Recently, I was asked if I could give a workshop on acrylic painting. While I felt honoured to be asked, my brain went into hiding yelling no! no! no! I asked for time to consider the idea before providing an answer.
Now, it is not that I have never taught anything, or held a workshop or painted with acrylic or participated in a workshop. Most of it is so long ago. I taught business subjects at our local TAFE college - about 28 years ago. I held a couple of workshops on using ballpoint pens to create artworks - about 10 years ago. I've been to pastel workshops - last one about 7 years ago, and a short workshop on using a limited palette in acrylic and oil - about 7 years ago. I haven't even painted with acrylic for over a year, 8 months of which I was travelling around Australia sketching with pen and watercolour.
Why the panic? Well, to be honest, I have never really learnt how to paint in acrylics. I just blunder along doing my own sweet thing. If I am stuck, I call on one of my many, art books or my dear friend Mr Google. Basically, I am self-taught. I have sold many acrylics and even have one in our local council gallery's permanent collection. Yes, I am quite capable of doing a decent acrylic painting, yet still feel totally inadequate to teach the techniques. For some reason, I felt compelled to see if I am up to the task. Just saying 'no' feels like a cop-out and it is an area into which I would like to expand. Thankfully, I can call on my previous experience with lesson preparation. I still haven't said yes but I decided to dive in and prepare a workshop. If I am confident after doing the workshop preparation then I will say yes.
Firstly, I consulted Mr Google. I wanted to know how others approached workshops, especially acrylic painting workshops. I also wanted to update my knowledge on working with acrylic, after all there is always something new to be learnt. Many interesting blogs and videos were found - such valuable resources. Gradually, I developed a plan of attack which I will now outline.
After introducing myself, I will introduce the students to some general characteristics of acrylic and some specific guidelines of working with acrylic including safety considerations. Advantages and disadvantages of acrylic will be discussed. Basic colour theory will be touched on especially as the workshop will focus on using a limited palette. There will be a quick discussion on paint application (thick, thin, scumbling, glazing etc), brushes & painting knives, styles (realism, impressionism etc), supports (canvas, board etc), imprimatura and grisaille. Then, it will be hands-on learning.
The students will paint a still life from direct observation. While the students will have some freedoms, there will be a set format to follow. First, they will need to do some preliminary sketching to plan their painting. They will use a limited palette, underpaint the canvas (imprimatura), draw on the canvas with charcoal, complete a tonal undercolour (grisaille) and then complete the painting with at least two layers of paint using techniques such as scumbling and glazing. They will have the freedom to choose how they apply the paint, their painting style, their support, their brushes/knives, the colours of their limited palette, the colour of the imprimatura and the colour of their grisaille. A few different still life set ups will be offered. Guidance will be given to help them with their choices and they will be given time to do some colour tests.
Ok, so I've worked out a lesson preparation. There is just one big problem. I don't know how long it will take the students to paint a simple still life. I don't even know how long it will take me to paint a simple still life. While I have no intention of doing a demonstration painting (I want the students to think for themselves and not just copy what I do,) I need to have some idea of timeframes. I need to get out to my studio and start painting. In any case, I need the practice. How can I show the students techniques if I can't do them myself?
Well, that was fun. I don't normally paint still life so it was a challenge right from the start. After spending some time looking for a few, simple objects to arrange I was finally able to start painting. Everything started off well. A yellow ochre underpainting with a charcoal drawing was progressed to a quick, rather rough, tonal grisaille. The timeframe for the painting planning through to finished grisaille is accounted for separately to the rest of the painting. I thought I had settled on my limited palette colours - cadmium red, cobalt blue, cadmium yellow medium and white - until I discovered that it was impossible to mix the colour of the mug with these colours part way through the painting (inadequate testing prior to starting). My colours were changed to phthalo blue, cadmium yellow medium, alizarin crimson and white. I changed to alizarin crimson because that would save time mixing the colour for the bowl.
Rough tonal underpainting using mixture of original limited palette colours
(cad red, cobalt blue, cad yellow med & white)on yellow ochre coloured canvas board.
After 4 hours (way too long), I finally had the objects painted and the foreground and background well underway. The foreground was working well but the background did my head in. It wasn't working so I re-worked and re-worked it until I finally gave up after a total of 9.5 hours working time. I will eventually change the background. If I couldn't make it work in a few hours I couldn't expect my students to do it either. Back to the drawing board.
The finished still life - background unsuccessful - will come back to it another time.
This time, I chose a single object and placed it on and against a single colour fabric that flowed from the foreground up over the background 'wall'. I decided to choose my underpainting colour and grisaille colour very carefully so that I could minimise painting the background - basically hoping that the combination of imprimatura and grisaille would stand on their own without need for overpainting in a lesson situation - ie the students can set up their background and then leave it unless they have enough time to come back to it. Again the timeframe up to the finished grisaille is accounted for separately to the rest of the painting. It took me 4 hours to complete the painting to a satisfactory level of completeness albeit with the background left unfinished. I think I work too slowly. My preferred timeframe is 3 hours. However, at the 3 hour mark the painting was at a reasonable level of completeness and students would be able to take a photo of the still life and complete the painting at home.
Left: drawing & undercolour Middle: grisaille - underpainting Right: Finished painting
I have worked so hard on this over the last week. Finally, I think I can respond to the request with "yes, I am available to conduct an acrylic workshop" - the proof will be in the pudding but I am ready to give it a go.
Until next time,
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I have had a lifetime passion for drawing and painting. Realistic with an impressionistic touch is an apt description for my work.
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