Painting with acrylics

Paul Wicker, Going Postal

Despite coming from an artistic family – my parents met at art school, I first became interested in painting when Mrs W painted this to cover up some bad plastering in our new kitchen. Apparently, it matched the blinds or something.

Being a big fan of Roy Lichtenstein – Mrs W and I went to the Tate Modern in 2013 to see the exhibition of his work, which was valued at something in the region of £2bn, a figure which blows my mind. As an aside, you might disagree that his, or anyone’s art is worth that, I’m not going to comment, as, to be honest, I’m in two minds about it.

In the flesh though, it’s pretty impressive. Lichtenstein is a controversial artist. You might think that his adoption of the ‘ben day dots’ representation of the printing method of the comic book recreations for which he is famed are an artifice. I like his work, I’m not going to comment. There is also a long running argument about whether his works plagiarise comic books, or ‘artistically interpret’ them.

There’s a pretty good video of the 2013 exhibition below  which also discusses the origins of his comic book art.

One thing is for sure, his artworks are a damned site larger than my recreations, and for mine, dots were not an option, as RL used templates to paint in the dots.

So anyway, I decided that I would paint something I would like to see on my bedroom wall, since Mrs W and I share separate bedrooms, on account of her love of snoring and her restless legs.

I bought a cheap kit of acrylic paints and brushes from somewhere like B&M, from which learned as I progressed from there, to Hobbycraft, and then finally buying from more specialist shops on the interweb, the old adage, you get what you pay for. I’ve recently paid more for a tube of ‘high flow high opacity black acrylic – its like ink’ than my first set of paints, brushes and a canvas.

I decided my first work would be to create a copy of “girl with a hair ribbon”, which Is one of RL’s I really like.

I started by printing out the image from a .pdf  using the poster print option and by trial and error, getting it to the correct size.

Sticking all the A4 sheets together and turning it over, I shaded where the lines are using a B pencil, then stuck the picture on a canvas, and drew over the lines, to transfer a faint image to the canvas. What we are left with is an outline to paint into, a bit like painting by numbers, but without the numbers. There’s an easier way to do this, using transfer paper, as I subsequently learned.

Paul Wicker, Going Postal

Some great artists like to paint in silence, others with classical music in the background. I’m not a great artist, and I like to paint listening to Orbital or Leftfield, not sure why, but since I do this to relax and take my mind off work and the other usual crap, it’s a good diversion.

This was my end result. It took a lot longer than I expected, as you can only paint so much at a time, and there were other things to do.

Paul Wicker, Going Postal

My next foray, was another Lichtenstein painting – entitled “M-Maybe”. The names of the paintings often refer to text in the speech bubble accompanying the image. I made the decision to not include the speech bubbles in any of my recreations, which necessitated a re-imagining of what was underneath. In most cases I think I got this somewhere close, there’s one below that I’m not so sure of, but its on the wall now, so I’m probably not going to change that.

Having said that, the first painting I did, ‘girl with a hair ribbon’, didn’t have the hair ribbon for three years, and it started to annoy me so much I painted it in about a month ago.

Paul Wicker, Going Postal

So that was it for a while, I’d enjoyed painting, got a couple of canvases I liked on the wall, but didn’t really have time to do any more, Mrs W can be demanding, kids, work etc.

And then lockdown happened, and since I’d been quite ill recently, OK I almost croaked, although my requests for tea lights fell on deaf ears, I ended up being persuaded by the NHS to stay at home and ‘shield’ for a couple of months. I worked from home, but without the commute and visits to clients, I had a bit more time each day on my hands. And I had a hankering to paint a few more Lichtenstein copies.

Paul Wicker, Going Postal

By now, I had researched acrylic painting a bit more, and had learned that despite canvasses that you buy online or from hobbycraft and the like being structurally sound, the painting surface was a bit rough and ready. Its already coated with gesso, which is a bit like primer, and smooths out the grain of the canvas, but applying a couple more coats of gesso with a 2” brush doesn’t hurt, and it’s a quick sanding job with fine paper afterwards to get it to a ready state to paint.

I also invested in better brushes, Winsor and Newton make lovely brushes, they are a joy to use, and Rowney hogshair brushes are good for stiffer acrylic paint.

Paul Wicker, Going Postal

And the paint, the B&M beginner stuff had been jettisoned fairly early on, in favour of Winsor and Newton, Cryla and Golden. These give you the option of high opacity, which is a paint strong in pigment, high flow which is more liquid, and a good range of colours. I’ve still got the cheap ones, I just mix them with others.

Paul Wicker, Going Postal

I now use ‘transfer paper’ which is thin paper coated on one side with graphite, which I put under the image to transfer, on top of the canvas, but that’s a relatively recent progression, which I used to create the four subsequent paintings.

I decided to paint four ‘square’ paintings. After the larger two I had already done, there was only one I really wanted to paint, which was ‘Hopeless’ – (original above with speech bubble, and my version below) but I struggled to decide which to paint first. I ended up painting this one ‘Oh – alright’ , which I was least keen on, but was chosen by a vote by my kids. The painting I least wanted to do was this one ‘Nurse’, which has become my favourite.

Paul Wicker, Going Postal

I wanted the paintings I ‘copied’ to be reasonable representations of the originals, but not exact replicas, although that might sound like a bit of a cop out. My main reason for doing these at all, was for a bit of relaxation and something I wouldn’t ordinarily do.

Paul Wicker, Going Postal

I realise that all these paintings are mostly in ‘primary colours’ there’s not a great deal of palatte mixing, apart from the eyes, and as such are relatively easy to do. My next lot are landscapes, which will be much more of a challenge in two ways, one, the skill and technique, and secondly, where to put them, We’ve run out of room and Mrs W isn’t a fan of landscapes around the house.

This isn’t an attempt to show how amazingly talented I am, quite the opposite, because its patience rather than talent, and to show that its pretty easy to create a decent result.

Paul Wicker, Going Postal

If you are tempted to give acrylics a try, get a cheap canvas and some paints / brushes from B&M or Hobbycraft and get started, its fun and rewarding. There are loads of videos on YT on how to paint with acrylics, and they start with preparing a canvas. Well worth a watch.

Paul Wicker, Going Postal

Paul Wicker, Going Postal

The last couple of images are to show the size and scale of the smaller canvasses relative to the larger ones, and the right hand image is one of the paintings in-situ.

© text & images Paul Wicker 2020