This week we’re off to France!
This tutorial takes us through a simple cafe scene, where we follow through the underlying structure of a painting.
We look at an easy way to check your perspective, the importance of ‘negative spaces’ when composing your image and how to mix the perfect consistency of paint…
A step-by-step French Café Scene acrylic painting
In this series I will be posting a weekly video on my YouTube channel that you can follow along at home. It’s free to subscribe to the channel so you can keep updated with the painting progress…
The image below can be ‘right clicked’ and ‘Save image as’, so you can use it as a guide or if you prefer click here for a larger download image.
Materials you will need:
- Any square canvas, I demonstrate on a 30 cm x 30 cm pre-primed canvas or MDF board.
- 12mm acrylic brush – Pro Arte Prolene – flat
- Size 4 Kolinsky sable from Rosemary & co – round – (any small round will be fine)
- Artist quality Titanium white. – Invest in this white even if you use student quality paint for the rest of the colours.
- Burnt umber
- Raw umber (for the ground)
- Cadmium red light
- Cadmium yellow light or Cadmium yellow
- Naples yellow
- Permanent Alizarin crimson – Winsor & Newton Artist Acrylic
- Phthalo blue (red shade) or (Green shade)
- 3B pencil (or 4B)
- Kitchen roll
- Jam jar for cleaning brush.
- Small dipper for diluting paint
- Stay-wet or tear off palette
- Palette knife – 45 RGM
- Chocolate croissant (optional)
3 simple steps to begin:
Step 1 – Apply a coloured Ground.
For this painting I wanted to have a subtle undertone of a cool neutral grey, quite close to the cobbled street colour.
Because red is the accent colour of the tablecloths, I wanted to paint on a cooler base, so using Raw Umber and White achieves this effect.
To see how I apply an acrylic ground see: How to apply a coloured ground
Step 2 – Draw out the Image – Free video Course |Part 1
The video below shows the drawing out stage of the scene, using a 3B pencil sketch out an under-drawing.
- Look for negative shapes to draw the trees, these spaces are really handy to create a nice balance in your composition.
- Keep your verticals, vertical. As we tackle perspective in this scene, it’s a common mistake for the vertical lines of the windows to start to have a slant to them. This usually occurs towards the centre of a drawing or painting, when we don’t have the straight lines of the side of the canvas to guide us. So before you start your painting, just check with a ruler that your windows haven’t started to slide.
- Measure objects that recede into the distance. Even though the tables are closely spaced, the effects of perspective result in a 1:1.5 ratio of the height of the rear table compared to the table closest to us. So use the top of your pencil to make a few rough comparisons to check that your drawing isn’t too far out.
Step 3 – Establish the darkest Darks.
Using Burnt Umber we establish the darkest area of the picture. You can squint your eyes at the image to help to distinguish which areas are the darkest, rather than getting hung up on the details.
You’ll notice a flow of dark shapes around the composition that help to draw the viewers eye around the piece.
This stage of a painting is a perfect time to experiment with brush strokes and paint consistency.
How to mix the perfect paint consistency
I’m often asked ‘how thin is thin’ when applying a glaze, or ‘how thick is thick’ when painting more impasto. Mixing the right consistency of your paint, for the right stage of your painting can be key.
However, mastering the correct paint consistency with acrylics can be frustrating.
A little too much water and it goes too thin.
Not enough water and the paint sticks to the brush bristles and doesn’t flow.
There are a few things to consider:
Brand of paint used
Different paints have a different consistency straight from the tube depending on the manufacturer, so a heavy body (thicker paint) from Golden, will be slightly different than a heavy body from Liquitex.
Heavy body or fluid
Fluid acrylic paints have already been mixed to a thinner consistency in the factory, they are perfect for strong glazing effects as the pigment load of the paint is more intense – in comparison to, if you diluted a heavy body acrylic to the same consistency with water.
Student or artist grade
An artist quality paint will always have a better coverage than a student quality and will usually need a bit more water to dilute, as the paint tends to be thicker straight from the tube.
Water or medium
Water will always make the thinnest mixes, mediums will dilute the paint but will ‘hold’ the paint film together. The thinner the paint application, the weaker the paint film. This is when mediums such as glazing liquid gloss can be very helpful because you can apply a thin coat of colour and it will hold in a film, as opposed to the same consistency of paint with water, which would have the tendency to run.
For the whole of this demo I only use two brushes:
- A small size 4 sable round from Rosemary & co
- A small 12mm flat from Pro Arte Prolene
I work between both brushes throughout the tutorial and holding two brushes at the same time is an essential skill to master.
When I’m working with oils, the number of brushes I hold runs to 5-10. Practice holding the brushes in your hand, yet preventing the brush tips from touching each other. It can be quite a balancing act.
More so with oils, where the time to clean brushes takes longer and you want to keep a number of brushes with a ‘fresh colour’ so they don’t intermix. For example, I’d have a brush for the darks and a brush for the lights, nothing worse than reaching for that final mark of bright white paint only to realise you’ve picked up the wrong brush and have a streaky grey colour.
It’s a bit like when you dip your brush in your tea rather than your water!
French Café scene Acrylic painting – Free video Course |Part 2
The video below shows the first under-painting steps I take to block in the painting using Burnt umber.
Here’s what the painting looks like at the end of this stage. Click here if you want to download it to work from.
Join me next week when I add the lights and introduce some colour to the scene.
You might also like:
1. French Café Scene – Acrylic painting course |Part 3
2. French Café Scene – Acrylic painting course |Part 4