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Art Masterclass   

                            October 2008


Each month presents a feature from either The Artist or its sister publication, Leisure Painter.          

Art masterclass      

from The Artist, the monthly magazine for amateur and semi-professional painters, giving practical instruction in painting and drawing in watercolour, pastels and oils, as well as news of art events, exhibitions and competitions open to leisure artists;  



Sample feature from this month's issue:

Black and white landscape photo

How to paint from black and white photographs using acrylics

Linda Birch 



Having made several preliminary sketches, I couldn’t resist painting two versions of this subject. I want to demonstrate the versatility of   acrylic, used both thickly (as you would with oil), and as watercolour and ink. In both cases I worked on watercolour paper, although acrylic can be used on almost any surfaPrelim sketchce: canvas, card, cartridge paper (stretched), pastel paper (also stretched) and watercolour paper.

sketch 2

Before starting, I painted part of the photograph in black and white(right).  Having a black and white image can be useful. If you don’t know how you will translate a black and white photograph into colour, start with a small tonal painting of the image. This will help establish where your darks and lights fit with each other, and how the overall tonal pattern builds into the composition.


Watercolour technique

The illustrator in me delights in detail, and I wanted to paint the more distant view of the hamlet (below) as a line and wash. I also wanted to avoid summer greens, so set the scene at night. I used mainly shades of ultramarine blue with a little burnt sienna (added to grey the blue), and cadmium yellow for the lights in the windows.

Night scene


Cwmyoy 1, acrylic, 6x8in. (15.5x20cm)Watch what happens at night. The sky, although dark, is still lighter than the land, with the possible exception of moonlight which lightens flat areas facing the sky (such as fields and roofs).

I worked from light to dark using a wet-in-wet method for the moonshine in the sky. When the acrylic was drying too fast to lay washes, I used a little retarder with the paint; in this case, about half a teaspoon, which was laid on the palette and worked into the paint with a little water.

When the painting was dry, I made ‘ink’ by mixing

ultramarine blue, burnt sienna and water, and used a dipping pen to add the detail. If you haven’t got a pen with a nib, use a small twig – it works really well (and it’s free).

Acrylic used as oil

photo 2I also wanted to paint a robust, slightly stylised version of this scene, and experiment with using black – something I never do normally – in order to provide strong sunlit contrast. I didn’t want to add detail but a simple shorthand way of rendering it (which was done on the stones of some of the buildings).

White was used throughout to create the tones and colours. Even the dark colours have a little white in them to soften them in the distance.

The composition was marked out in a thin solution of blue paint. The lane to the village was a useful lead in to the composition. I reinforced that quality by repeating the curved shape in the walls on either side of the road

Darks were laid in, black with permanent green. Because the acrylic was drying quickly, I worked fast to lay in large blocks of colour in order to mix the two areas while they were still a little damp. I began to notice and reinforce counter-change (light objects against dark objects, and vice versa), which makes a painting interesting to look at.

Finally, I went away for a while then came back to view the picture with fresh eyes. I then added the less weighted shapes – the railings and window bars – to counter the strength of the foliage.


Cwmyoy 2, acrylic, 5x9in. (13x23cm)Cwmyoy 2 was a bit of an experiment! I used large direct masses of tone and colour for the trees that surrounded the subject. Texture was added by dragging a dry brush acros the foliage to suggest detail. Also the church has a pronounced lean, which adds to its interest and connection to the landscape around it. I wanted to keep an overall simplicity and bring out the quirkiness of these little buildings set in the Black Mountains.

All seems embedded into the land and that was what I wanted to evoke in this painting.

This is an extract from an article in the October 2008 issue of Leisure Painter. Learn more about painting landscapes using acrylics with Terry Harrison and Hugh Greer.




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