anecdotes about the creative process

Painting RING OF FIRE with Open Acrylics

Detail of painting of female fire dancer. edge
A close up of the painting

The art and mystery of painting is one of my greatest loves. However, I produced no paintings for a very long time due to focusing on my animation career and family matters. In 2010 I regained my motivation to pick up the brushes, but wanted to try a different method. Most of my earlier works were painted in acrylics, but I was disenchanted with the "plastic" look, and particularly their difficulty in blending as they dried almost as soon as the paint contacted the canvas. Conversely I found oil paints tended to get get over-blended, and the fumes and toxic solvents were a turn off. I really liked the look and ease of use of pastels, but found them to be a fragile, easily damaged medium. Fortunately, a new line of paints was introduced in 2008, Golden OPEN Acrylics, which bridge the gap between oil and acrylic. Intrigued by these slow-drying acrylics, I decided to try them out for my new artworks. Having completed several new paintings now, I present this demonstration of the creation of my latest painting RING OF FIRE, followed by a review and analysis of the Open Acrylics.

Sketch. edge

After conceptualizing the subject matter I prepared a drawing. This was more of a design or layout than a true drawing. I generally just concentrated on the overall composition and location of the main forms, saving the actual rendering for the painting phase. The color and look was visualized in my minds eye!

Painting in progress. edge

I prepared a hand made 14 x 18 canvas panel primed with acrylic gesso, and transferred the drawing to it with graphite paper. Using conventional acrylics, I blocked in the main forms with local color, covering the stark white gesso completely. This provided a good base coat over the absorbent gesso, helping extend the working time of the Open acrylics which were used for the rest of the painting. Working from the distance forward, I painted the sky, volcano, ash cloud, and jungle silhouette. The shading on the leaping fire dancer was roughly indicated with a glaze of of burnt umber, and the ring of fire started.

Painting almost finished. edge

The slow drying characteristics of the Open paints really came into play for the skin tones. Since the light source of the figure was the fire ring, I went fairly bold with the colors, using yellow-orange for the highlights and blue-purple for the shadows. Foreground jungle plants were added, faintly lit by the fire. Pure black was reserved only for the hair and eyes, for maximum contrast to that focal point. I actually signed the painting at this point, but on further reflection decided it needed something more.

Ring of Fire, painted with Golden Open acrylics. edge

For a fresh viewpoint, I asked the opinions of a couple artist friends. This helped me come to the conclusion that the figure needed more reactive lighting to sell the idea that she is lit by the fire. The contrast on her skin was increased using colored glazes, which improved things tremendously. I also worked on the musculature of her right thigh. The ring of fire was brightened up to appear hotter. Finally satisfied, I let the painting dry for a full month per Golden's recommendations, then added a clear permanent isolation coat to protect the paint layers, topped with removable satin varnish. Done!

Golden's Open Acrylics are a fantastic advancement in paint technology. Their unique properties require experimentation and a learning curve, as they are really quite different from traditional oils and acrylics. Their slow drying characteristics can be a blessing or a curse, depending on each artists working methods. They do tack up faster than oil paints, yet there is sufficient time to blend without overdoing it. The "open" time can be extended by avoiding absorbent painting surfaces, which wicks away the slow drying additives. Water should not be used to thin the paint, as it actually accelerates the drying time (unless you want that). Open thinner or medium should be used instead, which are also useful to revitalize the paint if it tacks up too fast. On the canvas the paint is usually touch-dry overnight, but it is best to wait a few days before adding more layers. The underlying layer can be reactivated and cause lifting if overpainted too soon, similar to oils. This may frustrate traditional acrylic painters who are used to immediate drying.

The Open paints have less pigment load than traditional acrylics, which is not necessarily a bad thing. One can just apply the paint a bit heavier if more coverage is needed, the paint film tends to level out when it dries anyway. I have noticed little to no color shift upon drying. Brush strokes have a softer edge by default compared to regular acrylics, a real plus in my opinion. At the end of a painting session, cleaning the brushes is a breeze since the paint has not had time to cure. Brushes should last much longer using Opens because of this. One their best characteristics is the paint stays usable on the palette, remaining perfectly viable even the next day with no special care. Overall I am pleased with the Open paints, they have helped me achieve the look I have in mind for my new body of work.