I'm working on painting a penguin underwater and I want it to be smooth, almost like glass. To create this look, I painted light greenish blue to start. When that was dry, I glazed green even more thinly so the blue would show over that. By letting the blue show through my layer of green, I create the look of light coming through the water.
I used this same technique to paint the seaweed. I painted them green to start, then lightly layered blue over them.
Your bottom layer must be dry before you paint over it. You’ll take it off when you apply your second layer if it isn't. Your second layer needs to be thin enough to let your top layer show, and the color of it really shouldn’t be noticeable. Blend out the edges of your top layer as much as possible. You only want to be able to see the effect it’s giving.
In this article, I'm going to walk you through me painting caterpillars eating milkweed in acrylics.
Due to the overall warm tones in my reference photo, I decided to go with a brown toned underpainting, instead of my usual gray-toned one. For more insight into how I came to this conclusion, watch this video.
When I was ready to start adding color to the grass, I saw that it had an underlayer of blue. My first thought was that I should use blue-green. As you can see, though, I scratched that and boldly went with straight-up blue for my first layer. I used cyan rather than ultramarine because of its brighter tone.
Don't get me wrong, though. The grass was going to have plenty of green, as you can see in the pic below. As I said, the tones in this painting are going to be warm overall, so the grass leans more toward the yellow side of the spectrum. I just added a bit of yellow to some permanent green to make my color.
Now we get to the dirt. It would be natural to want to paint everything in this area plain brown, but when I looked at it in my reference photo, there was clearly some purple. I would've said a deep plum shade. I used straight blue violet with very little water mixed in for the small patches and mixed some zinc white and added more water into that for the larger patches.
Here the painting is again with just another layer over these patches. I've done this by painting on shapes, then spritzing the canvas, blending my edges with circular motions, and repeating.
The next step was transferring the sketch onto the canvas, which I did by tracing and transfer paper. You can see that there are no stripes in caterpillars. That's because I plan to add them in after I block in the underpainting.
I'm painting the caterpillars the same way I did the background, i.e., starting with a brown-toned underpainting and then putting on color.
The direction of the stripes determines the shapes of the caterpillars. By curving their lines downwards as I move away from the leaves and letting their ends meet, I’m giving the animals a more rounded shape. In addition to this, I worked on the veins in the leaves.
I want to preserve the definition in the leaves that I created in the underpainting, so I've been applying my color layers in thin washes, being careful to confine my darkest shades only to where they're needed. I’m using a brownish purple for the antennae and dark stripes on the caterpillars. I think it looks more natural than stark black.
The veins in the leaves needed re-emphasizing and more shadows around them.
Here's the completed painting again. Again, I took time to increase contrast by darkening the purple patches behind the milkweed and up saturation by layering more green on the leaves. This is especially important when working on small canvases to help them stand out among larger ones in public displays.
I'm ending this post by discussing why I didn't use black for the caterpillar's stripes and antennae. I chose not to use black for the stripes on the caterpillars because this piece has an overall warm color scheme, and black would clash. Artists are divided about whether or not to use black. Some say never to use it or to mix your own. Others say if you like black, go for it. I came to the idea while working on this piece that artists against using black may feel that it’s unharmonious with the color palette of their paintings. This explains why impressionists and other artists who mainly paint nature traditionally avoid black. It's because they’re often working with this warm color palette.
I don’t paint enough white things, tending to shy away from them because I fear they will look too stark. My mind tells me it’s better to stick to black and white. It’s time to face my apprehension and do a project that features a white subject, these ibises, in color media. So I'm painting white ibises in acrylics.
Before I get to the white ibises, though, I want to discuss the grass and lake around them because the shades I use to paint those will play into how I paint them.Before I get to the white ibises, though, I want to discuss the grass and lake around them because the shades I use to paint those will play into how I paint them.
I used the same base of yellow and ultramarine blue for the patch of grass near the viewer and the bush on the other side of the lake. I used more blue for the bush and added red and black to the lake to mute and darken it.
I want the patches of grass bordering the lake to be somewhat bright, and I’m using analogous colors to do this, glazing yellow over the nearest patch and blue over the far one.
After painting another layer on the grass near the viewer, I mixed some yellowish green color into titanium white. Then I painted reflections in the water using a small round and a sideways wiggling stroke.
As for the ibises themselves, I painted most of their bodies with sheer light brown and green, picking up the grass and lake bed colors. I left only the very tops of them white. This is where light would be hitting them; therefore, it would be the brightest.
Did you notice what I did here? Less than ten percent of the white ibises’ entire bodies were painted white. The rest were painted to reflect the colors of the things around them. This is why I mixed yellow-green into my titanium white when I painted the shadows. The ibises do not show as pure white. Therefore, their reflections couldn't either.
Back to the grass, there are lots of individual pieces of grass in the patch nearest the viewer. I used titanium white first because if I went in first with my yellow-green mixture, it wouldn’t show up properly against what I already had down. Having the titanium white down was especially important because these blades of grass needed to be lighter than the base. These blades gave the grass the brightness I’d been trying to achieve by glazing yellow over the area.
I’m planning to paint this photo, which I took in the canal behind my family’s house, in an impressionistic style.
I already started practicing the looseness of this style with the preparatory sketch by holding my pencil far back from the tip. Holding my brush like this helped me move my wrist more freely, emphasizing basic shape and not detail.
For this style, I want my brushstrokes to show more clearly, so to enable this effect; I’m planning to order a thickening medium for my more fluid paint. I plan to use more flat brushes than the filberts I usually use.
I’ve decided to employ the fat over lean technique for this piece. I’m working in acrylics, not oils, so I technically don’t need to do it this way, but I wanted to get in the habit.
I’m sitting in my community’s Art Room while writing this, and I’ve just put the first layers of color on the painting. You can probably see that it will need a lot more layers. I haven't even completely covered the underpainting in some parts.
I have a lot of transparent colors, so to get them to cover the background, I painted titanium white over those parts first.
Today I worked on creating the contrast between the part of the canal closer to the viewer and the region farther away from it. The part that’s closer to the viewer is significantly lighter. For today's entire session, I used different combinations of burnt umber, unbleached titanium white, and mars black.
I purchased a jar of Liquithick acrylic medium from @liquitexofficial, which I used for the first time today. It gave the paint an almost custard-like texture on my palette. When I used it with brown shades, it even reminded me of a bit of pudding. The information on the container said this product wouldn’t make a difference in the opacity of the paint, so I was a bit worried it wouldn’t help me achieve my goal. With this in mind, I was pleasantly surprised. I think adding this medium did give me more opacity. I did already have paint on the canvas, however. I don’t know how well paint mixed with this product would cover a black canvas.
I wanted even more contrast in the water, so I painted over the part of it that's closer to the bushes with a shade that had more red mixed in it. The idea is that the closer something gets to the viewer, the brighter it should be and the farther from the viewer it is, the duller it should be.
Glazing would never be a significant technique with this piece, but I glazed over some parts to intensify the colors. For example, I glazed red in this area.
Since red is already present, adding more red, and letting the original shade show through, doesn’t change the color, it just makes it more saturated.
I added highlights to shape the ducks’ bodies. To make the shade for it, I mixed burnt umber and red to make burnt Sienna. I thought about what I would use to make a complement for burnt Sienna, and the conclusion I came to was green since it’s the complement to red, and Burnt Sienna is a red-based brown. So I mixed green into my red and burnt umber mixture, then mixed titanium white into that. Because these highlights were meant to add shade, I placed them along the curves of the ducks’ bodies.
I added more brown to the bushes because they were looking a bit too plain. The color of the leaves in the upper half of the water needed to be changed to make them flow with those on the bottom.
To recap, use thicker paint or a thickening medium, larger brushes, don't blend out your brush strokes, and use a heavy-weight canvas when doing impressionism.
I knew I wanted the blue on the one flower to be very light. I obviously over did it, though, because when I put that first layer on, I could hardly see any color at all. It needs to be darker than this, I thought. I couldn’t fix it right away, though, because that first layer had to dry. My other flower is somewhere between pink and purple. My plan was to mix red into the blue that was already on my palette. I knew the cadmium red medium I’d been using wouldn’t work. I needed a bluer red, so I chose carmine, from the Amsterdam line. The color I came up with didn’t exactly match the reference photo, but that didn’t matter to me.
Getting back to that blue flower, it took two more layers, both times adding more ultramarine blue into my mixture, before the I started to be satisfied with the color that I was seeing. Maybe this is a lesson that even if I think something should be extremely light, it might be better to go a little darker than what I think something should be.
I mixed purple with my yellow for the shadows on the flower in the top left-hand corner.I needed to be careful when painting the pink on the rose, so as not to cover up all of the yellow. I needed some of it untouched and I’m always nervous when doing stuff like this. I look back at my reference photo every time I finish painting one patch to see where my next one should go. I used a couple different shades of pink, as you can probably see.
I painted shadows on the blue flower by mixing blue with orange. What stood out to me when looking at the yellow flower was the white highlight on it.
For the flowers, I drew them onto a separate piece of paper and transferee them onto the canvas using tracing and transfer paper. When I was getting ready to transfer the flowers, at first I thought, oh no, I’ve made them too big! I made it work, though, by spreading the flowers around the subject. I’m leaving one out, though, because I think to include it would ruin the balance of the composition.
One of the flowers is yellow, one is yellow and pink, one is blue, and the last one is purple. For the blue flower and the purple flower, I’m using a gray toned underpainting and for the yellow and pink and pure yellow flower, I’m using a sepia toned underpainting.
I want to talk a little bit about her mouth. I did not use white for her teeth, nor did I use black for the space around them. For both of these, I actually used a combination of burnt Sienna and raw umber. I just mixed it with white for the teeth and black for the inside of the mouth. Using straight black or white for these things would’ve looked totally unnatural. Now that I think about it, I might bring some of the colors from the flowers I'll be painting into the teeth also. I'll discuss that in next week's post.
It's time to start adding dimension to my subject's face. The first thing I did when I started working on this painting again, was glaze yellow over the edges of her right cheek and nose where a ring of red had formed. I’m very happy with her cheek now, but I think her nose still needs some work.
Her hair needed some highlights. Because these needed to be opaque, I painted strokes of titanium white where I wanted them to be. Otherwise, they wouldn't have shown up. For the highlights themselves, I used a combination of yellow with a touch of burnt Sienna.
I was considering going over the apples of her cheeks with titanium white mixed with yellow because the highlights are just not as bright as I think they need to be. I know I’ll have to careful to blend the edges out properly of course.
It’s the day after after I wrote that last block and I’ve followed through with my plan of painting titanium white mixed with yellow over the areas I said I would. I really didn’t mix enough yellow into the white at first at it was really glaring. After I glazed some yellow over it, though, I was much happier. Now they’re starting to look like cheekbones.
Next I'm going to add flowers around her to enhance the cheerful mood of the painting.
I started the process of adding color by glazing raw sienna mixed with zinc white over this woman’s face. I decided to add my warm yellow over the parts of her face where light would hit, so cheekbones, bridge of nose and chin protrusion. I thought this would look more natural than painting it all over.
I wanted to paint a golden red over this yellow. Now, I wanted this to be golden red, not orange. I experimented to figure out how I’m going to come up with that color. I decided I was probably going to mix green into red and mix that into yellow. After this is on the canvas and dry, I’m probably going to glaze some of my red and green mixture over it.
I'm less happy with my piece after having added this last layer. That just means I need to figure out how to improve it. I need to make my shadows around the nose and cheekbones darker and my highlights brighter.
If you're interested in how I bring a piece back from being "ruined", which happens more often than you might like this video.
My reference photo for this piece came from Lisa Clough of Lachri Fine Art.
I’m starting by painting the whole canvas blue for this painting. I haven’t figured the whole background out yet, but as of writing this, I’ve decided to paint some dirt along the bottom quarter of the canvas, leaving a couple wholes for the blue to show through.
Today I painted some leaves on the painting. I used my small round brush for most of the body of the leaves, switching to my liner brush for the tips in order to have more control over the shapes. I worked with my hand back on the brush handle, allowing it to move freely across the shapes of the leaves. This will be it for the background.
I’ve transferred my flamingo onto the canvas. I decided to keep things simple to start with when it came to the underpainting. I blocked in the entire body, including the neck, except for the bottom quarter of the stomach, with a very light, almost white, shade of gray, leaving openings for feathers. I blocked in that bottom quarter with a much darker gray. I used my small filbert brush for all of this. Using my small round and my liner brushes, I painted feather texture where I saw it in my reference photo.I used the tip of my liner brush and some dark gray and started to paint some dense feather texture on his head. After taking another look at my reference photo, I saw that there was some pretty apparent feather texture in the flamingo’s belly, so I mixed some more black into the gray I’d already mixed for that section, making it even darker and painted that texture with my small round brush. Except for the tiniest details, I held my brushes with my hand back on the handle and let it move across the canvas in one fluid motion as much as possible. I didn’t worry too much at this point whether the shades were right. I was just concerned with putting my strokes where they should go.
Today I continued with the feathers, starting by adding some highlighted ones to his belly.
I thought by now that it was time to whip his beak into shape. I started by drawing in the division of the beak with my charcoal pencil. Then, when the paint was dry, I took my liner brush and some light gray paint, and being careful to keep my hand steady, and going slowly, I made one fluid, continues motion down the dividing line. I used that same continuous motion, with my much darker gray, for the shade that was to be on the dividing line.
His belly needed more texture, so I mixed a shade that was in between the ones already on it, and looking at the shapes in my reference photo, I took my liner brush and did my best to copy these shapes on my canvas. I had to zone in on a particular square inch of the photo and give my full concentration to it before moving onto the next part.
Today I added still more texture to his belly. I find it a challenge at this stage to concentrate on all the details. My mind is lazy and I have to force it to concentrate sometimes. I also turned much of my attention to the eye and beak, working on creating texture in the latter with highlights. This is going to take a lot of work.
For my first layers of color, I mixed a bit of yellow into my red and white, because I could see some warmth in the flamingo’s feathers. Using my filbert brush, I glazed light layers of this color all over the flamingo. I kept my hand going in one direction and was careful not to go over the same place more than once while the paint was wet.
Today I glazed zinc white over the upper half of my flamingo to create more contrast between it and the bottom third. While that first layer was drying, I decided my flamingo’s beak needed some more contrast. I started by mixing some dark red into the white I already had on my palette and glazed this over the parts I’d already painted pink. I wanted them to have a rosier cast, though, than what they had. The blue part in the upper part of the beak also needed to be darker. I have a feeling I’m going to need a lot of layers in that beak to give it the sleekness I want it to have.
Now I directed my attention again to the flamingo’s body. I already had a grayish blue out on my palette, so I added some zinc white into that, thinned it some more with water, and used my filbert brush to glaze it over the flamingo’s stomach, which I knew needed some blue in it.
I painted some yellow on his eye and also glazed it along the edge of the pink part of his beak.
Today I found a way to tone down those feathers on the stomach that were too bright. I did this by painting green over one feather and then thinning that out with water and using it on as many of the others as I could until I couldn’t see the green any more. When I ran out of green paint, I repeated the process with another feather.
His beak needed some more color in it too. I glazed purple and blue over parts of it, being careful to blend out any harsh edges, as I wanted the colors to look hazy. I also used my liner brush and some titanium white to paint some lines and speckles. I’m especially proud of the white speckles I painted in the little bit of yellow I’d glazed on the edge of his beak.
Lastly, I glazed a few layers of zinc white over most of the top half of the flamingo’s body.
Last night, it was time to glaze some blush gray in the feathers that are showing in the upper half of the flamingo’s body. I directed my attention to the texture on his neck, which up until now, was pure gray. I didn’t think it was suitable to leave it like that, and I still had a ton of grayish blue out, so, I took my liner brush and…you can probably guess the rest.
I worked more on the beak. I used my liner brush and titanium white to paint some more speckles. I started to paint a shadow of pink down the edge of the bottom, which is too dark at this point.
Last night, I started by glazing zinc white over the pink strip along the bottom of the flamingo’s lower beak. I was delighted at how much of a difference just one layer made.
I’d known for a while that his eye needed some red around it and I decided now was the time. I also, saw however, that it had a thick band of pale pink above it, so I painted that with some paint that I already had on my palette. I glazed more yellow over the cornea to brighten it.
While working on the eye, I also noticed that there needed to be another pale pink ridge above it, as well as a shadow above that, the latter of which I painted with my liner brush and some zinc white mixed with red.
Today I applied titanium white to part of the outer edge of the rim I’d painted above his eye. I used my liner brush, but pressed harder on the canvas, so my line would be thicker.
I saw that the bottom ridge needed to be darker to contrast with the top. I decided I would take care of this by glazing a bluish gray over it. I mixed my color too dark to begin with, but solved this by mixing my concoction into some more zinc white. I painted this onto the lower ridge of the eye with my liner brush. My too-dark color didn’t go completely to waste, though, because I used it to paint the blue streak right above the upper eye ridge.
I saw that the blue strip above his eye needed some more blue in it, so I made a muted version by mixing ultramarine with an orange made from carmine and yellow. The blue strip isn’t exactly like it is in the reference photo, but I like it.
Today I added more pink to the feathers on his tail, because I thought they were looking a bit dull. I glazed zinc white over the upper half of his body again, and ivory black over his belly to increase the contrast between those two. I also mixed some ultramarine into my gray and glazed that over some of the upper feathers.
I thought the feathers toward his tail were looking too flat. I wanted them to look like they were sticking up a bit from the rest of his body. I tried painting some titanium white over the edges of them with my liner brush, first going with the form, then going across it, wiggling my wrist as I went. I also painted some more ivory black right along the outer edges, using that same wiggle motion. After looking at my white lines though, I thought they were too harsh. I wasn’t immediately sure what to do about them, though, so I took a break. It was while doing a crossword puzzle on my phone, that I got the idea to glaze some more blue gray over part of my white marks.
To finish it off, I painted some layers of black under these feathers for more contrast.
Last week I published a post on painting a panda in acrylics. In this post, I'm going to focus on tips for painting white fur in acrylics.
Be prepared for very little of the fur to actually be white. In fact, the shades I’ve used for my panda go all the way to a dark gray. I’m only using white for my brightest highlights. When I painted the underpainting for this guy, in fact, I painted his entire back a medium to dark gray as my base shade. I used a similar shade of gray on the right side of his face.
Make sure to bring surrounding colors into the fur. For example, white fur almost always has blue in because it’s reflecting the sky. In the case of my panda, though, because I used an entirely green background and there’s no blue in it, bringing blue into the panda’s fur wouldn’t have made much sense. Instead, I mixed a lighter version of the same green I’d used for the background and brought that into the panda’s fur. I also brought some brown light brown in because of the bamboo.
Even though you will be bringing surrounding colors into your white fur, make sure to keep them muted and transparent. If you make them bright or opaque, it won’t look realistic.
Make sure your strokes are going in the right direction. You’re not necessarily going to paint in every strand of fur. That will look artificial, and in fact, I only put in little touches of individual hairs on his back and legs. I did a lot more on his face, though, and I suspect that was because he was probably wet when I took this photo. Getting back to what I was saying, though, make sure your strokes go in the right direction, because this not only will give you a hint of the texture of the fur, but will ultimately form the animal’s body, ie, his bones and muscles.
Make friends with your liner brush. I have a video that I think will help you learn how to use it. You’ll need to learn to be able to use a liner brush properly to make whatever individual fur strokes you’ll need.
I'm going to copy and paste a paragraph from my post on painting this panda in full, which I would like to remind you of, since it's very relevant here.
I want to point out that when I’m painting all these fur lines, I find that, as much as I like to maintain control, when I make quick strokes, often with a little wrist flick, I’m happier with my results than when I go real slow and try to control everything. Maybe that’s because most things in nature are rough and uncontrolled. I hope that makes sense. I followed this principal of not trying to control things too much to paint extra fur texture around his left ear, his eye, and again, where the black on his fur meets the white.
Again, though make sure, though, that your strokes are going in the general right direction and that they're approximately the right size and shape. Also, pay attention to how much of your brush is touching the canvas as this will determine how thick your lines are. If you want extremely thin lines, barely let the tip of your brush touch the canvas.
You can read my post about this entire painting here.
Painter of portraits and wildlife