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A Wisconsin Waterfall in Acrylic (1/4)

or, How to Paint an Oil-Like Acrylic Piece That Will Fool 'em All!

Author: Larry Seiler, Contributing Editor

I have had a number of experiences walking into galleries that handle works of mine, unannounced, to see where a work, or works, of mine were displayed. Specifically, I try to find out what, if any, response they've received, only to see quite to my amusement that the gallery display card next to the painting listed my acrylic work as an "oil." The same gaze of bewilderment seems to cross the gallery salesperson each time! :-)

I'm quite proud of my acrylic landscapes because they have bridged the way for me to go from my tight acrylic competitive wildlife images back into oils. It was with my acrylics that I first began to limit myself with time to force myself to learn to control my brushwork; to see how much realism I could yet achieve and yet retain a sense of spontaneity. I will take you along on one such session with a painting I did last summer.

This painting was a rather bold attempt in that I did not limit myself as is usually the case with a smaller support. Instead, I chose a 24" x 36" canvas. Rather ambitious I'd say now looking back. Let's begin by seeing the near finished work (to the left).

I was excited about doing a larger vertical of this scene and the challenge of manipulating the viewer's eye to spend time at the bottom of my painting without trailing off the bottom's edge, leading the eye out of the picture plane.. Enough pull to bring the eye back up. I used diagonal design components to accomplish this.

Note the dark diagonal of the rocks which the water flows over, leading to the dark underside of the adjacent shoreline. The eye leads up to the tallest tree, yet the dark diagonal of the shadows in the foilage in the top left quarter of the painting is not without purpose. That line subtlely forces the viewer's eye NOT to exit the painting via the tall darker tree. Instead...it leads the eye across diagonally to the lit up rocks on the other side of the canvas, back down...and the eye paths circular effect begins again.

Scary huh? To think so much intentional thought can go into a work. :-) I'll confess this though...often, an experienced painter will after many years NOT have to consciously build this into the work. In hindsight, the artist looking at and admiring what he has done to hold well compositionally will see that he put such things in "intuitively." At such a moment the artist may think himself lucky to have done such, but luck has nothing to do with it. Years of previous careful thinking becomes second nature, until it nearly becomes instinctual. So...if you do not think you have this instinct yet, then make a point to work hard to remember such things. In time...it will come, but above all...good compositional design is important. Now...just for amusement's sake, I won't tell you if I arranged the diagonal action of this particular painting consciously or not! :-)

Let's get into the meat of this thing now.

Sometimes I begin with a board toned. I mixed black with my gesso to get about a medium neutral tone so that my lights and darks show up immediately. In this case...I chose to work with the white. No real reason why.

I wrapped a rag around my finger and with enough water on hand, dipped my finger into the water and then pigment to draw and begin the blocking in process. As large as this painting is.....it will take me only moments to do this. Already, as I squint my eyes, I'm already getting a sense of how the eye will move throughout the painting. I'm sure by now, you can see it too!

I used a yellow mixture to draw to emphasize the warm elements I will strive for in my finished work.

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