How to Paint Realistic Texture: Tips from Successful Artists

Acrylic Artist, the leading fine-art magazine on newsstands, features talented painters who have a keen ability to accurately reproduce natural elements and textures. Here, we’ll explore the ins and outs of painting realistic rust with insights and tips from acrylic artists Randy Van Dyck and Steve Wilda.

Randy Van Dyck: Romanced by Rust

The spring 2017 of Acrylic Artist  features Van Dyck’s work. He marries old cars—often exhibiting rust and failing paint—with birds. The spring feature showcased his “Birds on Cars” series. For Van Dyck, the allure of rust is in its character and the challenge it presents to the artist.

“The reason I’m drawn to rusty old relics is multi-layered, much like the items themselves,” say Van Dyck. “They remind us of our past, and as they age they display the ravages of time. Each spot of rust tells a small story all its own that’s ever changing, just like us. Artistically, the colors and textures created when metal ages are amazing and unlike anything else. And, aside from the nostalgia, it’s just plain fun to paint.”

Dear in the Headlight, acrylic artist Randy Van Dyck

Dear in the Headlight, acrylic artist Randy Van Dyck

Van Dyck’s Technique for Painting Rust

I use different techniques for each situation, but I’ve found that some really great rust is created by simply watering the acrylic down when applying it and letting the paint pool or drip in the desired areas. Another great trick I used when painting Deer in the Headlight was using rubber cement:

  • First, I primed the entire surface a rusty orange color.
  • Then, I put rubber cement over all the areas where I wanted the rust to be, scumbling the edges slightly to get the random, rough quality.
  • Next, I applied the green paint of the tractor with an airbrush.
  • I easily removed the rubber cement to reveal the orange underneath that forms the base pattern of the rust.
  • Finally, I added other details using ultra round brushes Nos. 2 and 6.

Steve Wilda: The Allure of the Ancient

Drawn to aged things in distress or decline—such as old dolls, broken teacups and abandoned cars—Wilda has painted an impressive catalog of rust over the years. When you’re drawn to what’s old, painting rusted items will be part of your artistic repertoire.

“Mother Nature does a great job of aging metal to give it character,” Wilda acknowledges. “We easily recognize rust by its color alone. With additional characteristics of pitting, holes and raised oxidized surfaces, these variations of interest allow us to paint something out of the ordinary. Rust can take over a continuous surface, like an old vehicle’s body, or it can be sculpture-like, appearing in clump formations. The approach to painting rust is no different than any other object,” Wilda explains:

  • Observe its color(s)
  • Take note of its form—including how light falls on it and how the rust casts shadows.
  • Give yourself time! More effort is required to paint a decayed surface than a smooth, pristine one.


Steve Wilda’s Tools of the Trade for Painting Rust

Brushes: My subjects are often heavily corroded, so I use a variety of small, round brushes to build up the raised areas, as well as replicate their shadows.

Colors: Yellow iron oxide, raw and burnt sienna and Sennelier brown are good base colors to mix for rust. Because colors vary between manufactures, be sure to study the color charts.

Glazing: With thin, final glazes, I use additional earthen colors to give the subject its aged look. When painting a more heavily corroded subject, I often use paint more opaquely to try and replicate its three-dimensional quality.

Mark Making Items: Colour Shapers or palette knives are great for adding an element of roughness to the canvas that a brush doesn’t provide.

Wilda goes on to explain, “I worked in graphite for years and it was always most pleasurable to draw something of mass, such as an abandoned and rusted train car or vehicle, without the use of color. With pencil, it’s important to observe basic values, and how light and shadow are affected on the object’s surface. Layering in pencil or with paint adds density and represents more clearly that the subject has bulk, that it’s three-dimensional.”

Do you want to learn more about texture? Check out this video about drawing texture in portraits. New to portraits? Give it a try—we learn and grow as artists by pushing our boundaries. 

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