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My journey into the unknown world of painting

What a way to get (back) into painting with acrylics! My teenage son moved into his newly painted bedroom with the ‘big bed’. Freshly made with ‘adult’ linen, he beamed proudly at me but the walls looked bare.

“What if I do a painting for you?” I was hoping he’d say yes because I wanted to paint something. However I had no idea where to start or what to paint. How hard could it be? It had only been 20 years since I’d held a brush! Eek!!

This is the story of how this first mixed media, acrylic painting came to be and consequently my foray into painting with acrylics.


Mixed media painting with steampunk theme
‘Airship Dreams’, Acrylic and mixed media on canvas. Tricia Hood. 2017 Approx 90cm x 60mm

Research the subject for your acrylic painting

I printed out some ideas/concepts that I found online. My son picked the sort of thing that appealed to him. Of course the colours had to work with his new decor, so deep blue, deep red, and browns became my paint palette. But the subject needed to reflect my son and his interests.

“So, what do you think I should paint? What subject?” I asked.

The answer was not what I’d expected. I was thinking aeroplanes, archery, or something like that, but it was … “Steampunk, Mum!”

Um, what exactly is ‘steampunk’? He gave me a short lecture about how out of touch I am so I did some further research (Google is wonderful), and I came up with a few concepts.

Get over the fear of the white canvas

The next big hurdle was putting paint to canvas. I had a couple largish stretched canvases that I’d bought from Spotlight, however I was terrified. My comfort zone had been in drawing, not working with colour. I’d only dabbled with acrylic paints but had never done anything of consequence. As far as I was concerned my days of decorative painting and folk art didn’t count as being ‘artistic’.

Questions raced through my mind. A real, big, artistic, creative piece had to be made for my son’s wall. What if I stuff it up?

What if I get the colours wrong? What colours do I start with?

What type of brush do I use … WHAT AM I GOING TO PAINT????????

So many questions were screaming through my head. “Take a deep breath”, I said to myself. “Go back to the basics”.

Overcoming Analysis Paralysis!

A few years earlier when the dream of getting into painting had crept into my head, I bought a few books on painting with acrylics, and two in particular stood out. Both were focused on getting people to a place where they could just ‘be‘ with their art.

No rules, just play.

I released that I had been stuck in a state of ‘analysis paralysis’ for years. I needed to let go and let me come out on the canvas. The two books I read were:

‘Brave intuitive painting’, Flora Bowley
‘Brave intuitive painting’, Flora Bowley

Brave intuitive painting‘, by Flora Bowley and ‘Mixed media girls with Suzi Blu‘.

Flora’s book in particular addresses the psychological hurdles we put up that stop us from progressing with art.

I took on the simple instruction to just put something on the canvas so I pulled out all the acrylic paint colours I liked.  I selected the ones I thought would work with the theme and together, and divided them into warm and cool colours.

Working with warm and cool colours separately means that you don’t end up with muddy colours. Realising that it was the white of the canvas that was scaring me and that it’s “easy to paint over something if you make a mistake”, I felt more confident and began to add colour to the canvas. BRIGHT colour!!

Getting paint on the canvas…

Warm colours make me happy, especially the reds, pinks and yellows which remind me of a spring garden. Choosing those paint colours I decided to cover as much of the canvas as I could. The decision was made to use mixed media, so that I could try out some of the different techniques I’d read about.

I got brave and slopped on the colours allowing thinned out paint to run and bleed. A myriad of patterns were painted in straight angular lines, circles and waves. I layered, blended and mixed colours on the canvas. The perfectionism was let go and I allowed the paint to do its thing. What a glorious MESS! If that’s what needed to happen then it happened.

Start with cool colours and start the layering. Find forms and shapes that ‘speak’ to you.
Add the cool colours and start the layering. Find forms and shapes that ‘speak’ to you.

Personalise your painting

To add to the olde-world feel of the acrylic painting and to add a personal touch, I wanted to find an an old newspaper cutting dated 100 years prior to my son’s birthday.  ‘Trove’ is a wonderful resource for newspaper cuttings so I did a search and came across an old article. I also found a poem that had been handwritten long ago in beautiful script. My son told me that the Steam Punk theme included cogs, airships, and Victorian themes so I did more research on Google, and being careful to use pieces that were out of copyright I selected a few images to try some different mixed media techniques.

Dont’ be afraid to experiment on your painting

The cuttings and poem that I found were glued on with matt medium. The cog design I found was large so I tried a method of transferring the design to the canvas by gluing it on face down using pouring medium. When I rubbed away the paper/card it left the transfer of the laser print behind. To further enhance the image, I went over it with some black paint which then helped bring out the detail.

Feeling more confident and ambitious I decided to add texture to the canvas. The large airship would provide a good subject for this. I didn’t have any texture medium so I researched how to make it and made some of my own. This is the method I used:

Texture medium recipe for acrylic painting

  • 1 part gesso
  • 1 part craft glue (Aquadhere) and
  • two parts paper pulp.

  1. I had lots of shredded paper from the office, so soaked it with water, squeezed the excess out and pulverised it with a hand blender.
  2. Using a sieve I removed as much moisture as possible and then mixed in the gesso and glue.
  3. Make a large batch and store it in a jar for future use.

NOTE: Part of experimentation is about making mistakes and learning about how mediums work. The texture medium flattened out by around 50% as it dried. However it was still very textured.
Adding texture with home made texture medium. The cog was highlighted with gold.
Adding texture with home made texture medium. The cog was highlighted with gold.

Feeling the fear, and ‘breathe’!

It was time to start working on colours that would work with the decor in the room. The dark blues was fairly dominant in my son’s linen, so I started to work on blending in more tones of blue and purple.

“Courage is feeling the fear and doing it anyway.”

The red/orange/yellow colours on the canvas really weren’t going to work. I’d spent so much time on this acrylic painting and the fear of ruining it was almost overwhelming, but I knew I needed to apply whites and creams over those areas. Grabbing a huge blob of paint I smeared it across the canvas with a brayer and at that moment I felt courageous. Courage is feeling the fear and doing it anyway. It was done, so there was no going back now!

Opaque white glazes
Painting out the colours that wouldn’t work took courage. Here the white/cream tones are blended and overlaid with more layers of subtle glazes and stencilled patterns. The air ship is taking shape.

The background of the painting needed a little more texture to even out the large mass of the airship. I found some tissue paper and used it to create a couple areas of texture by gluing it on with the flow medium. The air ship had a lot of fine detail which I was loathe to paint by hand.

More texture is added
Tissue paper is used to create more texture on the painting. A mesh fruit bag is trimmed and attached with pouring medium.

As this was a mixed media piece I tried to think of what resembled the net over the body of the ship. A piece of fruit netting from a bag of oranges would do, but it was a little too dense so I cut out every 2nd strand to make the gaps bigger. It was quite a meditative process. The final product was a win! Pouring medium was used to glue it down and then the next few sessions were focused on painting in the detail of the ships structure.

The basket under the airship was made from a piece of collage paper which I painted some detail on. I enhanced the steel framework with silver foil – scraps from my daughter’s wedding- invitation-making-session.

The tie downs on the ship were going to be a challenge so I decided to make them from embroidery thread, once again attached with pouring medium. It worked a treat, giving it even more texture. More colour was added with stenciled fleur-de-lys layers and coloured glazes. To finish it off I found a lovely verse, encompassing my hope and dream for my son, it read …

“There is freedom waiting for you in the breezes of the sky. And you ask, “what if I fall?” “Oh but my darling what if you fly?”

Mixed media painting with steampunk theme