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Paula Henchell • Mixed-Media Painting Step-By-Step

Updated: Nov 18, 2020

International Artist Magazine - Dec/Jan 2015


Paula Henchell was once again featured in an article about Mixed Media (watercolour and acrylic). Below is a little bit of her process revealed. If you would like to read the full article, purchase the Dec/Jan 2015 Issue from Swinton's or Online...

Congratulations Paula!

"I use 140 lb CP Windsor and Newton watercolour paper which is stretched on to Gator Board. The focal point is always painted in acrylic and really makes it pop - it is actually amazing how much it draws your attention to it.  I start off the painting by pouring the watercolour - then it is in to negative painting and then painting and then continue painting any of the flowers or fruits that I also want in watercolour. Next is preparing the focal point for the acrylic which has to be built up in layers.It is a fun process. You should try it!"


Details about the painting process:

SUPPORT: 300LB Arches Watercolour Paper stretched on 3/4” Gator Board!

BRUSHES: 1 1/2” Flat wash brush, #10, #6, #4, #1 round brushes — #4 Fritch Scrubber !!

1. WATERCOLOUR PAINTS NEEDED FOR POURING.It is best to have a set of small bottles with screw tops to put in your mixed paint for the pouring. For this painting I used Aureolin Yellow (cool yellow) Indian Yellow (warm yellow) Pyroll Orange - a semi transparent orange- Quinacridone Gold, Quinacridone Burnt Scarlet, Cobalt Blue and Pthalo Green.! !

2. ADDITIONAL WATERCOLOUR PAINTS USED: Burnt Sienna, Quinacridone Sienna, Indigo and Cobalt Turquoise!

ACRYLIC SUPPLIES: Same Brushes as above - Gesso, retarder and Acrylic Glazing Liquid (Gloss)- I use a few drops of retarder in my water and small amounts of the glazing liquid mixed with the acrylic paint to keep it open longer. !

ACRYLIC PAINTS USED: Titanium White, Pyroll orange, Quinacridone Burnt Orange, Azo Yellow Deep, Azo Yellow Cadmium Yellow, Naples Yellow, Quinacridone Rose, Pthalo Turquoise, Ultramarine Blue, Pthalo Green, Burnt Sienna!!

3. OTHER MATERIALS: Paper Towel - 2 buckets of clean water (changed frequently) - Old #8 round brush to use with the gesso. gummed tape, masking tape !



STEP 1. WORKING OUT THE COMPOSITION & REFERENCE PHOTOS: This painting was inspired by all the beautiful orange trees in Arizona and when they have the orange blossom flowers on them the smell is absolutely amazing. I took many pictures and decided to use two as reference photos. It is really important to work out your composition first and I spent many hours cropping my original photos, and making thumbnail sketches to come up with the best format and the focal point. It is also very important to get the light the same in both pictures - so constantly remember to check that while painting. I decided on a Portrait format and I placed my focal point in one of the sweet spots in the top left quadrant of the painting. This was to be painted in the acrylic paint. I also decided overall that the painting was going to be predominately warm as I thought this best conveyed the spicy sweet smell and vibrant colours of the oranges.

STEP 2. POURING ON STRETCHED PAPER - FIRST POUR - 2ND POUR: Before I even stretch the paper - I like to try out on a small piece of watercolour paper the pouring colours just to see how they mingle and the results you get - this does take some of the pressure off your first pour! Make sure that your Gator board is at least 2” bigger than your watercolour paper that you need to stretch. when dry put masking tape all around the edges of your painting - this protects the gummed tape from getting to wet with the pouring. It is important to stretch your paper before beginning the pouring as otherwise you will get ‘valleys’ that the paint will settle in and ruin your pour. Make sure you have all your paints well mixed and in their individual bottles and all of them with the same consistency of paint to water - you want quite a reasonable amount of pigment in the mix and I always try it out on a scrap of watercolour paper to see if it is the right depth of colour - I never pour right to the end of the bottle as quite often there is some paint residue left and you do not want that on your paper. Firstly you completely wet the watercolour paper then holding the board and paper over a large pan start pouring with your ! colours - I start with my cool yellow having worked out where the light is coming from and then add the warm yellow and some of the quin scarlet and orange - I tip the board back and forth and although you cannot control the paint you can somewhat guide it. I add my cobalt blue and a small amount of pthalo green. This is also when you can use your spray bottle to help the paint mingle better or to spray off any unwanted paint. Leave the painting to completely dry and see where you would like to add more paint for the second pour. With this particular painting I wanted to add some of the orange in the area where the two watercolour oranges would be and also keep some ‘blue sky’ up in the top of the painting. Second pour just as the first - wet the paper first and then start pouring your colours this time I use my quin gold to add just a little more warmth and I find this particular colour helps to harmonize all the other colours. With this method we are just pouring the background and not saving any whites with masking fluid so I do not like to pour more than twice as with the negative painting you can build up quite a few layers of paint. Leave to dry flat.

STEP 3. THE DRAWING:- I always draw my picture on sketch paper and then I transfer this to my watercolour paper - this eliminates the wear and tear on the paper of erasing your drawing. One of the things to remember when transferring your drawing is not to press to hard otherwise you will get an indentation in your paper which the paint will then settle in. You can also scribble on the back of your drawing with a B graphite pencil and then just transfer the drawing this way by going over the lines of your original drawing which transfers the graphite on to the paper. In many ways this is better as you are able to erase any unwanted marks on your paper while transfer paper is a lot harder to remove the lines. One good tip to remember is to trace your original drawing on tracing paper and then attach this to your board with masking tape on the back and then you can fold it over and see how close you have been keeping to your original drawing when you start to paint (and loose some of your original lines!)

STEP 4. NEGATIVE PAINTING:- Now it is time to start the negative painting I paint around some of the leaves using Pthalo green fading it out with water so it blends in with the background, sometimes I finish all the negative painting before starting on the main watercolour features but this time I decided to go ahead and start painting the lower orange, using a wet into wet technique to start establishing the darks and lights. I paid particular attention to keeping the highlight on this orange and softened the edges of the highlight with a damp brush.

STEP 5. POSITIVE PAINTING: At this stage I continue the negative painting to produce the positive shapes and when dry I add colour and suggestions of shadows and light. I felt the background pale orange gold colour which had developed with the pouring was just the right colour to leave as the basic colour for the flowers and the leaves as they were quite subtle. I also started painting the second orange in watercolour making sure to dull it down by adding a small amount of blue to my orange mixture, as I did not want it to be as prominent as the first orange.

STEP 6. TOP PORTION OF THE PAINTING: I continued with the negative painting to produce the leaves and flowers but this time there is an all over coolness to the leaves and flowers which contrasts nicely with the warmth of the lower part. A second wet into wet coat of paint was added to the orange. The top right corner was finished by painting positively some more leaves and adding more light and shadow. A more detailed drawing was done on the area to be gessoed.

STEP 7. FIRST COAT OF GESSO: Now comes the acrylic part. Using gesso thinned with a little water put on a fairy even coat of gesso - when dry sand lightly with a very fine sandpaper. A ! second coat of gesso was applied and when dry this was also finely sanded. I find usually two coats of gesso is enough. The gesso is applied so it gives a nice opaque surface on which to paint the acrylic.

STEP 8. ACRYLIC PAINTING: I started using my acrylic paints by establishing the orange flower and the first coat of paint on the orange. By using some retarder in my water it keeps the paint open longer and then it is easier to blend in the lights and darks.. Blending is one of the most difficult things in acrylic so the longer you can keep the paint ‘open’ the better it is.

STEP 9. ACRYLIC LEAVES: The leaves are now painted with the first coat - I mix various shades of warm greens - pthalo green with burnt sienna, hansa yellow and titanium white and cool greens ultramarine blue, naples yellow and titanium white. I take the opportunity to blend whenever I can. I always find this first coat of acrylic looks ‘patchy’ but don’t be discouraged the second coat covers really well.

STEP 10. THE SECOND COAT OF ACRYLIC: After everything has had one coat of paint and is thoroughly dry I start on my second coat of paint. This time I will also use a little more glazing liquid - this helps to give the paint a transparent gloss and also to keep it wet longer. The shadows and highlights are put in. I find ‘dry brushing’ is used a lot in acrylic painting. So when everything is really dry you can scrub on thin layers of colour onto your orange leaves and flowers. You can paint many layers using this method just as long as you dry throughly in between each application. This is really how I put the finishing touches to my acrylic painting.

STEP 11. THE FINAL PAINTING: Now is the time to go back to watercolour and strengthen some of your washes. The values need to be pushed and perhaps add one or two more small areas of a rich dark to make the lights pop. I also added a little brighter wash on the lower left to punch up the leaves and orange a little more. One final check on your acrylic, dry brushing a little more darker orange and brighter yellow on the orange and you are done!! ! I find this method of painting by using the acrylic on your focal point really makes it stand out something that watercolour alone cannot do as well and also the transparent blending of the background is best achieved by pouring with watercolour. Have fun and experiment yourself!


ABOUT THE ARTIST! Paula was born in Bromley, Kent, England and attended art school in Croydon, Surrey. She has been passionate about art since early childhood and has carried that passion forward into her work today.! Paula instructs art at Swinton’s Art studios in Calgary, Alberta and teaches in watercolour, acrylic and oil. She also offers summer workshops for students at all levels.! Paula is a member of the Guild of Realism and has been juried into several of their yearly exhibitions and shows. Santa Fe in 2011, Tempe, Arizona in 2013. The painting Yellow Rose, done in the mixed media style as demonstrated in this article was chosen to be exhibited in this years Guild of Realism Show to be held in Charleston. South Carolina in November.! Paula was also a finalist for the art competition “Still Life and Florals”, the results being published in the International Artist Magazine for October 2008.! Paula has also written articles for British art magazines, the latest appearing in the August publication of Leisure Painter.! ! Paula’s painting “European Starling” was commissioned to be included in a permanent outdoor exhibition for the Artisan Gardens, in Fish Creek Park, in Calgary, Alberta! Paula is represented by L’bidi Gallery, Huntingdon, UK.

THE NARRATIVE TEXT: How did this style of painting emerge? Well I guess it was a happy accident! I was painting Yellow Hibiscus in watercolour. The background was very dark and I had started off painting the background and doing quite a bit of work on the leaves. When I removed the masking fluid from the flowers I began to paint them yellow - even though I just touched the dark background very slightly it ran into my yellow hibiscus and totally ruined the flower there was nothing I could do to get the yellow back. So I thought what do I have to loose I will just use acrylic paint. However I decided to gesso the surface of both flowers first and because I could still see the paint underneath I gave it another coat. Well I guess the rest is history because I really liked the outcome. It made the flowers just pop out of the painting and I really liked the overall effect. Quite a few of my students asked me how I painted the acrylic with the watercolour so I decided to do a workshop. I also discovered that if you pour the background it gives a really nice blend of colours that would be impossible to get just doing wet on wet. With each painting I added a little more - negative painting with the watercolour using a little salt on the just poured background - gave me some wonderful shapes to negative paint around. I also experimented using more of stylized background with leaf shapes and then total realism for the acrylic. Using this method I find that you really have to concentrate on the exact place for your focal point as this is always painted in acrylic and so becomes even more exaggerated in the acrylic. I have used hot pressed, cold pressed and rough watercolour paper and I like all three surfaces to work on. It is a little harder with the hot press but still doable. I find that stretching your paper on three quarter inch gator board is really important if you pour your backgrounds as you need the surface as flat and taught as possible so the water runs smoothly over the surface and blends beautifully. I have written a short explanation of how to stretch your watercolour paper and include it here. To stretch the paper it is probably easiest to use the bathtub. Fill it with about 2” of room temperature water. At this time I cut my brown watercolour tape to the right sizes for all four sides - keep well away from water until ready to use. I always mark the correct side of my paper with a cross in pencil - the right side of the paper is when you can read the watermark. Carefully immerse the paper to be stretched in the water and leave for about 4 to 5 minutes to soak. Lift out using one corner and allow to drip over the tub until no more water drips off. Move the paper over to the Gator board and place it on the board with even margins all around. I use my watercolour wash brush to even out the paper by stroking the brush back and forth massaging gently any water bubbles that may form. If you get a large bubble just lift up the paper and wet the paper underneath before replacing back on the board. I use a small bowl filled with water and run the watercolour tape through and thumb and first finger to get rid of any excess water - carefully lift the tape being sure to go around not over the watercolour paper - you do not want any of the gummed paper drips to land on the paper as they act like a resist and ruin your pouring - do each side separately. When finished with the tape blot along the edges of the tape with a clean towel do not pull just press. Let dry flat overnight - do not put in direct sunlight. ! This is really a fun method to try and gets great results. I encourage you to try it. I would recommend that it works best for Flowers, Fruit or still life. Even a sailboat would work well. ! Because the background and other parts of the painting are watercolour it should be framed using a non glare glass.

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