Make Use of Happy Accidents

Spirit of Sedona (triptych) (acrylic on canvas, 50×30).

I became more creative because I had to. When I moved to a small town many years ago I did not have the easy access to art materials that I?d had before. So I started using whatever materials I could get my hands on. I even tried painting on the slick board grocery stores make signs on. And as I experimented with these various materials and tools, I discovered a number of wonderful things.

My staining technique was one of these discoveries. One day I decided to see what would happen if I pulled an adhesive spreader across the Golden fluid acrylics I dribbled on my paper. When I did that I found out what strong staining colors they are. After I scraped away the excess paint, there would be a color stain left behind. (Fluid acrylics work much like watercolors but are more brilliant, more finely ground and more highly concentrated.)

Song of the Navajo (acrylic on canvas, 30×50).

When I use this technique, as I did with Spirit of Sedona (above, left) and Song of the Navajo (at right), I apply the paint with a bottle, not a brush. And then I take the end of my brush and draw into that paint. As I scrape off the paint with my adhesive spreader it mixes and spreads and creates interesting shapes. Next I paint negative shapes (the areas around the subject) with opaque paint and bring out any figures I see. Any drawing I do takes place at the end of the process on top of the final paint layer. I use Pentel Milky gel rollers (a brand of opaque, light-valued marking pen) or Prismacolor pencils for this drawing stage.

But staining is just one of many techniques I can use as I work. I think artists should have a repertoire of painting techniques, so when they?re inspired they can use the technique that best suits that particular inspiration.

Mark Gottsegen is an associate professor of art at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and chair of the American Society for the Testing of Materials subcommittee on artist’s materials.

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