The first painting I remember having an immense amount of pressure to get right was in my GCSE art exam.
For the final piece, I moved into new territory and arranged my own setup of objects in front of my easel.
I thought a still life would be the easiest choice for a timed study.
It felt doable, and I was too nervous about tackling a portrait. I also knew there were a few rules I should stick to.
A harmonious colour palette, good placement of objects and strong directional light.
After moving a vase, a bottle of wine and a bunch of grapes around for a little longer than anticipated, I reckoned I should just get on with it.
And some aspects of the finished painting worked ok. They really did.
My drawing wasn’t bad and the composition was balanced, but the hardest job was judging the colours from life. The light kept changing, I remember desperately trying to block off bits of the window and the immense pressure to create a ‘finished piece’ really lost all the logic and joy of observation.
I know we don’t often find ourselves in art exams, but the same pressure of having to make a great painting every time we pick up the brush often results in unfinished work or worse, unstarted work!
I’ve found the best way to get around this and bring spontaneity back into my studio is to try and paint daily.
Do a quick small study of something I already have lying around the house, try a new technique, colour palette and subject with no expectation.
Just thoroughly engage in the process.
15-min sketch of garlic onto Raw Umber & Titanium White Ground.
Acrylics are a great medium. Pick up a few well-chosen materials, and after a simple set up, you can paint on almost any surface.
They dry quickly. And sometimes really quickly.
If you’re new to painting, the seriousness of this small window of free-flowing acrylics begins to dawn on you, little by little.
The paints don’t seem to blend quite as well as they did when you first put them out on your palette. In fact, that expensive paint you took so long deciding on has now gone completely hard, and there’s a distinctive shift in colour.
This is not just frustrating but feels like an undisclosed complication.
You thought it was going to be getting the painting techniques right that would be difficult, not battling with the paint drying out too quickly.
So how do you stop it from happening?
Paint faster? Invest in specialist paint mediums? Use a broom rather than a brush?
Everything revolves around evaporation.
Controlling water evaporation is the key principle to manipulating the drying time of your acrylics.
Acrylics dry by evaporation. So, the wetter the air around the acrylics, the longer they stay wet. You might be painting in a dry climate and not realise how much that affects the paints’ workability.
The drier the air, the faster the acrylics will dry.
Wet air (around acrylics) – paints stay wetter.
Dry air (around acrylics) – paints dry out quicker.
In my studio, I’ve got a humidity and temperature monitor. This helps to keep an eye on the water content of the space, so I can adapt my techniques if needed.
I’ve noticed when I’m painting near the coast, and there’s a higher amount of water in the atmosphere, the paints will keep working for a lot longer. If you are based in an extremely dry climate, you could introduce a humidifier into your space that will emit steam or water vapour to increase the air’s moisture levels.
Heavy Body Acrylics under ambient conditions of 70ºF/21ºC and 30% Relative Humidity in a 0.15mm brush stroke.
wet: under 5 minutes
workable: 10 minutes
touch dry: 30 minutes
locked down: 3+ days
Temperature & Air Flow
If it’s a hot summer day, you might have placed an air conditioning unit or fan next to your painting space; this will shorten the working time of the paints as airflow aids water evaporation, definitely something to consider.
Pro tip: It’s also handy to check the ambient temperature of your studio. If you drop below 9° C, it can cause issues when creating a strong paint film.
Acrylics are ideally used at room temperature, above 60° F / 16° C, and avoiding any applications below 49° F / 9° C, which is the so-called “minimum film formation” temperature (MFFT). Below that temperature acrylic paint cannot form a strong, coherent film and will be prone to failure and various drying defects, such as cracks, poor adhesion, and cloudiness – Golden Paints
On top of your studio environment, there are a few successful ways to manipulate the drying times of acrylics by controlling evaporation. However, I don’t use them all in one painting but pick and choose whatever would work best for the style or stage of the piece I’m working on at the time.
How would you speed up the drying time?
Here’s an inversion thought experiment.
What would you do if you had to dry acrylic paint as fast as possible?
Paint in a thin layer? Warm room? Wind turbine? Sunshine? …Blow torch?
If I had to get a painting to dry as quickly as possible, I’d use a hairdryer on thin paint. High airflow, high heat, about 1 cm from the paint surface! This expels water the quickest from the paint.
Will Kemp, A Mediterranean Washing Line, Detail, Acrylic on Board
A Mediterranean Washing Line
For this week’s free step-by-step acrylic lesson, we’re returning to the gorgeous faded paintwork and quiet cobblestone streets of Corsica.
After the challenging perspective in our first Starter Set Challenge ‘Warm Shadows in Corsica’ the simpler shapes and clear blue sky of ‘A Mediterranean Washing Line‘ should be plain sailing.
I particularly love the multiple wires threading your eye towards the sea in this scene and the washing strung up between the buildings brings a human presence of day-to-day life, breathing real energy into the composition.
Will Kemp, Warm Shadows in Corsica, Acrylic On Board (detail)
It’s hard to believe that city breaks, art exhibitions and museum visits were something we used to enjoy almost casually.
Here in the U.K, we’re back in another full lockdown, a cold and wet one!
I was looking through some photos from last summer’s trip to Corsica needing a bit of escapism. They instantly transported me back to the atmosphere, the colours and smells, meandering down sun-dappled side streets, ice cream in hand with the anticipation of undiscovered delights around the next corner.
Drawing and painting can be very therapeutic; so with that in mind, I’ve created a couple of acrylic step-by-step street scenes to help get us through the next few weeks.
Morning class, this week we’re going to look at how to paint fast and loose with your acrylics in this two-part apple study.
I get lots of emails from students who want to develop a more painterly impressionistic style but find when using a photo reference, they get too obsessed with the details, and the whole piece gets a bit overworked.
So in the first lesson of this two-part still life, I approach the drawing out of our apples in a bit more detail. The method I demonstrate is sometimes called ‘Envelope Drawing’ and is an approach that helps you to draw something more accurately.
In the second lesson, we approach the painting without pre-mixing the colours using our intuition and being a bit looser with our brush marks I’ve used a limited palette and simple painterly techniques with just two brushes and four colours.
Why are we drawing more accurately when we want to paint looser?
Well, it depends.
It depends on your skill level of drawing.
If you’re pretty good at drawing, then ideally you’d go straight in with your paintbrush and draw and paint at the same time, so you’re essentially drawing with your brush. That’s how you get the loosest, freshest paintings.
But if you’re a complete beginner, then spending the time getting the drawing accurate is a more failsafe way of creating a painting that looks loose but captures the subject. It gives you the confidence to paint more loosely knowing you’ve got a good structure underneath.
I paint this study with acrylics, but you could also use water-mixable oils.
So grab a brew, a couple of biscuits, and you can download a reference image below to follow along with the video.
How to paint loose with Acrylics – Part 1 – Drawing
How to paint loose with Acrylics – Part 2 – Painting
Downloading the reference photograph
The photo below can be downloaded, so you can use it as a reference image, print it out and follow along with the steps below.
Longing for the sea during lockdown, I decided to have a look through some of my old travel photos from trips around the coast.
I did a few thumbnail sketches looking at different images; I liked the diagonal composition in the first sketch. I used an Acrylic Marker by Daler Rowney (FW Marker) filled with Sepia High flow acrylic (Golden Paints).
I settled on an image looking down on some fishing boats, moored in the harbour of St Ives, Cornwall.
You can download a reference image below to follow along with this acrylic lesson, hope you enjoy it!
Have you ever fancied trying Traditional Oil paints but the thought of using strong-smelling solvents in a small room put you off?
Then you might find that Water-Mixable Oils are a perfect balance – the blending time of oils with the super easy clean up of water.
Water-mixable oils are real oils, they are water mixable, not water-based. They can be mixed and applied using the same techniques as traditional oils but whilst wet they can be removed from brushes and palettes with soap and water rather than using a solvent.
Don’t water and oil repel each other?
Well, yes they do. But water-mixable oils have an added ingredient that acts as an emulsifier, so the oil droplets are suspended within the water.
Water-mixable oils are relatively new to the market so I wanted to create this new Absolute Beginners Water-Mixable Oil Painting Course, to address some of the most commonly asked questions and help aspiring oil painters understand the theory and practice of painting in this medium.
Water-mixable oil paints can be mixed with water, low odour mediums or natural drying oils so if you paint in an enclosed space without good ventilation or you’ve developed a sensitivity to turpentine, working in a fume-free painting environment makes them really appealing.
They have a lovely buttery consistency, a long working time which enables you to make changes over a longer period of time, blending colours, adjusting shapes, or working wet-into-wet with thick impasto marks.
What does the Water-Mixable Oil Course Cover?
On this course, we’ll cover the best oil techniques to use, the different mediums and levels of sensitivity of some products that have been specially developed, so you can take a safe approach for you.
With over 5+ hours of tuition, you’ll slowly and methodically be introduced to the theory and practice of painting in water-mixable oils.
The course covers materials and setup, absolute beginner basics, moving on to more advanced classical oil painting methods from underpainting to impasto. I want you to fully understand fat over lean, know when to work alla prima or indirect – practice palette knife techniques and introduce classical oil mediums.
And also oils can get messy! So throughout this course, you’ll see me demonstrating clean working methods.
You’ll complete 3 paintings tutorials, with downloadable reference images for you to work along from and each look at different techniques and methods. I show every stage from drawing out, colour mixing, brush handling and edge control, always being aware of the handling of the paint, drying times and toxicity.
The first is an impressionistic alla prima cloud study where we compare and contrast acrylics and water-mixable oils.
The second is a master copy of a section of a Vermeer painting ‘The Little Street’ where we build it up in layers with an indirect approach so I can demonstrate the fat-over-lean principle.
Our final study is a classical still life painting bringing all the principles together, working through the underpainting, colour mixing to creating form and edge control.
Designed with the Acrylic Painter in Mind
If you’ve ever painted in acrylics and have struggled to achieve lovely smokey blends because the paints dry too quickly – then using water-mixable oils will make the blending process so much easier. And this course has also been designed with the acrylic painter in mind.
We look at how water-mixable oils compare to acrylics, the pros and cons of handling and opacity and how the speed of acrylics drying can be used to your advantage in underpainting, blocking in and canvas preparation. Utilising the best of both worlds.
Sensitivity to Solvents
Because there are varying degrees of sensitivity to consider from painters with multiple allergies and asthma – to painters who can tolerate low odour solvent or others that work in a well-ventilated studio space, I’ve designed this course bearing 3 different levels of sensitivity in mind.
Hypersensitive with allergies – We create a completely solvent-free painting, just diluting with water and oil
Less sensitive and can tolerate low odour solvents – We mix our own mediums using a low odour water-mixable thinner
Low sensitivity/paint in a well-ventilated room – Discover advanced pre-mixed mediums you can use to manipulate the drying time of the paints
Over 5+ hours of tuition
This is a simple, easy-to-follow downloadable video course with over 5 hours of tuition where you will discover the essentials of how to create an oil painting aimed at the absolute beginner.
It has been designed as a step-by-step rounded learning experience bringing together all my knowledge as a student, painter and teacher.
What’s in the Course?
3 x water-mixable oil paintings demonstrations taking you step-by-step from drawing, mixing and matching colours through to the final brush strokes.
9-downloadable video lessons, split into separate chapters that follow on sequentially.
Over 5 hours of detailed video instruction so that you can follow along at your own pace.
Downloadable reference jpeg images, line drawings, and a full materials list.
Lifetime access, downloadable on separate devices.
So why don’t you grab a brew, maybe a couple of biscuits and join me on this New Absolute Beginners Water-Mixable Oils Course and discover your inner oil painter!
In August 2020 Sir Ken Robinson sadly died. His TED talk was one of the first I enjoyed when I stumbled across TED nearly 10 year ago. It was a funny, heartfelt and poignant message on the way that schools can kill creativity in children who don’t quite fit the standard academic mould.
‘For most of us the problem isn’t that we aim too high and fail – it’s just the opposite – we aim too low and succeed.’ – Sir Ken Robinson
Over the past few months, I’ve been experimenting with various mediums, recording drying times and noting the handling of water-mixable oils – all in the process of creating a new course.
Amongst the copious footage, I wanted to share this introductory lesson where I compare the dilution of acrylics to water-mixable oils.
Simple but fundamental observations.
You may find there are times when acrylics dry off too quickly or are difficult to blend especially when you’re painting in thin layers. Using water-mixable oils can be fantastic because they give you that extra working time. Painting wet-into-wet is one of the significant advantages you’ll notice because you gain a lot more time for smoking together colours.
But how do they both compare when diluting with water?
Morning class, this week I’ve been enjoying taking my breakfast outside onto the terrace which gets great mid-morning sunshine. Because the angle of the sun is lower at this time of the day, it can create a lovely backlight for translucent subjects.
I really liked how the sunlight coming from behind the orange segments gave them this wonderful backlit glow and thought it would work well as a little weekend acrylic study.
You can download a reference image below to follow along with the lesson, hope you enjoy it!
Every few weeks, I share my top art inspirations that I’ve read, experimented with or listened to. Here’s this weeks edition of things I enjoyed when I should have been at the easel, with the hope they might inspire your own work too…
“No one is an artist unless he carries his picture in his head before painting it, and is sure of his method and composition.” Claude Monet
Free 1 hr video tutorial
Morning class! This week we’re taking inspiration from around your home.
You might have always wanted to capture the corner of your sunlit living room or an interesting collection of books stacked up on your coffee table or a section of your garden or patio with all the vibrant greens and spring colours.
But when faced with a new painting subject, where do you begin?
How do you decide on the pigments to use or what’s important to focus on?
The tendency can be just to get started and work it out as you go along.
But without adopting a systematic approach to your painting, you can be faced with frustration with your colour mixing, wasted time on your drawing and an unsatisfying result; I want to show you an easier way.
In this acrylic still life tutorial, I go through the steps of how I think through my colour composition, from choosing the coloured ground to introducing the pigments and then slowly building up the piece before putting the brush to canvas.
So let’s grab a brew and any remaining biscuits you may have left, and let’s get painting!
If I’m listening to something that has piqued my curiosity, it can send me down a rabbit hole of research….usually halfway through a painting.
And then the copious note-taking follows.
It got so bad at one stage, Vanessa had to prevent me from buying new notebooks because after furiously filling them with fascinating insights, I’d annoyingly lose where I’d put them or worse couldn’t decipher what my own scribbling all meant.
On a positive, my last birthday present was The Remarkable Tablet (an e-ink notebook that feels amazingly close to writing on paper) which has helped add order to the chaos and made the kitchen table decidedly neater.
Some of my research notes do come back to inspire my practice and if they bring me a new understanding or appreciation, I figured they are worth sharing.
So here are my top 5 art inspirations that I’ve read, experimented with or listened to this week, when I should have been at the easel, with the hope they might inspire your own work too…
Will Kemp, Peonies (Detail) Acrylic & Water-mixable Oils on Canvas, 60.96 cm x 60.96 cm (24 inch x 24 inch)
How do they compare to Acrylics?
Over the New Year, I’ve been in the studio working up a large scale floral still life painting, from a series of sketches I did over the summer. The original composition had been inspired by the dramatic oil paintings of the Dutch Golden Age (you can see the progress of my painting further down the article).
To achieve the soft blends between the petals, delicate smoked edges and the ability to work across subtle shifts in hues, oils would allow me a longer working time. Then I could build up the painting as a whole piece, adjusting tones, working wet-into-wet.
But being in the middle of a British winter and the studio doors firmly shut with little ventilation, the thought of having a pot of thinners or strong solvents in an enclosed space was discouraging me from getting started.
After a prolonged period of procrastination, it occurred to me, maybe it was time to break out the water-mixable oils.