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Getting Started with Acrylic Paints

Lesson 7 of 13

Surfaces for Acrylic Paints

Mary Jane Begin

Getting Started with Acrylic Paints

Mary Jane Begin

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Lesson Info

7. Surfaces for Acrylic Paints


  Class Trailer
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1 Class Introduction Duration:05:14
2 Materials for Acrylic Paints Duration:08:30
4 Demo: Explore Glaze Mediums Duration:19:56
6 Demo: Brushes for Acrylics Duration:15:05
7 Surfaces for Acrylic Paints Duration:19:15
8 Demo: Gesso a Surface Duration:09:13

Lesson Info

Surfaces for Acrylic Paints

What I want to share with you are the different ways that you can create a surface or purchase something sort of pre-made, but I wanna start with technique that I use for what's called stretching watercolor paper or really any kind of paper that can handle stretching. I've stretched Canson pastel paper, watercolor paper, anything that has enough thickness to it that when it dries and pulls tight, it's not gonna rip or tear. You wouldn't stretch newsprint, it's too thin, it's too, or trace paper. In this case, the reason why you stretch the paper is that when you're using water-based medium on a paper surface, it's going to tend to wrinkle when it dries because the water is warping that surface. You have to staple it in order to stretch it. What I did was I just, this is damp, it's pre-wet. You can't really tell because it's drying really quickly, but what I do is I wet a piece of say watercolor paper, or Canson paper, I lay it on a piece of board. In this case, it's just an inexpensive...

piece of plywood you could buy at the hardware store. You can also use what's called Homasote and Homasote is a kind of soft, particle-based material that you can buy in art supply stores or in hardware stores. It's light. This is kind of heavy, if you feel a plywood board, it's a little bit heavier that Homasote which is very light. Homasote you can staple through as easily as plywood. What you have to have is, in addition to the board and your cut paper, is a heavy-duty staple gun. The reason why it has to be heavy-duty is because the staple has to get through this plywood board or even Homasote. A thin little stapler that staples paper together won't do that. What I try to do, and I did this to show for the watercolor class as well, is that I generally like to have a little space between the staple and the edge of the paper so that when that paper pulls a little bit, it's not gonna tear right to the edge. I go about a quarter-inch in (clicking) and I staple roughly an inch apart. (clicking) Like this, and I go all the way around this entire surface. I won't do that now because it's really loud and it isn't necessary, but once I do that, I've created kind of a drum-like surface. When it activates and gets wet, it might buckle a little bit, but once it dries with a blow dryer or it just dries naturally through time, it'll dry super-flat. When you're finished, you wanna use an X-Acto knife to literally cut this paper, and a ruler, to cut the paper off of the surface. That's just because you need to get it off of this wood if you want to hang it in a gallery or you want to scan it on a scanner, or whatever you wanna do with it. Generally speaking, a ruler is a really great tool with the X-Acto for trimming it off the surface. Once you cut it off, and I'm just gonna see if I have an example here, I might not, but once you cut this off, these staples are still in the board. What I do is I use a butter knife or just a knife that can fit under those staples and pop them off the surface to reuse the board. You can also use those staple removers and they look like little teeth, and you just pop these out. Either way, I've reused this board about a gazillion times and you can probably tell, because there's little dots all over the surface. Like I said, this is just an old piece of plywood. It's nothing fancy. You can get thinner widths. This one is about, I wanna say about a quarter-inch thick. I also do eighth-of-an-inch thick just for the weight. When I do a really big picture, I might have a lighter piece of plywood. It's, you have to worry a little bit about, when it gets really large, how that wood will warp. Because if it's an eighth-of-an-inch thick, it might bend a little bit when you stretch that paper across it. One technique for keeping that board from bending, if it's not as thick as this and you could use something this thick, is I paint with gesso a big X on the back of that board and that helps to decrease the bending surface, because it's creating a tension on the other side. That's just one technique for trying to keep the board flat and also keep it light, but if you're really not wanting to deal with that, just use about a quarter-inch thick plywood for any size you want. As long as it fits on your table surface, you're good to go and if it's not too heavy for you, you're good to go. This is one technique that I use for stretching my watercolor paper. Some people use brown tape to hold the paper down instead of staples. I am not a huge fan of the brown tape mostly because the brown tape can pick up off of the surface and when that happens, it creates a buckling. So, I'm like, I don't wanna mess with that. I just use the staples, cut the picture off, and I'm good, but you don't have to do it yourself. If you want, you can buy, like this thing that we were using before, this watercolor block. You can buy a block. This is actually Blick's watercolor, it's a hot press watercolor, and it's a nice, big size. It's 140 pounds, so it's an in-between weight and I'll talk about that in a minute. It's not super-thick, nor is it super-thin, but the watercolor block, if you look at the edge. See if I can hold this up. It has this sort of plastic edge to it that binds all of these sheets of paper. There are probably 20 sheets of paper here and what it's doing is, just like what I just showed you, it's holding this paper flat and when you watercolor on it, it's gonna buckle a little bit if you do a lot of really wet painting, but when you're finished it dries super-flat. When you're done with your painting, let's say we're done with this surface, you then either use your fingers or an X-Acto knife and we'll get it started with an X-Acto knife. You literally pull that paper off the surface of the block and the block, like I said, is just holding that paper down and keeping it flat. It's doing just like the staple method, only you could buy the block and you don't have to worry about stapling it. For some of you, that might be just easier to do, but I sort of like, I'm kind of a homemade, of course, I like to make things myself, so I sort of, I would use the block for, particularly for plein air painting or if I'm going some place where I don't wanna carry around a big piece of wood with staples in it. I might get a smaller block. I think I might actually have one here. This is Arches. It's another, it's a rough surface, but it's a smaller block and I did travel to China with this and painted with it, which was super-fun. It's more portable than a big-ol' piece of wood that you'd have to carry around. As you see, now I can put this aside and we have a clean surface to work on. It's flat, it's smooth, it's awesome. The next thing I wanna talk about in terms of surfaces is there's a couple different things. The first thing I wanna mention is the surfaces. Now, this particular surface is a hot press surface which means it's really smooth, it's slick, and you saw when I was painting on it, it's like things glide across it. It doesn't have a lot of what's called tooth or texture. When you're dealing with watercolor paper, there's a couple different types of paper. There is, hold on, I just wanna grab my other one here. There's cold press, hot press, and rough. This is the hot press which is basically the same as this surface, super smooth, and I'll test some brush strokes on it. It doesn't have a lot of texture or tooth. Cold press is the next step up. It has some texture and tooth and creates a textural reaction to the pigment. Of course, rough is very textural. It's the most bumpy surface that you can find. The other thing that I wanna mention, those are your three basics. The other thing I wanna mention is that there are different weights of watercolor. You have 90 pound watercolor paper which is this, really thin. You can see the thickness of it, it bends really easily. You have 140 which is this block, it's a little bit thicker, and then you have what's called 300 pound and that's this. This, you can see, I can't really bend it very easily because it's really stiff. Now, you might say to yourself, why would I wanna have different weights of paper? Well, the reason is that, when I print my imagery onto a surface, which is what I do. I do a drawing and then I print that drawing on a paper, I cannot run 300 pound paper through a printer without breaking it. I can't even run 140 pound, it's too thick. 90 pound, however, no problem. It's about the weight of the thickest version of paper that would run through a printer, any printer. A home printer or something at a Staples or a Kinko's. Basically, I use this kind of paper if I want to print something on it. If I want to do something that is, I don't need to staple or don't wanna staple, I might use 140 pound, but that might still have some buckling. The 300 pound is so thick that you could do anything on the surface, and I'll show you, and it will not bend. It won't even wrinkle, it's such a flat, thick surface. The 300 pound is so you don't have to stretch the watercolor paper, and so that's a real advantage. Let's talk about the textures and I wanna show you what the textures look like with brush. We'll start with the smooth and then we'll jump to the cold press which is semi-rough, and then the really rough paper. I'm gonna grab a sort of middle-of-the-road, stiff-bristle, square-tipped brush. I'm gonna grab my security blanket so I can blot out my color. I have clean, fresh water, yay, happy, and let's see here. Kenna, should we use a new color? Sure. What shall we use? How about an orange? Orange, so I'm gonna grab cadmium orange. I'm gonna find a semi-clean spot for it. Again, I recommend having a whole bunch of palettes to work with and when you use acrylics, don't be afraid to put some color on that surface because it dries out faster if you don't use a big batch of it. Also, you go through it a lot faster with these types of brushes because they're pushing the color around. Let's, and I left my different, the retardant on the end, but I have gloss medium, matte medium, and the retardant. I can dip into those as well whenever I choose. This is the smooth surface and let's just see the difference between the smooth. You can still see your brush stroke so that's still pretty apparent, but if I use a lot more medium and try to make it a little thinner, I think you're gonna see that it's smoother than if I use, let's do cold press. I'll use the same pigment. Now, you can already see there's a lot of texture to this and I'm doing kind of dry brush and dry brush just means there's very, very little liquid of any kind other than the paint on the surface. I'll add a little bit of my gloss medium, but even with the gloss medium, you can see there's a toothiness to the color that it may not be visible to you. It's more a matter of feel, so it's part of the joy of the surface is the reaction of the paint to your brush and the resist. It's how it feels when you're painting across that surface and for some people that's really meaningful. It also does have an effect on the color. If I show this really thinly, you can see there's much more texture and bumpiness because the grooves of the paper are absorbing color thickly in one spot and thinly in another. Let's try another color that's a little darker. Let's try our blue. The blue is already starting, it's almost dry now, so I can't use that blue. I have to squeeze out a new patch. I will try ultramarine. For the darker color, you might be able to see tooth a little better, so let me try. Actually, this is cerulean, it's not that dark. Clean my brush. Let's just see if we can see the toothiness. I'll thin it out. Yeah, you can sort of see it more, I think, with the cerulean. There's a textural kind of reaction, because the paper, look at that. I don't know, is that physical, Kenna, can you see the difference? It's probably, it's something I can see up close really, really well, but from a distance. See, if I do dry brush, you can see that toothy, toothy surface. As here, it's just the brush that's making that mark. It's not the surface itself. The difference between the two really is this is a more textural surface than the other. Let's try hot press, excuse me, rough which is the roughest of them all. Let's do, let's try the green. Now, that's super-bumpy. I'm gonna do a dry brush so you can see the texture of that surface with very little water or medium on it. Again, this is dry brush which means there's not a lot of liquid. It's a nice technique, it's wonderful. Dry brush versus wet pigment, but see the tooth of that a little bit less than this one and distinctly less than, I see the brush stroke more here. But is that, if I show those three, is that clear? It's really, there's no, how should I say, right or wrong to do it. They're different reactions to the brush stroke and this is with a stiff bristle brush. If I used the soft brushes, you'd see a little less of the tooth because it would be so fluidly moving the color across whereas this brush is like pushing it more aggressively, creating a resist. It's just a matter of I would say subjective joy. What feels better to you? The only way you can know is if you test the different papers. My recommendation is you can get these papers in sheets and they come about 17 by 24 I think. You can get, and I'll tell you what the brand is because it's my favorite brand of all, Arches watercolor paper. These are all Arches. This is a Blick block, but these pieces of paper are, this is a hot press here, are Arches watercolor paper and they're delightful. They always let the color sit on them or absorb into them in just a beautiful way, so it's a paper I've been using for years and love. You can get a piece of paper 17 by 24 and just test and see what feels right to you. You know, if you don't like the way rough feels, you might like the way the smooth surface feels of hot press and what I like about the hot press, I tend to use that because it's very smooth, is because I can do colored pencil and pastel on it and there's not a lot of grain. It's just, it can go, applied really smoothly, so I like it a lot. Okay, so that's the different surfaces, but then we have other surfaces besides the block, besides the papers. Let me just grab, and this is particular for acrylics and for oils, you also have the canvas and the canvas is basically, when you buy these, it's pre-gessoed, which means it has this white, plastic paint on it that keeps the color from sinking into the linen canvas underneath, which would absorb right into the linen. It keeps it sitting on the surface of this white, gesso surface. It sits right on top. I'll show you what I mean by that. I'll use a bigger brush and let's try that orange again. Ooh, it's got a little green in there, oh, how fun. I didn't mean to do that, but I'm gonna do it again. Wow, I love this. You can see there are a couple things. The color sits right on the surface. You can use it very thickly in Pasto color, which is really yummy, but the other thing is this also has a tooth and a texture that many, many painters through time love. I think it works best with really large pictures as opposed to really tiny ones, but the tooth and the reaction and how it feels as you're brushing the paint across it is quite delightful. I think that's why painters have preferred it through time. You can see, I'm mixing this color right on the surface. I'm making a kind of deep, neutral brown that I'm mixing right on the surface and in this case, this paint feels very much like oils right now and it's because I'm using it more thickly and because I'm using it on a canvas surface. But look, now you can really see it's a very rigid tooth. It's almost like, it's a weave and it's little, tiny dots, but the technique of pulling that texture up is really kind of exciting and I have to tell you, it feels really good. I'm gonna throw in a little opaque color just to have, oh, yeah, that's fun. Again, you can blend your colors right on the surface. It's a little different than watercolors in that you can get so thick with it, you can keep moving that color around for a little bit and then eventually, of course, it will dry. This is the beauty of the canvas. It gives you texture, it's pre-made, it's already gessoed, so it's easy. You can also get different thicknesses. This is a really thick canvas and it just is a little more hefty. Some people like the canvases that are only about an inch wide. They wouldn't be much thinner than that. The larger that you go with your painting, you're gonna wanna canvas stretched and it's basically stretched over boards and stapled on. This is splitting, you're gonna want this canvas to be weighty enough to handle all the paint you're applying to it, because what can happen if you're painting is really big and your frame is really thin, that frame can warp. You don't want that, because if you wanna hang it in a show, you don't wanna warped, wooden surface. The thickness does help with a bigger picture. For something this small, it's not really important one way or the other, but I wanted to show it to you.

Class Description

Are you interested in working with acrylic paints but not sure how to get started? In this course artist and illustrator, Mary Jane Begin will introduce you to the world of acrylic paints. This class is perfect for beginners looking to learn the basics of the medium in order to begin a painting practice. By the end of this course you will be equipped with the know-how to pick up a brush and start experimenting with acrylics!

In this class you’ll learn:

  • All about acrylic paints and how they work
  • Which brushes and papers to use with those paints
  • How to begin making simple marks and shapes to familiarize yourself with the medium 

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anshu priya

Very thorough . perfect for someone who wants to start painting with Acrylics.


Nota review but a suggestion. Use a table knife to remove paper from bloc. No curling of edges.