How to apply a coloured ground with acrylic paint (video)

by Will Kemp

in acrylic painting


In this video, I demonstrate how to apply a coloured ground to a pre-primed canvas using Golden fluid Acrylic.

To learn more about the benefits of painting on a coloured ground see: How a prepared canvas can drastically improve your paintings

This technique is best for landscapes and still life paintings.

Video transcript:
When I’m doing (painting) landscapes or still life’s I usually always use Yellow Ochre as a coloured ground.

It has got a nice mid-tone to it, a really lovely warmth to it. It’s cheap and if you move onto Oil painting it dries quickly…

If I was using (painting) portraits I’d have a lot subtle ground so I’d probably use Burnt Umber and Titanium White or Raw umber and Titanium White so it is a lot more muted, a lot more tonal.

(I use the Umber’s because they are very quick drying in Oil paint so are great as an under-painting. You can also use acrylic as an under-painting for oils, just make sure you add a touch of water to the acrylics so the oil, in the oil paint, will have a surface to adhere to)

If I put this next to my face that doesn’t look very good, that really bright Yellow Ochre, if you try to judge skin tones it will all go awry.

So stick to still life’s and landscapes with it.

So I’m just using a decorators brush. (Purdy decorators brush, very nice)

And I often paint the edges of my canvas so I usually start with the edges first.

You see how I go over it to the end I’m quite light with it. Just to get an even coverage and I’m looking for all the nooks here to make sure I’ve got no white shining through.

So I’m being quite rough to start with on it because I’m trying to make sure I’m kinda pushing, pushing into the canvas weave.

Okay, so now I just check around it so I haven’t got anymore drips or anything around it on the side and maybe run my brush around it one more time.

And then, on a flat surface

You’ve got to work reasonably quickly because you don’t want it all to dry too much too quick.

Once it’s on I then work back and forward over it.

And then to finish it I go over it quite gently, but just one way.

Over the top and then I overlap it slightly every time I go over it.

A Quick finish on the side, and that’s a toned ground.

Okay so now we’ve got a coloured ground lets get painting!

{ 99 comments… read them below or add one }

Shobhana February 25, 2012

Hi, It is really good suggestions..

I would like more info and guide line..

I am learning on Internet and just started oil painting.

Thanks ..pl send regular emails and lessons.

Reply

Will Kemp February 25, 2012

Hi Shobhana,
Pleased to hear you are enjoying the lessons,
Will

Reply

Dorothy November 2, 2013

Hello Will
You certainly made it look easy to prepare a canvas, I have to say, I struggle to get a nice clean full coverage. Can I use a medium that will slow the drying time down a bit ??

Reply

Will Kemp November 3, 2013

Hi Dorothy, if you find the mix is pooling ontop of the canvas you can add a few drops of acrylic flow release. This will release the surface tension and allow the mix to be more of a stain effect.

Hope this helps,
Will

Reply

usha February 29, 2012

Hi Will,

I am a brand new beginner, I started painting with acrylics in my first class, but the paint is drying up very quickly and I had to mix it again and again, I couldn’t cope up with others. I think my first mistake is I didn’t paint the ground, any other things are there in this? And your site very helpful can u put more painting using trees and mountains,

Thanks for your help in advance

Reply

Will Kemp March 1, 2012

Hi Usha,
Thanks for the message, pleased to hear the lessons are helping you learn about acrylics. You could try using a ‘stay-wet palette’ this will keep your acrylics wetter for longer and give that that extra mixing time. I’ve posted a video on how to set up a stay-wet palette on the video page. Hope this helps,
Will

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Glenna June 19, 2012

I did this using a new Bob Ross two inch background brush (new), which what was recommended by another site before I found yours. It tends to leave a hair or two on the canvas, the three times I’ve used it. Is this normal for most new brushes, and if so, is there a trick to keep this from happening? Also, it seems when using the paint directly from the tube with this large brush, more paint seems to get in the brush than the canvas, and even using lighter strokes, I can see the brush lines. Is that ok? Thank you for the tips!

Reply

Will Kemp June 19, 2012

Hi Glenna,

It can be normal for a brand new brush to lose a few hairs at the beginning, what I have done in the past is get a raw canvas and scrub back and forth over the surface with the brush when it is dry.
This should loosen any rogue hairs and hopefully that should be the end of it! However, the cheaper the brush the more hairs usually come out and may continue to for a while but will eventually settle down.

I use a Purdy decorators brush to apply my ground and have never had any problems, they’re like the king of decorators brushes!

Try dipping your brush end in the water first to dampen it, squeeze out the excess water with kitchen roll and then apply the paint, it will help distribute an even tone.
Don’t worry about the brush lines as you’ll be painting over 90% of it in the next stage.

Hope this helps,

Will

Reply

Becky July 29, 2012

I see that you have used the Golden fluid acrylic. How would you dilute a Golden Heavy Body to get it to the proper consistency when applying a colored ground? Is it simply dilution using water?

Reply

Will Kemp July 29, 2012

Hi Becky,
Just dilute the paint with water until you achieve the right consistency. If you are painting onto a canvas and tne surface is repelling the water ( forming little pools ) you can add a touch of ‘acrylic flow release’ this will help release the surface tension of the paint and give you more of a stain effect.

Thanks,
Will

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Dennis August 1, 2012

Is it okay if we use autumn yellow? I dont have any Yellow Ochre however.

Great lessons! I really learned a lot from you!

God Bless you

Reply

Will Kemp August 1, 2012

Hi Dennis,
Yes, that would be fine. Anything that takes away from the white of the canvas will work great. Pleased to hear you learnt a lot from the lessons, let me know how you get on.

Thanks,
Will

Reply

Dennis August 2, 2012

Hello again Will,

Thanks for your answer!
What if I painted something on it already? I want to paint my painting all over again, so should I put the ground color? (I painted like a sunset with some land)

Thank you!

Reply

Will Kemp August 2, 2012

Hi Dennis,

Yes you can paint over your painting to start again, there are a couple of pros and cons and they are best explained in this article ‘How to paint over an acrylic painting’

So to sum up, if your current painting hasn’t been painted too thick already, you’ll be fine. A coat of white gesso, then a coat of the coloured ground and you’ll be good to go!

Hope this helps,

Will

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Dennis August 4, 2012

Oh thank you again Will,

Should I apple two coats of gesso or just one?

I hope the results will be alright, reading the article you mentioned scared me. Cause I’m only a beginner and I can’t afford anymore canvases.

Thanks,
Dennis

Reply

Will Kemp August 4, 2012

Hi Dennis, a couple of this coats of gesso will be fine, it’s better to build it up in thin layers that one thick layer. Don’t be too put off by the article! the great thing about acrylics is that you can paint on anything, thick paper, card, wood. When I was a student I used to cut thick cardboard boxes into small squares, give them a coat of gesso and use these as tester pieces.

Thanks,
Will

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Rebbie George November 3, 2012

Hi Will,

Firstly I can’t tell you how much this site is helping me. I am so addicted to it that every morning I just have to see if there are any new updates. You are really a good teacher. Thanks a Lot.

I’ve come across a waterfall oil painting online where the artist had used a black colour ground to pop the waterfalls colour. I am trying to achieve a similar thing with acrylics.

Should I be mixing my own black [ultramarine+ burnt umber] for this or is there another way to get a darker coloured ground?

Thanks.

Reply

Will Kemp November 3, 2012

Hey Rebbie,

Pleased you’re enhoying the site. I would use a black acrylic gesso, that way it will dry quickly, and provide a lovely surface to paint onto.

Cheers,
Will

Reply

Pat December 2, 2012

Hi Will,
Finally found (your) a web site on painting that makes sense.
I’ve been dabbling with acrylics of and on for about 5 years.I’ve read lots of books but they always thing that you know what your doing and what I see in my minds eye is nor what ends up on the canvas,
Finally a site that explains the basics and your videos are great.

Again, thanks a lot. Maybe I get some more paint on the canvas rather than reading about painting.
Pat P

Reply

Will Kemp December 2, 2012

Hi Pat,

Thanks for your kind words, so pleased the acrylic painting all seems to ‘make sense’ there can be a lot to take in, but following the same principles can give you fantastic results.

Looking forward to seeing how your paintings turn out.

Cheers,
Will

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Peg Grant January 24, 2013

Just happened upon your tutorial on prepping a canvas. I am self taught and learn all kinds of art-related techniques and info on the Internet. You are a great teacher – I feel legit in making that statement as I’ve recently retired from teaching after many years and happen to be very intolerant of light-weights!

Reply

Will Kemp January 24, 2013

Hi Peg, what a kind compliment, really glad you’re enjoying the website and my teaching style.

Cheers,
Will

Reply

Geraldine May 7, 2013

Hi Will
This is a great tutorial and so helpful.
I am a beginner and was wondering if you use extender when you paint with acrylics.
Enjoying the videos
Many thanks
Geraldine

Reply

Will Kemp May 7, 2013

Hi Geraldine, pleased you found the lesson helpful. I sometimes add glazing liquid gloss when I am working with glazes on the final stages of a painting but don’t really use a retarder much in my painiting.

At this stage of the painting you might on occasion need a touch of ‘acrylic flow release’ to your acrylics. This breaks down the surface tension of the paint if you find the paint is pooling on the surface.

Hope this helps,

Will

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Kemara May 7, 2013

Hello Will,

Painting has never been my thing, I prefer to draw, I guess I’m a control freak. I took an introductory oil painting course to meet the requirements of my Masters in Counseling and Art Therapy program, and now that I’m done with most of my classes I have a little time to experiment on my own. I think that I like acrylics better than oils and I have a large oil painting on canvas that I would like to “erase” or totally cover, and recycle for an acrylic painting. Any suggestions on how best to achieve this?

Reply

Will Kemp May 8, 2013

Hi Kemara,

Unfortunately you won’t be able to up-cycle the oil painting by painting acrylic on-top because you can only paint oil on-top of acrylic, the acrylic paint just won’t stick on the oil and it will be really hard to paint onto.

With acrylics you can paint on pretty much anything though, so thick paper, cardboard, wood etc. my advice would be to start afresh on a new surface.

Cheers,
Will

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Kemara May 8, 2013

Thank you, the penny pincher in me hates to see it go to waste, but I’ll get over it.

Reply

Sophia June 6, 2013

Hi WIll,
I am trying do a cream background with burgandy correlating pink shades to highlight. How would I get the umber color as a background to not come through as much in the cream paint? IS there another color I can use as a base shade? If so what is it?

~Sophia

Reply

Will Kemp June 7, 2013

Hi Sophia, if you know you want a cream background you can just paint a cream background. There are no rules to the base shade you use, but usually a light-mid tone will give you a nice tone to judge your lights and darks to, but if you’re painting a specicic colour scheme you can adjust the hue to suit.

Hope this helps,

Will

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Eddie DuGay July 22, 2013

I am 56 and going to try painting for the first time…I know its in me but I havent been able to find it….until I found you today on youtube….I will signing up for your classes with a credit card this friday….you have the touch to paint and most importantly to teach….you keep me focused….thanks for doing what you do. Eddie

Reply

Will Kemp July 23, 2013

Hey Eddie,

Never too late to start painting! Pleased you stumbled across the Youtube videos and looking forward to hearing how your paintings turn out,

Cheers,

Will

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Molli August 4, 2013

Hey Will,

I really appreciate your videos and tutorials. One question, If I can painting zoomed in images of different fruits an vegetables, what color would you recommend I use for the color round? Lets say I am painting an orange, a strawberry, and a green pepper What different color grounds would you recommend?

thanks a bunch,
Molli

Reply

Will Kemp August 5, 2013

Hi Molli, really pleased you’ve been finding the tutorials helpful. If you’re painting zoomed in images then judge the general local colour of the object, (orange for an orange etc) and then paint the ground with a muted version of that colour.

So for an orange it could be either a brown (burnt umber & white) or a slightly warmer, more orange ground, so use a burnt sienna.

This way, when you’re mixing your colours for the rest of the painting it will be easier to judge the hues.

You might also find this article helpful.

Hope this helps,
Cheers,
Will

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Erin September 1, 2013

Hi Will,

Your website is incredibly helpful! I never realized it was important to prepare a canvas with a colored ground. I always puzzled over how to make a painting look “finished,” get rid of the show-through of the white and achieve even coverage. Anyway, I like to do abstracts and I’m wondering what colors you would recommend for grounds. The white does help with the brightness of the colors, but as I said, getting that finished look is damn-near impossible. Thoughts?

Thanks so much,
Erin

Reply

Will Kemp September 1, 2013

Hi Erin, pleased you’re finding the website helpful, this article looks at different colour choices for your studio, and canvas.
Cheers,
Will

Reply

Samantha Garcia November 1, 2013

Hey Will

G* I cant even nearly begin to describe my flutterflies-My stomach is in a whirl-this is when I know I am so damn excited that if they were to be real butterflies I would have be head bobbing with the ceiling right now!

I usually get this way when I stumble into the art world-it really is different isn’t it ?New heights than from the world we share with reality.

I say stumble because quite often I am clumsily using the web to find out some type of info on something and then I delightfully get taken into some artists website! Its like I roll in four leaf clovers or something when I find these.

Tonight I happened to be trying to find out how to “build” on canvas-probably not quite the correct term there-but I am actually wanting to “draw” with paint-so here I will be using more linear work as opposed to the beautifully blended brushstrokes (by the way -the glimpses of your works are absolutely wonderfully!-good job!) but yeah-wanting to build up some dandelion heads in my piece but yeah then when I typed in-google headed some lines for mi and yours in particular on “how to prepare your canvas” that might be an incorrect quote there-this is the first time I have heard of this colouring the canvas-I had always thought of a white surface as one which is clean and ready to be created upon and would have never thought to do this-but reading(and I must say-I kind of saved this headline that I clicked on for last -not last last cause there is still much for mi to read-but I thought I was clicking on just that advice but then seeing that its a website I have fluttered through quite a few topics now-first scanned all the top buttons-the about ect et cetra then started following the “new start here”) I was initially wanting to create my piece kind of like a blueprint-but blue-line so just blue on white-therefore leaving the canvas white and “drawing with paint” the blue lines but now I think I am definitely going with the coloured background-and I think it might just as you say-take the piece from amateur to more professional in appearance-ahhh yeah-I love yellow ochre! I havent painted on canvas for six years! no kidding-I did a bit at school-then after school I actually drew for two years still-but odd randoms-sadly not everyday-then stopped completely for four years-had a major fear then that I wouldn’t be able to at all-and applying make up ( I don’t face paint though ha ha ) sounds awfully a lot if I can compare make-up and painting ha ha but yeah the basic mascara and eyeliner became my only connection with “art” and that in my heart and mind-think I never stopped creating there-but I puckered up the courage to return to my love for art this year -its been so scary to be honest but It is most definitely were my smile comes from deep inside and I cant contain it from my face- focusing on the drawing bit for now -but still loving your website!! You are my third lucky find-of artist that is actually living :D :D-find it rocking that I can actually communicate with someone whose work and ways I admire and not just send a little pray upstairs saying “Salvador Dali-your mind is incrediable!-hope you know that!” and so forth- Don’t you have a book? so I can pocket “you” around-

Keep inspiring!

Kind Regards
Samantha Garcia

Reply

Will Kemp November 2, 2013

Hey Samantha,

Lovely to hear from you and so pleased you’re feeling inspired to paint! working on a coloured ground can really help to simply create a mood in your paintings and take away the fear factor.

Enjoy you creations!

Cheers,
Will

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Samantha Garcia November 4, 2013

Ah thank you so much.
X

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Jeremy December 2, 2013

Hi Will,

Thanks for your tips and lessons! They are some of the best I’ve seen.

I’m on a budget and would like to start experimenting with oils. Thus far I’ve used acrylic on watercolor paper. I’d like to apply an acrylic ground to paper and then use oil over. Is this doable? Canvas is to much for my budget as I like to do many paintings versus concentrating on one project for months.

Thanks again for sharing your knowledge,
Jeremy

Reply

Will Kemp December 3, 2013

You’re welcome Jeremy, pleased you’ve been finding them helpful.

Cheers,
Will

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Natalia December 28, 2013

Hi Will!

I love your tutorials, they’re really great and quite helpful. I’ve been wanting to learn to paint for some time now but I was never able to find a good teacher. Your tutorials and videos are quite helpful!! But one thing, I do not have Yellow Ochre in my paint set, what other colors are similar enough to Yellow Ochre?

Thanks so much!
Natalia

Reply

Will Kemp December 30, 2013

Hi Natalia, so pleased you’ve been enjoying the tutorials. You can mix the yellow ochre by toning down a yellow with a burnt umber, but it’s a great investment for a colour because it can be so handy in creating a naturalistic feel to your paintings, especially landscapes.

Cheers,

Will

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Swapna January 28, 2014

Thank you for this first lesson. Very well demonstrated! Please can you post me any updates and hints !
I have taken up painting since I retired a few years back and I started with watercolours as I couldn’t find a class nearby for acrylics.
I would love to try this medium and your tutorial has really encouraged me! Specially as my sons gave me a box of acrylics and a box of water soluble oils for Christmas to encourage me to try other media.

Reply

Will Kemp January 28, 2014

Hi Swapna, if you just enter your email on the ‘free updates’ section on the right hand side of the blog you’ll be sent an email every time I publish a new article.

Enjoy experimenting with your new acrylics!

Cheers,
Will

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Shradha March 19, 2014

Am wanting to a landscape, new to acrylics. Bought student acrylics on pre primed board canvas and done the base layout and colour on the canvas. Appreciated well as rough layout as the way it looks. No detailing or texturing or halftone do e yet. Can I proceed further with Wilson n newton colours on top of the what have done for better creamier soft effect. Or should I begin all over again on fresh canvas with gesso and then begin with Wilson n newton acrylic colours?

Reply

Will Kemp March 19, 2014

Hi Shradha, you can just build up the painting in layers, have a look at this video tutorial on painting an acrylic landscape.

Cheers,

Will

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Phillip Longley May 20, 2014

Hello there Will,
It looks easy I think I’ll get started on applying a ground colour onto a stretched canvas I have already got.

Thanks.

From Phillip Longley.

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Phillip Longley May 20, 2014

Dear will,

Hello there! I have just finished applying the ground paint onto a canvas which I already have for the first time.

I haven’t done too bad with my first application of the ground paint into a canvas.
I hope it dries like yours did.

Phillip Longley.

Reply

Will Kemp May 21, 2014

Good one Philip, hope your painting turned out well.
Cheers,
Will

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Ruth Sager June 18, 2014

Hi Will
I have just recently retired and I have taken up drawing and painting. I am a beginner and I have been drawing since March. I love drawing all kinds ofanimals, flowers, and I have started landscapes. I also like doing pooh bear, tigger and some of the Disney characters. I am using acrylic paints. I have just started doing landscapes but I definitely find it a challenge. I have done maybe 4 or 5 landscape paintings and I can tell you for me it is a beginner’s effort. I am just doing this as a hobby for my own enjoyment. I do strive to make whatever I do look good or do it to the best of my ability. I have been checking out your tutorials and I think what you are teaching is great. I will be checking out your website to get more tips.
Thank you.
Ruth

Reply

Will Kemp June 20, 2014

Hi Ruth, nice to hear from you and so pleased to hear you are enjoying drawing and painting, great that you’re finding the articles and tutorials of interest.

Cheers,
Will

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cb June 19, 2014

Hi Will

I really appreciate your videos and explanations. I am a beginner and still having a hard time with backgrounds and blending. On large canvas 48″x36″ the brush mark remains and the blending is mediocre. Do I need to use a medium for large canvas.

I like using with water as you do. Is it just a matter of experience?

Thanks,
cb

Reply

Will Kemp June 20, 2014

Hi Cb, if you are having trouble with the acrylic pooling on the surface you can add a few drops of ‘acrylic flow release medium’ this will give you more of a stain effect.

Cheers,
Will

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Martha Galan July 7, 2014

I have searched YouTube and Google for some tips and nothing is quite as thorough as yours, thank you! You give me tips to things I did not know how to do as I am not a professional fine art painter but want to be, so you will help me for sure, and to think you don’t charge for the tutorials is amazing. I love your camera presence and voice, very relaxing and straight forward.
One question I have is if I plan to sell my canvas art does it have to be on a gallery wrap or is it ok to just use the basic 5/8″ canvas (much cheaper) that way if I screw it up I’m not out of a lot of money!
Thanks so much!
Martha

Reply

Will Kemp July 8, 2014

Hi Martha, pleased you’ve been enjoying the tutorials, when selling your paintings it doesn’t have to be on gallery wrap, it can be on canvas board, board, paper etc, you just have to bear in mind any extra expense of framing/mounting your finished works.

Cheers,
Will

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Tricia January 10, 2015

Hi Will
I have been enjoying your wonderful tutorials on acrylic painting. I was wondering what would be the best ground color for animals, such as dog or cat portraits and wildlife paintings. I was thinking for the wildlife paintings going with the ground color you used for the landscape painting since they are somewhat of a landscape. But for portrait pieces of wildlife or domestic animals I am not sure.
Thank you so much for the wonderful tutorials.
Tricia

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Will Kemp January 12, 2015

Hi Tricia, nice to hear from you and thanks for your kind comments on the tutorials, for coloured grounds for portrait pieces a more subtle colour can be used, in the video I demonstrate a raw umber and white that I use for portraits, but any muted earth colour will work well depending on the feel and mood you’re trying to accomplish.
Hope this helps,

Cheers,
Will

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Tricia January 18, 2015

Thanks so much Will!
So many paintings to do and so little time.
Happy painting
Tricia

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Will Kemp January 19, 2015

You’re welcome Tricia.
Will

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Rusty February 10, 2015

Great website! I came across an article online saying not to use water to thin down your acrylics, especially when toning the canvas, because over time the water will make the paint peal off. The article recommended using golden airbrush medium instead, especially for toning. Have you ever heard of this?
Thanks,
Rusty

Reply

Will Kemp February 13, 2015

Hi Rusty, you can use airbrush medium if you like but I find it gives more of a resist to the paint layer, by just using water it purposely creates a ‘chalky’ finish to the paint, then the subsequent layers grab onto the surface. For thinner glazes, towards the end of the painting, I use glazing liquid to help keep a solid paint film.
Hope this helps,

Cheers,
Will

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Rusty Sherrill February 14, 2015

Will,
Thanks for your reply to using airbrush medium instead of water for toning the canvas. I’ve always used water in the past. The article I read online just had me a little paranoid. I’ve already used the airbrush medium for toning my latest canvas. It’s a pretty big painting, so hopefully all goes well.
Thanks again,
Rusty

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JustAsh February 12, 2015

Hi Will,

I find all of your articles quite informative. I am pretty much a beginner to acrylic painting. Before I venture out into the scary world of color, I am trying to understand values, and contrast first in painting grey scale paintings.
I am about to start a black/white (grey scale portrait) of a person. I have been reading that I should “Ground” my painting first (with raw umber/white)? and/or? do an under painting (with a mixture of black and titanium white?)? what is the difference of grounding and an under-painting?
Also, the canvas I am using is ready to use already. Am I supposed to put Gesso on it? What would you suggest I do?
I am sort of confused at this point.

Thank you,
Ashley

Reply

Will Kemp February 13, 2015

Hi Ashley,

You might find this series of in-depth articles of interest on the process of created a black and white grisaille portrait painting with oils, you can apply similar approaches to acrylics.

Hope this helps,

Cheers,
Will

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justash February 17, 2015

Hi Will, Thank you this was most helpful. Cheers

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Robert February 19, 2015

Hello. On youtube there is video called “The Biggest Mistake Acrylic Painters Make” by MIchele Theberge where she says that if someone tones a canvas with watered down acrylic it will cause any subsequent layers of paint to not adhere adequately to the canvas in the future and possibly fall off. She recommends never using water and using airbrush medium or some other kind of medium instead for any kind of thinning of acrylics because of this. I am wondering if you could share your thoughts on this. I have seen some other people ask you something similar but it’s still not clear, She gives the impression that for any kind of toning of a canvas someone should use some kind of medium, unless it’s a completely bare canvas with any kind of acrylic gesson on top. She said that if it’s ungessoed canvas it would alright to use water because the absorbency of the canvas would hold the watered acrylic, but if it’s a canvas with acrylic gesso medium needs to be used because a watered down tonal ground will not adhere properly and may cause adhesion problems in the future, so she recommends always using some kind of medium to thin paints for toning the ground of a canvas. She says it doesn’t matter if it’s some kind of paper because the pores of the paper will grab onto watered down acrylic, but if it’s a canvas with acrylic gesso, acrylic paint needs to be thinned only with some kind of medium for it to adhere properly. Could I ask what your thoughts are?

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Will Kemp February 19, 2015

Hi Robert,

It all depends on the absorbency of the surface you’re painting onto.

Imagine if you dropped a few droplets of water onto a sponge surface, as opposed to a plastic surface.

The sponge would instantly soak in and ‘grab’ the water.

On the plastic, the water would remain in a water droplet on the surface.

So if you check the absorbency of the particular surface you’re working onto with a few drops of water you can then judge if you need to add any medium to the paint coloured ground to help it absorb into the surface to create a stable covering.

Some pre-primed acrylic surfaces can have a shiny surface applied and can be more tricky to adhere to. For these you can add a few drops of ‘Flow release’ which will break the surface tension of the paint or wash the surface and apply a fresh coat of acrylic gesso .

For most of my paintings, I apply the acrylic ground myself so can control the absorbency levels of the canvas.

You can also use paints such as fluid acrylic (you can see me demonstrate within the video) or high flow acrylics which both have already been thinned in the manufacturing process, this way you’ll still have a thin layer and a paint film with more acrylic medium within it.

I personally wouldn’t recommend using a gloss medium for the coloured ground stage for the style of paintings that I do because I want the next layer of paint to grab onto the coloured ground paint surface. The gloss medium can leave a glossy finish that is harder for the next layers of paint to stick to.

For thin applications of paint in the glazing stage of a painting I would use a glazing liquid to create a thin film of paint.

Hope this helps,

Cheers,
Will

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Brad October 13, 2015

Will,

In the YouTube video that Robert mentions above, the teacher says that using water breaks down the “binding” elements in the paint, causing the paint adhesion and permanence to become unstable. Does she have a point? Water certainly makes it easier to apply the ground than airbrush medium.

Thanks,

Brad

Reply

Will Kemp October 14, 2015

Hi Brad, yes, water will always dilute the binding element in acrylic paint, just like turpentine will dilute oil paint. The paint adhesion would only come unstable is painting on a non-absorbent surface.

Cheers,
Will

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Robert October 15, 2015

Hello. I got an email notification that someone wrote a message enquiring about the topic I brought up here about thinning acrylic paint with water. I emailed Golden paints a few months ago about this question of thinning acrylic paint with water, and they wrote me back a detailed explanation on the subject. I will copy and paste it here for anyone interested in reading. The following is the email Golden paints sent me in it’s entirety.

” Hi Robert – Thanks for the email and great question. This topic must definitely be ‘in the air’, so to speak, as it was part of a technical discussion here just a week ago, and what follows is a little long as I want to be thorough. So bear with me!

The cautions against thinning acrylics beyond 30% (or some similar figure) is common to run across and is something we often find ourselves having to correct, at least in regards to our own paints. We cannot, of course, comment about other manufacturers’ products, where performance can differ. So the following is really only about our brand and is not a blanket statement.

The first thing to note is that our Fluids and Heavy Body acrylics can easily be thinned up to one part paint to one part water, or a 1:1 ratio, and maintain excellent adhesion onto absorbent surfaces. In fact, even when testing this on a non-absorbent material like Plexiglas, the paints still formed good films with no adhesion failures after being allowed to fully cure To add even a little more comfort beyond that, we can share that the adhesion onto Plexiglas remained solid even when thinning with one part paint to two parts water, or a 1:2 ratio. Which would feel like a fairly fluid wash for most people.

As you can see, the concerns around thinning with water can often be over stated, especially if using our Heavy Body or Fluid Acrylics and keeping the ratio to 1:1 or less. And even then, one can usually get away with going even further. However, because every application can be unique, one can always do an easy test to make sure there are no problems. To do this create a test piece with a similar surface that you want to test, then apply a few different colors both at full strength and then at 2:1, 1:1, 1:2, and 1:3 ratios of paint to water. Allow to fully dry. At this point we typically test for adhesion at 24 hrs., 3 days, 1 week, and 2 weeks. If the paint passes the adhesion test at, say, 3 days, there is rarely a need to continue testing out further. A description of the full crosshatch adhesion test that we do here can be found in the Adhesion section of the following article:

http://justpaint.org/archive/jp13article1.php

A simpler, more down and dirty test, can be done scoring the paint with an “X” using an X-Acto blade, then apply masking tape over the center, burnish, then lift. In both cases you are seeing if the paint comes off. If not, then you have very good adhesion and no reason to believe that adhesion will lessen over time. You can also try rubbing the film with a wet Q-Tip to see if you get color lift, which can be another sign of an underbound film.

Please note: Even though our Heavy Body and Fluid Acrylics are quite robust, when it comes to thinning, there are some products where we do recommend a lower level of water, such as our acrylic Gesso which should not be thinned with more than 20% water, or our OPEN acrylics where we recommend a limit of two parts paint to one part water, or a 2:1 ratio. And of course we cannot comment about safe levels for thinning paints from other manufacturers.

So, where does all of this leave you? In terms of Molding Paste, you should have no issues thinning up to 1:1 with water if using our Heavy Body or Fluid Acrylics. If wanting to thin the paint even further, try using GOLDEN Airbrush Transparent Extender which has a consistency close to water. Alternatively, our Polymer Medium, Fluid Matte Medium, Acrylic Glazing Liquid, or GAC 500, to name a few, could be used to thin a thicker acrylic, as well as blended with water. For example, a 1:1 blend of GAC 100 or GAC 500 and water, then used for thinning acrylics, should allow you to safely thin the paints for application onto most canvas and panel surfaces since you will always be bringing in additional binder into the system.

If not familiar with some of these products, please see the following pages:

Product Pages

http://www.goldenpaints.com/products/medium-gels-pastes

http://www.goldenpaints.com/products/medium-gels-pastes/special-purpose-mediums

We hope this helps. Thinning of acrylics is an often misunderstood area, but it is always good to ask if you have doubts or concerns.And of course, if there is anything else we can do, just ask!

Best regards,
Sarah Sands

Technical Services Supervisor

GoldenPaints.com

607-847-6154 / 800-959-6543

WilliamsburgOils.com

607-847-8843 / 800-959-6543″

Reply

Will Kemp October 15, 2015

Hi Robert, nice to hear from you and thanks for posting the response from Golden technical support regarding the thinning of heavy body acrylics, much appreciated.

Cheers,
Will

Brad October 15, 2015

Very helpful, Robert. Thank you!

Beth March 6, 2015

Hi Will,
I just wanted to thank you for putting together such an amazing and helpful site, not to mention inspiring! I stumbled across this last night and had a hard time signing off to go to bed. I have been painting and sketching as long as I can remember, but the only formal training, if you could call it that, was in high school. I cannot express how excited I am at discovering your site and the wealth of tips and instruction located here. I am eager to start trying these out, especially adding a colored ground to my next canvas. Now if only my two toddlers would give me time to paint…

Thanks again!!
Beth

Reply

Will Kemp March 6, 2015

Hi Beth, nice to hear from you and thanks for you kind words on the site, really hope you enjoy the tutorials, and hope you enjoy working on a coloured ground.
Cheers,
Will

Reply

Diane March 28, 2015

Will,
You are obviously a wonderful painter. I am not. I do not get a grey when using raw umber (or a burnt umber either) and white for my colored ground. I get brownish. Please explain what I am doing incorrectly.
Thank you for your generosity,
Diane

Reply

Will Kemp March 30, 2015

Hi Diane, the colour will be a muted brown tone, for more of a steel blue grey you can add a touch of ultramarine blue into the mix.
Cheers,
Will

Reply

Diane March 30, 2015

I appreciate your responding, Will. I have signed up for one of your courses and I expect that it will help me to become a better painter. While I know that this is your business, you are very generous with all the free information and instructions you give out. You are truly one of the “good guys”. Thank you.
Diane

Reply

Will Kemp March 30, 2015

Very kind of you to say so Diane, hope you enjoy the course and your grey mixing goes well.
Cheers,
Will

Reply

Robyn J September 11, 2015

Hello Will…
This question may be a duplicate; if so, my apologies!
I just wanted a clearer definition/explanation of blending gel and floating medium and how they are each utilized. Also, should a float medium for “folk art” acrylics be used with professional acrylics (curious)?

Thank you again!

Robyn

Reply

Will Kemp September 11, 2015

Hi Robyn, I haven’t personally used the floating medium from folk art, below is an answer from wetcanvas that might help:


1. What is the difference between Blending Gel and Floating Medium?

They are very similar, however, each has its own special properties.

Floating Medium will allow the paint to move further. This allows you to be able to make longer strokes. If double loaded with a color it allow for perfect shading and floating of color. Using too much Floating Medium during blending will cause the paint to lift and be moved. This is a good thing to know if you need to “clean up” and edge.
Blending Gel extends the open time of paint making it cooperative to extra strokes needed for blending. The area can be “worked’ without causing the paint to lift and move. Blending Gel will not allow strokes to go further like Floating Medium will.

Hope this helps,

Cheers,
Will

Reply

Robyn J September 12, 2015

Thank you very much!

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Malcolm December 24, 2015

Hi Will, compliments of the season!
I’m hoping to be given your Impressionistic course as a present. I have no canvas in the house but I do have access to boards, gesso and paints. Could you comment on:

1. Would it be better to wait until I can get a canvas, or is board OK to start off with. I’m wondering about whether there’s something I won’t learn without canvas.

2. As I’d have to put gesso on a board anyway, could I mix acrylic paint in with it to make the coloured ground, rather than do these in separate steps? Maybe yellow ochre would become too light that way, but I guess one of the umbers or siennas ought to make a good tone.

Thanks in advance, and thanks too for your most excellent site.

Reply

Will Kemp December 24, 2015

Thanks Malcolm, if you have access to boards, gesso and paint you’ll be away!

It can be good to try painting on board and canvas as you’ll begin to find the surface that best suits the style of painting you like. The main difference will be a greater absorption of the canvas so working in thinner applications of paint if more forgiving, but you’l still learn loads from working onto board and I paint about 50/50 of my works on board and canvas.

Yes, you can mix in a coloured with the gesso and as you mentioned it will produce a lighter yellow hue as it mixes in with the titanium white contained within the gesso, the yellow ochre looks like a Naples yellow when mixed with white so can be very complimentary for subtle landscape paintings, but won’t have the same glow of colour as if you paint the colour over the top of white.

Hope you enjoy the course.
Cheers,
Will

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Dilsha December 31, 2015

Hi,

Finally I have started my Acrylic painting. I am so happy I have found your website. It is very helpful.

Thank you so much
Dilsha

Reply

Will Kemp January 3, 2016

You’re welcome Dilsha, pleased you’ve been finding the website helpful in your acrylic painting.
Cheers,
Will

Reply

Will January 20, 2016

Hi Will,

Im just doing your still life masterclass and remember you recommending a good purley brush for the background. Which size purley brush do you use? Im buying it online so cant tell what size they are.

Thanks for the amazing videos!

Kind regards,
Will

Reply

Will Kemp January 21, 2016

Hi Will, I usually use a 2-inch Purdy brush for applying the coloured ground, pleased you’re enjoying the course.
Cheers,
Will

Reply

Denise Griffin February 6, 2016

After watching and reading your well written, I know at 64 will be picking up the brush. I purchased a fine touch set months ago, I’m ready to start
Thank you ,
Denise

Reply

Will Kemp February 7, 2016

Great to hear it Denise, really hope you enjoy your painting.
Cheers,
Will

Reply

Shirley April 29, 2016

Hi Will,
I’m very happy to have found your lessons. I’ve just retired and taking up painting as a beginner so I’m looking forward to learning from you.
Kind regards,
Shirley

Reply

Will Kemp April 29, 2016

Hi Shirley, that’s great to hear, really pleased you’re enjoying the site.
Cheers,
Will

Reply

Margo Wright May 22, 2016

Hi Will
Enjoying your videos. Why not use gesso with a little colour, wouldn’t it be much cheaper?

Reply

Will Kemp May 25, 2016

Hi Margo,

When you apply the thinner paint over the white gesso you get more of a glow to the underpainting, but yes, you can mix in the colour to the gesso.
Cheers,
Will

Reply

Dave June 4, 2016

Great site you have. I have a question on thinning the acrylic.

If I wasn’t happy using water to thin the acrylic what would be the best medium/modifier to use?

Reply

Will Kemp June 6, 2016

Hi Dave, it depends on the thickness/thinness of application you’re after, but an airbrush medium would be the closest to water. For thin glazes, I use an acrylic glazing liquid to keep the paint in a unified paint film.
Cheers,
Will

Reply

Sheng-Wen June 19, 2016

Hi Will,

I’m interested in your Purdy decorators brush. I’d like know the the size and model name of it.

http://www.purdy.com/products/brushes/

Reply

Will Kemp June 20, 2016

Hi Sheng-Wen, I usually use a 2-Inch Monarch Elite.
Cheers,
Will

Reply

peggy January 17, 2017

i only have hard painting surface like canvas. how do i prepare it

Reply

Will Kemp January 18, 2017

Hi Peggy, you might find this article of help.

Cheers,
Will

Reply

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