Updated Advice on Acrylic Paint to Water Ratio

Paint Brushes
Artist Marion Boddy-Evans in her studio

There’s now one less thing to worry about when painting, and it’s how much water you can or should mix with acrylic paint without ruining its adhesion. Golden Artist Colors (a USA employee-owned company renowned for its artist’s quality paint and techical info) have updated their advice:

“For years our standard advice was that a 1:1 ratio was very safe for most of our paints and mediums; plus, it had the advantage of being easy to remember while greatly erring on the side of caution. However, our current testing shows you can go a lot further than that before encountering significant issues. Just how far? We think you will be surprised.”

The article gets into the specifics, but for me this is the takeaway:

“We got no adhesion failure of any of our paints, no matter how thinned down with water, when applied on top of acrylic gesso.”

In the FAQ on thinning acrylics I wrote for Painting.About.com in 2006 (my original version, as here, not the current surreal rewritten-by-who-knows-who version) I’d said this:

“When it comes to thinning acrylics, the only ‘rule’ is to not mix acrylic paint with more than 50 per cent water. Any more than this and it may loose its adhesive qualities and peel off at some stage. You can mix in as much acrylic medium (glazing, texture paste, etc) as you like because it’s got the acrylic resin in it that acts as the ‘glue’ that makes the paint ‘stick’. (Golden describe their mediums as ‘colorless paint’! )”

If painting on a large canvas, I tend to use glazing medium as well as water to thin paint because in addition to adding “glue” it also increases working time (slows drying). Mostly I simply don’t think about it, and merrily spray paint with water to make it drip and run.

Where I have encountered adhesion issues is with water-thinned acrylic ink lifting as I brush over it, despite being touch dry. Leaving it overnight helps, presumably as the paint binder then cures. I sometimes then also apply a layer of glazing medium with a soft brush, leaving this overnight again, before continuing on top. But mostly if I find it’s lifting — you see the colour appearing on the brush — I just keep going and deal with it.

Minch Seascape painting horizon

Scratching an Inky Itch

Black ink and a big coarse brush

It started with something familiar, using Payne’s grey acrylic ink to do the line drawing that’s the basis of the composition. My next step usually would be to spray the ink and let it run, or to wet a brush and turn the still-wet ink into wash, or to leave the line to dry entirely (the latter being the least-chosen option). But this time, as I picked up the brush to dip it into some water, I found myself looking at the dry, scratchy hairs and wondering what result I’d get if I drybrushed the still-wet areas of ink. Only one way to find out, of course, and that’s to give into the impulse and see what happens.

Black ink and a big coarse brush
I did wipe the brush a few times to ensure it stayed “drybrush”, but most of the ink had dried already.

This is what the ink lines looked like before I starting drybrushing them; that awkward vertical in the middle is supposed to be a single-track roadsign:

Black ink line drawing for composition

After I’d drybrushed, I dipped the brush into water (the tip, I didn’t want to wash out the ink in the brush) and added some light-grey watery wash.

Black ink line drawing with wash for composition

It’s the beginning of my first attempt using the reference photo I’ve selected for next month’s painting project. So far so good.

I’ll end with the redaction poem I did as the morning’s warm-up exercise:

This is interesting for many reasons.
I feel that not too much has changed.
The time had come.
We shall not fail.
Fear. Flinch.
So be it then.
A sleepless night.

Redaction Blackout Poem
Looking at this now, I’m wanting to take out the words “not too”, making that line “I feel that much has changed”.

How I Do It : Splattering Paint

So having discovered my phone has a slow-motion option on its videos, I’ve been playing with it a bit. This short clip shows how I splatter paint, a technique I use a lot for my sheep and seascape paintings.

It’s a “happy accident” technique you learn to control through practice. The consistency of the paint is crucial, and that you learn through trial-and-error.

If you don’t see the video above, click on this link.

The quality of the video isn’t brilliant because it was done late afternoon in low winter light. And imagine my phone balance precariously on my tripod, held by various bulldogclips. Perhaps I ought to set a Patreon goal that relates to better video equipment?

Drawing (Neist Point) with One Ink Colour

Is it a drawing, is it a painting? Did it start as a drawing and become a painting when I added water to the ink? I don’t know, and don’t believe it matters. What’s of more interest to me was that this afternoon, after days of exploring new watercolour colours, I felt like using “black” ink only. Maybe it was a side effect of a grey-skies day.

It’s not black though, it’s Payne’s grey*, a dark blue-grey that I find has got more rich depth than straight black.

The subject is Neist Point, the westerly most point of Skye, punctuated with a lighthouse. I was working from memory with one of my reference photos (in the booklet of photos I use for my workshops) to hand to remind me of shapes. I’m using acrylic ink, and the dropper as a drawing tool.

You can’t easily make it out in the photo but there are some composition lines I drew using a non-photo blue pencil before picking up the ink. It meant I could concentrate on getting the ink drawing done fast enough that some would still be wet enough to spread into the sea area when I dampened this. (If I were to do composition and ink simultaneously, it would split my attention and lengthen the drawing time.)

Line only at this stage, on dry paper (350gsm Not watercolour paper).

And here’s where I got so caught up in what I was doing that I forgot to take photos. So between the previous photo and the next the caption reads “Draw the rest of the #@&%! owl”**

Once I’d worked my way down to the foreground (it’s a cliff edge from which you can see the lighthouse), I made my way back across the drawing with line a little. Then I wet the sea area with clean water, taking care not to touch any of the ink yet.

I needed the sea area to all be damp so I wouldn’t get any hard dry edges (except on the horizon) when I started spreading the ink into the sea. I then carefully ran a damp brush along the edge of the ink line to connect it to the damp paper. Areas of still-wet ink spread out, and I brushed it outwards too.

Where there wasn’t enough ink, I used the brush to ‘borrow’ some from other areas. Where there was too much, I dabbed at it with paper towel. Brush wiped and dunked in clean water periodically too. At full strength this ink colour is very dark; thinned it’s a beautiful blue-grey.

I could add colour, such as the greens of the grass, but I won’t. That’s a different painting.

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*Payne’s Grey is named after a British watercolourist and art lecturer, William Payne (1760–1830), who recommended the mixture to students as a more subtle alternative to a gray mixed from black and white. Payne’s grey originally was “a mixture of lake, raw sienna and indigo” according to “Artist’s Pigments: c.1600-1835” (by RD Harley, Archetype Publications, 2001, page 163). What’s in it these days varies between manufacturers, typically a blue and a black together, sometimes a touch of red is added.

**A meme from a few years ago on how to draw an owl in two steps, the first being two circles and the second a detailed owl drawing.

Eye Candy for Artists: Acrylic Inks

Acrylic Ink Droppers

Specially for you-know-who-you-are doing the you-know-where art project using you-know-what, here are some photos of the acrylic inks I’ve been using the last wee while.

Acrylic Ink Droppers
From left to right: Pebeo, Liquitex, Amsterdam, FW, Schmincke acrylic ink. I feel there’s little to distinguish various brands of acrylic ink in terms of quality, but there is in terms of dropper shape. My favourite is the pointy version of FW, which is great for drawing with directly. One thing that does puzzle me is why the Pebeo gold ink is scented.

Acrylic Ink Brands

Acrylic inks

Ink Meets Shore

Lines Shore Black and Orange Ink Drawing Finished

On the ‘other’ side of the waterbreak large bands of waves were crashing in, the result of the previous day’s strong north wind. (Larger than they look in this photo because I’m looking down on a steep shore.)

Waves North Wind

Moving to a favourite picnic table, overlooking the shore, the large boulders exposed, only small waves lapping through bands of seaweed. I’ve been here many times in the nearly 10 years we’ve been on Skye, but I think this was the lowest I’ve ever seen the tide.

I realised that for once I wasn’t staring into the distance, but was being mesmerized by the pattern on the shore. So out came the black ink, followed by a pot of an opaque fluid-acrylic orange that I grabbed as I headed out my studio from where it’s been sitting waiting to be tried for the first time.

Yes, I am applying it with a stick. It gives a randomness to the marks. And, yes, this stick does live in my pencil box because sticks can be hard to find in some locations.

Then, some “sea colours”, in acrylic inks. Payne’s grey, marine blue. A splash of acid yellow-green. Watercolour paper, 350gsm, A3 size.

It’s abstract, but I like it. For me it’s got a sense of location (though seashore, not necessarily Camus Mor) and the breeze in my hair. What others will see and feel, I can only guess.

Painting Workshop Photos: Starting with Rosehips & Sunflowers

Working with black ink and dip pen you have to keep going forward with it, you can’t stop to erase, rethink and redo like you can with a pencil. At one point in my recent workshops at Skyeworks, there was a “try it with both hands” moment:

Without this out-of-comfort-zone yet playful moment, would the free mark making with the black ink and pen in this subsequent mixed media painting have happened? It’s impossible to say, but I do think it’s part of why there’s such a sense of joy in this painting (enjoyment in exploring the mediums and the exploration of the subject, some rosehips in a glass jar).

And while this next painting (work-in-progress) may look like a graphite pencil and watercolour drawing in the middle of a realist painter’s comfort zone, in fact it was out of comfort zone because it’s graphite and acrylic ink. What’s reassuringly familiar to one person is unfamiliar to another. What’s scary is relative and individual, and changes as we progress on our artistic journeys.

It was a joy watching both of these paintings being created and develop, the enthusiasm, and tenacity.

The sunflower painting below was done by the same person who did the rosehip pencil drawing, after a weekend’s break. It’s mixed media, started with soft pastel, then acrylic inks and paint, and black ink. Much further out of comfort zone but at the same time easier because of the time spent earlier in the session just trying out? materials without worrying about results, being a kid again and enjoying pushing colour around.

Parts of it are still work-in-progress, less resolved, but I think it’s beautiful and painterly — a celebration of both the joy of sunflowers and paint — particularly the top left sunflower.

The next painting was done by someone who started the session never having been near acrylic paint. We were focusing on looking at a subject with an eye towards abstraction and impressionism rather than realism, suggesting rather than telling, reducing detail.

I enjoy all sorts of things about this, such as the sense of a surface in the bottom right, which starts my mind on a journey of “is it a table cloth or…?”. The suggestion of shapes in the background, the sense of depth behind the centre top. And something, which you wouldn’t know unless you had been there: the last-minute joyous adding of a glaze of magenta to the vase because it’s a favourite colour, and ties into the magenta in the flower centres, changing the overall dominance of yellow in the painting.

I had my own version, started as a demonstration piece (e.g. “this is how dark a shadow I’m thinking you might add, yes, really, this dark”) then continued a bit as I tidied up at the end of the session, using up the little bits of leftover paint. Parts were still wet when I took this photo and I’m interested to see how much the last layer of acrylic ink on the petals has sunken into the paper.

But I left it on the table in the workshop area of Skyeworks Gallery, so it’ll be a couple of days before I see it again. At the moment I’m thinking: “that jug is awfully tall!”

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How I Created My Biggest Painting Yet

The Majestic Minch” is the largest painting I’ve done on a single canvas, at 150x90cm. I could have laid it flat on my studio floor if I’d moved all sorts of things to create a large enough space (read: “not my idea of fun”) but, instead, once I’d decided I would tackle it (read: “this canvas sat around for years intimidating me with its size”) I waited for some dry weather and took it outside (read: “let’s play in the sunshine”).

Majestic Minch seascape painting by Marion Boddy-Evans

The initial challenge was how to eliminate all that intimidating white. I had the composition/colours in my head, a summery Minch seascape, when there are little pink flowers (thrift) blooming along the coastline, with “interesting greys” in the water, and the line of outer isles. So out came the squeezable bottles of acrylic plus a big brush and some water. Oh, and a bit of canvas to catch runs of paint, because I was working on a slight slope.

First down was Prussian blue, spread across the sky area to cover all the white and broken up where there’d be sea. Sprayed this with some water to help spread it and to let it run, and spread with a brush dipped in water, hence the blue on the dropcloth. Then some yellow, which brushed mixed with the blue to give green, then golden ochre, light pink and white, which were spread and mixed for the shoreline, and then golden ochre for the distant islands. Because it was sunny and dry, the paint was drying quickly but not instantly (this is Skye after all), giving time to move it around and mix on the canvas somewhat.

Majestic Minch seascape painting

The angle of the next photo makes the brush handle seem longer than it really is.

Majestic Minch seascape painting

I added more layers of blue-greys, mixed in a squeezeable bottle so I could pour it out across the canvas, gradually getting lighter in tone and greyer in colour. I also added glazing medium and water to the paint bottle. I don’t have any photos because I was having too much fun painting to stop. The big size meant walking around and stretching over, and remembering to go edge to edge not only do the middle.

Majestic Minch seascape painting

I left it outside to dry, moving it onto the grass where it is more level, then moved it into my studio onto my easel for the pondering stage and, ultimately, the final rounds. Most significant change was the distant islands, knocking back the bright colour without obscuring it completely and adding some “rain”. I also worked on the sea, adding in darks?and lights, spray on the shore (read: small additions, lots of pondering, more additions and tweaks).

Majestic Minch seascape painting

Majestic Minch seascape painting

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Majestic Minch Seascape by Marion Boddy-Evans

Used in this painting:

  • Genie Canvas Collapsible Canvas, not available in the UK). I was sent one some years ago to review when I was still writing Painting.About.com; I still think it’s a clever, useful concept and it seems to have been refined since, but they’re not cheap.
  • Amsterdam acrylics for the initial layers. A ‘student’ paint that I find a good balance between quality and price, with strong, clean colours.
  • Liquitex String Gel. The “flows like honey” medium that works for me only when it’s warm enough, and then it’s great for strings of colour on a seascape. Most of the year it sits around as my studio’s too cold and it “flows like jam” (i.e. doesn’t).
  • Artist’s quality acrylics for layers above the initial colour, Prussian or phthalo blue plus burnt umber and white to produce various greys. My current favourite brands are Golden and Schmincke, but I use all sorts.
  • A wide coarse-hair brush. Look for a “thin flat varnish brush” and go for wider than you initially think; it’s for getting large areas painted fast, not details.

How I Created “Symphony in White”

I’ve had quite a few questions about how I created the painting on my Interlude exhibition poster, “Symphony in White”, so here are a few photos I took while working on it. As so often happens, I don’t have any step-by-step photos of the later stages where it all comes together as I was too caught up in the painting and pondering. Fundamentally, it’s a combination of deliberate and happy accident, letting paint run and colours to mix, as well as leaving it to dry before applying another layer, all the while referring to the idea in my head.

I’d worked out the composition idea and started with a minimal pencil drawing on the 100x100cm canvas. I painted the negative space (pthalo turquoise, I think) and then added texture paste to where the flower heads would be.

Painting in Progress: Symphony in White 1

Texture Flower Base Layer no colour yet

I then spread it with a big brush, a little colour added to differentiate the flowers. I can’t remember what colours I used, but it looks to me as if I added some magenta top left, then used the colour that was still on the brush to do the other magenta-ish flowers, then added some yellow which has mixed to give green-ish and orange-ish. The specific colours don’t matter at this stage, it’s all about the texture.
Painting in Progress: Symphony in White 2

This was then left to dry overnight, to ensure the texture paste was definitely dry. More blue was added, and some magenta to some of the roses, and the painting sprayed with water to allow the colours to run.

Painting in Progress: Symphony in White 3

Before this was dry, I added some yellow and let it drip.

Painting in Progress: Symphony in White 4

And then a layer of titanium white.

Painting in Progress: Symphony in White 5

The paint I’m using is Golden High Flow which is about the consistency of ink, but with a different viscosity so behaves differently, and an high pigment loading (artspeak for seriously intense colour). The texture paste (Golden Light Molding paste) creates an absorbent surface. When I spray the paint with water it does interesting things. Having the canvas vertical uses gravity to encourage the paint to flow. You’ll also notice there’s a piece of fabric (raw canvas) to catch the drips; there’s more on the floor.

And this is where I run out of step-by-step photos. But there was more spraying of water, more colour, more white, more spraying, more waiting for paint to dry or partially dry (you can see there’s some white that’s run that has not mixed into still-wet paint), some? colour from the flowers added subtly into the top negative space, and eventually left to definitely dry. Then adding of tube titanium white with a brush and palette knife to give definition to the roses, some thick and some thinned with glazing medium, and some lifted off to reveal colour beneath (such as centres of flowers). And more pondering and more tweaking, and ultimately arriving at this as the finished painting. How long did it take? I don’t know, just as I don’t exactly know how I got the painting from as it was in the photo above to as it is in the photo below. I only have a rough idea of the journey to get there, and had a lot of enjoyment doing it.

Symphony in White. 100x100cm. Acrylic on canvas Rose painting by Marion Boddy-Evans
Symphony in White. 100x100cm. Acrylic on canvas. At Skyeworks Gallery.

 

 

My Palette Isn’t Pretty

You know those beautifully laid out palettes with a rainbow of colours arranged equidistant from each other around the edges and a mixing area in the middle? Well, mine doesn’t look like that at all, because:
(a) I’m not using a stay-wet palette with acrylics so too much of such squeezed-out paint would dry before I’d used it all.
(b) I don’t decide on all the colours in advance (though I do have regulars).
(b) I don’t use all my regular colours in every painting.
(d) I work with one colour at a time (single or mixed), applying it across the whole composition before moving onto the next, working with the fast-drying of acrylics, not against. Any leftover gets used to build up coloured grounds on a small canvas, so it’s not wasted.
(e) I like colour-mixing through layering and glazing.
(f) I often squeeze paint (and medium) directly onto a canvas, particularly in the initial layers of a painting.
(g) There’s less wet paint for studio cat to jump onto.
My palette is a small mixing area that reflects the last colour I used, in the photo it looks like “sheep black” over Prussian blue over cobalt teal. I wipe the space if the next colour doesn’t want any traces of the last in it. It’s not a pretty, photogenic palette, but it works for me.

Palette