What is Acrylic Gouache?

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Is it acrylic or is it gouache?

A while ago at one of my classes, someone asked me “What is acrylic gouache?”. Maybe you’re equally uncertain, or perhaps you’ve never heard of it. So today we’re discovering what it is and what it does.

Firstly, we need to understand what we mean by gouache (pronounced goo-ash, and also known as Designer’s Colour). It’s simply an opaque form of watercolour. Watercolour itself is a transparent medium; gouache is the same watercolour pigments mixed with chalk, or another additive, to obtain an opaque colour.

Gouache lends itself to flat colour. It has a smooth, matt, velvety finish, and is applied in thin layers. Thick applications of paint are liable to crack, which is certainly a disadvantage of the medium.

Like watercolour, it’s water-soluble. It is not waterproof, so when dry it can be reconstituted with water. That’s great if you want to make changes, but less good if the underlying layer is disturbed when you apply a second layer.

Acrylic Gouache

So how does a watercolour-type paint fit with acrylic? I think the name is actually quite misleading, as acrylic gouache is not gouache. It’s just a variant of acrylic paint. It’s called gouache simply because it was created to mimic the velvety appearance of traditional gouache, without having the disadvantages.

As with other types of acrylic, there’s a wide range of colours available, and the price point is similar to Heavy or Soft Body colour. Some brands include fluorescent, metallic and pearlescent colours in their ranges, making it suitable for numerous effects and styles of work. Lightfastness is usually classed as Good or Excellent.

You can check out the variety of brands and colours here.


Being acrylic it has all the advantages of acrylic: intense colour, waterproof when dry, and intermixable with other acrylic paints and mediums. The waterproof quality is great, because you can lay one colour over another without fear of the underlying one shifting. That could be one acrylic gouache layer over another, or a matt surface of acrylic gouache with contrasting lustres or textures applied over the top.

The intermixable quality also allows colours to be matched, as long as you’re using the same brand. So you can use the matt acrylic gouache, liquid acrylic ink and a fine acrylic spray all on the same painting, safe in the knowledge that your colours will match.

Blobs of Heavy Body and Acrylic Gouache with test patches of colour.

Left: Heavy Body Acrylic. Right: Acrylic Gouache.

The consistency of Heavy Body acrylic is akin to soft butter. It holds its shape, even when tilted on a steep angle. This paint is great when you want to be able to see texture and brushstrokes.

Acrylic Gouache’s consistency is that of thick cream, as you can see from the drip that’s forming when the support is tilted. Apply the paint in thin, smooth layers and brushstrokes are barely visible.

Another advantage of acrylic gouache is that it doesn’t need to be diluted. The consistency is designed for smooth and easy application, without the need to dilute the colour. I particularly like using paddle brushes to apply the paint.

Patches of yellow, red and white applied over a black surface.

Like other acrylics, acrylic gouache can be used on numerous surfaces: canvas, paper, wood, metal.

It works very well on a dark surface, as that enhances the brightness of the colours. Even yellow looks bright when covering a dark underlying colour, something that’s a challenge to achieve with other types of acrylic.

Use acrylic gouache:

  • for areas of flat colour
  • when you don’t want visible brushstrokes
  • when you need strongly opaque colour
  • when you need matt colour to contrast with other lustres
  • to mix with an opaque medium, in order to retain the opacity


There really isn’t much I dislike about my acrylic gouache paint. The main thought that comes to mind is that it’s less of a general purpose paint than either Heavy Body or Soft Body acrylics. Sometimes you want the option of transparent or translucent paint. But if you work in illustration, or a more graphic style where flat colour is desirable, I’d especially recommend it.

So what’s my overall verdict on my acrylic gouache? As I’m increasingly working with texture and lustre it’s not something I use every day. That said, when I need an opaque matt paint it’s absolutely perfect, so I’m very glad I’ve added it to my acrylics arsenal .

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Best Easels for Artists

Note: Some affiliate links may be used in this post. I may receive a small commission, at no extra cost to you, if you use my affiliate link. Thanks for supporting this site. Full disclosure policy here.

Artists have so many easels to choose from.

Which type is best for you?

Whatever painting medium is your preferred choice, you’re likely to need an easel, so in today’s post I thought it would be good to look at the different types of easels available.

Think about where you paint (indoors/outdoors, at home or at another venue?), your usual size and format of painting, and whether you are likely to change that in the future. Do you prefer to sit or stand to paint?

Most retailers specify the size and weight of the easel and the maximum size of support the easel will hold. If in doubt buy bigger: you don’t want to buy a small easel and then find it won’t fit your canvas or board.

Over the years I’ve experienced a lot of different types of easels, so here are my thoughts on the subject:

Table Easels

There are two common choices here, the upright H-frame or the landscape type, usually of beechwood construction. Both fold flat for easy storage. Other advantages are that they are lightweight, so easy to carry to an art class. A great option if you work on a small scale, regularly paint at indoor venues away from home, or if space is limited.

Table easel

This style is best for you if you work on a smaller scale, or predominantly use a landscape format.

An inexpensive and good value easel.

Maximum support this will take is 18.5 inches/ 47cm.

Disadvantages: the angle shown is the shallowest, so can be a little steep for watercolours. This easel can be a little limited if you work on a range of sizes and media.

H-frame table easel.

The upright is best for you if your work is small, mostly portrait format, or you need to work at a shallow angle.

Typical maximum support height is 22 inches/ 56cm, but they do vary slightly between brands, so check out the height if you often work near the limit of that size.

Can be angled from flat up to about 100 degrees, so it’s suitable for most media.

If space is really at a premium, you could try a metal clamp-on table easel. I haven’t tried this one, but it works on the same principle as a metal sketching easel so should work well. It would be ideal for taking to an art class too, being lighter and less bulky than a conventional table easel.

Sketching Easels

Useful for indoor and outdoor painting, sketching easels are ideal for larger than table-top work.

Metal and wooden sketching easels.

Sketching easels fold for easy storage and portability. Some are sold with a carrying bag – useful if you plan to work outdoors often. Maximum support size is about 29 inches/ 74cm.

Traditionally, construction was beechwood, though today aluminium is probably as common. Choose a medium weight – the heaviest are tedious to carry and the lightest aren’t stable enough unless weighted down.

Wooden easels are easy to find secondhand, so a great option if you’re on a very tight budget.

Checking the folded size will fit in your suitcase is wise if you do a lot of overseas painting.

You may prefer a Box Easel, as these come with an integral palette, carry strap and storage box for your kit. Personally I prefer to carry my kit in a rucksack on my back rather than my arm or shoulder taking the strain of everything, but that’s just personal preference.

Studio Easels

There are multiple options for this category. Again, beechwood is the preferred construction, as it’s close grained and strong. Most fold flattish, but their large size means they are more suited to someone with a dedicated space for their art. Not a portable option, but great if you work on a large scale. Most can be tilted slightly forward as well as back, so great if you work with pastels or charcoal as the loose dust can fall away from your work.

Radial Easel.

The Radial Easel is a great general purpose easel. Mine has been ideal for decades, only being usurped when I started working on larger and deeper supports.

Takes supports up to about 65 inches/ 165cm in height, though may vary between brands. Can be tilted backwards and forwards, to suit your media.

Some versions have a jointed upright, so you can work with an angled support. Those are more expensive, but worth the money if you’re likely to use that function.

The only slight disadvantage is that after many year’s constant use, they become less stable. (Anyone who has ever used a school or college easel will recall the variable stability of older radial easels.) If your easel isn’t in constant use, that’s not likely to be a problem. And let’s be honest, we all take better care of our own kit, so it lasts longer anyway.

If you regularly work on particularly deep canvases, you’re likely to need a larger easel.

H-frame studio easel.

H-frame Studio Easel

Good for bigger supports as both sides of the canvas or board is supported. The support is raised by a ratchet system.

This one is probably my least favourite of my easels, as it’s not as sturdy as I’d like even though it’s large. I tend to use mine more for displaying work than painting. I may have been unlucky, with this one, but I’d recommend going with a more robust option unless price is the deciding factor.

This type of easel usually sits flat on the floor rather than having castors, so must be carried from place to place. Only as issue if you’re likely to move items in your studio often.

Angled studio easel.

Angled Studio Easel

If you like working with fluid media, this is a good option as you can adjust it to suit your preferred angle, even working flat when necessary.

Strong and robust, this easel will take supports up to 52 inches/ 138cm in height.

Studio Easel.

The Studio Easel is an expensive option, but wonderfully stable, and ideal if you work on deep canvases or on a very large scale. This one takes supports up to 84.5 inches/ 215cm, and 7cm deep.

Check the size of support these easels will take before you buy, as they can be quite variable.

Support is raised or lowered by turning a cranked handle. This easel is usually on lockable wheels for ease of movement within the studio.

If budget is no limit, you may prefer the top of the range easels that incorporate storage drawers, take giant canvases or have motors to raise or lower the supports.

As you can see, I’ve gained quite a lot of easels over the years, through purchase, gift, loan or inheritance. Some I rarely use, except for particular circumstances, some are constant companions. It’s important to start with one that suits most of your work, and then add others later if necessary.

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Copyright – Cutting Through the Confusion

Copyright Matters

Know Your Rights

Creating art is not just about applying paint to paper or canvas. As artists we also need to consider the business side of our art, costing our materials, photographing our art, pricing our work, understanding our rights and exhibiting, to name but a few.

This blog is mostly aimed at readers who want to improve their drawing and painting skills, but from time to time I include posts on the business side of being an artist. I’m sure I have readers who would find that useful. So let’s start with a topic that applies to anyone who has ever created a piece of art….

Copyright – Knowledge is power

We’ve probably all skipped text about copyright before, on the basis it sounds simultaneously boring and complicated. Nooooo! Knowledge is power, so don’t be tempted to turn away.

Copyright is actually not that complicated, and is something that artists particularly need to understand. Maybe you feel inspired by someone else’s work or perhaps someone wants to use your images? Both situations have copyright implications.

If you’ve ever made greetings cards or postcards of your art, you’ve benefitted from using your copyright. Ditto for prints, puzzles, books, mugs, tea towels, and many, many more items. Copyright gives you the right to reproduce your art, as well as the right to sell and distribute it, in other words: to earn from it. Did you know that was enshrined in law?

When you produce a piece of creative work, you automatically own the copyright immediately the artwork is finished. That’s true for almost all creative endeavours, except in just a few circumstances, or if you created a work of art while being employed to do so by someone else.

Once copyright in a work exists, it lasts for the rest of your lifetime and for a further seventy years after your death if you are a UK citizen. (Most countries specify life plus 50-100 years after death, so check the time period for your country if you’re not in the UK.) So yes, the saying is true – artists do make money after they’re dead!

Once copyright has expired, the work is in the public domain and can be used by anyone for any purpose.

As copyright is intellectual property, it can be bequeathed like any other property, and also gifted, bought or sold. Make sure you specify in your will to whom you bequeath your IP rights. They’re potentially more valuable than anything else you own; so don’t leave them to languish unassigned.

One of the commonest issues about copyright for artists is whether or not we can copy another person’s images.

Acrylic painting of a Red Kite soaring.

Let’s take the example of a soaring Red Kite .

Anyone is free to create art based on the idea of a soaring Red Kite – the idea is not protected. The actual art is protected though, so no one can copy artwork showing a soaring Red Kite (except in a few special circumstances – see the Fair Dealing section below) without infringing the maker’s copyright, unless the original artist has given permission.

Changing the medium does not affect this e.g. a mixed media copy of a watercolour painting would still infringe the watercolourist’s copyright.

Adapting another’s work is still copyright infringement, irrespective of the number of changes made. You may have heard that copying is OK providing you make at least seven changes. Nope, not true; it’s an urban myth.

You can be inspired by someone else’s work but you cannot copy it without permission.

Using a photograph for reference, e.g. to check the wing pattern of the soaring Red Kite, is perfectly acceptable; copying it is not.

Fair Dealing/ Fair Use

The only times when copying work without explicit permission is allowed is when the copy comes within the term Fair Dealing (British) or Fair Use (American). When Fair Dealing or Fair Use applies, copyright in the work still exists, but in certain circumstances copying is allowed without being an infringement.

This includes copying to create a parody of someone else’s art, for news reporting, or to aid accessibility for a visually impaired person. Works may be reproduced for purposes of review or criticism, providing the work is referenced in the main body of the text.

Anyone may copy parts of an artwork for educational purposes: either for instruction, research or personal study.

Magazine spread of a step-by-step painting project.

Art magazines and books often offer step-by-step projects for less experienced artists to learn from. The key here is that it should be a learning experience for the reader.

A step-by-step project may not be copied and then the result offered for sale in an exhibition or privately. Even if the infringer credits the copyright owner, their rights will still have been breached.

There are a few other cases when copying is permissible. You may copy something if it is incidental inclusion. So if you took a photograph of your art in a gallery, and the photograph included another artist’s work because it was displayed among yours, that would not be an infringement.

It is also permissible to draw, paint, photograph or film sculptures and similar items if they are on permanent display in a public space, and to distribute those copies. This provision does not include all public art, so you could draw or photograph a sculpture, but not a painted mural.

Photo of an outdoor sculpture in situ.

It is also permissible to draw, paint, photograph or film “sculptures and similar items” if they are on permanent display in a public space, and to distribute those copies. This provision does not include all public art, so you could draw or photograph a sculpture, but not a painted mural.

This post has been adapted from content contained in my upcoming book “Create Art, Create Income”.

Please contact me if you would like to be informed when the book is published.

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Artists’ Fixative and How to Spray a Drawing

Note: Some affiliate links may be used in this post. I may receive a small commission, at no extra cost to you, if you use my affiliate link. Thanks for supporting this site. Full disclosure policy here.

Selection of messy drawing materials.

Charcoal. Pastels. Graphite sticks. Soft pencil.

Aside from all being drawing materials, what do they all have in common?

The answer is they all need to be fixed to protect the drawing and prevent loose particles from detaching themselves from the support. But what is the best method for applying fixative?

First we need to choose our fixative, traditionally a dilute resin solution. This used to be available in liquid form applied with a spray diffuser, but these days it’s much more likely to be applied via an aerosol.

Fixative dries quickly, usually giving the paper a slightly yellow tinge before reverting to the original colour as it dries. Different brands vary in the strength of odour and the water-resistant qualities.

Perhaps you prefer a natural alternative to aerosols? You could try Spectrafix, which is based on natural milk casein from a recipe that has been used by artists for centuries. Or try RenaArt’s silverpoint fixative. Both containers are similar to pump spray bottles, rather than using an aerosol propellant.

If using water-based products, test on a separate piece of paper first, to find the optimum distance for spraying. Too much product may cause the paper to cockle.

Travelling with fixative

Airlines aren’t too keen on either fixative or aerosols. Winsor and Newton has a useful document on their website, detailing which art materials are permitted on flights and the CAA also has similar useful information, but neither mention fixative specifically.

That said, my fixative is emblazoned with the words extremely flammable and the W&N safety sheet states Must not be exposed to temperatures above 50°C. (Anything with a flash point below 61°C is classed as dangerous on planes.) So I think it’s a fairly safe bet that fixative is a no-go for overseas travel.

Whichever type of fixative you choose, there are some definite dos and don’ts.

DON’T do what I once saw someone do, which was to place her painting on the table, then spray closely and heavily until there was literally a puddle of fixative over part of her drawing. Eeek!

DON’T spray freely and randomly over your drawing, however much fun it might be. We’ll see why in a minute.

So let’s look at some DOs:

  • Work in a well ventilated area. You really don’t want to be breathing in fixative fumes for the rest of the day.
  • Place your work upright on an easel, then any heavier droplets will fall before reaching your work. If you’d put your work flat on a table the droplets would splash onto your drawing.
  • Hold the can about 12 – 18 inches (30 – 45cm) away from your work while spraying, or at a suitable distance to provide a fine, even spray.
  • Start each stoke of spray to one side of your work, so if there is any initial spatter it will miss the drawing.
  • Start your first line of spray in a horizontal line at the top of your work. Then continue to work down the drawing in horizontal bands. Each band starts where the previous one finishes.

So let’s see how that would look. Obviously fixative spray lines are normally invisible, but here they’re shown in blue so you can see the paths and overlaps:

Left image shows path of spray in random movements. Right image shows spray path in horizontal bands.
LEFT: spraying randomly results in some areas of the drawing having several layers of spray, some none at all. RIGHT: as we work down the drawing, each part of the drawing is covered by a single layer of spray.

There may be a little overlap, or slight gaps, in your lines of spray, but not enough to be a problem, especially if you apply more than one coat.

Once you’ve applied a thin, even layer of fixative, you can always apply a second (or even a third) layer if there are any parts of the drawing more densely covered with the drawing medium.

You might also spray your work at intervals during the drawing process, particularly if you’re working with pastels or charcoal. This method will give better adhesion than multiple coats once the drawing is finished. Be sure that you’re using a workable fixative if using this method, as (rarely) some fixatives create a repellent surface. If the manufacturer’s specification sheet doesn’t say so, just test on a separate piece of paper before using on your masterpiece.

Fixative or hairspray?

Many artists use hairspray as an alternative to fixative. Some even swear by particular brands. An artist of my acquaintance always insisted that only Timotei would do for his pastels.

My own view is that I’ll use fixative for a drawing that I’m offering for sale, but may revert to hairspray for a soft pencil or charcoal drawing in my sketchbook. I don’t know how hairspray will affect the drawing long term, but I do know that a reputable art manufacturer will have made all the necessary tests to ensure their fixative product will protect my drawing for decades. If I’m offering work for sale, I believe I owe it to my clients to ensure their purchase has good quality materials that were designed for the purpose.


The main disadvantage of fixative is that it can change the tone of certain colours. A good exercise is to draw horizontal stripes of different colours of pastel on a piece of paper. Now cover the left half of the paper and spray the page with fixative. Uncover the left side and you’ll see original colours on the left and sprayed colours on the right.

You’ll notice that some colours look unaffected and some are noticeably darker. Once you know how particular colours behave, you can decide if they need adjustment in your work after spraying. I often like to re-establish the highlights after my final coat of spray, as I find they are adversely affected by fixative.

Alternatives to fixative

You don’t have to spray your drawing at all. If you choose not to, there are other methods to stop the drawing medium from transferring itself to every surface it touches.

  • Layer your loose drawings between glassine, tracing or tissue paper, and store flat if possible.
  • Place a piece of tissue paper over your drawing. Using the back of a wooden spoon, rub over the drawing, pressing the drawing medium into the paper.
  • Cut glassine, tissue or tracing paper to the size of your sketchbook. Glue it in place on one edge so that it covers and protects the drawing. You can buy sketchbooks already interleaved with glassine paper for this purpose. They’re usually designed for work in pastels, but occasionally you’ll see general purpose sketchbooks that are interleaved.
  • Protect your drawings by framing with a mount and glass, as you would for a watercolour.

So that’s the low-down on fixative. I hope it’s been helpful.

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Step Away From The Comfort Zone

How to improve your paintings through experimentation

This week I stepped out of my comfort zone and did a Zoom workshop. It was a lot of fun, and reminded me that it’s too easy to stick to the tried and safe in our art practices. Why take risks when you know what works?

So where would I find your art? In or out of your comfort zone?

Over the years I’ve visited numerous art groups, and many of the participants have a routine. They choose a reference image, draw it carefully, work on their painting to completion, and then start a new one. Very often they use the same techniques, and often stick with the same range of subjects. They know what works so they keep doing it.

Does that sounds like you too? Then may I make a suggestion to enhance your art practice? Step away from your comfort zone and intersperse your painting sessions with experimenting, or “play”.

I use the word “play” deliberately, not to trivialize our efforts, but because play conveys fun, light-heartedness and puts less emphasis on achieving a pre-planned result. Yet its frivolity belies its value. Play is an enjoyable way to make discoveries and acquire important skills.

Test page for "Force of Nature"

Experimenting is also a great way to practise different elements of a painting before you undertake the final piece.

This is the page of experiments I did before undertaking “Force of Nature”, below.

Acrylic painting: "Force of Nature".

The benefits of experimenting

So how does play/ experimenting benefit your art? Firstly, it’s a chance to enjoy the materials. The pure pleasure of seeing colours swirl, mix and blend. Who doesn’t love the sensuous quality of paint on knife or brush? The smooth creaminess of pastel or oil stick? While you enjoy the experience, you’ll also notice how this colour mixes with that one, or how those marks create a particularly interesting texture.

Secondly, it’s an opportunity to practise creative decision-making. Perhaps you’ve laid down a couple of colours with underwhelming results. You might improve matters by scraping paint away, then spattering another colour.

At each stage you are evaluating your progress, choosing which improvement to make and using specific techniques. Exactly what you need to do when creating a more finished work. Try it: just make a start and see where the journey takes you.

Thirdly, you can choose what to learn. Maybe that’s how to mix or modify colour. Perhaps you’re unsure how to tackle a particular subject or effect. How do you use a new product? Experiment sessions will provide many of the answers.

Colour mixing test page
Mixing colours may be methodical or wildly experimental. Colours used here were 1) Titanium White 2) Cadmium Yellow Lemon Hue 3) Primary Yellow 4) Ultramarine 5) Primary Blue 6) Mars Black

If you need yet another reason, play ultimately gives you experience and therefore more options in your work. When needing to do something new in a painting you may think back to a previous experiment and think, “Ah, I know what would work”. Without that experience you may feel “stuck” or even give up on that piece altogether.

So whichever medium you favour, experimenting is hugely valuable. Even if you only ever work in graphite you could explore the varied grades of pencil, water-soluble graphie, graphite sticks, liquid graphite and graphite powder. Whatever your medium, the possibilities are endless.

An experiment sketchbook

Using a separate sketchbook solely for experiments keeps all your results together and creates a valuable reference book. Otherwise the future you will be searching through every sketchbook you own to find the particular technique you need.

I recommend a hardback sketchbook for durability, with paper that is heavy enough to keep cockling to a minimum. A slight texture to the paper is helpful. Daler Rowney Ebony is my choice, as it fulfils all the above criteria and is available in a range of sizes.

On a cautionary note, don’t buy a sketchbook that is too good. If it’s beautiful or expensive you won’t want to spoil it by taking risks, which immediately defeats the object of the exercise.

Experiments in painting water.

Alternatively, you could use small mountboard off-cuts, often available free or cheaply, from your local framer.

These have the advantage of robustness and don’t cockle when wet. The disadvantage is that single pieces are lost more easily than work in a book.

(Left) Experiments in painting water, using acrylic inks and heavy body with knives and brushes.

Experimenting means there are no rules. Well, perhaps these few. For every new idea, start a new page. Always write down what you did, including the names of any colours you used. It may seem obvious now, but you’re unlikely to remember next year, or even next month.

It’s ok if it doesn’t work. That’s the point – you won’t know until you try. Sometimes you succeed but you learn more when you don’t. If it didn’t work this way, could it work in a different colour or format?

Ideas to Try

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  1. Ask yourself a question and experiment to find the answer e.g. “What would happen if I…”
  2. Colour mixing. Try two colours with black and white, or choose unusual combinations.
  3. Try collage/ stencilling, scraping, printing, especially if you usually stick to brushes.
  4. What marks will this brush/ knife/ sponge make?
  5. Comparisons between two products. Which gives the best result?
  6. Choose a painting you admire. Copy a section to see how the artist has achieved that effect.
  7. How can I paint…? Choose a theme such as fur/ clouds/ rocks/ foliage.
  8. Overlay opaque, translucent and transparent colours to learn more about transparency and depth.
Experiments in painting fur.

Remember to cover your work area if you’re spraying or splattering – paint always travels further than you think it can.

Experimenting is great for artist’s block. Playing with art materials gives you a chance to do something completely different, without the pressure of completing a piece of work. The inherent quality is to enjoy being creative while trying something very different to your usual work.

Good ideas happen while you’re having fun. I very often gain insights while I’m exploring an idea. Jot down any ideas as they arise, as you may not be in a position to try them out at the time. Then you’ll have a ready-made list of ideas to try at your next session.

Perhaps you are thinking of buying some new materials to try? There’s no denying that some art materials can be expensive, especially if you want to try several types in one session. To reduce the costs while maximising the opportunity, enlist friends and hold an arty party. Each person brings an item so you can share the costs and share the fun.

Selection of artists' materials.

You could be focused, by choosing a theme, or use randomly chosen materials. End the session by sharing the results; which methods worked and which didn’t. Everyone has experienced each product and knows if they want to purchase more in future. 

Or encourage your art club to have a “play day” where everyone is encouraged to try new products, methods or media. You can bring in an artist to lead the session if funds allow.

Where to find inspiration

You may be wondering how to find new ideas to explore. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Look closely at a famous painting. How might the artist have achieved particular effects? Try out different ideas.
  2. Investigate arty YouTube videos. You’ll find thousands of techniques to try.
  3. Found objects – collect or photograph anything interesting during a walk. How can you reproduce that colour or texture?
  4. Local Open Studios or A level/ degree art shows often display unexpected or experimental techniques. See which inspire you.
  5. Visit a zoo, stately home or museum to discover interesting patterns, colour combinations or textures.
  6. Look at art from other cultures and eras. Are there particular colour palettes, paint application methods or styles that you could explore? ]

So now it’s over to you. What lies beyond your comfort zone?

This article has been previously published by Leisure Painter magazine.

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What is a Fan Brush Used For?

Note: Some affiliate links may be used in this post. I may receive a small commission, at no extra cost to you, if you use my affiliate link. Thanks for supporting this site. Full disclosure policy here.

5 fan brushes

Become A Fan of Fan Brushes

Last week I shared my love of Sword-liner brushes with you. This week I’m continuing the theme, so it’s time for the Fan brush to take centre stage.

History and range

Originally conceived as an oil painter’s brush, the fan’s traditional use is for blending colours or softening hard edges. Yet it is so much more, being suited to other paint types and to a wide range of mark-making possibilities. All my examples here use heavy body acrylics.

Fan brushes are available in synthetic (often referred to as nylon) or natural hair. The natural brushes vary from soft to stiffer bristles, depending on which type of hair is used – sable, badger or squirrel, goat or hog.

Most manufacturers indicate the different sizes numerically, using only even numbers, or sometimes as Small, Medium or Large. Brush ranges usually include several different sizes of fan, sometimes sold as a set. They vary slightly in size, bristle length, width and density, depending on the range and manufacturer.

The most useful size depends on the usual size of your artwork. The very biggest may be too big to be beneficial, unless you regularly work at a large scale. I suggest buying one and then adding other types or sizes later as necessary.

The majority of fan brushes retail at £5-£10, so this is a brush that won’t break the bank. Once you have invested in a brush, care is important for longevity. To keep the bristles evenly spread, be sure to clean your fan right down to the ferrule.

wt and dry nylon fan brushes

While the nylon bristles look evenly spaced when dry, when wet the fibres are prone to dividing into chunks, or points, giving stripy marks. Not always ideal, though that can be a useful attribute on occasions.

I mostly prefer hog’s hair fan brushes, as they usually spread more evenly when wet.

As natural hair spreads more evenly when wet, I prefer them whether painting in watercolours, inks, acrylics or oils. The softer hair types work well with fluid media; hogs hair can be used with any medium. The stiffer bristles of hog’s hair are particularly effective for rendering textures in acrylic, especially heavy body.

Make a Test Sheet

Whenever you purchase a new brush, I recommend making a test sheet. I’ve often heard students say that they own a fan brush but don’t know how to use it. A test sheet solves that problem, is useful reference, and is fun to produce.

Write down the brush size, or draw around it, so you know which was used for this test sheet. The selected brush may seem obvious now, but it’s easy to forget with the passage of time.

Take a fresh page of your sketchpad, or use a large sheet of card, about A3 size. Avoid scrap paper, as you’ll want to keep this sheet for future reference and loose paper is prone to damage or loss.

Now you are going to make a series of different marks on the sheet and write the method of creation next to each mark, as a useful future reference.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  1. Load the brush and stroke it across the paper, to give a broad stripy line. Wiggling the brush creates a varied line.
  2. Zigzag the brush
  3. Stipple – hold the brush perpendicular to the paper and dab the tips of the bristles on to the paper give a broken line. Holding the brush at an angle will give curved shapes. Overlapping the marks with another colour will produce interesting variations.
  4. Hold the brush perpendicular to the paper. Stroke it away from you and then to one side so that the initial thin line becomes thicker and stripy.
  5. Flick the brush away from you in overlapping strokes of different lengths
  6. Rest the tip of the brush on the paper and then lift off. Repeat.
  7. Twirl the brush.
  8. Wipe off excess paint and then make short delicate strokes
  9. Print with the brush
  10. Try combining different marks to suggest a texture or subject
Fan brush test page

Continue to experiment with your brush to discover other interesting marks. Review the marks you’ve already made – are they reminiscent of anything? Perhaps that horizontal mark suggesting rippling water could also be employed vertically as a basis for tree bark texture?

As with any brush, practice will give control and understanding of its capabilities.

Further Uses

Dippers painting

Dippers, Acrylic on board, 34 x 24 ins (87 x 61 cm)

Once you know what marks fan brushes will make, you can use them to create various shapes and textures in a single painting. In my painting of Dippers, a fan generated long flowing lines for the water, flicked marks created the frothy spray and the rock texture was stippled.

Hawaiian Goose painting

Nene, Acrylic on board, 8 x 8 in (20 x 20cm)

The curve of the fan brush lends itself to particular feather patterns, in this case for the breast and back markings on a Nene/Hawaiian Goose.

Fan brushes are extremely effective for rendering foliage too. Try using repeated stippled marks in light medium and dark tones to create grasses, shrubs or trees.

3 trees painted with fan brush
Heather painted with fan brush

The brush’s curved edge is ideal for painting clumps of foliage, such as heather, lavender or moss.

Another useful application is for painting the fluffy seed heads of thistles. Use several colours in similar tones, loosely mixed, so each brushstroke contains variety of colour. The strong bristles of hog’s hair will create ridges in heavy body acrylic paint, adding to the texture.

Painting of Goldfinches

Goldfinches and Thistles, Acrylic on board, 12 x 12.5 ins (30 x 32 cm)

The thistledown was mostly painted using a fan brush with heavy body acrylic.

I hope that’s given you an insight into the different ways you can use a fan brush. I’ve found them immensely useful in my own paintings, as they give effects that are so much more difficult to achieve with other brushes.

If you haven’t experienced fan brushes before, or your own lie unloved and unused in your painting kit, I urge you to give them a try.

Related Post

How Do I Use a Sword-liner Brush?

This article has been previously published by Leisure Painter magazine.

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How Do I Use a Sword-liner Brush?

Note: Some affiliate links may be used in this post. I may receive a small commission, at no extra cost to you, if you use my affiliate link. Thanks for supporting this site. Full disclosure policy here.

Three sword-liner brushes.

If you’ve ever seen a strange shaped brush with long, asymetric bristles, and wondered what it does, this week I’m giving you the answer.

So let’s hear it for the Sword-liner.

We’re taking a break from perspective this week (we’ll come back to it in future posts) to look at brushes I find both useful and immensely enjoyable to use. And I’m not the only one – I’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t enjoy using them. Yet I believe they are under appreciated by many artists.

The more I paint, the more I believe that finding the right brush for the right job makes painting so much easier and more enjoyable. So the sword-liner is certainly one worth discovering.

"Stubble and Snipe" acrylic painting.
Can you imagine trying to paint this image without having a brush that will easily make long, thin, lines?

The sword liner was originally designed as a brush for the signwriting trade. The elongated bristles made it an ideal tool for creating long flowing lines that varied from thin to thick. Like any unusual shaped brush, sword liners allow the artist to make expressive marks that are harder to create in any other way.

Confusingly, some manufacturers refer to sword liners as daggers, as they are similar in shape. Usually the sword’s bristles form a shallower angle than the dagger, giving longer bristles and a finer point.

Sword-liners are available in three different types, natural hair such as sable, squirrel or hogs hair, synthetic (often referred to as “nylon”), or a blend of synthetic and sable. They are usually sized by fractions of an inch, i.e. ⅛, ¼, ⅜, ½, which refers to the width of the end of the ferrule.

Most sword liners retail in the £7-£15 range, though they can be significantly more. Of the many brands available, my preference is for Rosemary and Co (www.rosemaryandco.com). Their brushes are superb quality but tend towards the lower end of the price spectrum. I particularly love their Golden Synthetic range, as they have plenty of spring and keep a sharp edge and a fine point.

I’m also a big fan of the smallest Pro Arte swordliner. While it’s not as good at expressive mark-making, it’s excellent at making very long, thin lines.

Paint holding capacity

The quantity of paint a brush holds depends on the quantity and length of its bristles. The more numerous the bristles, the longer the brushstroke will be before the brush runs out of paint. Long bristles perform the same role, allowing a longer brushstroke and expressive marks. Short-bristled brushes make a shorter stroke but give more control.

This is why a rigger’s long hairs permit it to make long, thin brushstrokes without running out of paint and a miniaturist’s brush has many short hairs that come to a fine point, giving control and paint holding capacity while allowing fine detail.  

So a sword-liner combines the best of all these worlds. The numerous bristles give great paint holding capacity, while the angled shape and fine point create lines that range from thin to thick. The ultra long bristles are ideal for exciting mark-making.

Brush Care

If using acrylics or oils, mix colour with a knife and then apply the paint with the sword liner. The bristles are too supple for mixing colour and you’ll risk damaging the point if you mix with the brush.

Two brushes in a water jar.

To retain the sword liner’s ability to make long smooth lines, keep it in optimum condition by thorough cleaning right down to the ferrule.

Never leave it with bristles downward in a water pot. You can see from this image how it damages the bristles.

If you’re in the habit of leaving brushes in water, please, please, PLEASE stop doing this. Your brushes deserve better.

Different types, different uses

We’ve already seen that sword liners are available as natural, synthetic or a blend of the two. Let’s take a closer look at what that means for the artist.

Synthetics are suitable for use with all paint types. They have plenty of spring, making them a joy to use. The softer types work best with fluid paint; the stiffer ones being better for oils.

Synthetic sword-liners are useful with acrylics too; diluting heavy body with airbrush medium or flow enhancer gives the paint a more workable consistency. All my examples here use either acrylic ink or acrylic heavy body paint.

As different types of acrylics are compatible with each other, it is quite acceptable to use heavy body for some parts of the painting, with the addition of a sword-liner/ acrylic ink combination when necessary, especially for thin lines e.g. the whiskers of a cat or a squirrel’s tail.

Pure natural hair gives the best liquid holding capacity, making it ideal for watercolour. Kolinsky sable is the luxury option; beautiful brushes but with a significantly higher price tag.

A blend such as red sable/synthetic is a great alternative to both synthetic and natural, providing the best qualities of both. The synthetic gives spring and durability, the sable excellent paint holding capacity. The cheaper synthetic offsets the costly sable, reducing the price to a manageable level.


Do you have a sword-liner amongst your brushes? Dig it out, and we’ll make a test page to see what it will do. Remember to write down which brush you used and how you created each mark. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Practise making long, thin strokes.
  2. Pull the brush towards you, moving it in a smooth, sweeping arc. The brushstroke will widen from thin to thick.
  3. Drag the brush sideways to create a wide broken line.
  4. Start with the tip of the brush on the paper with the bristles pointing towards you. Pull it away from you and slightly to one side. The stroke will mimic the shape of reeds or grasses.
  5. Experiment with the marks you can make. Try mimicking different foliage or seaweed shapes.
  6. Print with the brush.
  7. Wiggle the brush from side to side as you pull it towards you.
  8. Use the tip to make thin and/or tiny strokes.
  9. Start with a long thin stroke, then pull the brush back on itself or add smaller marks to form foliage.
  10. Keeping experimenting to see what other marks you can create.
Test page of marks made with a sword-liner brush.

Once you know what marks the brush will make, you can repeat or combine them to build up depth and texture. Which of the marks you made could be repeated for foliage, seaweed, tree bark or water?

Examples of fur techniques.

Sword-liners can also be used for fur techniques.

Build up layers of repeated lines, varying the length, direction and colour of stroke to achieve the tones and textures of different fur types.

Mark-making with double loaded brush.

Another enjoyable technique is to double load the brush by filling it with one colour and then dipping just the tip in a contrasting colour.

Try repeating some of the marks you made earlier with a double loaded brush. Or have fun making new ones.

As you can see, these brushes are great for making foliage shapes, either real or imaginary.

Finally, we’ll return to the original purpose of the sword-liner: to make long lines. Do you sometimes find your hand is too shaky to make a smooth line with a rigger? Many people find that yet another advantage of the sword-liner is that they can make thinner and less shaky lines than with a rigger. Problem solved!

This article has been previously published by Leisure Painter magazine.

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A Beginner’s Guide to Perspective – Part 3

How to draw circles in perspective.

If you haven’t read the past two posts, I suggest you do so before reading this one. View them here.

So far we’ve looked at rectangular shapes in perspective. Knowledge of those principles helps us to also draw circles in perspective, and that’s the subject of this post.

You’ll already be familiar with the concept that a circle seen in perspective becomes an ellipse. As we saw with

Circles in perspective are commonplace in much of our artwork:

  • still life items: baskets, crockery and glassware
  • structures in a landscape: bridges, columns, arches and chimney pots
  • machinery: wheels, cogs
  • nature: ripples, plants

How to draw a foreshortened circle.

To draw the basic circle we start with our initial square, divided into quarters and diagonally.

The circle is enclosed by this square, touching the centre of each side and bisecting each diagonal line.

To find the points at which the circle meets the diagonals, we need to find points A and B.

To find A, divide the length of CD into three. Distance CA is very slightly smaller than one third of CD.

Now extend A back to the vanishing point. the circle will cross the diagonal where that extended line crosses the diagonal.

Repeat the process for the other side of the square.

Now we can draw the foreshortened circle through the eight points.

That’s the basic premise of how the foreshortened circle is formed. In the heat of your sketching session you may not want to be so pedantic, especially with a free and spontaneous sketch. It may be sufficient to draw the circle from eye while keeping the main principles in mind.

  • The front half of the ellipse will always look deeper than the rear.
  • The ellipse is a continuous line. It is not two curves that meet at the sides.
  • The further below your eyeline, the more circular the ellipse will appear. We saw that principle in practice in this previous post.
  • The principles apply, irrespective of whether the circle is vertical, horizontal or at an angle.

How to draw parallel circles in perspective

Most circular objects are not just a flat plane, so we need to know how to give depth to our circle. We can also use the same method to create circles that are parallel, but some distance apart.

To draw parallel circles, we can return to the original box shape.

Construct the circle, as before, on the front face of the box.

Now create a second circle on the opposite face.

You may find it easier to erase the construction lines on the front face before drawing the second circle. It can get quite complicated with numerous lines all over the drawing.

Notice that although the circles would be parallel in reality, the two circles are not drawn as duplicates of each other. The front face is more foreshortened than the rear. The wider apart the circles are, the more obvious this becomes.

If creating width to the circle e.g. a drum shape, the two circles will be joined at the top and bottom. If creating two parallel circles which are joined e.g. a pair of wheels, they will be connected with a central spindle.

You can imagine how knowledge of all the principles we’ve covered so far in this series would be useful when drawing an arched bridge. We’ll tackle that in a future post.

Related Posts

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A Beginner’s Guide to Perspective – Part 2

Today we expand on last week’s post on how to draw objects in perspective.

If you haven’t read last week’s post, I suggest you do so before reading this one. View it here.

So now we’re familiar with the concept of eye lines and vanishing points. Now let’s look at how to embellish the basic box shape.

Finding the centre of a receding line

As an object recedes towards the vanishing point it appears to get smaller. Verticals appear closer together as the distance between them appears compressed

So as the front half of a box appears larger than the back half, we can’t just divide the length by two.

Find the centre of a rectangle  in perspective.

To find the centre of line CD, draw a diagonal line between corners A and D, and the another one between B and C.

Now make a vertical line through the point where the two lines cross. This is your half way point.

How to find the roof pitch

How to create a roof line on a building.

If we were drawing a building with a roof, we would extend the vertical half way line upwards. Decide on the height of the roof. (If it’s a brick building you can count the bricks to find this, or estimate it by comparing to the height of the roofless building.)

Now join points A and B to the extended halfway line.

Knowing how to find the halfway line helps us to draw windows, doorways and many more features of buildings. It also helps with arches and bridges. We’ll tackle those curves in a future post.

Drawing of an outline of a building in perspective.

To draw the roof, start by drawing the basic box. The rear walls meet where the lines from the two vanishing points cross over.

Now find the half way line at each end of the building.

Decide on the height at the front of the building and join the two sides to the apex to make the triangle formed by the roof line.

Extend the apex back to the left-hand VP. That’s the ridge line, and where that line meets the rear half way line is the rear apex.

Repeated shapes

Now that we know how to find the centre of a rectangle, we can use that to help us draw objects that are repeated shapes and heights, such as fence posts or terraced buildings.

Fence line in perspective.

First draw the basic rectangle with it’s vanishing point. Then mark in the halfway line from the centre of your rectangle back to the vanishing point.

To find the next upright in the sequence, draw a line from Point A through Point E (the halfway point of the line BD).

The location of your next upright is where that line meets the baseline.

Supposing the adjacent distance was half the width of the first instead of the same size? Perhaps a smaller gate next to a large one.

This time we find the vertical centre line of the initial rectangle. Now draw a line from that topmost point to the baseline to find a width half that of the original rectangle.


This concept of finding the centre of a rectangle also works for horizontal planes, such as tiled floors or outdoor paving.

Four tiles in perspective.

Now we’ve created three vanishing points. We started with an initial one to form the tiles. The diagonal lines we used to find the centre lines also create two vanishing points.

Patterned tiles in perspective.

We can use these lines to create patterned tiles in perspective. Patterns will also relate to the vanishing points.

Notice that each tile has been divided into quarters, so those smaller rectangles could be divided again if the pattern is really complex.

You can imagine that understanding these rules of perspective makes drawing a complicated interior so much easier. You can immediately see how particular lines relate to each other.

That said, we don’t want our sketches to look like architectural drawings. I find that knowledge of perspective is most useful to place a few key points in my drawing at the outset. Once the framework is in place, I can draw the rest of the scene from observation.

If parts of a drawing are problematic, we can always return to our knowledge of perspective to see where the error lies.

Related Posts

Perspective – Part 1

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A Beginner’s Guide to Perspective

Two box-shaped gifts.

Today we’re starting a short series on how to draw objects in perspective.

Simple perspective. And I do mean simple. As basic as it gets. So don’t let the very word strike fear into your heart. We’ll get more complicated in future posts, but lets get the basics in place first. It’s a big subject, so we’ll take it a little at a time.

You’ve probably used perspective in your drawings already, perhaps without even being aware of it. You may have drawn a box that shows more than one plane, or a landscape with a road whose sides and markings converge as it becomes more distant. I’m certain you’ll have seen images of trees or fence posts receding into the distance.

All of those use perspective, so knowledge of the basics helps with drawing the simplest subject, and it’s hugely beneficial when drawing a complicated one.

In today’s post we’re going to deal with a couple of key terms:


Our horizon is shown as horizontal and straight. It’s easiest to see when looking out to sea; less obvious in a landscape when it may be obscured by buildings, trees or hills.

We can also call the horizon our eye line. Usually we use the word horizon when referring to a drawing of the outdoors and eye line or eye level when we refer to an indoor subject.

Vanishing Points

As horizontal lines recede away from the viewer, they appear to converge to a vanishing point on the horizon. Your drawing may have a single vanishing point or more. Important: the vanishing point is always on the horizon, unless you’re dealing with an incline e.g. terraced houses on a hill.

A great example of lines converging to a single vanishing point can be seen in Gustave Caillebotte’s painting Raboteurs de parquet (The Floor Scrapers). If you extend the lines on the floor, you’ll see they all converge to a single point on the eye level of the viewer.

You may find one or more of your vanishing points is located outside of the boundaries of your paper. That’s normal. If they are too close together the perspective will be extreme and the drawing may look a little odd.

Notice that though the horizontal lines converge, the vertical lines in Caillebotte’s painting are treated as vertical, i.e. they don’t converge as they get further away. That convention applies to most traditional paintings. Strictly speaking, vertical lines behave the same as horizontal lines, but if both converge that makes the drawing waaaaay too complicated, so we pretend they’re always vertical.

Photo of skyscrapers, viewpoint looking upward.

Sometimes people make a feature of vertical lines converging. That can be very effective, but don’t do it unless looking upwards is a viewpoint you’ve deliberately chosen for effect.

So let’s look at a simple box shape with an eyeline and vanishing point. If you can draw a box, you can draw all sorts of subjects – buildings, packages, stairs, tiled floors, containers – as the same principles apply.

Drawing of box in perspective.

We’re almost face on to our box, so the top and bottom lines appear parallel. The sides recede to a single Vanishing Point (VP).

Since the top is above our eye line, we can’t see the upper surface.

Notice that the lines above the eye line point downwards from object to vanishing point. Any lines below our eye line will point upwards towards the vanishing point.

Second box added below the first.

Now we’ve added another box below the first. This time, as the whole box is below our eyeline, we can see the upper surface.

The further below our eyeline the box is placed, the more of the upper surface we’ll be able to see.

It’s the same principle as in last week’s post, when we saw that ellipses look more round the further below our eye level the are situated.

What happens if we aren’t face-on to our box?

Box seen from two point perspective.

Now that both sides seem to recede, we need two vanishing points. I’ve colour-coded mine to make the diagram clearer.

One is outside the boundaries of the paper, so we have to estimate where that one will be. (Remember it will always be on the eye line.)

Now for an important point: any face that is on the same plane (or parallel to) the blue face, will relate to the blue vanishing point. Similarly, any face on the same plane, or parallel to, the red face will relate to the red vanishing point. (A lot of my initial confusion about perspective evaporated as soon as I grasped that concept.)

Second box added, adjacent to the first.

See what happens when we add another smaller box beside our original box.

Remember: parallel planes use the same vanishing point.

If we were drawing buildings instead of boxes, any doors, windows or lines of brickwork would also conform to the vanishing points of the plane on which they are situated.

We’ll discover more about drawing buildings next time, now that we have the basic building blocks in place. (Excuse the pun.)

Perspective drawing of studio trolley.

You can see how helpful this knowledge of perspective is when you have a complicated subject before you.

Just look at the trolley itself, ignoring all the paraphernalia for a moment. You can see that all the uprights, the top and the lower shelf are each just a box shape.

Obviously they are different sizes and thicknesses, but the principles hold true. Each line obeys one of the two vanishing points.

Once you’ve established the structure of the trolley, the other items can be placed appropriately.

Take a look at any box-shaped objects, in your home or in images, and see if you can recognise the lines of perspective.

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