Sunday, May 18, 2008

Learing to Use Your Brush

Week 7: Brush Techniques both Acrylic and Watercolor

I meant to post to the blog sooner but I’ve been trying to figure out how to put picts on the picture page so you can see examples but the ones I took of the demos didn’t really turn out so well so I will have to do them again with picture taking in mind. I really need video but I haven’t figured out how to video myself yet.

Now the reason I’ve combined both the watercolor and acrylic into one this time is because all the strokes are basically interchangeable between the two or any brush and pigment painting like oils or gauche, for that matter, it is how you use them that may differ from medium to medium.

Handling the brush is a problem for many in my classes like it is a one note instrument when in reality it can be a whole symphony if you know how to play it. Maybe this comes from years of being told how to hold a pen or pencil and how important it is the keep the strokes even and smooth, well, that’s great for writing and may even be helpful in calligraphy but a paint brush isn’t a pencil and while smooth and even has it’s place it isn’t the only tune you should play on it.

First, let go the notion that you hold a brush the same as you hold a pen or pencil. Learn to hold the brushes in different positions depending on what your needs are at the time. I will hold the brush in the classic “pencil” hold if I am doing detail or when I need my best control but most of the time I am holding it in anyway but the classic position. Some times I hold it firmly; some times I’m barely holding it at all. Some times I’m griping the brush other times I’ve just lightly holding it between my thumb, index and middle fingers like I’m picking up crumbs and I always try to hold the brush as far back as possible, not right up close to the bristles unless I’m doing detail. Get in the habit of checking yourself when you are holding your brush, it is natural to want to “choke up” on the brush – I do it all the time – but your painting will be freer if you hold your brush back a bit especially for the acrylic/oil painters. To hold you brush back means that you have to be back away from your canvas/paper a bit and that is a good thing, keeps you from overworking an area a problem with a lot of artists including myself.

I also can’t emphasize enough the importance of PRACTICE! Just like any musical instrument you need to practice handling your brushes and trying different ways of using them. Have a spare canvas or the back of an old watercolor you don’t like (I’m sure we all have some of those ;-) then pick up a brush and see what it can do. Press hard on it and see what results you get and then lighten the pressure, what do you see? Try combining heavy and light pressure to see what you get. Twist and shift the brush in your hand to see what you get. Try these strokes with a lot of paint and then with little paint like a dry brush stroke. If you have a liner brush, practice is the only way you will learn to handle this handy little brush but the results on your painting will be well worth the effort. Think thick and thin strokes or heavy and light to get the effect you want. Get you whole body into your painting, I will often times find myself standing when painting on my watercolor when I’m working at home even if I started sitting first because I need to have the room to work plus it gets me away from my painting so I don’t see every little “flaw”.

Now for some different strokes ;-) Most of these strokes can be done with just about any brush you have be it bristle or sable; round, flat, bright or angle; acrylic or watercolor. Practice them with the medium you are using then incorporate what you’ve learned into your art work.

Thick and Thin – This stroke is good for things like leaves and grasses and can be done quickly (little short strokes) or in long graceful strokes depending on what you are trying to accomplish. This stroke usually requires that you have your brush well loaded with paint (watercolor students, it doesn’t mean dripping off your brush but you should have a well loaded brush). You can start this off either lightly (barely touching the canvas/paper) or pressing pretty hard the trick is which ever way you start, you want to end up the opposite. For example if you were doing a long leaf, you might start out pressing pretty hard but as you create the leaf you not only lighten the pressure on the brush but twist it as well. The quicker you can do this stroke the better it will look. If you twist and lighten the pressure one or more times along a long stroke it will give the appearance of the leaf/blade of grass twisting so you are seeing just and edge in some places and the whole surface in others. This is the stroke you will use a lot when using you liner so practice this stroke with your liner especially the heavy to light pressure. Try using round and flat brushes with this stroke and thing about where you can use it in your painting.

Dry Brush – This is a very important stroke for acrylic painters because it is how we can blend when our paint has dried but it also has applications for watercolorists as well. As you have heard me say before, there is very little water in your brush when doing this stroke this includes watercolor (w/c). For the acrylic painters this works best with your bristle brushes the key for either medium is to rinse and dry your brush before picking up paint. Acrylic painters, you might have to tap the bristles up and down on your palette to get the bristles loaded just be sure to take only a small amount of paint and work it in then wipe off most of the outside paint, w/c students same goes for you: Don’t take the paint from the pile of color but from the edges. Both of you, keep a paper towel handy and touch the back end of the bristles before going to your canvas/paper to soak up any excess water.

Use a very light touch with applying color with a dry brush. The goal is to see what is under it be it canvas or paper. For w/c it makes great light on water if you drag a flat or angle brush horizontally across your white paper. It will add highlights to water using the same light stroke for acrylic painter. Using a light scrubbing stroke you can add texture or blend one color into another.

W/C students should have at least one bristle brush they can abuse for the next way to use dry brush which is stippling. Mash the paint into your bristles so the end of your brush looks pretty mangled, then lightly dab straight on the ends of the bristles to create masses of leaves in trees or bushes or texture on rocks. This makes great baby’s breath if you are doing a floral. Find other places where this will work. Just remember the harder you dab the more filled in it will look so be gentle.

Another place where dry brush is great is creating texture in wood whether you are using acrylic or w/c you can make it look like a polished table or old wooden fence, follow the grain of the wood with your stroke, I know, again with the practice.

Dry brush is a great way to make grass, fur and hair. Grass and fur are just short quick flicks of the brush the pressure on the brush is key, keep it light and quick. Hair is a very light stroke that follows the shape of the hair. Practice.

For acrylic painters clouds are a great place to learn how to use a light touch when lightly scrubbing clouds into your painting. It is a series of light, circular, scrubbing strokes. If you observe clouds you will see that they tend to boil as they form and dissipate, keep this in mind when you are painting clouds it will be helpful.

These are just a few ways to use dry brush I’m sure there are many others, just remember that just because both acrylics and w/c are water media doesn’t mean that you always have to have them dripping off your brushes, less is more, more often than not.

Liner Brush – The most important aspect of using this little brush to its best advantage is loading it. To load it properly is opposite of everything I usually tell you about adding water. This is the one brush that you need to use a lot of water so that the paint will flow off it evenly, so when you are mixing water with your paint, especially for acrylic painters, be sure that the paint has a very ink-like consistency. W/C painters usually won’t have that problem unless they are working straight out of the tube but it is important none the less to be sure that the paint is very fluid. Once you have the right consistency, to load the brush roll the whole brush in the water/paint mix and twist it to a point as you lift. The bristles should be full of color.

To create individual grasses, as Jerry Yarnell ( says, “Get your motor going.” You need to get your whole arm and wrist going in a circular motion while holding your brush slightly down, you fingers should be holding the end of the brush. As you make this motion, you will lightly touch the canvas/paper usually on the upward stroke. Little circles = short grass. Big circles = tall grass. You can also flick this brush to make grasses that look like they have seed heads on them. Practice.

This little brush makes wonderful trees and bushes! This is where I said that learning how to go from think to thin lines with this brush would come in handy. It is usually better to start at the base of a limb or twig where it is thicker and go to the thinner ends then the reverse, you will have more control. Start with the brush on the canvas/paper and with a jerky motion start you limb, lifting as you go to create a thinner and thinner limb. It is good to have a bit of a nervous twitch when doing this stroke because it will give your limbs and twigs a more realistic look (go out and look at trees and bushes, their branches, limbs and twigs go every which way).

This little brush is also good for making long lines as in ship rigging, phone lines, and barbed-wire fences – any where you need a long even line.

These are just some basics as far as brush strokes go. It is up to you to practice and experiment to find out what works best for you. Your brush will play many tunes if you just let it. Good luck and like a broken record: Practice, practice, practice!

No comments: