Simon Taylor at the West End Gallery in Leicester does my framing and he makes frames that are very labour intensive and difficult to get other people to make.
Painting can be a quick process and I suppose I am trying to give that impression in the finished work.
The thick mark making in impasto is all about building layers of interest and creating a depth of surface. The myth about impasto, especially with oils, is that you can’t go over marks already made.
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To achieve a realistic portrait with colored pencil, I recommend you use Prismacolor Premeir pencils and Bristol Strathmore Smooth paper. A lot of artists also like using Farber Castel Polychromos, but I’ve yet to try them because they are a little more pricey. When using Prismacolor Premiers, a white colored pencil and a colorless blending pencil are your very best friends. When I first started drawing with Prismacolors, I’d push down as hard as I could so that the soft lead would give me that paint-like finish instantly. A mechanical eraser can be an excellent tool for taking away some color for highlights when drawing textures like grass or hair.
Have you ever seen a painting that made you want to touch the surface and feel the textures?
Impasto painting is the technique of building thick layers of paint on the surface of a painting.
Impasto adds a three-dimensional, almost sculptural quality to a painting, and can be used to create many unique textures and effects. Even though impasto painting has been around for as long as painting, for many years the goal of a painter has been to hide the idea that something had been painted.
Contemporaries of Rembrandt’s like Frans Hals and Diego Velazquez were also using impasto techniques, but the full potential of impasto as an almost sculptural way of painting wasn’t fully explored until the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists began using it in the mid-to-late 19th century. Claude Monet employed an almost architectural approach to impasto in his series of paintings of Rouen Cathedral, as seen in the example below from 1894.
In the 20th century, Jackson Pollock emerged from the Abstract Expressionist movement with some of the most daring impasto paintings yet seen. Some of Pollock’s paintings were so thick that they are now losing bits of paint, creating a challenge for art conservators. By the late 20th century, Lucian Freud had brought impasto painting back to portraiture in the boldest figurative paintings of his generation. Learn more about incorporating impasto into your own work in the class Acrylic Painter's Toolbox. You might also enjoy learning about the great oil portrait painters or creating your own stunning oil paintings in Drawn to Painting with Rob Zeller. You can use high impasto in acrylic which dries fast and then put oil over the acrylic not having to wait so long for the oil to dry.
Atelier – a small artist run studio school where students study the style and techniques of one artist.
Blending – this describes a gradual transition between two colours, it is usually created when both paint colours are wet.
This is why on the back of stretcher bars (the wooden frames than the canvas is stretched upon) you’ll find expandable corner joints and wooden keys.
Linen is more resilient to changes in humidity and the fibres used in the manufacturing process are also longer lasting than cotton. This is why it is often a preferred surface for portrait painters due to the longevity of the material. Canvas weight – this refers to how thick the canvas is, usually labelled in ounces, 8oz, 10oz, 12oz. The choice of the weight of the canvas depends on the size of the painting and each artists personal preference.
Coloured ground – a solid, opaque colour applied to the canvas (or painting surface) prior to commencing painting. Direct painting – usually associated with oil painting, this describes a painting technique that uses solid, opaque blocks of colour. Dry Brush – an effect when you have very little moisture on your brush, to apply the paint you need more of a scrubbing motion and the result is called a scumble.
Flat colour – paint applied in a solid, flat colour, like the paint on your wall at home. Ground – this is another name for the surface you are painting onto, if you just apply a white primer to your canvas, it can be described as a white ground. Gel – a semi-solid material that you can mix in with your acrylics to drastically change the texture, consistency and can make your paint go a lot further.
Grisaille – using shades of grey in an under-painting to establish the tonal values of a painting.
Glazing Liquid – a medium that you can mix in with your acrylic paints to extend the working time and blending qualities of the paint.
Pro tip: It is best to apply the highlight towards the end of your painting once you have modelled the form underneath, have a look at the final parts of the cherry painting to see how this works. Interference paint – when viewed from different angles the paint appears differently.
Impasto – A thick application of paint, with textured marks or brush marks still visible. Impasto suits Acrylics very well due to the quick drying nature of the paint and the texture gels you can add in with your mix.
In classical portrait painting the darks where kept thin and translucent and the lights thick and impasto. Notice how, in Freud’s painting below, the highlight on the forehead is the thickest impasto part of the painting, especially in comparison to the thin background.
Limited palette – When you deliberately restrict the number of colours that you are using in a painting.
This can be extremely useful when you are first starting to learn about the different qualities of pigments and the working characteristic of each paint.
Masstone – the appearance of a paint colour when squeezed or applied in a thick blob of paint without dilution. Medium – is anything you mix in with the paint to change its consistency, for example, water is a medium, Glazing Liquid is a medium.
Open Time – length of time the paint remains wet enough for the brush to move through the paint. Palette – the surface that you mix colours onto, this can vary from wooden palettes, to glass, to tear-off paper palette. Palette (stay-wet) – A palette specifically developed for acrylic painting to counteract the quick drying time of acrylic paints.
A sheet of grease-proof paper – this acts as a membrane to stop all the water going into the paint immediately. You lay your acrylic paints out on top of the grease-proof sheet and as the acrylics dry (they dry by evaporation) the water in the paint is replaced by the water that is held in the absorbent paper layer. They can be great to extend the working time of your paints, just be careful if you use student quality paints as overnight the water can dilute the paint so much you’ll find your very own Jackson Pollock waiting for you in the morning! Permanence – How permanent the paint will be overtime, for example, Permanent Alizarin crimson is more resilient to changes in atmosphere, exposure to light etc, than standard Alizarin crimson. Scumble – A thin application of paint, similar to a glaze, but using semi-opaque and opaque pigments to alter the effect of the underlying paint.
Tinting Strength – this is a measure of much or how little paint you need to alter white.
It is a thin application of paint, yet instead of using a transparent pigment ( as with glazing) you use an opaque pigment. Have only just started painting after my school day efforts 45 years ago, so lots to learn.

Zorn is credited to using this limited palette, but not for all of his paintings, some of them have an added blue (probably Cobalt). He could also have added a touch of blue to his black (such as Velasquez did) to have a pigment closer to Blue Black such as Paul Emsley did in the portrait I discuss in this post: Are these 3 black paint myths holding your painting back? I might do a demo on it though, because it is amazing what can be achieved with such a limited palette. Thanks for the reply, its really interesting to see what can be done with limited pallettes – less is definitely more in my opinion.
I’m working on some other painting Glossaries at the moment, and I’m sure painting styles and their definitions will come up! Thanks for the glossary, so informative with clear explainations, there is so much to learn !!, I got into watercolours a few years ago but really want to have a go with acrylics. I came across your website a few days back and would like to sincerely thank you for sharing all this valuable information. Phthalo blue is a good paint to make subtle green..can I substitute Cerulean blue for the same? Phthalo blue is a very good paint for making vivid greens, you can watch my mixing green video to see how intense they can get, for a subtler mix have a look at the black and yellow mix in the video.
Is burnt umber good as colored background for any painting or certain colors are better with it? It depends, I use Burnt umber as it is a great all rounder, however you can change it depending on the feel of the painting you’re after.
For example, on landscapes I’ll often use a Yellow ochre, for portraits a Raw umber because it is a cooler base that works well with warm skin tones.
Hi Stephanie, the best way to learn about painting it to actually start painting, so I would start with one of the free simple acrylic courses. There are slight differences, say if you wanted to extend your acrylic colours, the acrylic medium would be perfect as it is a is a more general purpose medium. If you were working in thinner glazes and wanted a longer working time, then you’d go for the Glazing liquid Gloss.
Acrylic retarder is slightly different as you can only add 15% ratio to your paint mix, but it does do the job of keeping your paints wet for longer. Personally, I just really use the Glazing Liquid Gloss for extending my colours, extending the working time of my paint and for fine blending because I can use it in any ratio I want and the differences are so slight between the mediums, I’d rather use one medium and keep it simple. I’m blessed to have an art job but I left acrylics long, long ago at school, not even art school.
Thanks for dropping by, really pleased to hear you’ve been able to breath a sigh of relief and are looking forward to spreading the acrylic knowledge to western Australia! Hi Vandana, thanks for the lovely comment and great to hear you’re enjoying the website. In acrylic you do exactly the same, and apply varnish to preserve and protect the painting. It began when my granddad lent me a pair of his old brogues years ago and said I should paint them.
I am a big guy with big hands and in a way my approach shouldn’t work, but having sensitivity towards the subject sometimes helps. As for supports, I use canvas boards for the smaller paintings, just because I can cut them to exactly the shape and size I want. The idea is that they retain a freshness that way; all you have poured into it that day is there to see.
I destroyed this picture more than I would normally so it really was about piecing it back together.
At times I will add paint using a knife if I want a glossy mark to add a change to the feel of the surface. But I’ve adapted the philosophy that sometimes non-experts can be pretty good teachers.
If you want to learn more about creating a line drawing visit my posts on drawing with the grid method and drawing by measuring.
Some start with the eyes, some start with shadows, some work from one corner to the other, etc. What I didn’t realize was that (aside from hurting my hands) I was limiting how much detail I could add by putting down too much color at once.
Notice the difference between the upper left cheek, which is one color, and the forehead, which is several layers of different colors. Adding smaller highlights with a white gel pen has also made a huge difference in the quality of my drawings. It may look that way sometimes, but on paper, they look a lot better with a little more color added.
If there are places in your drawing where the shadows get especially dark, you might benefit from using a pen or marker to help achieve the desired value. The impasto technique is mostly used with thicker, opaque paints like oils, acrylics, gouache and tempera. Rather than emphasize the textural qualities of paint, painters have mostly tried to eliminate brushstrokes and any evidence of the artist’s “hand.” Times have changed and today many painters embrace the qualities of a visible brushstroke, and impasto painting emphasizes those qualities even more so.
In this self-portrait from 1659, you can see the visibly thicker dabs and strokes of paint rising from the surface of the painting. Building layer upon layer, he explored changing light as it fell across the facade of the cathedral, and the built-up paint almost becomes a relief. Rather than progressively building up layers of paint as Monet did, he would often take paint straight from the tube and apply it to the canvas directly, or load his brush so full of paint that the bristles weren’t even doing any work-- the paint brush was essentially a shovel for thick globs of paint. Often working on the floor, his “action paintings” embraced the uncontrollable nature of thick drips, smears and splashes of paint onto canvas, resulting in works like Full Fathom Five from 1947. With paint so thick it resembled the frosting on a cake, Freud created enormous paintings of people that seem to emerge from the canvas in three dimensions, as in Reflection (Self-Portrait) from 1985. For oil paints, Linseed Oil is the binder, for acrylic paints, Acrylic Polymer is the binder. This allows you to view the relationship of the whole image working together and is often achieved by stepping back from the piece to get an overview – in contrast to working each small section at a time. 90% of the blocking in will be painted over so don’t be too precious, just get the paint on the canvas so your eyes can start judging colours and adjust to the scene.
The pros are the ability to paint with watery washes, or to soak the canvas surface and apply staining effects. These are used to adjust the tightness of the canvas surface if it begins to sag due to a change in atmosphere or humidity.
This means the surface has had an Acrylic Gesso applied in the factory and is ready to paint straight onto.
It helps you to establish a tonal range to your paintings by allowing you to judge the lightest light and darkest dark as opposed to working with the glare of a white canvas. Rather than optically changing the painting by applying thin layers of paint like scumbles and glazes. The underlying colour is already dry when the glaze is applied to add depth of colour and help fuse hard edges. Modern man-made pigments can give you the cleanest glaze colour as the paint properties are already translucent.
Traditionally used in portrait painting before applying coloured glazes to work the painting up to a full colour portrait. It is very handy for glazing if you are working at an easel because you can work in thin layers without the paint dripping down the canvas – this would happen if you only used water to dilute the acrylics. Painted over a dark colour you can see one colour, paint the same colour over a light background and you see the complimentary colour.
It can be handy to convey a sense of form and to create a three dimensional sculptural feel.

In Oil painting mediums often have a constantly changing recipe, depending on what layer of the painting you are on.
Natural or synthetic materials are finely ground and mixed with a liquid binder into a paste to make paint. It slows down the chemical reaction but you can only add about 15% retarder to your paint mixture or the results are a weird tacky paint.
So for example, Terra verte has a low tinting strength so you need a lot of paint to alter your mix, whereas, Phthalo blue has a high tinting strength and you need only a tiny amount otherwise you overpower the other colours. It’s easiest to see over a white background and is very useful for determining a colour bias, which is usually hard to distinguish when just looking at the masstone. It is most commonly used in the first blocking in stages of the painting, to gain an overall sense of the colour scheme. I have been thinking of painting for a long time but finally gave up hesitating and started painting with acrylics about 2 months ago. Also, is burnt umber good as colored background for any painting or certain colors are better with it? I joined your site yesterday and I couldn’t stop reading and watching your video until late night . You really know how to explain things in a simple manner and with some humor added to it, it’s really wonderful to read and watch! What would be the best choice in order to be able to blend for a longer time: the acrylic glazing medium or the acrylic retarder? With acrylics you usually apply an isolation coat so you get even finish with the varnish, and can remove the varnish in the future without damaging the painting surface. However when I moved back to Leicester from Bristol, it just wasn’t making me happy anymore.
I prime them three times at least and then sand them back to make the surface more like paper. I occasionally work from life for commissions but usually I use photos as it’s easier to work for a long period of time. Paint is such a physical medium that to use it in a way that isn’t would be unnatural to me. Her head is very round and I painted it on what is almost a square support so it suggested that it needed something that would work in a rhythmical way. Whereas the initial marks may have been heavy, you must lighten your touch and let the brush do the work for you.
It is very important to use sturdy paper because it will allow you to build up more layers of color.
Some even do an “oil rub,” which is when you lay down a base color in oil paint and then add the details in colored pencil on top!
My skin tones used to only be two colors and looked very flat, but now I use a much larger variety of colors, placed lightly one on top of the other.
This little trick is useful for eyes, lips, teeth, or even skin if you’re doing an extreme close-up.
Georgina Kreutzer uses a lot of blues in her skin tones, and it makes her work so interesting and fun to look at! I’ve noticed it helps a lot when drawing eyes with darker makeup, or filling in the shadows of dark hair. This would be a great reference for anyone looking to take their drawing skills to the next level. While impasto is technically possible with some watercolors, it is rarely seen in that medium. Impasto painting can be enhanced by thickening agents such as gel medium in acrylic painting and wax medium for oils.
I will have to keep challenging myself re this technique as found when brush was loaded I lost control which can be certainly surprising but not what I wanted at this point. I may have harmed the long range permanence of my oil on acrylics though because I used glazing medium in the acrylic and then glazed with Damar varnish giving three layers: acrylic, acrylic glazing medium and them oil glaze (oil medium or Damar varnish). Canvas is available in a variety of textures from extra fine (good for fine detail portrait painting) to coarse (good for textural, gestural painting) a medium texture is a good all rounder to start with. Traditionally glazes were used on top of a black and white underpainting called a Grisaille, if you imagine glazes like a stained glass window, so the clearer the window, the cleaner the glaze. Add a very small amount of black to Interference colors to produce deeper, richer, opalescent effects.
Notable realist painters, such as Singer Sargent, have used a limited palette extensively throughout their entire painting career. It describes the amount of pigment in the paint, compared to the amount of binder or other additives in the paint.
On artist quality acrylic paint tubes, there is an indication by an actual painted swatch that will show you how opaque the pigment is – see The differences between Artist Quality and Student Grade paints for an example. If you want the mark to pick up the paint layer underneath you can increase the pressure, too. The main idea is that you don’t have to be the ultimate expert, you just have to know something that someone else wants to know. However, I recently had the opportunity to draw a very special portrait for a friend of mine. I also use a white Prismacolor or colorless blender to blend those layers together, and then add more color and more blending as needed. Anything that needs to look glossy could most likely benefit from adding some highlights with white gel pen. Drawing helps me to be more observant of the world around me, and it sharpens my problem solving skills. In addition to brushes, palette knives are also often used to apply paint in a thick impasto manner.
Each paint has its own maximum pigment load as some pigment need more binder added to them just to be able to mix the raw material into a usable paint consistency. The differences in properties of the paint, opacity, durability, light-fastness etc, all depends on the raw ingredients used.
I try not to worry about the person as such but focus instead on what the person is saying and what I can say about them through my picture.
It is wise at this stage to use dry brushes without any thinners or turpentine on them: if your brush is wet, the paint will lose the ability to sit firmly on top of other paint. The only picture she had was blurry, small, and pixelated, so that is what I used for my reference drawing.
The white Prismacolor tends to brighten things, and the colorless blender tends to work best when there is already a lot of color in your layers. It gives me a sense of identity and pride when I step back and look at a drawing I’ve completed and know that I created something beautiful out of nothing. My drawing isn’t perfectly photo-realistic, but I was able to use my imagination to fill in some details and create a special keepsake for my friend. I choose which to use based on the effect I want and how much color I already have down on my paper. In the past I’ve gotten discouraged and felt like drawing was a useless skill now that we have photography and all kinds of creative software. They were able to help me capture a memory in a beautiful and lasting way that no amount of photo editing could accomplish.

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