A Painters Planet: the Art of Painting with Heidi Hehn

Hello and welcome to my blog on Acrylic Painting and how to do it. I have had a great deal of experience teaching many topics such as economics, political science, computer literacy and even sports. And I have had a great deal of experience learning which in my case has never been an easy task for me or any of my teachers. I have also taught acrylic and watercolor painting and other fine arts for over 20 years.

However for some time now I have wanted to create a blog where I could reach anyone and everyone any time day or night by making my workshops available 24/7. I reasoned that a lot of people out there kept crazy hours and they should be able to pop into my site whenever they were in the mood and a creative frame of mind. I also wanted a space where I could discuss many of the topics that directly inform and inspire my art and teaching such as: prehistory, history, geography, wildlife, travel, hiking and most importantly Game of Thrones (I do love those dragons)!

I am going to address all the topics I can think of along the way such as paints, brushes, various media, en plein air painting versus studio painting, outdoor sketching, the use of photos, digital painting and even stretching canvas. And I am counting on the one or two insomniacs out there who read this to ask questions and suggest other workshops that I haven’t thought of (ooooooooh dangling preposition). And of course not only have I pretested all these workshops in real life I will be testing my blog workshops on my own personal test subject, my mother.

So here we go. Our first project…

We are going to paint a snowy landscape scene. We will  have lots of strong colors and good contrasts and discussions about aerial as well as linear perspective. If that doesn’t scare you off nothing will! So for you bravehearts who are still hanging on you need the following:

A small stretched/primed canvas preferably 6 by 8 inches. A bigger canvas might be tempting but also can be off-putting for a beginner. We dont want to get too ambitious yet – baby steps. Besides small canvases make nice gifts, can be mailed easily and look good in small corners of your house. We are sticking with primed canvas rather than a panel because the panels are somewhat ‘plasticized’ on the surface (so need some different techniques) and this keeps the acrylic paint from giving a smooth overall coverage the way it does with real canvas. It tends to glob (technical term – there will be a test later so memorize this term). You can buy these small canvases at discount chain stores, from on-line and bricks and mortar art supply stores, as well as craft store chains.

Fluid Acrylics. I only use fluid acrylics. They are smoother and more precise for detail such as wildlife and portraits. I was originally a watercolorist so I was used to a more responsive and liquid paint. When I moved to acrylic impastos (paste in tubes) I did what painters in New York did in the 1950’s: I watered my impasto paints with distilled water to get a more creamy paint. Later I moved to premade fluid acrylics and even acrylics that are so thin they are like inks. The difference between my home made fluid acrylics and the commercially premade fluid acrylics was color saturation or intensity of pigments (and of course the sticker price of these commercially made fluid acrylics which led to sticker shock!). Now try not to go to sleep (unless you are deliberately using my blog to get some sleep in which case I am hurt and will hunt you down) but color saturation is a term you will see in software such as photo and graphic arts programs or hear from printshops, so nice to know.  All that it means is the amount of color or intensity of pigmentation in each drop of paint (or each pixel or photo dot). My home made paints had low saturation because there were only so many parts per million of color and I was adding more water so those bits of color had to go even further. If you go for the commercial fluid acrylics they have been diluted too but there are more bits of color (pigments) to make up for that so you get more intense and brighter hues. You can buy the better brands of fluid acrylics right away or start out with the fluid acrylics available in craft and discount stores. I always recommend to people to buy the fluid acrylics in the craft stores to begin with as they work very well and are very color saturated. And you might find acrylic painting is not for you. So if you quit you will not be out of pocket so much. At some point if you decide to invest in better paints you will have to avoid acrylics called “student “ grade as that usually means that have more ‘fillers’ like gelatins in them to save money for the manufacturer and for you. But they are NOT very color saturated and tend to glob (see I told you it was an important technical term). This will be discouraging and take away from some of your enthusiasm.

Small piece of white chalk for rough sketching on the canvas itself. This is a technique that has been used for hundreds of years except that in the past oil painters would sketch their preliminary sketches onto their canvas or boards using charcoal. We are using white chalk as charcoal leaves a dark residue even in the paint.

Jar of water. This is for cleaning your brushes out every time you are finished with them. Acrylic sets very quickly in brushes and clothes and rugs … With brushes if you let the paint settle into the hairs you will never get it out. Also add a couple of drops of liquid detergent to condition the water. It helps to get the acrylic paint out of the brushes when you swish them around in the water more effectively. Also dont leave brushes standing in the jar for very long as when they rest on the bottom they can become deformed.

Brushes. We will need a flat background brush and some round brushes of varying sizes. The flat brush should be anywhere from 1 to 2 inches across. This is a background brush and is for the application of a lot of paint over a large area. In a good art store such a large flat brush can cost a great deal. Up to you if you want to spend it but some discount department stores have art supplies and sell very large flat brushes for very reasonable prices. The round brushes can often be found in a variety of sizes and reasonably priced in discount stores.  Make sure at least one of the round brushes are very small tipped. And make sure ALL the brushes are synthetic hair brushes for acrylic paint. This is very important because acrylic paint will flay most natural hair brushes. More about brushes in a later sequence.

Paper towel if you are anywhere near as messy as yours truly. If you get paint on anything especially a carpet or clothing spray with a window cleaner. That is the only thing I have found so far that actually does remove some of the acrylic with some elbow grease.

Sketches and Photos. If you have trouble with painting  snow laden pines or spruce trees from memory you will need some photos and/or sketches as reference material. Best to use your own photos and sketches. Artists such as Alan Wylie and Mike Svob will tell you that a serious artist builds a collection of photos for their own for reference. We will talk about outdoor sketching and photography to support your art habit in a later discussion.

Paint Tray. Again you can find some very inexpensive trays for putting your paint in. With fluid acrylics they will tend to run somewhat so that trays with little cup like indents are best. You really cannot use a palette with fluid acrylics. And when  you put paint on your tray make it a small dab unless you know you will need a lot, or don’t mind wasting your paint.

Plastic Wraps. You can use plastic wrap to put over your paint tray to keep the paint from drying out or buy a specialize tray with lid and sponge.

You should know I have used this way of teaching for years because it works. I cannot remember all the times people would come to me at the beginning of a workshop and warn me that they couldn’t paint at all and doubted they would do well in the workshop. I always tell them the truth. I have NEVER had anyone in a workshop that didn’t produce a decent painting that was something to be proud of and many shocked themselves by producing something of wonder and beauty. The other thing that has always shocked me was the uniqueness of every piece ever produced in any of my workshops. Every single person has it in them to create a painting if they want to let themselves do it and everyone is unique because they have had different experiences and so see and feel things in their own special way. With the method that I use I feed you the technical instructions so that your creative persona is free to create. More about understanding how your brain sees its creative persona versus its analytical/critical persona in a later topic.

2 thoughts on “A Painters Planet: the Art of Painting with Heidi Hehn”

    1. Hope you get a chance to test drive Part 2. Haven’t had time until now to do it but Part 3 will be ready very soon too.

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