that paint isn’t perfectly opaque, so using white as a primer is often a good idea. For this painting, though, white was the actual colour I wanted. Still, it took three layers of white to really make it opaque.

Add your texture.
I wanted gold paint textured right over top of the lotuses and everything else, so this is when I started adding texture.

A piece of cardboard box, with the first layer pulled off, provided a great ridged stamping tool.

Cardboard texture...I painted thickly
right onto the cardboard, then
squished  it onto the painting.
The result of the cardboard texture.
The weird pressed-hay paper I found in the scrapbooking aisle made a squiggly mess that I quite liked.

The strange pressed-straw sheet
I found. Again, I painted a bunch
of paint right onto the straw,
then pressed it into the painting.

The end result of the straw texture.

And I even grabbed a couple of actual stamps I own for cardmaking, and dipped those into my thickest paint and got some pretty good impressions on the canvas with those.

Paint the sides.
Painting the sides of the canvas (the edge of the frame, basically) makes it look much better if you hang it unframed. I painted the sides gold on mine. You can also just continue the background colours right over the sides, though.

If you want to be sure your piece is protected, wait three days and then use a water-based varathane/polyurethane to seal the piece. It’s not mandatory with acrylic paints, but you may like the look of it.

When you mess up:
Don’t worry about it. Let the mistake dry, then paint over top of it. Be creative and don’t fear mistakes! That fear will only hold you back. If you mess up really badly, you can let it dry, sand it down a bit, and prime the whole thing over again. Heck, I don’t even usually bother with sanding it.

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