Monthly Archives: April 2020

A shot at acrylics

Red-necked Tanager (Tangara cyanocephalus)
Acrylic on canvas
56cm x 40cm

A few years ago, while living in Mexico City, I bought a stock of painting materials that included canvases of various sizes, some brushes and a variety of oil and acrylic paints. The idea was to store these materials till I got back to my home base in Brazil.

Last week I started painting another bird subject (a Golden Pheasant) in watercolour but had difficulty with the legs that didn’t seem natural. The issue was that they didn’t seem natural in the reference picture either – the bird was badly posed! After a few minutes thought I abandoned the watercolour.

Nearly 5 years after buying the Mexican stock I unpacked the canvases, prepared one with a gesso base, opened up the acrylic paints and set to work on one of my favourite subjects – a tanager.

The bird I chose to paint was a Red-necked (Tangara cyanocephalus) as I felt it would be colourful enough for a decent painting. In my mind I knew the acrylic process. I had never completed a painting before but I had practiced with the medium over ten years ago.

The stages I went through were as follows:


The first two coats of primer were done with gesso straight from the bottle – Indart medium gesso, a litre bottle. The first coat was painted on with a two inch brush in a horizontal direction. I left the gesso to dry before sanding it with fine grade sandpaper. The second coat was painted vertically, left to dry and then sanded.

The next day I painted the entire canvas with a wash of yellow ochre watercolour paint, painting the outline of the subject with a thicker mix of the same colour. When this was dry I painted a final coat of gesso over the top and let it dry overnight. The canvas was then sanded and ready for me to paint.

Paint selection

As I don’t have a wide selection of quality acrylic paints I used what I had:

Acrylic paint tubes

Daler-Rowney: Lemon Yellow, Cadmium Yellow, Emerald, Ultramarine, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Umber, Mars Black and Titanium White.

Winsor and Newton: Perinone Orange and Mixing White

The few other colours that I had in stock didn’t match the subject, though I did mix one watercolour with the mixing white to create a hue that I needed.

The Process

I started with the background, mixing emerald with the two yellows, ultramarine and yellow ochre to create differing greens across the canvas to provide interest and to have cooler and darker shades on one side and warmer lighter shades on the other.

I let the brush and the paint create a pattern that I then accentuated with ultramarine and burnt umber to add the out-of-focus tree interest. A branch was painted in the lower section of the support in a slightly diagonal manner, providing the perch for the tanager to sit on.

Once these were done I began on the bird. I almost always start with the eye and beak. By the end of the session I had the head completed and the rest of the body outlined.

On the next day I finished off the head before working down the body. The legs and wing were the last elements to be completed.

Learning points

When painting in watercolour it is usual to start with the lighter colours and to lay darker ones on top. As acrylic paint is opaque in nature it is necessary to work the other way round ie starting with the darker colours and painting lighter colours at the end. This made me think through the process as I painted. It also highlighted another issue – in the heat (the outside temperature is in the upper 30s Celcius at this time of year) – my paints were drying quickly on the palette so I was obliged to work in segments while the paint remained workable. This meant having to remember the quantities to be mixed. I had a similar issue with watercolour painting but at least I could wet the paints to keep them usable. This didn’t work with the acrylics.

Good fun. I need to practice more with acrylic paint, then try oils!



Emperor Penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri)

I was asked to paint a penguin a few days ago. Not having seen these birds in the wild personally I searched for suitable reference photos which resulted in the choice of a cute family group.

This post is has been rewritten since a bug hit my wordpress app resulting in my original post being lost. Not a major issue but a bit annoying for anyone that had already “liked” the first post. I blame the corona virus 🦠 🤪.

Veneto farmland

Farmhouse near Caorle, Veneto

Still determined to get to grips with watercolour landscape painting. This was a subject that drew my attention from my photo collection.

The top third of the painting is pretty much in line with my photo but the rest of the composition used some artistic license to alter the position of other elements.

I adopted a loose approach, working more quickly than normal. I think that is a key learning point – loose and fast.

I shall try again next week on a different subject, though I also have plans to try acrylics. A canvas awaits, as does the gesso with which to prime the canvas.

Blue-crowned Trogon

Blue-crowned Trogon (Trogon curucui)

The first Trogon I saw was on the Graciosa road near Curitiba, Brazil. It was a White-tailed Trogon. Over the next 10 years since then I have seen another 3 species of Trogon. The one I chose to paint was seen near a river in the Pantanal region of Brazil almost ten years ago.

Watercolour on A3 paper.