Amber’s Art School: Basecoats, Method 1– Paint

Hi, ya’ll!  Welcome to my new series on making your own wall art!  For our first few installments, we will be discussing how to put a nice, solid basecoat on your canvas, to give you a more-interesting background for your artwork.  In the coming weeks, I will expand on ideas for layering interest on top of these bases, to round out the look of your art.  (In other words, don’t worry if at the end of this, you look at your canvas and it still seems pretty boring.  It’s not done!  You’ll have to come back in a few weeks to choose from your options to finish it up….)

My Green Basecoated Canvases

My Green Basecoated Canvases– My Husband Says He Likes Them Just Like This

This first method using paint is something I use *so constantly* that it really is second nature to me at this point.  I have effectively trained myself!  If you look at the bulk of the works with painted backgrounds in my house– that I myself painted, that is– you will see that I have used some form of this blended paint method pretty much everywhere.  In fact, the *only* reason I know that this is not the way that non-painting-public typically does things is that I have taken a few of those art and wine classes, and because I get my canvas coated quickly, I get a chance to watch the crowd.

But that isn’t to imply that you can’t do this– you totally can!  It’s easy, really.  And I have no reason to lie to you.

This work of art isn’t a ‘painting’ in the sense that you are going to depict a still-life, or a landscape, or a portrait of your aunt Matilda.  (As lovely as she may be.)  No, this is more of a modern-art type thing, where we are just really trying to make something colorful and visually appealing, and maybe not as obvious as a sunset over a beach.  Think patterns, think shapes, and of course– think colors.  Let me put it this way–  if your living room were an outfit, this wall art is some sort of pin on your lapel.  If you went with a printed poster it would be like a button with a silly slogan; if you wore an antique cameo, then that’s like an oil painting by an old master in a gilt frame, right?  Well, we are making the equivalent of something in the middle– something like a big, funky brooch by Betsey Johnson’s Betseyville.  It’s a colorful bauble to dress up the entire ensemble.

"Dappled" by Amber Walker (me)

“Dappled” by Amber Walker (me)

(The above appley painting was made with a multi-layered version of this background technique, along with other methods coming soon is this series.)

Choose a room you want some artwork for, and figure out a general color palette for your painting.  You’ll want to choose at least two or three different colors to use overall for all of the layers of your work.  Like in my examples, these are for our living room.  (The fabric shown in the supply pic below is where I am drawing my colors from.)  I will pick:  teal, lime, lemon yellow, and red.  Where is this piece going to hang?  You’ll need to know this so you can figure out what size canvas you need.   A lone 8×10″ painting hanging over a standard mantel would be too dinky, no?  Work that idea of size into your vision.   You can purchase pre-stretched canvases at any art supply or craft store, in nearly any dimensions you can imagine.  I’m doing all of my paintings for this series on an 11×14 inch canvas, just to keep it uniform.  And if you are too fearful to go big from the beginning, don’t forget that you can always paint a smaller painting and incorporate your work in with others that you love to make an attractive grouping.

My Supplies

My Supplies

So let’s get started!

You will need:

***acrylic paints  (see my note at bottom):
*two or three close-in-range colors; think one lighter, one darker, and something in the middle //  After pondering it, I have decided I will do shades of bright greens for my first two paintings’ bases.  The exact colors I used were by Delta Ceramcoat:  “Leaf Green,” “Apple Green,” “Bright Yellow.”  (Some other examples of choosing two colors close together in tones would be aqua paired with teal; pale grey with charcoal; bubblegum pink and fuschia.)
*white // again, I used Delta Ceramcoat
*a metallic similar to your chosen color // I used Folk Art’s “Metallic Peridot.”

***1″ flat paintbrush // I really prefer a brush with actual bristles to a foamie brush for this stage, but you can use a 1″ foam one if you absolutely must.

***pre-stretched canvas(es) in desired size(s) // mine are 11×14 inches

My Paint Choices

My Paint Choices

***unopened trash bags (perfect for a smaller project), old shower curtain, newspapers, or small tarp to protect your painting area // you can see I went with the trash bags, I especially like that these can still be used to collect garbage later, so it’s no loss.

***jar or cup of water //  I prefer a jar, they seem less likely to tip over when they have a brush protruding from them.  Also, you will note in my pictures that I placed my water jar waaaaaaaay away from my cup of coffee and can of sparkling water.  You neither want to drink your paint water, nor put your brush into your coffee.  Put them far apart.  You’ll be glad you did.

***paper towels or rags

***paper plate or cast-off dish for holding your paints //  if you plan on painting more than once or twice, these plastic trays with the divots are only fifty cents or so at the crafts store, and they clean up in seconds.

***music, because this makes it more fun //  I listened to Nouvelle Vague’s self-titled album while basecoating these two canvases, I love that record.

We are of course going to begin with protecting our work area, as well as changing into clothes that are of lesser-enough desirability that you won’t be enraged in the likelihood that you dribble something on them.  Be it coffee or paint, you should be able to avoid all that hassle by preparing beforehand.  (You’ll also notice that I moved my inspiration fabric before I started squirting paint anywhere and everywhere.)

Acrylics dry a little faster than some other paints, so you’ll want to have everything ready before you begin.  It’s recommended that you read through these directions a few times so you do not have to stop and figure out your next movements.  (Also, you can always click on the smaller pics in order to see them larger.)

Readying the Paints

Readying the Paints

After Spreading the Apple Green

After Spreading the Apple Green

Distribute Your Paints //  Choose your basecoat’s *main* color and add a swirl or two of paint directly to the surface  of the canvas.  In one example, I used the leaf green, and in the other (pictured above and to the right) I used the apple green for this main color application.  How much do I use, you may be asking?  Think in terms of mustard to bread.  Less is more, you can always add-to later if you need.

Take the other paints you’ve chosen for this layer– sticking to the example pictured above, that is: leaf green, bright yellow, white, and metallic peridot– and squirt a bit of each out onto your dish.  You’ll probably need twice or even three times as much of the chosen colors than the white and metallic paints.  (Look at my paint paillette, above, for help in gauging how much.)

Pick Up Some Paint

Pick Up Some Paint

Quickly Spread Your Main Color //  This doesn’t have to be tidy or have any special movements with the brush, you’re just trying to coat, and coat fast.  Also be sure to completely paint the canvas’ sides/ edges with this color.  (A painting with unpainted edges tends to look less professional to me.)  If you end up with any dried-paint boogers on your canvas– you’ll know it if you do– just try and wipe or lift them off with the brush, and then re-coat that area.  (These dry dimensional and darker, and don’t tend to look intentional.)  At this point, t is not a big deal if you have a little bit of ‘excess’ paint, just maybe try and have it distributed to several points on the canvas , instead of pooling all in the middle or whatever.   (You will note that there is quite a bit of excess on my canvas in the pic above right.)

*** Protip— if at any point your brush becomes so full of paint that you no longer see variation in your color applications, use your rag or paper towel to blot out the bulk of your color.  You don’t need to really fully clean your brush, as the paint is just going to combine again really quickly.

Swipe On Some Color

Swipe On Some Color– This Is Two Strokes

Pick Up Some Color On Your Brush // Alternating between your contrasting shades (if you’ve chosen three tones for this layer), pick up some color onto your brush.  You’re going to swipe on some paint in three to five strokes either horizontally or vertically, moving in longer movements (Here I am moving vertically), about six to eight inches long.  Then pick up some of the *same color*, and change directions (in my case, moving horizontally), doing three to five strokes in short swipes, about three to five inches long.

So, does that make sense?  You’re going to go one way in LONG movements with a color, and then you’re going to go the *other* way in SHORT movements with the same color.  And then you blot out your paint, and you load up the brush with the contrasting tone, and you do it all over again, in clusters of four or so strokes.  Try to change up with direction gets long strokes and which direction gets short strokes.  Also, your bars of color can bisect one another– and anywhere– or they can be freestanding at first.  If you bisect a line of color, just keep going on your line, don’t worry about crossing over already painted areas, this actually is part of the effect.

Switching Directions

Switching Directions And Stroke Lengths

A big part of the success of this look is keeping your movements parallel to the edges, always moving in straighter lines, making horizontal and vertical strokes– never on the diagonal or adding in curves.  You have to remember that this is only the background for your painting, so keeping your movements to this ‘hatching’ pattern will keep it cleaner and more modern looking in the end.  And it really is easy– you’re simply painting lines one way and then the other.

Eventually the point is for all of these bars of color to merge, and touch, and blend together attractively.   To do that, you’re going to continue this process, over and over, until your canvas is pretty much all covered, from edge to edge.   Just keep going until you like the way that *most* of it looks, like 3/4s of the thing should be attractive to you.  It’s okay if you kind of have a few areas that are less pretty, we’re going to work on those a little.

A *Muddy* Area

A *Muddy* Area

At this point, you should have done all of this with your base three colors, and you have excluded the white and the complimentary metallic.  These two will be used for adding highlights and ‘fixing up’ some of your muddied and muddled areas.  Yes, even the pros get the muddy areas.  It just kinda happens with your paint meeting over and over again, you’re bound to have areas that are “less pretty.”  The pic to the right is a great example, it’s just a whole lot of gunky to look at in my opinion.  Every shade has blended to the same color.  Not the greatest visual work, really.  Let it dry a bit, we’re coming back to it.

Tiny Drybrushed Blob

Tiny Drybrushed Blob

Rinse And Touch Up // So.  After you have cross-hatched your way across the canvas with your three similar tones and have a 75% prettiness rate, you’ll want to rinse out your brush in your jar of water, and give your canvas a minute or two to dry.  Not too much, because you don’t want the stuff in the paint tray to dry out, but the coat on the canvas will dry much faster.   Press out as much of the paint into the water of the jar as you can– don’t go crazy, just try for mostly– and then squeeze out as much moisture out of the brush as possible with your cloth.

Pick up a very small amount of white or metallic paint– you’ll do them one at a time, each on a clean brush– and dab any excess paint off onto your cloth or a scrap piece of paper.  You’re trying for just the eensiest amount on your brush.  Evaluate the area– are the closest ‘pretty’ areas to your ‘muddy’ zone horizontal or vertical in stroke direction?  If the two nearest visible strokes you like the look of are horizontal, then go vertical.  You want the opposite.   You’re just going to dry brush on a little squarish area, trying to go slow and steady and feather it out the edges by almost dragging a little.  It’s better if this goes on so thinly that you still see the color through it.  Do this with the white in two or three areas of your canvas.  Then clean your brush as instructed above, squeezing out all water and everything, and repeat with the metallic.  The metallic paint won’t really change the coloration *much,* but it gives you the benefit of shine and glimmer, which will add quite a bit of effect to your painting in the very end.

You’re done painting your base at this point, so place your canvas somewhere safe so that it can dry fully, and clean your brush and paint dish using soap and water, in a sink.

This is my finished basecoat for the the mainly apple green painting, ready for layer two:

Apple Green Base, Finished

Apple Green Base, Finished

And this is my finished base for the primarily leaf green canvas:

The Leaf Green Base, Finished

Leaf Green Base, Finished

Despite what my husband says, I do not consider these to be ‘finished’ paintings in the *they’re done* sense– these are just finished basecoats.  We will explore secondary layers to add some details to your paintings later in the weeks to come.

Shown below is a variation, a purple canvas done with only two tones instead of three close shades of color.  I also omitted the white spot-fixes, and went entirely with the metallic for that last fixer step.  Both of these changes lead to a more subtle, basic canvas while using the same cross-brushing technique.

Subtler Purple Canvas

Subtler Purple Canvas

*****  Notes on paints.  This is one of those few areas where I really feel like you get what you pay for.  You may be really tempted to go with those one-dollar bottles of acrylics, but I assure you that this effect is completely difficult to achieve if you have to do more than one coat, and with those cheaper brands like Crapple Barrel (not their actual name) you most certainly will have to do more than one layer of color.  At a minimum I recommend the Delta Ceramcoats, but I really, really prefer the Basics line by Liquitex.  That paint has a sort of luster that the cheaper ones don’t, it makes for such a polished-looking piece in the end.

All of that said, you can certainly use leftover house paints (as long as they aren’t oil-based) if you’re really trying to recycle and not spend money.  Of course I recommend anything by Benjamin Moore if you are going to go that route.  Just be careful that you don’t blend your canvas into your wall by reusing the wall color in the room you’re painting for!

*****  Lastly, I really, really, really want this to be a real, workable, informative series.  If you attempt my instructions, and you come across some area where you need a little more direction, please let me know.  I will answer questions and happily make corresponding changes for the sake of clarification.  Happy painting!


Apr 14, 2014 | Category: Amber's Art School, Tutorial | Comments: none | Tags: , , , , , ,


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