Lightweight alternate acrylic setup

used by Alison Levine

“Here are pictures of my setup using a Masterson Stay-Wet Palette minus the sponge.
Instead of the sponge I line the bottom with a piece of Jack Richeson gray palette paper.
I’ve attached two clear pill organizers using strong adhesive Velcro cut to size. The seal to this box keeps acrylic paints from drying out for many days. Continue reading

Recommended Supply list


Workshop Supply List

You may bring any medium you like and any easel you are comfortable with.
If you want to learn to use the acrylic medium, bring:
paint box
minimum 3-color acrylic paint palette plus white
homemade palette for mixing
cotton rags
spray bottle
stool or other support for your open paint box
at least once good large brush made for acrylic
canvases, panels, or boards gessoed with white primer, size recommendations
Professional grade acrylics compared -link to Lindsey Bourret’s
Choosing the Acrylic Paint that’s Best for You

Plano 2-tray tackle box

Plano 2-tray tackle box

Continue reading

Limited Palettes

You can get along with any of the three limited palettes below, or you can get all of the colors I like to use. You’ll have to work harder using fewer colors, but either the limited OR full palettes below should allow you to mix nearly any color you see. Continue reading

Why I don’t use ultramarine blue

Screen Shot 2015-06-20 at 2.40.27 PM

I used to squeeze out ultramarine in my paintbox palette. It’s a great color! But it doesn’t LOOK blue the way cobalt does.

Even though I’m rigorous about putting my paints in a rainbow pattern, always using the same placement, there is nevertheless confusion in my paint box. Many pigments are so dark that I rely on their placement to figure out what I’m getting: hooker’s green, thalo blue, dioxazine purple.

However cobalt blue is one color, like permanent green, that looks like what you get.
When I reach for it, I don’t have to think or hesitate.

One day I realized I never reached for ultramarine any more.
Cobalt is expensive but it’s a lovely true blue and makes the process of painting more streamlined.

Screen Shot 2015-06-20 at 2.40.53 PMAlso, going for thalo blue is time consuming. One has to be careful to get just a smidgen of this intensely staining color on the brush, then wipe it off somewhere on the palette before introducing just a breath of it to the paint mixture. By the time I get a bit of thalo blue, add white, and mix in the ultramarine — I have spent a minute or two mixing something I can get by a simple dip into cobalt blue.

Marcia's paints, fresh box

Marcia’s paints, fresh box


Using acrylics in high temperatures

The best way to use acrylics in high temperatures, wind, and low humidity . . . is to switch to oils.

If you’re like me, however, and are habituated to the quick drying time of acrylics, then you can modify your approach to very dry conditions by using Acrylic Glazing Medium rather than water when you dip your brush. This will give you extra seconds before the paint dries.

Gel retarder is made for these circumstances but has to be squeezed onto the palette and a tiny bit added and carefully mixed into every color you use. It’s time consuming and can result in slower or faster drying times depending on the mix.
The extra action makes painting less direct, takes longer, and can put you off your stride.

I much prefer using glazing medium to using gel retarder because I constantly wet my brush and this system relies on that habit.

Although Open acrylics were developed to overcome the problem of rapid drying, the paint may feel dry but not be fully dry underneath. This can cause the surface to pull up long after it is dry to the touch.
For me this takes away any possible advantage and leaves me with a medium I don’t trust.

“Last Light, Indian Peak,” painted near Borrego Springs, California. Located in the Sonoran Desert, the hottest desert in North America.

Traveling with Acrylics

When traveling by plane, I put my easel in the backpack and carry it on board. Inside the easel are all my brushes, needle-nosed pliers, a short Phillips screwdriver, and the folding palette I have described. There is room in the easel drawer for a few tubes of color; if you use jars or want to take more than the three primary colors, put them in a plastic baggie in your suitcase. Usually there is room to fit a camera in the backpack as well; I pad the contents with rags wherever they fit and hand-carry the empty fishing tackle box unless there is room for it in my suitcase.

When you arrive at your destination, buy a couple of liters of bottled water and keep the empty bottles on hand for carrying painting water. I pack my oldest T-shirts to wear. As each is ready for the wash it becomes the next day’s paint rag.

When my heart is set on taking canvases by plane, I find buying sizes that nest within each other is a space-saving trick  (24×24”, 18×18”, and 12×12”, for example). Or if I’m hesitant to take all the same shape, I try to get one dimension the same so they are easy to bind together with a strap, for example 10×20”, 20×20”, and 20×30”.  I own a zippered portfolio bag sold at Aaron Brothers that is convenient for carrying canvases in the latter sizes. After removing the heavy cardboard stiffener this fits in the overhead compartment of most airplanes.

Recently I’ve pared what I carry down to two sizes and shapes—18×20” and 10×18” New Traditions panels; these can be layered so the two smaller panels exactly fit between one larger panel, the whole package bound with a Velcro strap in each direction.

Too big to paint on location: Marcia’s method

quarter scale version of “Fog, Sun, and Tides” painted on location

“Fog, Sun, and Tides” quintych, two panels 48″x78″, three panels 78″x48″

IN THE LAST two or three years I have painted some very large-scale works for hospital settings. The tallest was 8 feet tall; the widest was 11 feet wide.

These very large paintings are too big to take on location, and they are too large to paint without a plan, even though ordinarily that is exactly how I proceed. (I think of it as the “fool around until satisfied” approach.) Continue reading

Plein Air painting in cold snowy conditions with acrylics

When you are painting at high altitudes or in extremely hot dry conditions, you can modify acrylics by using glazing medium instead of water, allowing them to stay moist long enough to at least get your brush to the canvas before the paint dries.

But what do you do in cold snowy conditions?

Unlike oils which are naturally tacky, acrylic paints are somewhat moist to begin with. Acrylics depend on evaporation to dry, and there is no evaporation in extremely cold temperatures. The air simply won’t hold the moisture it can at higher temperatures.* Continue reading

Golden’s Open Formula acrylics

I jumped on Golden’s Open Formula acrylics as soon as I heard about them, thinking they would provide a great medium for revision in the studio, since working on field paintings in the studio can be tricky with acrylics.

That’s because the subject is no longer before me and my only reference, the painting itself, is gone once I paint over parts of it. Sometimes by the time I step back and decide I don’t like the new version, it’s dry.

I thought the longer drying period of Open acrylics would allow me to wipe off areas I didn’t like, retaining what was underneath. What I found, however, was that the drying period was variable. Sometimes the paint would feel dry after half an hour, sometimes after ten minutes. In either case, when I tried to work over a “dry” surface I found the layer underneath dissolved into new wet paint.

The huge advantage of acrylic for me is that it dries quickly and absolutely, and subsequent layers can be laid on with absolute assurance. In a moment or two the new layer is dry and can be revised in turn. But if you don’t like a stroke, you can immediately wipe it off with a damp cloth and reveal the previous layer.

Using Open acrylics that assurance is gone. It’s hard to know how long to wait before the previous layer is completely dry, but it might be hours or days.

A system I like much better is to use Golden Heavy Body acrylics outdoors with water as a medium. When revising inside, use glazing medium instead of water to slow the drying time slightly. Once the paint feels dry, it IS dry for practical purposes.

Violet Oxide or Burnt Sienna

Even though violet oxide and burnt sienna look similar on the palette, burnt sienna gives an almost pinkish tone when mixed with white, while violet oxide produces a nearly neutral color with overtones of violet and grey. I mix it with other colors to accurately paint winter grasses, rocks, gravel, or sand.
I also like to mix it with cobalt blue to make a beautiful grey, or with Hooker’s green to make a deep black.


Paintbox alternative

Marcia received this tip from Susan Watson:

“I like an OXO Good Grips ice cube tray to hold my paints because it has a lid and the compartments are rounded at the bottom, which makes for very easy cleaning.

Occasionally, I need to clean out one of the compartments if the color has become too muddy. I put on some rubber gloves and scoop out the muddy color with a paper towel and then add fresh paint . . . very easy.

The lid slides on. It is not air-tight, but I spray the paint before I slide the lid on and then put it in a plastic bag to make sure that the paint will not dry out. Hefty Jumbo 2.5 Gallon plastic zip lock bags are large enough for the tray to slip in easily.

The lid is a nice feature because it keeps the moisture in and keeps the paint from getting inside a plastic bag (the problem with a regular ice cube tray).

The ice cube tray also fits nicely on my Soltek easel with plenty of room for a water container and a palette.”

–Susan Watson