Step-by-Step Demo: Details in Graphite and Acrylic

With a scientist’s eye and a draftsman’s precision, Rick Pas finds patterns in nature at once minute and cosmic. Here is a six-step demonstration illustrating how he captures natural phenomena with graphite and acrylic in painstaking detail.      

1. I start with a thumbnail sketch (above) and proceed to a hard lead (5H) pencil drawing on a smoothly sanded gessoed board. The pencil drawing is very detailed and shows some shading. Next I do the black-and-white underpainting using liquid black acrylic paint and an acrylic matte medium thinned with water over the pencil drawing.

2. On top of this black-and-white underpainting, I began layering color glazes on the moss area (see above). The glazes are made with liquid acrylic paints and thinned gloss or satin acrylic medium. My goal is a luminous look and feel. I use round, flat and filbert watercolor brushes for this step.

3. I methodically reinforce the lights and the darks(see above). Using liner brushes from sizes #00 to #3, I further define the details with many more brushstrokes. To make the surface even more luminous, I sometimes apply additional glazes (acrylic paint and gloss medium thinned with water) over these small brushstrokes.

4. Then I draw the veins in the moth’s wing—using drafting curves (scroll down to see the photo); I work on the overall scale pattern I’d previously drawn. Next I add color and details with glazes and small brushstrokes. While I’m painting, I’ll often refer to a moth specimen by using a magnifying glass, which I also use when painting the antennae.

5. To render the birch bark, I used the techniques described in steps 1-3, from the detailed drawing and painting in black and white to the layering of glazes to build luminosity. In addition, I built up opaque layers of titanium white in order to suggest the chalky white look of birch bark.

6. After a painting such as Cecropia/Birch (above; acrylic, 20×16) is dry, I spray it with a satin or gloss Golden archival spray varnish.

Pas describes his tools
Some of my tools are French curves covered with small pieces of tape that raise the curve off the painting surface so paint doesn’t touch it and smear; technical pens filled with thinned acrylic paint, and templates that aid in drawing symmetrical shapes.

I’ve traveled all around the world and seen grizzly bears and other big animals—yet I’ve wound up painting butterflies,” laughs Rick Pas. The artist received a bachelor of fine arts degree from Eastern Michigan University and went on to work in technical illustration, graphic design and commercial art. William Baczek Fine Arts gallery in Northampton, Massachusetts, and WARD Gallery of Harbor Springs, Michigan, represent his works, which are featured in the Ameritech and General Motors (Detroit, Michigan) collections. To learn more, visit

This demonstration first appeared in the October 2007 issue of The Artist’s Magazine.



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