Don’t Even Ask

Usually when I’m learning a new medium, I take a slow but steady approach, doing my best to get the basics down before attempting more involved projects. Not so with acrylics for some reason. Oh, I did start with the basics — creating values and painting a simple cube — and I do have one painting in progress which is looking fairly good. It’s from the video course on acrylics at The Virtual Instructor.

While I was browsing through other projects at the site, I came across a video for a still life painting. An acrylic still life painting. Beginner’s level.

Sure, why not! Despite the fact that I know next to nothing yet about acrylic techniques, I jumped right in, sketched the still life on a sheet of canvas, and set to work. The video shows how to create an underpainting using Payne’s gray and burnt umber. Hmmm…I don’t happen to have either of those colors in my acrylics set. So, of course, I improvised. It was just for fun, right? Yeah, I used black and brown.

Hey, stop laughing! This is a learning experience, remember. And I learned that black and brown aren’t good substitutes for Payne’s gray and burnt umber.

That was only the beginning of my acrylic woes. My attempt to follow along with the video quickly went from bad to worse. I used the grin and bear it philosophy for a time, but soon my grin turned to a grimace, and I just couldn’t bear it any longer.

At that point, all I could do was shake my head, laugh, and walk away.

Dont Even Ask

Please, don’t even ask what it’s supposed to be or how it got to be such a mess. I haven’t yet decided if I’m going to make any effort to salvage it or not. I’m thinking maybe I should just name it “Study in Black and White” and be done with it. I could frame it and look at it whenever I need a good laugh.

Yep. I’m laughing at it. Please feel free to do the same.

Meanwhile, I’m reading more about underpainting and why we do it. I’ve also subscribed to Acrylics Anonymous, and will be dutifully following their “12-step” program.

Step 1: We admit we are powerless over painting — our lives have become too much fun.

Painting is fun. Even in the midst of my acrylic disaster, I’m still enjoying it, and that’s what really counts.

Have a safe and happy Memorial Day holiday!


  1. It’s good you can laugh at your own work. I remember my first try at acrylic and I wasn’t laughing. I was cussing under my breath and almost ruined a couple of brushes because of the frustration. I still haven’t mastered acrylic yet, but I am better now than when I first started.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Just wait…LOL. I have another “big boo-boo” post coming up in a couple of days. Yes, I have to laugh at myself. My life philosophy is “If you can laugh at it, you can live with it.” For me, art has to be fun, and if I can’t laugh at my mistakes, I’d better give up right now.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That is so true. Personally, I admire serious artists but I like to put a little humor in my own art. Life is much more fun when you can make other people smile.

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      2. We are all students of the craft. The learning never ends. That’s the exciting thing about it.

        Yeah, my friends often tell me my art is a bit off kilter lol! I have such weird friends.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s actually a wine bottle and an alarm clock with deep shadows against the wall. Gravestone markers might be more appropriate for the painting since I think I’m relegating it to the “lost cause” category. Yes, it is fun. Even when I make disastrous mistakes, I’m enjoying all I’m learning. I’m glad you enjoyed the story, too. 🙂

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  2. Oh Judith – love your honesty and humor and transparency – keeping it real – and having FUN! When I first saw the painting I thought of a cartoon guy in the shadows – it was fun. Acrylics Anonymous – LOL! Awesome!

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    1. Did you visit the site and read the entire 12-steps? It’s hilarious, but they’re all so true. I think there might actually be a cartoon character lurking in that underpainting LOL. He’s a real villain! Thanks for sharing my laughter with me — and by the way, I have another big “boo-boo” post coming up in a couple of days, so get ready to laugh a little more. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. Glad you enjoyed it. The painting was such a disaster I couldn’t do anything but laugh. I’ve actually grown rather fond of it now, so I think I’m just going to save it and remember this “learning process”. 🙂

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  3. I’m not sure what is so wrong with it? Looks abstractly to me. My eye went to the bent shadow which looked pretty cool I thought. I know it is not what you were trying to do and I understand the feeling of that, but just so you know, if you would not have said anything, I would have thought the painting was entirely purposeful and yes, I could tell it was a wine bottle and a clock and so could my husband. He said…keep going Killer…get em.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. LOL…well, in my defense, the angle of the shadow is very close to the reference I was using, but all that underpainting…well, it got a little too dark. I don’t think there’s any way I could paint anything OVER all that blackness. It does have a sort of “gangsta” look about it, though. LOL I love his remark. With all the silliness of my awful painting, I’ve come to love it. I’m not going to touch it again. It’s going to remain “A Study in Black and White” — which is really appropriate since it did teach me a lot. 🙂


      1. It looks really weird because it blends into the darker side of the actual bottle, so yeah, it looks like a sort of drunken shadow staggering across the wall. 🙂 And to me, the alarm clock looks like a big drum, so I think I have a bit of a speak-easy going on here, like something out of the roaring 20s.

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  4. It’s wonderful that you can easily laugh at your “mistakes” – but it’s all part of the process. So in the end, it’s all good. And yeah, when the frustration sets in, it’s time to set the brushes down.

    A simple tip to remember? In OIL painting, you work from dark to light – otherwise you end up with “MUD” ….. ACRYLICS? – the opposite. Light to dark. And so you need to understand “hues, values, shading, form, volume” pretty well in order to reproduce anything that is more “realistic.” Hope this helps you in your efforts.

    And I’ve noticed – you’ve mentioned that you are going to leave it “as it” – good for you – because not only will you have something to remember and use as a ‘marking point’ as you learn and experiment more, but you’re right – it has its own charms – and not only because of the learning curve and how you’ve processed your feelings about it.

    Keep on having fun 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly. The fun is the most important part for me. I’ll eventually learn how to work with acrylics, and at some point I’ll be trying oil, too. There’s always something new to learn and enjoy with art. So glad you visited to share my journey with me!

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  5. Judith, my oh my. I love this post!!!
    yes, art is Fun! love the acrylics anon, must go there after work!!
    so, people say to me – you’re too serious. even as a 3 year old, when of course I didn’t understand.. but I did try to! I may have been too serious. LOL
    best get to work. I really need to go to AA. Debi

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, yes, the learning process is fun. If it weren’t, I wouldn’t even attempt acrylics. I have grown to love my pathetic little painting…LOL


      1. Cool!! There was a time where with oil paints that monster popped up far too often. I saw another post of yours where you were joking about the green problem . So great to get over that part, huh?

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  6. The photo you included of your painting is out of focus — ah hem! Will have to take off points for that. But otherwise it reminds me a little of images by Ignacio Iturria, an artist from Uruguay. I saw some of his paintings first hand in a gallery affixed to the Organization of American States in Washington DC decades ago and loved them immediately. Have admired his work from afar ever since.

    His approach to painting is deliberately naïve. I know almost nothing about him, his training, influences, etc. I assume that Matisse was an influence based on the look of his paintings, but cannot be sure. There’s a lot of humor in the subject matter and motifs. That’s kind of unusual in “the art world.” He paints (toy?) airplanes flying over bathtubs and other improbable things.

    He uses shades of brown a lot. Some would call it “mud.” It is a beautifully textured and variegated mud. Maybe you should take a look. I include a link to one image, but a google search will bring up a great variety. Some of the paintings are large. One of the “table tops” in the exhibit I saw was actual size (conformed to something like the real size of a table’s edges and the toys were the size of real toys).

    ” And I learned that black and brown aren’t good substitutes for Payne’s gray and burnt umber.” Hmm, I’m not sure about that. Payne’s gray is a cool color and certain blacks are similarly cool in tone. Burnt umber is a reddish brown. Cool and warm contrast. Your substitutions have those qualities.

    Here’s the link to one Ignacio Iturria painting. See what you think. He’s famous enough that his work sells in the international market. That isn’t always a meaningful criterion, but in his case I suspect that the love is real.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I did a quick Google search of Iturria. I see what you’re saying about his work. Quite interesting. My real problem with mixing the black and brown was getting my color much too dark. From there, I was doomed. I tried to lighten it, but ended up with such a glob of paint on the canvas that I couldn’t handle it. Next LOL I tried to thin it out a bit, and that just made an even worse mess. I’ve since done an abstract with acrylic — it will be in a post on the 3rd — and I’m almost finished with another painting which has turned out much better. With practice, I might actually learn how to use acrylics. 🙂

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  7. Mixing with acrylics can be a challenge because of the swift drying time. I never put out any colors except the ones I’m planning to use in the next five minutes. So with acrylics it’s helpful if you already have the color mixtures down in thought first. But since you’re only talking about three colors – black, brown and white (or payne’s gray, burnt umber and white) you should be able to experiment without too much hassle.

    Thinning, as you note, is not necessarily a solution. It makes the paint more like watercolor which is okay on paper but maybe problematic otherwise. (Adding water breaks down the paint binder.) To thin acrylic you use an acrylic medium (which is just the binder without pigment.)

    The key to acrylics is to use the fast drying to your advantage. Let the paint dry and make changes to the dry surface (you can call them corrections but you can also just think of them as changes). Indeed, that’s the wonder of acrylic: that you can paint right on top of a previous layer almost immediately and find a dry surface.

    If it was too dark, you repaint with a mixture having added a little more white to the paint. And the only way to learn these differences is by doing exactly what you’re doing. Try it.

    Trial and error. Or, make that trial and discovery.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, trial and discovery sounds good. The back wall of the painting was supposed to be a golden hue, but I wasn’t having any success when I tried painting over my very dark underpainting. That’s the point where I decided I needed to put it aside, let it dry thoroughly, re-assess it, and decide if it was even worth trying to finish. I am going to leave this one as it is, but I might start over and try painting the same still life again, or maybe something similar. I think part of the problem was that I didn’t really care much for the original reference photo in the lesson. That makes a huge difference for me. I wanted to learn about doing an underpainting, but I wasn’t as enthusiastic about the painting as I might otherwise have been.

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      1. Hi Judith, I see you’re doing interesting trial and discovery work. I rather like this image.
        This is an interesting thread. Hope you don’t mind me budding in too.
        I was wondering about the problem with the background being too dark. Have you looked at the transparency of your paint? Most paints have an indication of that somewhere on the tube: a square that is looking white (=transparent paint), black (=opaque) or half white and black (=semi transparent) .
        In principle you can paint a light paint on top of dark – as long as it’s opaque. if your color isn’t opaque but transparent -like most yellows and probably your ‘gold’ – , or when it’s semi-transparent, the under layer will be visible through your top color. Yellow on blue will have a greenish look, for instance. You would need to paint an opaque white on top of the dark first where you want it to turn gold (later). Hope this helps.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thanks! Very useful information. There’s a lot to learn, especially about colors, pigments, and the properties of paint. It’s fascinating, and I’m glad to have so many other artists standing behind me, willing to share tips and tricks. I appreciate it.

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      3. It’s mind-boggling! A year ago I couldn’t draw a straight line, and today I’m “chatting” with talented authors from all over the world, sharing my stories of learning art, and making many friends. It’s incredible, really.

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  8. Hope you don’t mind my nosey advice. Some of it is practicing on my part — I’m going to begin teaching in July.

    Definitely it’s a plus to care about the motif. I suppose you can care “too much.” Be really invested which can sometimes lead to being intimidated. But the caring means that you look more closely. Lovers gaze into each others’ eyes. Artists gaze longer at stuff they like, less at stuff they don’t like.

    But also consider copying things. If you like Morandi, copy some of Morandi’s things because the other artist has made decisions — visual decisions, graphic decisions, about drawing masses, contours, placement of shapes, the range of tones (tonality), etc. When you are copying — even if you’re not at first aware — you are learning some of these decisions. You’d be more aware of them AS decisions if you could look over his shoulder and see what he’s looking at. But even without awareness you get some of it. In contrast a photo is the light that the camera captured at a certain f-stop. It is conditioned by the judgment of the photographer of course (don’t get mad at me photographers!), but there’s a huge difference between photography and painting. The photographer cannot — using the camera alone — for instance — just lighten a passage of shadow because he thinks it would look better. But the artist can.

    If you find a Morandi that really grabs you. Try setting up a real still life that resembles it as closely as you can manage. Copy the Morandi, but look some at the still life too. Could be a fun experiment.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I do understand the value of copying the works of master artists. When we do, we’re likely to ask ourselves some of the same questions the original artist considered, and that’s got to help us develop our “artistic thinking”. I appreciate all of your advice and suggestions. I’m honored that you think my efforts are worthy of developing further. I do agree, too, that artists can sometimes “improve” upon a scene by making slight changes. Photography is a beautiful art in its own right, but a very different one from drawing or painting.


  9. It has live and spirit in your painting, the gradations are clear and clean. When I paint I seldom asked a question before doing it, but just do it, feel it and emerge with the work through your hands and brush. Let the color or tones tell the story for you. Those who understand will interrupt the story in their own ways, and I believe that that’s the way to share.

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