Category Archives: Art Mistakes

Acrylic Paint, Papers, and Grounds

Floral still life, acrylic painting on board

I’m slooking at piles of artwork from the past year and half or so… and I’m thinking what was I thinking. So much of it is cringe worthy and I want to throw  them in the trash/recycling right now. In the spirit of Big Magic, I have to remind myself not to be too hard on myself, that all of that time and effort was part of the process of learning watercolor…which is seductively expressive and hard to control.

Meanwhile, as I have just started to get a grasp on watercolors, of course I’m back to trying to figure out acrylics. I have a huge tub of heavy body  acrylics in all sorts of fun colors. How much money I surely have wasted on different brands and types of paints… it never ends. Now though, I want to know more about the fluid types of acrylics that Golden produces, as well as all of the fun mediums that you can add to acrylic. They also produce a new line of “modern” watercolors, called Qor watercolors that of course I need to try. Sigh. As a side note, I have to give a kudos to all of the paint companies, their product specialists surprisingly will respond to emails pretty much the same day with informative advice. Comcast and Frontier, this is customer service!

But, after all of that, I came to this conclusion.  The softer, more absorbent ground is better for acrylic, it kind of counteracts the plasticy shininess that acrylic has when it is dried. So something like printmaking paper, like  Rives BFK, is terrible for watercolors. In fact I even think most of the Arches is too absorbent for watercolors, it feels like painting on a paper towel. But they seem to do well with acrylic.  Scott from Golden recommended I try their specially formulated Absorbent Ground.

The less absorbent the ground, like adding matte medium to your gesso or using papers that I like, are better for watercolors.

Some of the products that I want to try:
Fluid Matte Medium 
Absorbent Ground
Matte Fluid Acrylic (can I get my matte greys!)
GAC 100 (Scott recommended that I use a  medium like this to turn my paint tube paints into the fluid types)

Have any of you had any success with these art supplies? And despite it appearing like it, no, unfortunately I am not sponsored by Golden but would love it if they sent me free samples 🙂

I have to remember, that I have this stack of rejects that I should use when testing new types of paints and techniques!

Acrylic test
acrylic test on paper


Acrylic test on canvas
Acrylic test on canvas

Art Mistake #2: Washing it all wrong

If you’re going to go wet in wet, do it at once, on crisp, virgin watercolor paper. Or, wait until your first color is dry and then go at it again.

If you are impatient, like me always, and you decide to blend in another color, don’t be wimpy about it…use enough pigment. If you’re like me, you’ll tend to add a wash that has too much water to pigment ratio. And the result will be mud. A wimpy mud.

Look how  my wimpy, impatient wash in the background ruined the luminosity of this painting I did of yet another cherry blossom leaf thing.

You can successfuly blend two complimentary colors (colors that across from each other on the color wheel) without it turning it to mud. You can get amazing shades of grey. Or, you can get awesome blends of one color that is subdued and enhanced by the compliment. But be patient and bold.

It’s been a long time since I played with a watercolor style in oil painting- using lots of gamsol solvent. Somehow I think oil paint will be more forgiving – as it always is- when you’re doing your washes. I think if anything, if you go too aggressive with your solvent, you’ll just end up wiping off what you put down but you won’t end up with this awful mud stain thing.

And acrylic, man. That one is a tough cookie. I know people say you can use it like watercolor or like oils. But I think it’s very, very easy to do the wash thing wrong with acrylics, which is why acrylic has this bad reputation with me for being difficult and not looking as good as oil and watercolor. You best wait till that layer is dry before going again with another glaze in acrylics.

Art Mistake #1: Getting ahead of yourself

Art Mistake #1: Getting too attached to one section of a painting. This is happens when you start working on one part of a painting and you get “ahead” of the rest of the painting. Like I did when I started going overboard and painting in all the details of the petals- I ended up making the blossoms too dark and too strong for the overall composition.

This also commonly happens when your foreground is really detailed and fully modeled, and the background doesn’t really feel cohesive and fully integrated with the foreground. You get so excited that you leave the background behind.

Ways to avoid it:

Don’t get too attached. I do this all the time. I fall in love with one color, or one texture, or the certain way the something looks. Be bold and willing to paint over something if needed to make the whole thing work.

Keep squinting and zoom in and out. This helps you check the overall relationships.

Early on, use a large brush and paint general areas of light and dark rather than trying to get so precise about the lines and shapes. Think of paint as stains at this point, so you’re not going too heavy on the paint.