Adding other materials to paint

Medium: Acrylic paint
Support: White card with gesso
Colours: Titanium white, phthalocyanine blue, yellow ochre, cadmium red, burnt sienna, cadmium yellow
Brushes: Daler Rowney Sky Flow brushes – short flat – 2”and 1”
Other materials: Daler-Rowney gesso primer (white), Liquitex matte super heavy gel, PVA glue, sand, crushed sea shells, rice, chilli flakes
Size: 40cm x 30 cm (15” x 12”)


For this exercise you had to choose a range of natural materials, mix these with paint and experiment with the different textures.

I decided to work on A3 white card adding an initial layer of gesso applied loosely with a 2” brush. The materials added to the acrylic paint were:

  • Chilli flakes
  • Sand
  • Crushed sea shells
  • Rice

 Initial session

Initial application of paint with various materials added

Initial application of paint with various materials added

I began with a layer of yellow ochre, cadmium red and titanium white mixed with sand. I was surprised at how much sand the paint could absorb and I kept adding until the paint had the consistency of a thick paste. Using a 2” flat brush I applied the mix in broad strokes, covering most of the card but leaving areas of white showing through.

Having done this I did wonder if the sand would stay stuck on the card as some of it was working loose.

For the next mixture I used chilli flakes with yellow ochre and titanium white. To try and ensure that they adhered to the card I also added a large dollop of PVA glue. I dragged the mix over the sand layer but didn’t cover much of the underlying layer, concentrating more on the lower left-hand corner.

Using the same mix of yellow ochre, titanium white and glue I added crushed sea shells. After an initial attempt with this I added some heavy gel paste as I wasn’t sure that the shells would stick to the card.

At this point I used a palette knife to drag shapes through the layers. I had no preconceived idea of a ‘subject’ but the shapes had a look of the sea so I scraped in some more wave-like strokes to suggest this.

Next I added a layer of rice and PVA glue mixed with white, making broad strokes with the brush across the previous layers.

Detail of paint with sand, rice, chilli flakes and crushed seashells added

Detail of paint with sand, rice, chilli flakes and crushed seashells added

I began playing with shapes using the palette knife in vertical strokes across the paper. Removing areas across the page now suggested the shapes of trees and I decided to finish the session at this point before deciding how to progress.

Development work

Development of tree trunks

Development of tree trunks

Following on from a previous exercise, ‘Preparing a textured ground‘, I decided to work with the suggested shapes of trees and create a kind of deep-in-the-forest effect but with glimpses of sunlight coming from the outside world.

The materials in the paint worked with this to an extent. The chilli flakes created a rough texture on the areas that would be the trunks of the trees, although the rice was, perhaps, too rounded.

I started by using a mix of phthalocyanine blue and cadmium red as a thin wash to mark out the areas that would be the tree trunks. I then used phthalocyanine blue in between the tree trunks. Using yellow ochre and cadmium red I added a layer of each as a light wash over the tree trunks. In between each layer I removed some of the colour with a ‘Q’ tip to create areas of light and shade allowing the colours to settle into crevices caused by the added materials. As I worked I decided to keep the trees in the middle lighter, as if they were caught in a shaft of light, and darken the trees on either side to highlight this.

In the background I added layers of a dark purple mix, scraping through this to suggest trees further back in the darkness. At this stage the card was becoming quite buckled and I finished the session to allow the paint to dry.

Work on tree trunks

Final version with additional colour added

Final version with additional colour added

In the next session I began to work on the detail of the trees adding and scrapping off phthalocyanine blue on the tree trunks to create more shadow and highlight some of the detail of the embedded material.

To get a more surreal fairy-tale effect I added washes of pure cadmium red and cadmium yellow, scraping off paint as I went along to maintain a balance of sunlight and shadow. I was trying to keep the trees on the edges of the painting in more shadow and those in the centre lighter in colour. At times the paint was getting quite muddied so I spent some time removing areas of colour with kitchen towel.

Detail of tree trunks

Detail of tree trunks

As I scraped off layers of paint the chilli flakes showed through suggesting texture on the tree trunks. I used this idea by taking a wash of burnt sienna over some of the grains of rice to add different types of texture on the bark.

Finally, I added more layers of red and yellow, sweeping across the tree trunks with a dry brush to create more texture and colour.

Learning points

This not quite the image I was working towards. I think that I have overworked the trees and, perhaps, some simple washes of blue across the tree trunks at the previous stage may have worked better. However, like the exercise ‘Preparing a textured ground’ I enjoyed this approach. It has a free-fall quality where you have to go with the flow and problem-solve as you go along.

  • I like the effects that you can produce and think that it is really just a question of experimenting with materials and considering how they can work for you.
  • The rice, in some ways, was too rounded to mirror the texture of tree bark although highlighting it with darker areas of colour gave the impression of growth on the trees.
  • I liked an area to the bottom right of the picture, at the foot of the trees, that had the look of sea washing over sand – something to consider for future experimentation.
  • The paint has, to some extent, overshadowed the texture. I think keeping it simpler in terms of colour may have worked better.
  • I did, perhaps, decide too quickly to work with the subject of trees. In future I would consider other options or go for something altogether more abstract.






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