A Little Easy Texture

Sometimes I just like to rub my hands over a painting to feel the bumps and lumps and grit of the acrylic texture. It makes me happy; it makes the surface mine; it shows my process.

The painting above is a small, 12×12″ canvas with lots of texture. I wanted to create a landscape minimal elements but with the look and feel of nature. The sky was painted; the mid ground forms were collaged using acrylic skins (a future blog post) and the foreground was created with fiber paste.

I spread Golden’s fiber paste over the bottom half of the canvas; let it dry, then painted the absorbent surface. With a drybrush of blue on top of the painted texture, there’s subtle tonal and value shifts and a more pronounced textured look.

The videos  below show my process of working with fiber paste. The videos are only a few seconds long just so you get a feel for the application of the medium.

Unlike the painting above, where I applied the paste directly to the canvas, this series of videos shows me creating a fiber skin that I will collage onto a future painting.

As the video shows, I use acetate sheets for the process.

A cute product shot!

Applying the paste to the acetate sheet. Plastics sheets and bags will also work for this. And if you spread out the paste evenly and smoothly you can create something that looks like a sheet of rough watercolor paper. By the way, fiber paste is made with mineral fibers rather than paper or material fibers. It makes the medium more archival.

Odd little photo, but it shows me using a razor blade scraper to lift the dried fiber paste off the acetate sheet. You need to let the freshly applied paste dry overnight before removing from the acetate.

This is a three minute video that shows ripped and torn pieces of dried fiber paste being collaged to the painting surface. And you’ll notice I’m demonstrating upside down. That’s a skill!! I use soft gel medium to apply the fiber sections. Any of the gels can be used as a glue for collaging. The heavier the gel viscosity, the heavier the collage material can be. Notice I use a piece of waxed paper to press down on the glued fiber. By placing a clean piece of waxed paper each time over the fiber surface, and by pressing firmly and evenly without moving the waxed paper, you prevent gel medium from overlapping the fiber paste. If gel medium does cover the paste in sections, those sections won’t be as absorbent as the uncovered fiber paste. I wiped up excess gel with a paper towel.

Once the gel has dried and the fiber paste piece is firmly glued, paint the surface. You can also mix paint with the wet fiber paste before spreading and drying the paste. Heavy body or liquid paints can be used.

In this video, I drybrush blue paint over the surface creating a look similar to the one in the painting at the top of this post. The paint clings to the high spots of the texture creating depth and often contrast and vibrancy.

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Keeping It Old

Bridgewater school

The school photograph is from 1890 so the challenge was to make the rest of the painting look old as well.

But first, I needed to create a photo transfer of the original picture. I photocopied the picture and applied a coat a day of Golden Soft Gel medium for about four or five days. I brushed the gel medium right over the image. Once the gel was set on the last day I wet the back of the image and started rubbing to remove the paper.  After two or three attempts at removing the paper I was left with a transparent image which I glued to the canvas with polymer medium.  You can paint the canvas first, and the colors you brush onto the canvas will show through the photo transfer. But I left my background white.

Next came Golden’s Crackle Paste. I applied this with a palette knife and made it thick enough that the cracks would develop. A thin application won’t show cracks. The product recommendation is that crackle paste be applied to a solid background such as Masonite or cradle board, rather than canvas. But I’ve found that if I don’t apply the paste too thickly and I varnish the completed painting to hold everything in place, then I seem to be able to use the paste on stretched canvas.

When the crackle paste dried (after a couple of days), I again used a palette knife and applied Golden’s Light Molding Paste. I applied the paste roughly to get some ridges and valleys.

When all the mediums were dry, I took sandpaper and sanded back any spots that were too thick or too rough. I paid particular attention around the edge of the transfer.

Next, I brushed Payne’s Grey acrylic over the entire piece and immediately wiped the color back using a damp shop towel. The objective was to leave a darker value in the valleys and cracks.

I brushed a glaze of Transparent Red Oxide over the photo transfer then added some stamped, stencilled and collaged elements to complete the piece.

This painting “Bridgewater School” is to be part of a group exhibition at a local gallery featuring many of the old schools of the area. The Bridgewater building still exists and is used as a community center but most of the others have disappeared.


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Quick Photo Transfer

Over the years I’ve tried various versions of acrylic photo transfers. Some worked for me; some didn’t. But most involved a slow process of overnight drying of several layers of medium.

Yesterday, by accident, while searching YouTube for something else, I discovered this video from Golden Acrylics showing a faster way to accomplish the transfer. (three minute video)



So I tried it. Mostly to satisfy my curiosity, I suppose. The fern is from my garden. I previously scanned it and created high contrast in Photoshop. I printed out a copy on my laser printer yesterday and quickly applied it to a prepainted surface. And it worked….here’s what I produced:

Photo transfer project


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Furniture Becomes Canvas


It pays to do a good cleanout once in a while. Deep in the rafters of my garage I found a few pieces of small, unpainted wood furniture I've picked up at various decorative painting shows across Canada and the U.S.

I like the unpainted furniture – I can jump right in with a ground and paint. No need to treat or repair an existing surface like most of the wood pieces I pick up at flea markets. And there's a bit of physicality in painting 3D pieces – sometimes you lie on the floor, sometimes you paint upside down, it's a change from painting on canvas at an easel.

This piece, a contemporary cabinet about 40 inches tall, was ready to go and just begged for a whimsical treatment. Working with acrylic paint, collage, graphite and charcoal, I aimed for a loose look of line and shape.

The background colors are layers of acrylic paint sandwiched between layers of gloss gel medium. I worked with liquid acrylics, mostly transparent and alternated those layers with some layers of gel medium and some of opaque colors (transparents mixed with white gesso). I find this layering process exciting – I never know what I'll end up with. And I stop only when I think I need to stop.

In the 90s I spent much of my time creating block prints and screen prints. I kept the rejects…just in case. And now I'm making use of them for collage. The flowers in this piece are torn sections from water-based screen prints. I did a rough pencil sketch first to determine shape placement then glued all the paper bits down with gloss gel medium. I also applied another layer of gloss gel on top of the glued-down pieces. I believe in over-kill.

Next step was to slather a thin layer of Tri-Art Dry Media Ground over the entire cabinet making the surface gritty and receptive to graphite and charcoal. I scooped up a bit of the ground, plopped it onto the surface, then spread the stuff thinly using an old credit card or hotel room key. It's important to keep the medium thin 'cause it leans towards opacity.

Once the medium dried, I went to work with graphite and charcoal. The dark bars at the top of the cabinet are graphite. I own many rolls of tape of varying widths and I use that tape to create random "fences". Using graphite on dry media ground isn't the same as using graphite on paper. The gritty ground chews up the graphite and, while you can get some variations of value, most of the graphite grades end up looking like similar values and intensities. I blend the graphite/charcoal using shop towels.

Now here's the important part. The surface needs to be sealed before varnishing or the graphite/charcoal will bleed. You can use a spray fixative, but, since I work in a small somewhat air-tight studio, I prefer to use gel medium as a sealer. Scoop the gloss gel medium onto the surface gently, then, with deliberate motions, spread out the gel with your palette knife. This step requires patience to avoid smudging the graphite but it works well.

Once the gel has dried, the piece is ready to be varnished. My standard varnish, the one I'm successful with,  is Liquitex Matte Acrylic Varnish. Can't vouch for any other type of varnish.

I'm calling this piece finished (but just don't look inside the drawers).

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