Thursday, June 9, 2011

Acrylics can be painted over!

It may seem self evident to anyone who's tried acrylic painting. But if you're used to watercolors and start working in acrylics, the freedom to paint over passages that didn't work can seem heavenly. Above is the Burnt Sienna monochrome underpainting for my benefit raffle painting of Skip the Bobcat.

I knew I'd be able to paint over that quick impression of the values, it's mostly a guideline to the final painting.

On the next stage, I refined his eyes to nearly finished - his eyes themselves are finished, it's the fur around his eyes that needs more work. I followed my reference on his mouth and started getting in the black indentations for his whiskers, which form distinct lines on the white patches of his muzzle. This was greeted with great enthusiasm by donors at the event on Facebook: Skip Portrait Benefit Raffle for Big Cat Rescue, but as soon as I saw it in thumbnail I knew something was wrong with his mouth.

One commenter said that Skip looked sad. I thought it was because his mouth looked cartoonish while his eyes looked realist, also I wasn't satisfied with the fur textures I'd gotten with the flat brush I started with.

It took me a while thinking through how to fix this. After all, I'm used to doing portraits in one or two sessions, not mulling over them and going back to change things. That's been my technique all along. I felt stumped.

All that rumination for nearly a month did help me to see what was wrong with it. For one thing, I hadn't shaped his muzzle before I added those black lines. For another, the strong black line of his mouth did look cartoonish. So I went back in today mixing new colors with the same limited palette I started with. Here's the current progress on the painting.

I switched to a round brush that I'm more familiar with than trying to use a flat brush for details and fur textures. When in doubt, if something's going wrong, turn to techniques you're already familiar with. I like the way the new round-brush strokes look a lot softer and fluffier than the blocky flat-brush strokes and will be going over them again with other hues of brown and gray to make that texture consistent throughout his pelt.

I also played with the foreground, adding some variation of value and using short choppy strokes to build up what looks like a tumble of weeds in his outdoor enclosure between his paws. It's a little hard to see in the glare, but that also helped his arm look more natural.

Painting in acrylic can be done with as many layers as oils. One of the best things you can use to keep paints fresh from one session to the next is a stay wet type of palette with a sponge and sheet of palette paper inside. I'll be working on this again either this afternoon or tomorrow but my color mixes from this morning should all still be moist and easy to use.

Just some tips while exploring a new medium. In Acrylics, mistakes are not the end of the painting! Just keep going and work right over what didn't work - the opacity of the paint will give you plenty of tries.

I went back to detail the black lines on his muzzle more delicately and was much happier with that on my second go.

Then I posted the painting on Facebook and started to get ready to post on WetCanvas. I knew something was missing and only as I was posting did I realize that Skip had no whiskers. The poor cat would be banging his head on his den, his platform, his trees, bumping into things all over the place without his whiskers!

So my last session was one of the trickiest.

He's now finished... but I'll give myself at least another 24 hours to be sure before we actually get the raffle going.

Skip the Bobcat is 8" x 10", Winsor & Newton Artists' Acrylics on a 3/4" cradled Ampersand Gessobord. I chose the cradled gessobord so that the winner wouldn't need to frame the painting - any framing budget could be donated to Big Cat Rescue instead. The sides have a nice wood finish and it's ready to hang.

Here's the Link to the Event Page for the Skip Benefit Raffle. I talked to Lisa Polo, who's inviting our special guest to draw the winner's name on Sunday. Be sure to donate $10 or multiples of $10 at the event page before midnight, Friday, June 10 2011 to get a chance to win this painting!

All proceeds go directly to Big Cat Rescue, I'm not even handling the money. We just linked to their donations page from the event and it's set up to report donations to me and Lisa so we know whose names to put in the hat. My paying for shipping out of pocket is my own donation along with doing the painting.


  1. Really a very nice painting, Who won it?? I really do like it, hadn't seen it before, Robert. Have you posted it on WC in the Arcrlyic's? Love the depth it has, even tho it seems like its only 2 planes. Very nice.

  2. I did post it! Sorry I don't remember the winner's name right off hand, I think it was Brenda though. She'd bought two tickets, so both of the big donors missed it. However, prints of it are available at DeviantART.

    We raised enough to feed Skip for fifteen months! He's a happy cat with a horde of supporters. Skipaholics was and is a wonderful group of people, that cat will never understand how loved he is or what he's done to help the others cats there.

    I think about him living in his big enclosure with plenty of enrichment, prowling at night and playing and I'm content. I'll probably do something like this again, it was a wonderful experience.