Category Archives: acrylic

Copying Masters (12) – Modigliani (1884 – 1920)

Amedeo Modigliani is an Italian artist famous for his uniquely stylized portraits. I always like his paintings and attempted a study years before. Somehow Modigliani’s Madame Amédée reminded me of my neighbor’s cat, and my original plan was to use the composition of the original painting, and replace the head with that of a cat’s. It didn’t work out and I switched back to the lady. The result wasn’t much of a copy, and you can still see the trace of my deviation.

Original

Madame Amédée (Woman with Cigarette), oil on canvas, 39.5 x 25.5 in, 1918

My copy:

Woman with a paw, acrylic on canvas panel, 16 x 20 in, 2016

This is another try. This time it was not a copy, but I tried to stylize a self-portrait. I meant to focus on the inner world of subject, but somehow it was all spilled over into the background. As a result I went way beyond his typical palette, which is quite muted.

Me with a hat, acrylic on canvas board, 16 x 20 in, 2017

After learning drawing and painting humans for a while, I find myself even more fascinated by Modigliani’s ability to go beyond realist forms while stay true to the spirit and character of his subjects. I probably will do more studies of Modigliani in future.

More on Monochromatic and Morandi

As I mentioned before, the paintings of Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964) often have a monochromatic look, even though he used a lot of colors. The result is a very restful and understated effect – something I always find difficult to achieve. Usually the more time I spent on a piece, the more colorful it becomes, as if keeping quiet on canvas or paper is against my nature. The same goes with details and edges. The more time spent, the more definition, and the looseness and gestures are lost.

So I tried a couple with limited time and clear goals. 1)No more than 2 hours per piece; 2) limited palette to create near monochromatic effect; 3) less definition; 4) lost edges; 5) be quiet.

Still life, acrylic on canvas, 9 x 12 in, 2019
Still life, acrylic on canvas board, 16 x 20 in, 2019

I think goal setting with time restriction is an effective way of practicing. Right? :))

Color Studies (2) – Monochromatic

Of the three components of color, hue, value and saturation, I personally find value the most difficult. Colors are attractive and distracting, and it could be difficult to discern values accurately from all the colors in front of us. Monochromatic painting is a great way to train your eyes this way.

In traditional Chinese brush paintings, many of which are monochromatic, it’s the value changes through the control of water that create the art. I took a few lessons of Chinese brush painting one summer, and lessons were mainly copying old masters. This is one of the paintings I copied:

After Qi Baishi, ink on Xuan paper, summer 2018

Monochromatic is a good strategy when time is limited. In life painting, it saves the trouble of finding the right skin color and allows me to focus on value and shape.

Woman, ink on watercolor paper, 9 x 12 in, 2018

In landscape scene with overwhelming branches and leaves, monochromatic approach simplifies the view. This plein air was done in burnt sienna. I included some of the visitors I had during the painting – out of proportion, I know, but a lot of fun.

Fox and Caterpillar at West Valley, acrylic on canvas board, 16 x 20 in, 2018

More than often, monochromatic painting is used as underpainting. It serves as a value map, but also allow some color strategies. (I found this post by Mitchel Albala very helpful.)

Another approach is to do a monochromatic underpainting, and glaze over it with transparent colors, often times many layers. For acrylic, that means adding quite some medium to the color. My selfie is done this way – dozens of layers. I have to admit, I doubt I will ever use this method again. Too tedious.

Selfie, acrylic on canvas board, 16×20 in , 2018

I think in theory it could be done with watercolor too, for watercolor is transparent in nature. Even the opaque ones, with enough water, become transparent to some extent. From what I heard, to glaze in watercolor, the key is to wait for the underpainting or the previous layer really really dry, bone dry. Maybe someday I will try it.

Color Studies (1) – Complementary and Temperature

A most common way to practice complementary colors is simple choose a pair and limited your palette to those two (plus tints, shades, mixtures maybe). Like this:

Pastel drawing of a horse(?) skull
Skull (horse?), soft pastel on paper, 18×24 in, 2018

Whichever pair of colors we choose, it is most likely one warm and one cool. In a painting lesson I took years back, we used the complementaries a bit differently. We create a painting in cool colors, and paint the warm complementaries on top. Here’s the result:

Still life, acrylic on canvas board, 16×20 in, 2018

Unfortunately I failed to take a picture of the cool painting underneath, though I did let the cool colors showed through here and there. The colors were not strictly restricted to one pair of complementary colors, but it is within certain range.

I’d say the result is quite different than if I started with these topical colors. There’s a solidity and unity unique to this method.

Pairs (IV) and a New Thing for Me

My painting journey started with watercolor, and on the way, I also picked up acrylic and gouache. In other words, all water medium. Part of the reason I never tried oil is that I have more than enough art materials at home already, and I doubt I could ever use them up. Another part is that, I thought acrylic is the modern replacement of oil, and it could do everything oil can do.

Over the years, I met more than a few artists attesting that oil and acrylic are not the same at all. I started to wonder if I should give it try. A few weeks ago I attended a free lecture at University Art by an artist representing Williamsburg Oils (now part of Golden), and received some free colors. Well, I shouldn’t waste them, should I?

I dug out my very first acrylic landscape, and did a simplified copy of it in oil. Here they are:

Seascape, acrylic on canvas board, 12×16 in, 2015 (?)
Seascape, oil on paper, 9x12in, Feb. 2020

A few notes:

  • The acrylic painting was varnished, hence the sheen.
  • The oil painting was done on acrylic/oil paper. I don’t know if that makes a difference for the outcome.
  • I only have a few oil colors to work with.

I LOVE how oil colors can be pushed around freely and mixed smoothly, even the next day! I do feel I have more control of precision with acrylic, but that could simply because I have no skill with oil at this stage. For now, I would love to try more landscapes or portraits with oil, but for more modern and abstract paintings, I will stay with acrylic. Also, if you work with collage and complicated textures and patterns, acrylic is probably much easier.

Morandi (2) and Pairs (III)

This was a class assignment – choose an artist to study, and then paint in his/her style. I was very into Giorgio Morandi at the time (still am now), and he became the subject of my study. To my delight, during my research, I found out that Morandi was very much influenced by another favorite artist of mine, Paul Cézanne; and he in turn, heavily influenced a contemporary artist I admire, Wayne Thiebaud (b. 1920). Have I found my “art parents?” (A term I learned from Draftsmen Podcast, S1E5.)

So I set up a still life scene and gave it a try:

Acrylic painting of clothes hanging
Still life 1, acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20 in, Spring 2018

I know, there’s nothing Morandi about it (see my previous post about his style). The objects are asserting and the colors are singing. I don’t dislike it as a painting, but it’s definitely not the reservedness and tranquility I was after. So I gave it another try:

Still life 2, acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20 in, Spring 2018

Well, this is still not Morandi. It’s still me, and it’s very hard not to be me. I understand I will never be Morandi, and that’s not the point of studying a master. If every painting is a self expression, every study of other’s style is a self reflection. I have a lot of passions that I don’t know how to control, and observations I don’t know how to choose and let go.

For sure, I am not done with Morandi yet.

Around the Kitchen (IV) – Ginger

This was an assignment from a painting class (acrylic) a while ago. The purpose was to learn impasto. I chose ginger because I thought the bumpy, textured surface might go well with the technique, and also I usually bought them in bulk from Costco.

It’s a small painting with a single object, and I figured I could get it done in no time. I was so wrong.

There were two things that I couldn’t get used to. First, as someone who started painting first with watercolor, I wasn’t used to putting a lot of paint on canvas. For the purpose of this assignment, we were supposed to achieve a measurable thickness. And acrylic, a water-based medium, dries flat! I ended up working in layers, waited for a long time (longer then usual acrylic time at least) for the paint to dry, and went back to add more and more.

Another thing was the purpose of impasto technique itself. It supposed to be more about expressiveness than rendering, and I had trouble leaving my strokes in and my details out. So I kept going back and forth adding things in and taking them out. I have done so many paintings on this tiny canvas, and what a heavily loaded ginger! 🙂

Ginger, acrylic
Ginger, acrylic on canvas, 10 x 8, 2018

Pairs (I) – Watercolor vs Acrylic

I posted this landscape in acrylic before, and I recently uncovered a watercolor version of it. So, sorry for repeating myself, but it’s interesting to look at them together:

landscape, trees, acrylic
Path, acrylic on canvas board, 12 x 16, 2015
landscape, trees, watercolor
Path, watercolor, 2015

I like the less defined forms and more spontaneous color ranges a wet-on-wet watercolor creates, but I also like the dark values the acrylic painting can bring out. The reference I used for the two is the same, and whatever difference you see from the these paintings are not by design. It seems the mediums just lead me there. How bizarre!