Layering Acrylics on Paper

I generally layer acrylics in thinned-down washes one over the other until I like what I see. (I paint on Aquarius paper, which doesn’t buckle when you use a lot of water and begins to feel like leather when it’s covered with layers of paint!) This process is wonderful and exciting, as long as you allow each layer to dry thoroughly before you lay on the next. I’ll put down a juicy layer with my big brush, let it dry, then put on another juicy layer, maybe going in another direction and almost always letting some of the undercoat show through.

Painting with acrylics in this fashion gives my work a sense of depth I wasn’t getting in watercolor. Almost as soon as I got hooked on this technique, I began to experiment with layering complementary colors to further heighten the illusion of depth. The multi-dimensional effect I got when I layered violet and yellow, blue and orange or green and red was exactly what I was looking for.

As much as I loved the idea of layering complementary colors, at first I had some trouble getting the effect just right. I continued to practice and mess around with different color combinations. I finally began to have pretty consistent success when I learned to layer using a lighter version of one of the complements and a darker version of the other. For example, when I used red/green complements, I started to make the green really dark and the red really light or the green really light and the red really dark.  A friend of mine who is a professional photographer noticed that my greens come across better in slides and in reproductions because the red underneath adds a sense of depth. The result is a richer green.

Clark Mitchell received his formal art training at Colorado College in Colorado Springs and the Academy of Art College in San Francisco. He considers his pieces a success when they “not only catch the viewer’s eyes and heart, but also cause the mind to acknowledge what’s at stake on our planet.” His award-winning paintings have appeared in shows sponsored by the Pastel Society of America, the Pastel Society of the West Coast and the Santa Rosa Arts Guild. Mitchell is represented by John Pence Gallery in San Francisco, Jessel Miller Gallery in Napa, California, and Merrill Gallery in Denver, among others.

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