Friday, 25 September 2015

Common Art Myths - Part 2

 Blog 38

Beckett's Creek - Summer, acrylic, 11" x 14"

Fall at Beckett's Creek, mixed media, 30" x 40"

I hope you enjoyed last week’s blog. This time, I would like to share the second part of the ten art myths with you.

6. Painting on Small Supports is Easier than Painting on Big Supports

An artist usually picks the size of his support (the material or surface onto which the paint is applied, e. g. canvas, board, paper) according to the subject he wants to paint and effects he wants to create. The bigger the canvas the more impact it will have on a wall but there will also be more restrictions to where it can be hung.

Picking the size of a canvas also depends on the painting location. In the studio, the artist is usually more flexible than outside. The transportation to the painting site has to be considered as well as the practicality of putting up a big canvas when painting in nature. The bigger the canvas, the heavier it is and the easier it can be blown off the easel (or blown away with the easel) on a windy day.

Usually, if you have a smaller canvas you just adjust the size of your brushes accordingly. However, I find extremely small canvases often a bigger challenge because you have to really simplify or you will have paint so tiny shapes which require a steady hand.

The size of the canvas definitely does not correlate with the time needed to finish a painting. Sometimes you get just stuck at a certain point and it is a challenge to get the painting right. This can happen to you no matter the size or subject. 
7. You have to Follow the Rules

While there are a couple of rules to help artists to make a composition more interesting and to create the illusion of space, there are many examples where artists have successfully broken the rules. Canadian painter Alex Colville is a good example of someone who broke many rules purposefully, but made sure his compositions were still convincing. For example, his subjects cast no shadows, they leave no trace or footsteps and seem to float.
Plein air painters might also have faced the following situation: The painting spot is clouded over while the sun is lighting up a field in the distance making it look warmer. While you usually should use warm colours in the foreground as they seem to advance towards the viewer and cool colours in the background because they give the illusion that something recedes, this is not what they are seeing at that moment. Therefore, if they want to capture the scenery in front of them, they will put warm colours in the area that is highlighted by the light.

If you want to create a lasting quality piece of artwork, you have to follow some rules dedicated by the medium you are using. For example, you should not mix acrylic and oil colours if you want to make sure that the surface is sticking to your canvas and not cracking. However, there are artists who know about the risks and do not care about the consequences for their art because their aim is not to create something that is lasting.

8. A Colour is Either Warm or Cold

This is what many students learn when they first study colour theory. There are the primary colours red, yellow and blue, and secondary colours green, purple, and orange. It is a simplified approach. However, let us take for example red and green. Red is generally a warmer colour than green. However, when you add blue to the red to make it darker and yellow to the green to achieve a yellowish green, the green is suddenly warmer than the red. Moreover, you also have to take in consideration that the temperature of any colour is always influenced by the surrounding colours. While green seems cool compared to yellow, it will look warm when placed next to blue.

9. Adding White to a Colour Lightens the Colour

This is partially true. The process of adding white to a colour is called tinting. However, when you add white (especially opaque paint like titanium white), you not only lighten the colour but also make the colour look chalky by removing the vibrancy of the colour. Tinting a transparent color with titanium white will produce an opaque colour. You will also change the temperature of the colour, making it cooler. In the case of red you even end up with a different colour: pink. If you just want to lighten a colour, mix it with a lighter version of the original colour or add a small amount of light yellow.

10. Good Artists Work with a Limited Palette of Colours

The number of paints on your palette does not automatically say something about the skills of you as an artist. However, many artists decide on a limited palette for the following reasons. Even though you can buy about 100 different colours right out of the tube, buying a huge quantity of colours is not only expensive, hard to keep organized, but also too big a weight to carry along, if you work at different locations. With just a basic palette you can mix so many different variations of colours. Preparing a couple of mixing charts will make it faster to find the right combination, especially if you are not an avid painter. For the above reasons, many artists work with a limited palette. I use the following pallette:

Lemon yellow
Cadmium yellow medium
Cadmium red
Alizarin crimson permanent
Ultramarine blue
Cobalt blue
Titanium white
Burnt Umber
Sap Green
Payne’s Gray

However, there are some colours that I use on special occasions because I just found that I have not managed to create a certain vibrant colour I was looking for. One is magenta which I often use for painting flowers. Sometimes, I just see a beautiful colour and add it to my palette for certain subjects.

I hope you liked the blogs about the art myths. I am sure there are many more. Please sign up at the bottom of this page, if you would like to receive my blogs automatically by email.

Friday, 18 September 2015

10 Common Art Myths - Part 1

 Blog 37

watercolour, 1995

This week, I would like to entertain you with some art myths I heard during my career as an artist and instructor. Maybe, some of you are considering taking a painting course this fall and are wondering whether they would have enough talent or would just embarrass themselves? While most of these art myths are written from the perspective of a painter, they can be easily translated into other arts. 

Malta, acrylic, about 2004

1. You Need Talent to be an Artist

During my time as an art instructor I have seen that everyone can paint. However, not everyone can paint like Monet or even the person beside them. If you look at art, you will see that there are so many different styles. You just have to find out your own style and the subjects that inspire you. It is great to look at other work and to admire and learn from it, but you are not the person who is sitting next to you. In every painting is a little bit of you ingrained. Your temperament will shine through your brushwork and the looseness of your paint application. Your mood will influence your choice of colours. If you have a group of students who paint the same scene you will not even get two paintings which look the same.

While it is true that some people have more inherent talent for art than others, everyone can learn the fundamental techniques of painting, for example the rules of an interesting composition, and colour mixing.

One of my early teachers once told me that the most important character tread to become a successful artist is not talent but perseverance. There are many talented artist who will never succeed because they are lacking persistence while others with less talent can succeed with hard work. Plus you need a certain amount of luck and to be a professional artist a good marketing strategy. It is not only about creating your art, you also have to sell it.

If you've worked at developing artistic skills, actively pursuing ideas rather than expecting creative thoughts to come to you, you're not at the whim of your so-called talent. You've already in the habit of exploring possibilities, of investigating, of pushing things one step further. You're set for the long term.
So instead of asking yourself if you have talent or not, grab a paintbrush if you feel like it. The most important part of painting is not the final painting but having fun creating and learning something new along the way.

2. Painting Should Come Easily

During one of my introductory painting classes, a student who was struggling noted that it must be nice that painting just came so easily to me. For a moment I was stunned. While successful painters might make it look easy to create a painting when you watch them during a demonstration, it has taken them their whole artistic life to get where they are, including many failed attempts and frustrating moments. Like any skill, it takes practice, practice and more practice to improve your techniques. With your increase in experience it will be easier to master some of your skills. For example, when I paint a lot, mixing certain colours comes easily. On the other hand when I have had a long break from painting, I feel really stiff trying to put my image on the canvas, just like after not having exercised for a while.

II you believe that painting should be easy, you will soon end up frustrated and disappointed. Painting will always be a challenge, because you are constantly striving to improve. If you get complacent with your painting skills, it becomes like painting by numbers. it loses its excitement. Painting is a lifelong learning experience, so the more skilful you become, the more you demand from yourself.

3. Every Painting Must be Perfect

If you expect every single one of your paintings to turn out perfectly, you will set yourself up for disappointment. You will tense up in the attempt to reach perfection instead of enjoying the process of creating. Looking at famous artists’ works, you will realize that not all of their paintings have been executed in the same successful way. Instead consider each painting as a new challenge, try some new techniques or materials, or change the subject.

As I do a lot of plein air paintings, I see them as a way of journaling. Some days, things just flow easily, and the scenery might just capture me, while on others the weather might not be favourable or I am not at my best.

In any case, Salvador Dali summed it up perfectly when he said "Have no fear of perfection, you'll never reach it".

4. Good Drawing Skills are the Basis of a Good Painting

While it can certainly is a plus to have good drawing skills, each medium requires its own set of skills. While some artists like to do detailed drawings of their subject before the paint the image on their canvas (or other surface), others just start out with a very rough sketch directly on the canvas. Some just build their composition on the go.
So if you think you cannot paint because you cannot even draw a straight line do not worry. Just pick up a brush and some paints and get started. You might surprise yourself. Almost all of my students are usually pleasantly surprised what they have achieved.

I draw a very rough sketch with a small brush on the painting ground when I paint outside. In the studio, I start with a rough pastel sketch blocking in the basic colours. Then, I go over the surface with a acrylic glazing medium to keep the pastels from lifting off my surface and blending the edges slightly. After this step, I start putting on my acrylic paints.

5. You Should Not Copy Another Artist’s Work

Studying the work of great artists by copying their paintings will help you to improve your own skills. You will also increase your appreciation of the artist’s skills because what often looks really easy proves to require a very solid knowledge of colour interactions and composition aside from the painting skills.

However, there is a difference between copying a masterpiece to study another artist’s process of creating and his techniques, and imitating other artists’ ideas and even passing them off as your own. You should always give credit to the original artist on your painting.

I hope this has encouraged you to accept the challenge to learn a new skill. If you have always postponed signing up for an art course, take the next step. Next or week, I have five more art myths that came to my mind. What art myths have you heard? What is your opinion on the points I have raised?

Friday, 11 September 2015

The Advantages of Acrylic Paints

Blog 36

Out of Control, Mixed Media, 12" x 12"

Last week, I told you about the history of acrylic painting which is pretty short because acrylic paints are only available commercially since the 1950s. Today, I would like to share with you why so many modern painters got interested in the new medium.

Acrylic paints have been used by many modern painters who like their fast drying time, their durability, even sheen, and versatility. Depending on your painting style and the different type of acrylic paints, gels and pastes you incorporate in your painting, you can create thin transparent pieces that look like watercolours works or pieces that look like oil paintings due to their thick layers of paints. Acrylic paints and mediums are also great to create mixed media artworks with three dimensional effects. Last but not least, they can be thinned and cleaned up with water.

Acrylic paint can be applied to almost all non-greasy slightly rough surfaces. If the surface is too shiny and smooth, the paint can easily be peeled off. Therefore, if you want to paint on shiny metal or plastic, you need to rough the surface up with a bit of sandpaper. A base coat is optional.

Improvements to the quality if the paints have made the experience of working with acrylic paints not only fun but make it possible for the artist to create artworks of high quality. Brilliant colours and high light fastness guarantee a high standard of quality.

Acrylic paints are very forgiving with regard to the applications: you can have thin layers on top of thick layers without running the risk that your paint will crack. However, if you want a cracked surface you can work with a medium called crackle paste. You can even decide whether you prefer a glossy, matte, or semi-gloss finish. The fast drying time make them the perfect medium for easy re-working and layering. The acrylic paints are still evolving. To avoid the use of toxic materials, fugitive colours, or expensive pigments, many companies offer hues of traditional colours. A hue in this context means that the original pigment has been replaced by safer or cheaper alternatives. New colours and mediums have been created like the iridescent acrylic paints, acrylic enamels and a large variety of innovative acrylic gels, and pastes.
Next week, I will finish my blogs about acrylic paints with a look at the myths that surround working with this exciting medium.

If you would like to find out whether painting with acrylic paint is for you, I invite you to subscribe to my monthly newsletter at As a bonus you will receive my free ebook “I Am Ready To Paint But Where Do I Start?”. You could also book a private workshop with me for yourself or for a group of friends.

Friday, 4 September 2015

The History of Acrylic Painting

Blog 35

Golden Days of Fall, Acrylic, 8" x 10"

While I spent my summer finishing many oil paintings from my painting trips of the last two years, my favourite medium is still acrylic. Now, while I am preparing my courses for the fall I am researching topics that might interest my students and readers. At the same time, it is a wonderful way to increase my own knowledge. As I will soon be heading back to my studio to work on my acrylic paintings, I wanted to give you a look at the relatively short history of acrylic paints.

Acrylic resin was first invented by the German chemist Dr. Otto Röhm in 1901. Between 1946 and 1949, Leonard Bocour and Sam Golden invented a mineral spirit-based acrylic paint under the brand name Magna. This paint could be mixed with oils. Next they invented a water-based acrylic paint called Aquatec.

In the 1950s, the water-based acrylic paints hit the market for commercial use as latex house paints. Latex (or emulsion) is the technical term for a suspension of polymer microparticles in water.

Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros started to experiment with acrylic paints before 1950, starting with latex paints used to paint walls which were lacking permanence. He later encouraged Jackson Pollock and Morris Louis to use acrylic paints. He considered the traditional painting techniques outdated and not adequate to express the vision of his time and the future. He was looking for new materials which corresponded with the industrial progress.

In 1953, when Röhm and Haas developed the first acrylic emulsions. At the same time, Jose L. Gutierrez produced Politec Acrylic Artists' Colors in Mexico. In 1955 Permanent Pigments Co. of Cincinnati, Ohio developed Liquitex, the first water-based acrylic paint. Liquitex was created with an acrylic polymer resin that was emulsified with water. The company changed its name to Liquitex and developed the first heavy bodied, water-based acrylic colours, with a consistency similar to oil paints, in 1963.

In the early 1960s, artists started working with this new paint medium to find new ways for their creating process. In 1963, Rowney (part of Daler-Rowney since 1983) was the first manufacturer to introduce their artist quality acrylic paints called Cryla in Europe.

The continuous innovations of acrylic paints were pushed by the experiments from influential painters like David Alfaro Siqueiros as well as the trendsetters of the American Pop Art like Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol, Abstract Expressionists Mark Rothko, British Op-Art painter Bridget Riley and British Pop Art painter David Hockney.

To find out why acrylic paints are so popular with many modern painters please return for next week’s blog. If you would like to see whether you are able to tell the difference between my acrylic and oil paintings, I invite you to see my solo exhibition "Indian Summer in Canada" at

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