Artist Tip: how to get started on a blank canvas/support using acrylic

PAINTING A GROUND (on canvas) TOP: is a single colour ground on canvas.    LEFT: is a canvas prepared with tints of one colour, marked out with lines and shapes.   RIGHT: a bright lime green ground as the base colour for a springtime landscape

It was wonderful yesterday to be part of Kirriemuir’s first Feel Good Festival.  So many people came out in support of the event and we had a constant stream of visitors in the Town Hall.  Have a look at some of the photos posted here: Kirriemuir Feel Good Festival.  One of the visitors to my table told me that she was often put off starting a painting because she was afraid to ‘spoil the white canvas’.  She asked how she could overcome this problem.

The white support, whether canvas or paper, can often be a barrier to the creative process.  Fear rises up within us at the thought of making a mark that will look silly or wrong.  And we all know that any mark stands out more prominently against white.  So how does one overcome this fear of starting?

One thing I would suggest is to get rid of the white as soon as possible.  Think of a background colour that would compliment your composition.  One that is sympathetic to the colour scheme you will be using or even a complimentary colour to help the composition/focal point stand out.  Once you have decided on what colour will work best then take a large flat brush and cover it with the mixed paint.  Experiment with a weak wash (this will allow some of the white canvas to show through) or try a thick application (this is useful for creating texture using brushstrokes).  Most of the time I use an in-between wash, one that will cover the canvas evenly and smoothly.

Let the ground, the wash you have used, dry then begin your painting.  Having this overall base colour will help to balance the painting, especially if some of it shows through the overpainting.  I have used some very bold colours to help me create a mood within the painting, such as magenta as the ground for an early evening scene or a lemon yellow ground for a very bright summer day.  My favourite grounds are usually ochre, terracotta and reddish browns to add a warmth to the painting, especially landscapes.  Although using an almost luminescent green can be useful for capturing the feel of spring.

Sometimes I will experiment a little with the ground and use tints and shades of the same colour, randomly applied.  This sometimes helps me to ‘see’ things on the canvas which is useful if I have no set idea of what to paint. On occasions I will even mark out lines and/or shapes that I can ‘see’ in a mix of burnt umber and ultramarine blue.  This often leads me to create an imaginary scene.  Have a look at the photo above to see some of the grounds I currently have lying around my studio waiting to be painted.

Working on a coloured ground is also useful for working in oil as well as acrylic, bearing in mind that traditional oil paint takes longer to dry than acrylic.

I am happy to answer questions online or in person.




Today’s workshop

TODAY AT 1.30-4pm   –   STUDIO: 14 Glengate, Kirriemuir, DD8 4HD

Workshop: Painting from photographs

This afternoon’s workshop (repeated on Sunday 22nd January) is Painting from Photographs.  We have a selection of stock photos to choose from or you can bring along one of your own.  We will be exploring what makes a good composition, how to choose your image and what medium would suit the subject best (today we will work in acrylic).  We will discuss ways of transferring your chosen composition/image onto your support and how to begin painting.  There should be enough time for you to complete one study or simple painting. I will give a brief demonstration before you begin your painting and there will be examples of completed works for you to refer to. No experience necessary and all materials are provided.


Painting from photographs


“Tighnabruaich” by Annie McLean [oil on canvas 30x60cm]

Workshops this week: Thursday 19th & Sunday 22nd January 2017 1.30-4pm :            Painting from Photographs – cost £25 per session [Studio: 14 Glengate, Kirriemuir]

This workshop is suitable for beginners and more experienced artists.  Using either your photograph or studio stock, you will have the opportunity to complete one full painting in acrylic. We will begin with a short demonstration and some guidance on how to compose your scene, working with acrylics and lots more tips and techniquesYou can choose your own subject – an indoor or outdoor scene, a still life etc.  A brief demonstration will be given for guidance.  Tips and technical details will also be covered.  All materials are supplied.  Group sizes are kept small to allow for more individual attention.  Most workshops run with a maximum of four people.  Discounts available for multiple workshop bookings.


January Workshops



The above link, hopefully, will take you to the current leaflet for the January 2017 workshops.  The first workshop, Introducing Drawing, is the first one of the 2017 season. All eight of the Introductory workshops are aimed at beginners and learners so no experience is needed to join these sessions.  These workshops can either be taken as a series of learning experiences or taken individually.  Please feel free to print out the leaflet or pick up a copy from some of the local shops in Kirriemuir.

In addition to these Introductory courses there will also be workshops focused on specific styles, mediums etc. In January we will focus on Painting from Photographs and Painting a Winter Scene.  We follow on in February with Introducing Colour Mixing; Painting a Still Life; Painting Spring Flowers, Painting from your Sketchbook and/or Photographs (this is a two-day follow-on course but each session can be taken as stand alone.  Full day courses 10.30-4pm).  Other workshops are planned for the whole of 2017 – details will follow in due course.  Do look out for the leaflets or Blog, Social media, website etc.

And something for everyone – beginners, developers and more experienced artists.  A FREE DROP-IN SESSION almost every month (eight sessions in total during 2017).  The first Drop-In starts on Thursday 26th January.  See the leaflet for more details.

And now it is time to do a gallery visit – I am hoping to manage over to Aberfeldy this afternoon to the Watermill Gallery to see the Wilhelmina Barns-Graham exhibition.

Make 2017 the year to enjoy art.



Workshops & Tuition

andy-finished-painting-2016   andy-4-20161222_1027331

There is nothing like watching a person grow and develop.  Most people who visit me in my studio tell me that they can’t draw or paint.  They say things like “oh I like art but I’m no good at it”.  I honestly believe that the ability to create is within us all.  Making art is a talent that we are all born with; the skill comes with practice and experiment.  Most restraints are from within ourselves.  We tell ourselves we are not good enough or are embarrassed by our early, immature attempts.  We are afraid to show our efforts at mark-making for fear of being laughed at, reprimanded for wasting time and a multitude of other reasons not to pick up a pencil or paintbrush.

Andy, my last ‘student’ of 2016, was one such person who thought he could not paint a picture.  He came into my studio during autumn 2016 asking if I would paint a picture of a silk print he had bought from an African trip some time ago.  I encouraged him to think about painting his own version but he told me that he had not painted a picture since primary school (many years ago).  He went away to think about it, returning several weeks later.  Andy booked a series of one-to-one sessions where we covered things like how to ‘see’ things and transfer an image from one source to another using the rule of thirds to help compose the scene he wanted to capture.  We talked about and experimented with colour mixing.  Then we progressed onto techniques and tips for acrylic medium.  Andy had a total of five sessions where he went from being someone who felt lacking in artistic ability to being an artist in his own right.  He told me that he was now ‘seeing’ colours and shapes in everyday things.

Andy finished his painting (on a 50x50cm deep-edge canvas) in time for Christmas.  He was so enthralled by his achievements that he felt confident enough to give it away for a present.  His happiness was my happiness.  There really is nothing to beat the pleasure of helping someone grow and develop – whether it be in art or any other aspect of life.  I’ve planned several workshops for 2017, including a series of eight ‘Introductory’ workshops covering the basics for beginners. I’ve even included some free taster ‘Drop In’ sessions throughout the year to encourage more people to create art.  I see my role not as someone who ‘teaches’ but someone who encourages others to achieve and develop their own way of creating art.  Everyone can create art – try it.

Have a creative and happy 2017.