Friday, December 11, 2009

REVIEW Acrylic Painting Techniques, by Stephen Quiller

When I picked this book up, I thought I would be discovering a world of acrylic painting techniques that could be applied to watermedia. Those techniques are in the book (divided into thick, oil-like applications and thin, watercolor-like applications) but what really enchanted me in this book were Stephen Quiller’s paintings. Each is filled with surprising, complex color, with startling, expressive harmonies. Beyond that, Quiller is a superb shape maker. His shapes are intricate, balanced, filled with windows, brushed with veils of acrylic color. Forget the acrylic techniques. Give me a book of Quiller paintings and I will sit, rapt for hours. That said, you could pick up this book and learn much about transparent, translucent, and opaque layers, special colors and mediums, and even collage. Tidbits on glazing, resists, and opaque passages are some of the highlights. And as always, Quiller fills his book with his special approach to color relationships. This is a book to study on multiple levels.



This was nominally a one-hour painting exercise. We North Americans have trained our brains to stay focused for about an hour (although some would argue less.) Schools have one-hour classes, TV programs are an hour long (we won't talk about commercials), and so on. Keeping the time for this painting short will encourage sustained focus, as well as stopping us from fussing with the paintings (there won't be time).
Students selected their own subjects (though I encouraged simple ones). I chose to knife paint the tomato, since I had missed that exercise, lacking a tomato that day.
While we talked about the painting process, their brushwork choices, and the like, everyone laid out their paint and drew in the composition. I emphasized that deliberate brush strokes rather than frantic speed would be the key here. I promised not to interrupt them with suggestions, but let them keep their focus. Then I set the timer.
The results were fascinating. For me, the by-now familiar tomato allowed me to go to color with some confidence and less searching. Also, the choice of a knife was a speeding-up choice, since I could lay whole swaths of color at once. I was able to complete the tomato with about ten minutes to spare, and while there were things to mess with, I could easily have overworked the painting, so I stopped.
Student results were also interesting. About half the class forgot to key in their values, and while we had been focusing on brushwork for the entire quarter, forgetting value was a fatal oversight (in the same sense that Windows experiences fatal errors.) Those who had held to a strong value structure had successful paintings, even when significant details were missing.
Going back to their paintings, the students corrected the values and brought them to successful completion before the end of class... still an expeditious painting.
While painting quickly might not be a goal, as an exercise it encourages focus and attention to essentials.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009



I know, it doesn’t look like a tomato, but this is exercise two of the tomato series. The idea here is to break attachment to realism, and throw a wrench into the works. Palette knife is unfamiliar to almost all of us, and we struggle to produce something that looks like a tomato. (In my case, a rock, since I ran out of tomato photos.) The problem, as I see it, is in creating soft edges. I can either find some way to blend with the knife (not happening in my world), or create an intermediate color to soften the edges that need it. Because this rock has a lot of edge variety, it challenges my ability to express it. Later I try a tomato. Much better.