Part 5: Different Ways of Applying Paint

Exercise: Impasto

For this series of exercises I set up a still life of three small sunflowers in a jam jar on the edge of a table in my studio space. I chose this arrangement because of the colours (its been a very drab winter and I thought the colours would be uplifting!). Also I liked the idea of using various impasto techniques to create the sweeps and shapes of the petals and the leaves. I used acrylic paint mixed with a clear-setting gel thickener as a medium to create the following studies:

Impasto Using a brush

I was slightly disappointed with this experience! Having got all excited about using one sweep of paint to create petal shapes, I found that the paint didn’t quite behave as I was expecting. For a start it didn’t want to come of the brush, and when it did it was in a much thinner layer of paint than I had hoped for. I tried to follow the instructions regarding only mixing paint on the surface. Whilst I have definitely achieved a non blended look, I did find that the addition of further colours of paint into wet areas didn’t tend to leave ‘multi-coloured streaks’ rather the colours mixed in the process of my actually transferring the stuff from the brush to the support, and thus ending up with quite muddy areas! Some of the petal areas have worked, especially the ones onto which I have added a highlighted area. The leaves and stems however didn’t work so well, in part because I had to load the brush so much to get the paint to come off the brush and had to press quite hard, that the delicacy of the lines were lost.

I also found it hard to create a sense of depth to the study. The colours (in particular my green and brown) muddied really easily so any sense of using tone to create depth was lost. This is particularly evident with the middle flower which should appear further back than it does.

I was also really disappointed as to how dull the colours were once dried. I have noticed before that my (cheap) acrylics are not particularly good at maintaining vibrancy once dry, but I wonder if the medium made it worse. There is a slight fogginess to the colours of the painting as a whole!

Impasto with brush

Impasto using a painting knife

My next attempt was slightly more successful, I didn’t have quite the same problem of transferring the paint as I did with the brush. I was able to sculpt the paint more and manage to go some what to achieving the shape of a petal or leaf with one sweep of the knife. The paint also came off more thickly, creating a more impasto effect. There is no subtlety to the flowers!. I used a couple of different sized painting knives, however putting in linear aspects such as the stems and jar edges were very difficult. Correcting mistakes was nigh impossible. Whilst you can scrape paint off with a knife it was difficult to do so without disturbing other areas.

Impasto with painting knife

Impasto with scratching

For this exercise I put lots of paint in blocks onto some primed card. I didn’t worry about the details of the table rather just used a different colour to denote its presence. I used the end of a paintbrush to then scratch into the paint to ‘draw’ my picture. Once again the paint didn’t behave as I was expecting – the colours didn’t drag into one another particular, rather a trail line was just left in the paint. I was hoping that the support would be revealed under the scratch lines, but it was stained by the paint so there were not particular areas of highlight revealed. All-in-all it was a bit of a non-event! The whole thing was done quickly and was very sketchy, however the large amount of paint on the surface of the primed card seemed a real waste for something that really didn’t convey much. So I grabbed a piece of primed canvas and lay it over the top of the image. I applied gentle pressure over the whole thing then peeled off the canvas. Below are the original positive (after the print taken, I failed to get an image before) and the negative print.

The results of this were interesting on two accounts:

  1. The negative conveyed the scratches much better than the positive, the white background providing some highlighted areas. With a little thinking through and the more judicious use of a toned ground (or partially toned, leaving areas of white) this could be quite a powerful technique
  2. Where the surfaces were pulled apart, surface tension has caused some really interesting textures in the paint. This is quite hard to see in the photo but on the original positive it is quite clear. Whilst this is probably a bit of a cross over into printmaking, it still could create some interesting textures in a painting context. Perhaps small areas could be created. I wonder too what the effect would be to rub graphite powder or such like into the ridges.

I decided to investigate this technique in a more controlled way. I painted an image of one sunflower onto card, using paint daubed on thickly as above. I added blobs of white to highlight areas, and touches of red/orange to darker petal areas. I pressed a second primed piece of card over it and peeled the surfaces apart. As hoped the paint took on great textured patterns, in this case the negative being stronger than the positive (which I subsequently painted over but failed to get a photo first!!) Whilst this is not a finished piece, I do think that it has more interest in terms of texture, tone and form than my previous studies in this exercise.

Impasto print negative

Reflections: The possibilities of Enhancing previous work

This exercise has made me realise that texture is quite a powerful tool for painting. Controlling it however is important. There can be too much! I was disappointed with the brush work impasto but maybe the results would be different with oil and perhaps a thicker medium (artist quality paint may also help). I can see that impasto can be used to construct with paint and possibly I could have used thicker paint or a painting knife to sculpt some of the near foliage on this landscape painting. This would bring the foliage more to the fore, increasing the sense of depth.

Stage 4. Final Painting. Kiau, Sabah. Oil on canvas

I have already used scratching into paint to good effect in ‘Walking the dog’ although as my tutor pointed out i probably overdid it on the right hand side. I would agree. The mid-section however has a really good sense of dry stalks as a result of this sgraffito technique. I would like to use scratching back more. Care needs to be taken to get the width of the scratches right. In this panting the ones on the right that don’t work are done with a blunt point making the marks cumbersome. If they had been finer, I think they would have fit better

Walking the dog. Oil on paper

The surface tension texture effect might be useful in paintings of trees, perhaps like this one below. This is study that I started but didn’t really know where it was going. Small strips of paper used to ‘pull’ the paint may have enhanced the near tree trunks or added a different texture to the leaf areas. Used carefully I think such an effect could bring a painting like this together more. At the moment there is no focal point and it is very much smooth trunks contrasting with painterly leaf marks. A texture across both areas would pull the painting together more and perhaps provide that focal point.

Tree study in oil on prepared oil paper


Exercise: Dripping, dribbling and spattering

I started by working out some simple but vibrant palettes to use in this exercise. I chose to work in acrylics on a variety of primed, found surfaces (different types of card).

Selecting colours for abstract painting

Here I roughly coloured the ground a deep grey, then dribbled contrasting yellow and green paint from a large brush, flicking it occasionally to get a lined effect. I added the red to give some drama. In places the colours have run together creating some interesting patterns (I think this is a bit like the effect that the impasto ‘dragging’ was supposed to have but didn’t work for me). I tilted the cardboard a little to create subtle changes in direction of some of the marks.

Abstract 1

Here I used a brilliant pink ground, then dribbled and splattered black white and orange onto it. The black and white were dribbled from a squeezy bottle. I smeared some areas with a paper towel, producing the grey areas.  I added further splashes of pink to areas that became to monochrome. I really like this painting and am amazed at how different it looks when viewed in different ways.

Abstract 2 landscape
Abstract 2 portrait

For my third painting I used a pouring technique. I poured paint onto the middle of a stiff piece of card to form a puddle. I then poured paint on a different colour into the middle of this puddle, and let the second colour push the first out. I repeated this many times using orange, blue and white paint, each time letting the newest layer push the previous ones out in concentric rings. I finished off with a splatter of pink to break up the largest areas. This took ages to dry (even though it was acrylic), around 5 days! This gave lots of time for the paint to do interesting things. There is some merging of colours, but not as much as I expected. There are also some interesting textural effects going on as in places the colours have separated a little, especially where orange has run over the blue. There are also lumpy bits in the middle caused by the last bits of paint not being mixed with the water evenly.

Abstract 3


In doing this exercise I gained an understanding as to why so many abstract paintings are huge. I felt really constrained by both the size of the support but also the area in which I had to work. These very much became an exercise in having fun, but i wasn’t able to tap into other expressive emotions that often drive the painting of such works. i would need more space to move by arm and body in a way that allowed that expression to come through.

How much of these techniques you can use very much would depend on the type of painting you were doing. I liked the odd addition of a splatter, especially in breaking up broader areas of colour, but if  not careful it could look just like that – a splatter! I did like the true-ness of a line that could be achieved by a dribble of paint from a full paint brush as seen in Abstract 1. The marks have a certain energy to them and the direction is less controlled, however the lines are thin and crisp. I like the idea of attempting a continuous line painting like this in the same way you can do a continuous line with ink or charcoal. I am not sure how this would be achieved practically, running paint out of a bottle didn’t quite have the same effect in abstract 2. The line is more beaded. Something to work on!

Part 5: Different Ways of Applying Paint

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