Acrylic Painting: History, Techniques, Applications,Tips.

Acrylic Painting Basics

Acrylic painting refers to a 20th century medium and that shares many characteristics of oil painting without its draw backs. Acrylic dries fast, as it is water soluble, thus enabling the painter to work faster. This is one the main reasons that has made this medium so popular among artists.

Acrylic Painting:
How a blind Vietnam veteran creates award-winning art

Acrylic painting. Painter and sculptor Jim Stevens has been a professional artist for more than 15 years. He vividly captures portraits using oils, acrylics, and his trusty yellow no. 2 school pencil, the kind with a silver ferrule and a pink eraser on the end. Stevens' award-winning work is collected internationally. He's been featured in galleries in Seattle and Denver, where he lives.

He is also legally blind.

In 1970, Stevens was a sergeant in the U.S. army when he was shot in the head during a combat mission in Vietnam. At the military hospital at Cam Ranh Bay, surgeons removed two bullet fragments but couldn't retrieve the smaller pieces. He was told they would probably never bother him, and for 23 years, aside from occasional migraines, they didn't.

After leaving the army, Stevens began teaching at the University of Colorado. He was preparing a lesson plan when what he was typing on his computer started to disappear. "At first I thought there was something wrong with the computer," he says. "Then I looked down at my notes and half of them had gone too and I realized it wasn't the computer, it was me."

When he woke later in the hospital, he was told that a bullet fragment in his head had shifted, causing a stroke in his visual cortex — the part of the brain that processes sensory nerve impulses from the eyes. In just 30 minutes, Stevens' vision had been reduced to a pin-dot in each eye. Doctors said his eyesight would never return to normal.

Stevens' immediate reaction was anger. He took a crowbar to his motorcycle when the DMV refused to renew his license and resented the white cane he now needed to get around. He lost his job, his marriage disintegrated, and suddenly he was the blind, single parent of two young daughters. Depression threatened to crush him completely.

Acrylic painting. Then one day in 2000, his daughters urged him to take up art again. Stevens' grandmother had taught him to draw and paint when he was a boy. Though he never went to art school, he later studied with the sculptor Ed Dwight as well as Ukrainian stone and gem-carving master Vasily Konovalenko.

Despite his career in the military and academia, art was always something Stevens kept in his back pocket, working on it whenever he had the opportunity. But after losing his sight, he took a baseball bat to every piece of art in his studio. He hadn't created anything since.

His first attempt was a carving of a wizard, requested by his daughter Meeghan. At one point, he became so frustrated he picked up the piece and hurled it across the room. Meeghan sat it back down in front her father and told him, "You promised not to quit."

Some 900 hours later, Stevens finished the carving and realized that, despite his disability, he could still create art. He found a variety of special lenses to improve his technical skills and spent the next two years relearning his craft. But it was helping his 6-year-old grandson untangle a mess of monofilament fishing line in his backyard that gave Stevens the inspiration for a new style of art.

"As the clouds went over, they caused the monofilament on my fingers to appear to ripple," he explains. "It was such an arresting look, I couldn't get it out of my head."

He spent the next five months figuring out how to take that thought and create art with it.

Acrylic painting. To create a portrait, he uses photographs taken from different angles and redraws them until he understands his subject's facial features in their entirety. Because he can't see the whole image at once, he then produces a dot matrix which acts as a guide. By counting the dots and working in small sections, he knows where each section stops and the next starts, and where to blend the two together.

"Without the vision I had before, every step of painting is patience," he explains.

Stevens runs strands of monofilament across eight layout boards, and using his dot matrix method, paints each one with the same image but different shading. Then he strings the strands inside a clear acrylic case, which is easier said than done — lining up each layer and each strand is an exact science.

Acrylic painting. One monofilament painting is made up of eight layers with more than a thousand strands and takes Stevens about two months to complete. The monochrome images have a striking depth and are unmistakably accurate, yet viewed from the side they appear suspended in space like an illusion.

This play on shifting perspectives, light, and tone is central to Stevens' work. "I can pick up lights and darks best with what little vision I have," he explains, "and so working in tonal qualities to create an image is something I really enjoy."

Acrylic painting. Most of his work comes from commissions. These days, he's so busy with his art he's "forgotten to be angry." He's also director of the Veterans Arts Council at VFW Post 1 in Denver, the first VFW post in America, which unusually has an art gallery instead of a bar.

"For a lot of veterans, especially combat veterans, art has a way of refocusing their attention into something more constrictive than feeling sorry for themselves or angry all the time," he says. "One gentleman was considering suicide until he got his artwork into Post 1 and people began buying it. It gave him a new lease of life. He had a purpose again."

Acrylic painting. This year, Stevens won the Veteran's Administration National Gold Medal for Fine Art, an award of which he feels especially proud given that it was decided by the ex-servicemen and women with whom he feels "a special kinship."

But his accomplishments go beyond visual arts. At the age of 51, Stevens took up martial arts and became the oldest man — and only legally blind one — to win the men's fighting competition at the multi-state Tournament of Champions. His sensei made sure no one knew Stevens was blind until the competition was over.

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Acrylic Painting:
Oil paintings in acrylic, octopi in ink

Acrylic painting. On a clear day, Louise Nutter can see 10 of Cook Inlet’s oil and gas platforms from the deck of her house in Nikiski. Hilcorp’s four platforms in the Middle Shoal unit stand out near the blue-gray horizon, and the Furie-leased Kitchen Lights gas field sprawls to her north. These fixtures of Nutter’s view are also stars of her paintings.

One large canvas features Hilcorp’s A platform. The finely rendered red Era helicopter that occupies the painting’s foreground was used by the platform’s previous owner, XTO Energy, before the sale to Hilcorp. This out-of-date detail has kept the painting off the market — most of her art buyers, Nutter said, are oil and gas workers or executives for whom such details are relevant. They are relevant, too, for Nutter — a stickler for accuracy who paints what she knows.

“I want everything to be ‘This is how it is in real life, so this is how I’m going to paint,’” Nutter said. “If I was going to paint a helicopter and a platform, it has to be the paint scheme of the company helicopter that actually goes there. I’m pretty strict about it being true to life.”

Raised in upstate New York, Nutter came from a flying family — her father flew Hellcat torpedo bombers during World War II, hunting German submarines in night flights over the Atlantic. Nutter said her first artwork was of airplanes. Her aspirations have also focused on aviation since she was a teenager, when her father asked what she’d do with her life.

“I told him that I guess I was going to be a flight attendant, since women can’t fly,” Nutter said. “I have six brothers, and nobody ever gave me a model airplane kit, because they tried to make me into a girly-girl. Luckily, my dad realized none of my brothers were ever interested in flying. So my dad took me straight to the airport and was like, ‘You can fly. You don’t have to be a flight attendant.’ He helped pay for my private license. I soloed when I was 16. Got licensed right away, and by the time I was 25 I was hauling car parts in DC-3s out of the Detroit area, and I would have done that job forever.”

Acrylic painting. Instead she was laid off by her employer, General Motors, and moved west to take up aerial fire-fighting. Later she became a 747 cargo pilot making flights to the Middle East as a civilian contractor during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Her career eventually brought her to Alaska, where she planned to fly helicopters to and from Cook Inlet platforms. Though she has yet to make a platform flight, this ambition has informed her art.

“When I switched to helicopters, I also switched to painting helicopters,” Nutter said. “One day I was painting one of the platforms out the window, and I was painting a friend of mine’s helicopter ... and that gave me the idea ‘Hey, there’s oil platforms in my paintings now. I should be marketing this to the oil and gas industry.’”

Acrylic painting. Nutter’s idea turned out to be untimely. Soon after she created her studio brand — Burning the Midnight Oil — the industry took the plunge from which it has yet to recover. She remains optimistic.

“When I was a kid, my mother told me that all artists are starving, and you couldn’t make any money at it,” Nutter said. “It’s a shame she put that type of perspective in my head, because it’s absolutely not true. As long as you follow your heart in anything you do, you’re going to make it. There’s people doing it all the time.”

Nutter’s art has continued following the wandering path of her experience, from the sky to the sea. Nutter now does most of her painting on a boat she recently bought and docked in Whittier.

“What everybody in Whittier does is shrimping,” Nutter said. “So you throw out your shrimp pots, they soak in the ocean, you pull them in, and usually if you’re lucky you get 2 gallons of shrimp tail out of it... Well, sometimes octopus are in the shrimp pots. By accident, I got about eight of them last year.”

Acrylic painting. Nutter had been an admirer of Halibut Cove-based artist Diana Tillion, who specialized in sepia-toned ink washes using octopus ink. Nutter liked the look of octopus ink on paper, but held back from using it herself.

“I didn’t want to steal (Tillion’s) idea of harvesting the ink and using it to paint,” Nutter said.

A chance encounter in Homer with Tillion’s daughter gave her the license she sought.

“I said (to Tillion’s daughter) ‘I want to paint with octopus ink, because I catch them in shrimp pots and cook them up. I’ve been saving the ink and thinking about it, but I don’t want to steal your mom’s idea,’” Nutter said. “Her mom had passed a few years ago (in 2010), and she was like ‘Are you kidding? a lot of people have copied her idea. Just go for it!’ She was just happy I had been respectful enough to ask her.”

This led to a series of prints using not only octopus ink, but the octopi themselves.

“Before I cook up tentacles and eat them, I would freeze them to get them a little bit firm, and then I’d roll them in the ink,” Nutter said. “That way I could paint the octopus themselves. I thought ‘well, it’s slightly cliche to have an octopus reaching up out of the water to grab a boat, but what the heck? I’m going to do it with oil platforms.’”

Other recent paintings feature the details of oil technology. Nutter’s series focusing on the aesthetic details of heavy industrial drill bits could be described as portraits of the tools oil drillers use at different depths to penetrate different materials.

“I enjoy science and technology as much as I enjoy art,” Nutter said. “So I’m attracted to anything like oil-drilling tools. There’s an art form in the technology. Those are beautiful. There’s nothing like shiny, new beautiful tools... They go down, like, almost 30,000 feet. I know how deep that is because I used to fly that high! That’s really incredible.”

Despite oil’s price slump, Nutter has found some commercial success with her industry-focused work. Three of her paintings hang in the dining room of Anchorage’s Petroleum Club, and she’s currently trying to market a children’s book she’s written about oil and gas engineering.

Acrylic painting. Her newest platform painting features Cook Inlet’s newest platform, Furie’s Julius R monopod, installed in August 2015 — the first new permanent platform in the Inlet since the 1980’s. Nutter’s depiction of it is flanked by designs resembling gas flames or oil gushes. The water and sky around the rigid structures of her platforms and aircraft is made of daubs of impressionist color. When asked about the contrast between the tight detail of her machines and the brighter, hazier abstraction of their surroundings, Nutter said the difference seemed to come from her personality.

“When I paint a helicopter or an airplane, I’m going to make it as detailed and exact as I can, because it’s such a magnificent piece of machinery that I love to operate,” Nutter said. “But I’ve always done landscapes in an impressionistic style... I don’t like reality. Or everybody else’s reality, I should say. My reality is more — the edges are fuzzy. My reality is that there are endless possibilities, and as a person you can do, be, or have anything you want. So I suppose that spills over into my paintings.”

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Acrylic Painting:
Alexis Rockman Portrays the Great Lakes in Glory and Decline

For Mr. Rockman, the “Great Lakes Cycle” is a natural fit. “I have been making paintings about ecological history and natural history for years,” he said. “And I looked at the map, and I thought, the Great Lakes are a fascinating place.”

Acrylic painting. The cycle is made up of five oil, alkyd and acrylic paintings that are 6 feet by 12 feet and follows in the “scientific tradition of naturalism, but there’s humor in them and dark fantasy,” said Daniel Schulman, the director for visual art for the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. “Everything is overly detailed. There is almost a magical realism.”

The Chicago Cultural Center, where Mr. Schulman oversees exhibitions, will host the show from June to September 2018.

Acrylic painting. Photo A detail from “Spheres of Influence” showing dead waterfowl and the Northwest Orient plane that crashed into Lake Michigan in 1950. Credit Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times.

Mr. Rockman, 55, whose mother is an archaeologist, perhaps sums up his work best, calling it “natural-history psychedelia.” He is known for bridging the worlds of art and science — his exhibition “A Natural History of Life in New York City,” which was shown at Salon 94 in New York last year, consisted of 75 field drawings of animals and plants from the five boroughs, ranging from the prehistoric era to the present.

And when the director Ang Lee was working on the movie “Life of Pi,” about a young man trapped at sea on a boat with a tiger, he asked Mr. Rockman to be the “inspirational artist” to define the look of the overall film. Among other things, Mr. Rockman did watercolor drawings of hundreds of pictures of ocean life based on natural history and his imagination.

Acrylic painting. As is typical of Mr. Rockman, he started the Great Lakes project with research. “His process is to ask a lot of questions, read a lot of books,” Mr. Friis-Hansen said. “He synthesizes experiences and conversations with experts to tell a compelling story in paintings. He is a thoroughly contemporary artist. His tools are Photoshop and the internet, and then he leaves it all behind and goes back to oil painting.”

His research included an expedition to Lake Michigan and Lake Superior, following an itinerary devised by the Grand Rapids museum. Over two weeks, he talked to experts, traveled to dunes, joined a charter-boat fisherman and visited the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum and an abandoned copper mine. He also made visits to other Great Lakes.

One of his most fruitful experiences, he said, was at Northern Michigan University. “I had two meetings in one day, and both of those people became my go-to fact-checking gurus.”

One of those was Jill Leonard, a fish biologist at the university, who sat with Mr. Rockman at a Starbucks for three hours and hashed out the themes of the five paintings.

Acrylic painting. “I got a phone call out of the blue from the Grand Rapids museum, asking, ‘Will you talk to this artist guy about the Great Lakes,’” she said. “By the time he got to me, he was at the point where he just wanted to sit and talk. We had this great conversation, and then every once in a while he continued to contact me. He’d call and say, ‘I really want to do something about native pollinators,’ or ‘What shows the effect of chemicals? Do you have any photos of sick fish?’”

The paintings, Ms. Leonard said, will become a resource on her university’s website and will include short essays, videos and illustrations. Mr. Rockman also said he would be available to the museum, local schools and institutions for workshops and lectures.

Acrylic painting. Photo Mr. Rockman’s “Forces of Change” has an octopuslike monster. Small red, green and blue shapes represent bacteria and viruses that, he said, have been a “tremendous force of change in the lakes.” Credit Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

His driving force was to capture the geographical, physical and ecological changes of the lakes over the centuries, but not in a linear way.

For example, the invasive species that have radically altered the lakes, often introduced inadvertently, appear in the painting “Pioneers” as ballast water pouring into a lake. In “Forces of Change,” he paints an octopuslike monster and several much smaller bright red, green and blue depictions of the invisible bacteria and viruses that, he says, have been an unseen but “tremendous force of change in the lakes.”

And there’s the unexpected. Underwater in the foreground of “Spheres of Influence” is a DC-4, the Northwest Orient plane that crashed into Lake Ontario in 1950, while on the horizon is the H.M.S. Queen Charlotte from the War of 1812.

Acrylic painting. Mr. Rockman’s paintings have “theatricality and overstatement, which is all backed up by how great a painter he is technically,” Mr. Schulman said. The paintings will be shown with keys so viewers can identify the various objects.

The exhibition will also include six 4-foot-by-6-foot watercolors and 30 field drawings. Mr. Rockman uses materials he picked up during his travels around the lakes to create the drawings, such as coal and sand from dunes.

Jill Snyder, executive director of the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland, which will show the paintings from October 2018 to January 2019, said the works “bring you into the past, present and future of a locale,” but also addressed compelling global issues.

“There’s a cautionary tale, a moral imperative to his work,” she said. “His new series celebrates the natural majesty and global importance of the Great Lakes while exploring how they are threatened by factors such as climate change, globalization, invasive species, mass agriculture and urban sprawl.”

Acrylic painting. But is this what people really want to think about when going to an art show? Ms. Snyder said she thought so, especially as the paintings “entertain and illuminate.”

“They don’t hit you over the head as a pedantic lecture,” she said. “There’s a visceral quality to his work that’s seductive and compelling.”

Correction: October 23, 2017 

An earlier version of this article and a picture caption misstated the location of the crash of a  Northwest Orient plane in 1950. It was Lake Michigan, not Lake Ontario.


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