Welcome, all you prospective artists! I hope to teach you how to paint "anything" using the medium of acrylic paint. It might be a little challenging without visuals, but if you read and follow the instruction carefully... you will be painting in no time!
Acrylic artist's paint comes in many brands and many colors. It is a very versatile medium that allows for creative effects that are similar to many other mediums, such as watercolors or even oil paints. It is non-toxic and mixes with water. It can be applied to virtually any surface, dries fast, and is water-resistant when dry. All these elements make acrylic paint a preferred choice for many artists.
Before we get started you will need some necessary supplies:
You will need paints, a palette (I prefer the stay-wet model), brushes, pre-primed canvas, a dish of rinsing water and a small towel (or paper towels) to clean your brushes and control viscosity. You will also need a comfortable place to practice your new skill.
The paint need not be expensive, and you don't necessarily need every color that is sold. My palette consists of the 3 primary colors: cadmium yellow, cadmium red, and either ultramarine or Pthalo blue plus titanium white, mars black, hooker's green (it's a real color, I promise, named after a man and not a profession :)), burnt sienna, burnt umber, yellow ochre, and dioxazine purple. From these colors, you can mix just about any color imaginable, and create any effect you desire.
My brush kit is simple as well: I use a 2" Hake brush for spreading paint over a large canvas, a #10 bristle flat, #6 bristle flat, #4 bristle flat, #s 5, 3, 2 and 1 round sables or synthetic taklons, and a #1 script liner.
I recommend white charcoal sticks for sketching on dark painted surfaces and black charcoal sticks for sketching on lighter acrylic surfaces. We'll get into all that later. It is also helpful to have a spray bottle handy to occasionally mist the quick-drying paint that is exposed on your palette as you work.
The first, most important, and most challenging step in learning how to paint is learning COLOR THEORY. There are several key things to keep in mind when mixing your colors.
1. A little bit of a darker color will modify approximately ten times the amount of a lighter color. For example, a drop (or one part) of black paint in a pool (9 parts) of white will change the entire pool to gray, while a drop of white paint into a pool of black will simply disappear into the black without changing its color. IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER THIS 1 to 9 RATIO.
2. The three Primary colors, Red, Yellow, and Blue, cannot be made by mixing other colors. The same goes for white.
3. Most acrylic paint is transparent, and effects are created by layering, washing, and glazing these colors. White, on the other hand, is opaque color, that can be used to make other colors dirty as well.
4. Black is considered a SHADE, meaning it can darken most colors without changing the color it is mixed with. White is considered a TINT, meaning it changes the actual color it is mixed with and creates another color. Let me explain: when white is added to red, for example, the color red is tinted and changes to pink. Yet if black were added to red, the color red becomes a darker shade of red and not an entirely different color.
5. You control the amount of color being applied to your canvas by controlling the viscosity, i.e., the water to paint ratio. The thicker the paint is (the less water), the harder it is to control. When paint is mixed with water, either with a wet brush or from a diluted pool of paint, it is easier to control, and also increase the transparency. Mastering your water to paint ratio is challenging, but over time and with plenty of practice, you will learn this vital technique.
6. Some colors appear warm, like in nature, and are classified as such. These are reds, yellows, oranges. Other colors appear cool, again just as seen in nature. These are blues and purples.
7. Specific colors complement each other. Shades of red compliment shades of green. And shades of blue and purple complement shades of yellow and orange. I'm sure there is some science that says this has something to do with the rod and cones in our eyes, but for this lesson, it is enough to say that these colors (e.g., red and green: a Christmas tree with red bulbs) go well together. They are appealing to the human eye. Now that you are aware of this fact, you will find examples of this technique everywhere. Look around at virtually anything in color, and you will notice artistic examples of this technique. In fact, I encourage you to search for examples as a way to train your eye to see what others do not.
8. Keep your colors separate and avoid cross-contamination by getting into the habit of rinsing and drying your brush after touching each color and before mixing. Over time, if you remember the 1/9 ratio, you will be able to move a little faster by using a dirty brush and drawing paint from the edges of your puddles before mixing. But we are a very long way from that. First, you must understand color theory.
And remember to begin training your eye!
Okay, let's get mixing! Have your water basin nearby and squirt some paint onto the outer edge of your palette in separate pools about the size of a quarter. We are going to start with the fundamentals, the foundational colors used to create nearly all others: The 3 primaries, Red, Yellow, and blue. From these, we are going to create the secondary colors. Mixing with essentially equal parts:
Red + blue = PURPLE
Red + yellow= ORANGE
Yellow + blue = GREEN
Purple, orange, and green are your SECONDARY COLORS. If you mix secondary colors or a primary and a secondary, you get TERTIARY COLORS. Experiment with this on your own to discover a myriad of possible options. Here are just a few examples:
Green + blue (varying quantities) = bluish-green or greenish-blue, depending on the dominant color.
Yellow + orange = yellow-orange, or orange-yellow, again depending on the dominant color used.
Yellow + purple = brown (add a little red to make Burnt Sienna, which is a "warm" brown). BROWN is not a color we will continue mixing--we will use burnt umber as our foundation for brown in the future. Nonetheless, brown is a difficult color to get exactly right, so it will give you good practice.
It is essential to understand what brown--and every other color--is composed of. Knowing what is in color helps us realize what happens when we mix it with another color! Take burnt sienna, for example, Burnt sienna is a warm brown, i.e., brown mixed with red. A novice painter, might be tempted to add white into brown to lighten it. But white combined with burnt sienna will tend to turn pink--not light brown! Why? Because burnt sienna has so much red in it. You would need to neutralize the red first by adding blue and then add white.
Now you are starting to see--this is COLOR THEORY. It may seem complicated now, but it can also be fun, and you will improve. I promise.
Practice, practice, practice, and begin training your eye to look for complementary colors. I'll be back soon, and we will continue with our lesson in Color Theory, before moving on to the exciting world of brushes, application, and maybe even textures.