Many acrylic painters are exploring the effects of using multiple layers of transparent and opaque paint and mixed media to build in depth and richness in creating their artwork. With its fast-drying time, acrylic paint is ideal for quickly adding visual elements that infuse energy and momentum into an artwork. See some ideas on my YouTube video for working in mixed media.
There are numerous approaches and processes that one could use in layering and here is one that I like to use for larger pieces. Starting with my widest brush, I lay down a couple of transparent washes with haphazard application of drips and marks—just to see what will happen with shapes and colours. The washes provide some excitement early in the painting process and speak about a possible direction for the finished piece.
Next, I like to add some graphite scribbles and write some calligraphic text that may or may not get covered in future layers. And, although I’m not a big collage artist this is the stage where I might add in a few visuals that I have created specifically for this purpose.
Dark and Medium Colours
Next, I’ll change to a different size brush to boldly add some expressive black marks followed by layers of other dark colours like grey, navy blue, and dark green. Some of these layers will be directly on top of an existing layer of colour and others will be in open areas that are mainly blank. Then, I’ll add some medium tone colours (medium values) using another brush size. In truth I can’t wait to get to the top-most layers where some design elements will emerge.
What I love about working layers is the ability to build in mystery and intrigue early on because everything is so undefined. As I am often painting garden scenes, these early layers speak to how untidy the wind makes everything look! And I can relate to these effects because I live on a windy point!
Next, I’ll start working layers of light colours. I may use some inks and crayons at this time to add dynamic highlights and contrasts. Sometimes when I stand back, I find that I need to return to a former layer and the use of isopropyl alcohol and sanding are the primary tools here for subtraction. One of my favourite tools for this is the humble kitchen scratchpad (thanks to my friend Carolyn for giving me a rather nice one recently!). Afterwards I’ll improve the look of the surface with a light glazing.
Adding and Subtracting Layers
For me this back and forth of adding and subtracting layers is fun as well as hard work. Sometimes I don’t end up with a very beautiful product and need to start again but other times it’s a glorious ending!
It’s the not knowing where I’m going or how it’s going to turn out that makes the journey so interesting. I’d love to hear about your favourite layering technique so drop me a line!