Creating Funky Flourishes to Add some Sacred Symmetry

Updated: Dec 30, 2020

Just to add to my previous post about my Bushtime workshops I'm going to detail my process here.

These classes art classes explore a formula for creative success that is based around some fundamentals of painting technique and practice that date back at least to the Old Masters of the Renaissance even though our end result will likely bear little resemblance.

At this introductory level we’ll be keeping it very simple… basically glorified colouring-in and doodling but within a structure and set of defined parameters that just work to create a dynamic and harmonious end result while encouraging free expression and exploration.

In these workshops we will be painting on shapes cut out of plywood in mirrored pairs, that have been sanded and primed with gesso.

The first ingredient of this recipe for success is a warm ground.

It is a time-honoured tradition that the first layers of colour in a painting (whether oils, acrylic, gauche or even often watercolour) are transparent passes of warm neutral browns/yellows/oranges/reds starting with pale washes that allow the white of the gesso primer to show through.

We will start with a thin wash of yellow ochre.

Then we will establish our design and mark out linework in pencil to define the shapes of light and dark within the composition.

Once we have the linework in place we will build up darker layers of transparent thin washes of warm tone to begin to define the composition. In this workshop we will be building up these tones in a combination of the same yellow ochre mixed with a bright red. We will be keeping it simple with stylised or abstract patterns and textures but the same fundamentals are just as applicable to landscapes, portraits or other representational subject matter.

Those lines and shapes will be the things that most stand out about the finished artwork so be mindful about those pencil marks. In this example I have gone over the pencil lines with a bold black paint stroke at this point in the process. This can be left to a later stage but whenever you do it, it creates a powerful effect on the tonal values of the composition.

“Tone” or “key” means lightness or darkness values as opposed to “hue” and “saturation” which refers to colour. The abstract relationship between areas of light and dark is the composition and is the single most important consideration in any successful painting at the aesthetic level.

We want to keep a strong contrast between the areas of light and dark so for the sake of simplicity and success in this formula we will keep all the light areas quite light... limiting the tonal values by using thin washes that allow the white gesso to show through in a similar fashion to watercolour or inks.

When the warm underpainting has been built up enough to establish the basic light and darks of the design, the full range of colours in the palette can start to be introduced.

Another big takeaway from this class is the value of working with a limited palette.

It is generally a good idea to use the minimum number of tubes of paint possible for nearly ALL painting exercises. The more different tubes of paint one brings into the equation, the more skill and experience necessary to keep it from ending up getting messy and all over the place.

In these classes we will be keeping to four colours: yellow ochre, scarlet, light blue and violet which have been mixed with white to create opaque tints. These four starting colours are then mixed into a wide selection of intermediate colours and tints that form the limited palette with which the whole artwork will be created, alongside the black linework which will tie it all together.

It is these opaque tints that can then start to be applied over the warm transparent base layers, leaping forward to create a bold, bright harmony of colours.

Just as we worked from light to dark with the transparent base layers, it is usually desirable to work in the reverse with the opaque tints... working from the darker tones up to lighter and finally white for the highlights.

It’s a bit hard to go too far wrong with this formula and there is huge scope for experimentation and bending the rules.

  • There are various tips that can be fun to explore for getting a pleasing effect:

  • Breaking shapes into smaller shapes with different colours.

  • Outlines around edges in contrasting or complementary colours... particularly edging the black paintwork with a light keyline can look great.

  • Outlines around outlines creating radiating bands of concentric emphasis.

  • Repeating motifs of geometric shapes, dots or symbols.

One of the most important keys to success I find with this formula is to use the smallest brush possible once you get past the initial underpainting.

I get mine at Bunnings in the craft section… best value by far that I’ve found. Acrylics are murder on brushes unless you really look after them. Always wash them out thoroughly with soap and never leave them to dry out with paint in them… or leave them standing on their bristles in water.

Bunnings also sell Brush Restorer which can miraculously rejuvenate nearly all brushes you might otherwise just chuck in the bin.

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