13. Painting A Person, From Life : Acrylic Demo : Part 1

My daughter, my muse : Lauren at The Pearl Fincher Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.  Thank you to The Pearl for inviting us to be a part of the “State Of Grace” Exhibition : 17th and 18th Century Paintings from the Collection of the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation,  Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

I am indeed the luckiest of painters!  I frequently receive invitations to paint in the most inspiring, beautiful, and often extraordinary circumstances, and on occasion, to work with my most precious muses; my loves… my children.  On this occasion, The Pearl Fincher Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, was hosting an exhibition of old master, figurative paintings on loan from the Collection of the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation, Museum of Fine Arts Houston.  When asked to conduct a figurative demonstration/lecture, I was afforded the rare privilege of painting my daughter, Lauren, surrounded by some of the greatest painters the world has ever known.  Such are the moments…..

Only one problem:  I was to do an inspiring demonstration, completely surrounded by unforgettable oil paintings, but…. I could not use oil.  The paintings are so precious, and oil fumes so damaging and detrimental to them, that I could only use drawing materials, or acrylics.

Only Black, White + 3 colors used: Transparent/fluid acrylics

I decided to do the demo in two parts:  First, my own version of a ‘gresaille’ technique, which would enable me to rapidly capture Lauren’s likeness and gesture, in monochrome (black, white and grey in this case), then; Secondly, glaze the color on afterwards, using just 3 transparent Golden brand fluid acrylics:  Teal blue, quinachridone crimson, and quinachridone gold (back row).

Thankfully, my friends Linda G., and Andrea J., photographed the event so that I could share my method here, with you.

The Setup:

I posed Lauren in a manner similar to the figures in the large painting in the background (I will find out the name of the painting and post soon.)  I brought material that would drape and fold similar to the fabrics frequently painted by the old masters.  The canvas I used was portrait linen, and I had pre-painted it a neutral, pale wash composed of acrylic black and white.  Therefore, once I began painting in a situation when the paints dry within 2-3 minutes, I did not have to worry about painting mid-tones.

Working with media that dries almost instantly, I knew I was never going to be able to create “the masterpiece of the modern world” in a one-hour lecture/demo.  (You’ve just got to cut yourself some slack when you agree to do things like this.)  At least I could have a wonderful experience with my daughter, and share some new ways of doing things with all those who came to the event.  The demo/lecture was divided into two 20-minute sessions/parts, with a 15 minute break between:

The pose… Notice soft, subtle planes of light and shade on face.

Using dark gray, I ‘very rapidly’ painted the upper part of Lauren’s form/shadow shape, and immediately began to excavate light planes/platforms due to immediate drying times.

Adding further “shadow form” and wiping out lights as I go

I added further shapes, plus began to add cracks, crevices and creases (darkest darks)

Added cracks, crevices & creases on figure and also on background frame detail. Added first layers of ‘heat and light’ by introducing more white for light planes.

First sitting complete: I allowed this stage to dry completely before I began Session 2

This kind of painting is easy, when you know the lights, folks!

The beauty of using your acrylics in this 2-part way, is that you can be spontaneous, have a great time with drips and drizzles, adding and wiping off paint (I use both hands: applying with one, and wiping off with the other) to create the effect you wish, without having to worry about color, only value, or light and shade.  If you’re already well familiar with the lights (see previous lessons) then your eye and brush just go around the figure hunting for planes of WLH, and WLDH!  As my kindly old teacher used to say “This ain’t brain surgery folks!”

When I travel on vacations and holidays, I take three small bottles of the Golden colors mentioned above, plus a small tube of white and black.  You can make an infinite variety with just these three colors, and it makes for a very small, compact set – great for traveling.  (Credit and gratitude goes to Veranne Graham, and Mary Todd Beam’s great books for introducing me to these colors.)

Whether you prefer to use watercolor, oil or acrylic paints, by using transparent colors you can use color glazing techniques to enhance, enliven, enrich painted layers already dried, often creating a depth of color impossibly acquired by any other technique.  By glazing, you can unify paintings by putting a glaze of one color over the entire picture plane; You can even gray-down areas by glazing a compliment over an area that is perhaps too intense/drawing too much undesired attention.  Glazing offers many interesting nuances, and to many old masters like Rembrandt, Rubens, and Titian, to name a few, it was a preferred technique.  (You can look up gresaille or chiaroscuro techniques online to investigate further.)  Look for the wide variety of ‘transparent’ paints now available in your local art supply store.

So let’s add some color to our lovely Lauren!  Now, I’m a pretty seasoned demo artist.  I could not plan too many glazes in my allotted time, so I dressed her in blue and red, so I wouldn’t have to mix much.  An important thing to remember when applying glazes is….

It’s much easier to cool a warm, than to warm a cool, so always start with the warmest glaze, whenever possible.

Glazing first layer : Watered-down quinachridone gold applied with rag and brush

Adding glazed layer of quinachridone red

‘Warm glazes’ complete, for now…

Want to see the process in action? Click below.

Final Word….



My life is a living testament to the old statement “What comes around, goes around”’; or “What you do for others in an act of generosity, comes back tenfold”.  In honor of this code, I began writing down everything I know in these lessons in 2011 and began to offer them out, for free…. But it’s very valuable information.  The lessons constitute a lifetime of learning, and are lent to you as an act of generosity to help you on your artistic journey.  If you find this material helpful, continue to ‘pay it forward’ by sharing this website with others so that they too can be inspired with Art through "Lessons With Lesley."

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