A couple of weekends ago my painting mate Andy and I went to an acrylic workshop. The premise was to learn how to paint focusing on light and shade through big gestures rather than fiddly detail. I was a bit anxious beforehand, having never attended a workshop before. As it turned out, the fellow artists were very lovely (with a wide range of painting experience between them), and the painting exercise itself was totally engrossing, so much so that time and paint flew.

I produced two pictures, both from photos which I’d taken, which I thought would meet the light/shade requirements. We had about an hour and a half per painting, with a technique demonstration before each.

The tutor painted a street scene in his initial demo. The closest I had in ‘feel’ was a photo taken in the woods, with light filtering through trees. I managed to be looser than normal for me, which was good, but using the big brush loaded with many colours simultaneously gave me some challenge when it came to depicting foliage. My colours, especially the greens, became rather muddy and pastelly rather than being zingy and bright. I also think that I could have changed the composition to improve the painting, but I’m not going to get hung up on that as there are so many other issues with it.


The second painting was based on a photo I’d taken of sweet peas backlit by evening sunlight. I wrestled terribly with it, and am still not overly happy with the outcome. Once again, in retrospect, I should have tweaked the composition. I found it incredibly difficult to adapt the tutor’s blocky technique to the rounder organic shapes of the flowers, and lost the plot a bit. Well, a lot. I ran out of time and didn’t get this into a shape where I could feel that it was working, although I can see now that there are areas I could improve if I chose. However, at the moment painting opportunities are too rare to want to return to fix ‘struggling’ paintings.


So, all in all, I found the day tiring, and a bit frustrating too, and came away feeling that I’d failed to capture the style of the teacher. However, with a bit of time and some reflection, and another painting done (watch this space), I realise that I did learn some interesting facts which I’m consciously putting into play in my acrylic paintings. Namely:

  1. Underpainting can be a real asset to a picture – I’d never tried this before. And now I know that I’d be best off choosing a colour I want to use, something which will contribute positively to the subject. I really didn’t like the mauve background suggestion of the second painting, which must be why I painted over almost the whole picture…You live and learn.
  2. Light is REALLY important. Duuuuh! I think I need to consciously try to make more use of it in my paintings. Letting the lights sing out just brings everything to life.
  3. Darks can be very colourful, and dark violet is a very useful colour. It was a new addition to my palette for the workshop, and I wasn’t sure what I’d be able to do with it. But now I realise it combines well with ultramarine and maybe pthalo green, or burnt umber to make a very rich dark colour. I’m  sure that I will be using this again.
  4. Using very big brushes and large canvasses (A2) can be a lot of fun.

So, this workshop was a new experience, and I definitely gained experience. And in summary, although I had trouble imitating the teacher’s style, I realise that I am actually glad, because it hasn’t entirely swallowed up my own way of painting – that which makes my paintings mine. I reckon that’s a good thing.



15 thoughts on “Experience

  1. Even though you struggled with these paintings and feel you failed, I see feeling in them and the attempt, and to me that is a big positive. Learning experiences is always valuable and I see the essence of you, not the teacher or the workshop in your paintings. I rather see the unique style of an artist rather than the teacher of the workshop, You, not the teacher. 🙂 At least with this workshop, you have discovered what is cumbersome to you and what feels right or wrong. You learned what will work for you and what doesn’t. It is paving a path of your own in art and that is a hard journey. I am looking forward to more of your paintings and what you will be learning. I need to get on board with my purchase of acrylics, I have been looking at Golden Acrylics, perhaps the Open but then I have heard that there is hardly any texture to them. I have an old set of Liquitix and I need to get more and thought I would try Golden. Which brand do you use? I am excited but also not wanting to move away from watercolors, we’ll see how that pans out.

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    • Oh Margaret, thank you for your kind words. You’re right about the learning experience, it’s very valuable, if at times uncomfortable. I would encourage you to get stuck in with the acrylics, they are a good contrast to watercolour in my opinion – I use acrylics to refresh myself when watercolour’s driving me mad with its capriciousness and immediacy. But maybe you don’t find that? Remember that acrylics can be thinned right down to behave rather like watercolour (although I prefer them thick and goopy). I have previously used Reeves acrylics (you can get a set of 8 good-sized tubes for a very reasonable £15 in the UK) which are good to experiment with, and that’s what I painted these in. They move nicely, and are fairly rich in colour for the price. That said, I recently made a much more serious investment in a selection of Golden Heavy Body acrylics. I personally think they are lovely to paint with, very smooth and great dense, intense colour, although the cost is rather daunting. Why not just try a couple of colours at first? – they do seem to range in price depending on pigment. If you’re looking for more texture you could consider combining the paint with a coating of fibre paste or similar? Anyway, my next acrylic blog post will show what I’ve been doing with the Goldens (when I get round to writing it!). 😉

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      • I am looking forward to it. I really enjoyed acrylics when I worked with them and I loved mixing the colors, I think that I felt pulled by my pastels and I soon left them behind. I like the thickness of them and would use them thin in the initial layers. I have a sample sent from Dick Blick and I have yet to try it out. I have been in watercolor land so long that I have even set aside my pastels. Now that it is getting colder I am having to re-think what I will be using en plein air. We’ll see 🙂 I’ll be looking for that next post 😉

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