Questions & Answers - #5

20191024 Livestream from Jed Dorsey & Acrylic University on Vimeo.


1. Color Course is coming up, starting Nov 5, 2019. The first lesson will be available on that date.

2. We are creating a track called "Acrylic Like a Boss." If you are a member of Acrylic University (have access to ALL the courses and resources) you will automatically be part of this track. It won't change anything for you except that when you log in it will look different. It's a more "exclusive" way of organizing the courses. We will be selling courses individually so this sets members apart from those who have purchased an individual course. You will become a "boss member."

"Can you show us how you finish a painting?"

7:37 A lot of you have expressed an interest in me finishing a painting. When I do a demonstration, sometimes I say, "Well, this is the end of the adjustment stage and refinement stage." And then I cut it off there, and I never actually get to the finished painting stage. There's a reason for that. I'm not ignoring what you're saying. I'm really paying attention. I want to do as much as I can that will be helpful for you, but a demonstration is usually never a finished painting.

08:21 The trick is for me to film me finishing a painting. It's really hard because I would have to PRETEND that I'm finishing a painting because I don't actually know if I would be finishing a painting. For instance, a couple months ago I painted the  sunburst painting and recorded that. I liked the painting as it was, but I knew it wasn't finished. But it was a pretty good demonstration. But it wasn't until a couple months later that I actually finished that painting because I had a show that I was painting for and I brought it to my sister's house. And we were working together in her studio. She was working on some stuff and I'm working on some other paintings. That's an example of how I don't even know what I'm going to do to finish something until I look at it for a long time, sometimes for months. And then there is a circumstance where I have a show coming that forces me to say, "Okay, I think I need to work on this right now."

09:55 I am paying attention to your desire to see me finish a painting, and I want to do that for you. It's tricky because after I "finish" the painting for you, I might end up doing more work on it. So I'm saying, "I hear you. I want to do my best to show you what that looks like." And sometimes the paintings that I do are more complete than others. I'm going try to do my best to do that for you, but "I'm sorry that I don't do it more regularly. It's really difficult to do." I'm trying to show you the essence of it. And when I have a painting that I know I am going to finish I will do my best to show you the process. 

"Comparison is the Thief of Joy"

11:10 As we're doing Facebook and putting stuff out there we can fall into a temptation. I read a quote that said, "Comparison is the thief of joy." I know what it's like for me when I go to an art show or if I go to a workshop or something, and I'm sitting with other artists. What starts to happen is I often start comparing my work to other people's work. And this is my encouragement, "We're all on our own journey. We're all growing at our own pace. We're all taking strides in our own way." Just remember that because I think it's really easy for us to look at what other people are doing and get discouraged about where we're at.

12:25 What we want to have happen is to see other people taking strides forward. We want to see their success. We want to be happy for them and allow other people's successes to spur us on. So that's my encouragement to you. 

I remember when I was in my first workshop I kept comparing myself to the teacher. And I kept thinking, "I will never be a good artist. I will never be able to paint like he does because he is just too good. It's crazy." And the reality was he'd been painting for a really long time compared to me. What I found over time is that if I have kept working, if I keep going forward, then I do get a little better. Even in the last couple of years I can see a difference in my work. I know that I've learned things. I know that I understand things, and it's going to be the same for you.

13:43 So just remember to think about your own progress. For every day you put in, you're going to grow. And you are growing right now, every time you put a paint brush to the canvas. Comparison is the thief of joy. We want to keep our joy. That's  my encouragement for us because I know the tendency that we have so often is to think. "Oh man, I don't measure up to whoever that other person is." You're doing awesome. I am super proud of you, and I believe in you. Keep working hard and we're going to have a great time together. 

"What brushes do you use?"

14:32 "As I watch the videos, your brushes, Jed, look much more pliable and narrower than the brushes I'm using." These brushes are flats and they are longer and thinner. These are my favorite brushes. If you would ask me this a year ago, I wouldn't have had such a clear answer. But these brushes are my favorite. They're Catalyst by Princeton. 

15:21 They have the long bristles but they also have a split-end hair. I just love them. They're more expensive than the cheapest brushes but they have made painting really fun. If you can afford them and want to see what they're like, order one and see the difference. And you'll probably want to order more. I get them from

"Are you going to paint landscapes from other geographic areas?"

16:08 "Are you going to do some landscapes and other paintings from other areas?" And this ties into a question that Judy Weber wrote, "Have you ever painted in a desert landscape? I would really like to see one. I spend the winter in Southern California in a small desert town. And I would love to see you paint a landscape of the Southern California desert." 

I have painted very few desert landscapes. And I've painted only a handful of paintings that are outside of places that I've personally been but I actually love traveling. And I do have some photographs. Not Southern California desert, but I have photographs of where we were in Arizona. And because I was down there in the spring we have some photos of the Grand Canyon, I have some photos of Sedona Red Rock area.

I would love to venture more into that because I think it’s fun and different for me and I love that. But I don’t have that many paintings that I have already done. A couple months ago I had people send in photos of something that they would want me to do a lesson on. I did one but the video didn’t turn out really well. And I am changing things. I was telling stories while doing the paint-along videos but know we are doing more lesson-oriented videos where I explain and try to be more helpful, because of your feedback. Judy, if you have something you would really like me to paint email me the images at [email protected] and I’ll try to paint it.

"Do you have any interest in painting from other people’s photographs or do you need it to be something personal?"

It’s always best to paint something that’s personal because you’re going to be emotionally attached to it. I have painted from other people’s photographs. Sometimes it’s been from my mom’s photographs and that’s usually okay for me because most of the time she is taking pictures of things that I already know and have an emotional attachment to.

(Photo: Camano Island, WA where I grew up. Triangle Cove.)

It’s hard to find a random photo on the internet and paint from it. I’m not a legal expert but we’re not supposed to find other people’s images and copy them, especially if you are trying to sell your work. But if you are trying to learn, even copying a painting, can be helpful. You can also ask for permission. I know a lot of artists who, if they find something they really love, will reach out to the person who took the photograph and ask permission. That’s how I would approach it if I was trying to paint something from someone else’s photograph and I was trying to sell it.

When we lived in Indianapolis I had a friend who was a really great photographer. I saw one of her pictures. It was the monument in downtown Indianapolis. That is the center of the city. The picture was so beautiful I thought, “I think I could paint that it would be really cool.” And I did.

"Good Morning Indy" - Jed Dorsey - 2016 - Acrylic - Indianapolis, IN

So I do paint from other people’s photographs sometimes if it was an image I couldn’t get. But I actually went back the next year and took my own photographs of that same scene. It was a certain thing that happened once a year where the light would come in a certain way over the monument. That was what was so special about it but I paid her for the image so I could use it. That’s what I did because she was a friend and I wanted to support her. And I still have that relationship with her. For instance, when we send you the beautiful inspirational quotes, those are all from our friend Cara. She is an amazing photographer and I pay her for her images.

This is her website:

"How do you get your Sta-Wet Palette Paper so clean?"

I reuse my paper quite a bit and how do you make sure it is clean enough to reuse? Underneath here right now I don’t have the sponge. I have the paper towel. And the paper towel is fine. I can substitute different things for the sponge but I have never substituted anything for the paper. I have tried a few different things. I tried parchment paper but it didn’t work. I do reuse my paper quite a bit.

I take a paper towel, if there is a lot of paint on there, and wipe it up with my paper towel. Then I spray it with my spray bottle and I’ll wipe it off with another paper towel. I might do that two or three times. It usually gets clean enough that I can put paint on there and it doesn’t mix or get dirty. I try to change out my water regularly in the sponge and in the paper because there is a problem with mildew and mold. So I put in a couple drops of hydrogen peroxide because hydrogen peroxide will kill the mold and the smell that will build up in there. That mold and mildew will make the paper and sponge breakdown.

So if you want to keep that stuff looking good and working well, you have to make sure that it doesn't get mold because the minute it gets that mildew and black stuff growing in there it will tend to break the sponge down. And the paper.

I probably reuse that paper five or six times. It just depends on how good the paper looks. I've seen a lot of people who don't put enough water in the sponge, and the paper gets dried out and it curls up.

"How do you keep the edges from curling up on paper in Sta-Wet Palette?"

You need to make sure that the sponge is saturated enough and the paper has been soaked. If the paper doesn't get soaked, if you don't know what I'm talking about, you need to go back to lesson one in Acrylic 101. I have a way of doing that and I'm not going to go back and explain it all right now. But you need to make sure that that paper gets totally soaked or else it will dry up and it won't do what it's supposed to do.

"How do I set up a smaller palette so I don't waste paint?"

Here's a question from Melanie, "I wanted to ask how I could set up a smaller palette. I don't paint every day, but this problem stops me from painting because I don't want to waste paint." So you don't want to waste paint by squeezing out a bunch and then if you don't paint very much it gets dry and goes to waste. You can squeeze out just a little bit ... this is where I found that the Sta-Wet Palette might not work if you're not painting regularly.

But I found that I wasted less paint by squeezing out a whole bunch of it into the PAINT BOX because the paint box would stay wet. If I was not using the paint box I would just squeeze out a little bit of my paint onto my Stay-Wet Palette when I knew I was going to paint.

This is a hint about what we're going to do in the Color Course coming up. If you are using a very limited palette it will help because you're not squeezing out 25 different colors. What we're going to do in the color course is use a really small number of colors. That will be a way that you will feel better about squeezing out those colors because you don't have to squeeze out so much paint every time.

"What is your process for mixing a local color?"

Jan Young says, "Can you talk about your process for mixing a local color and also purples?

I will save the purples for another time. But what Jan means by local color is that there is a general color. If I'm looking at a barn over there, let's just say it's a red barn, I need to figure out the general color.

"Twilight Magic" - Jed Dorsey - 2018 - Acrylic

I have to figure out the hue, whether it's a red-orange or whether it's a red or whether it's a red-violet. Then I have to figure out the saturation. Then I have to figure out the value. So is it a really intense color, saturated wise? Or is it dulled down, weathered or something like that? Is it really dark or is it really light?

And then there might be variations. One side of the barn might be in more light. There might be weathered patterns or something like that. And there might be some details in there. But one of the things that I do is I will mix up a color on my palette trying to guess the right color, and then I hold it up. I look at my color on my brush and I compare it to what I'm seeing on the barn. If it's on a piece of paper or a photograph, it's easier because you mix your color and you hold it up and you compare it right to the image that's in front of you. And you can even put it ON the photograph. 

I mix and compare. I mix and compare, mix and compare, all the time because what we are seeing is always relative to what's around it. So, if you're mixing a color on your palette, you might be comparing it to another color that's next to it on your palette. But when you're looking up at the actual scene, you might be comparing it to a totally different set of colors because it might be up against a background hill or it might be up against a tree or something. So that's my best suggestion for mixing a local color. 

"How can I avoid overworking my brushstrokes?"

I have a tendency to overwork and go over my brush strokes until sometimes they're no longer visible. So how can I avoid this pitfall?

Be intentional about what you're doing. It's controlling your mind, and letting your brain say, "Okay, I'm not going to work anymore." You are in charge of your own painting. If you don't have something really intentional that you're doing with your brush strokes, then maybe you need to stop. That idea of "licking your painting," which we talk about sometimes is this mindless activity. It's going over, over, over, over.

It might come from a tendency to try to make something perfect and try to blend things perfectly. If you know that that's your tendency, then you need to fight against it. Sometimes I'm really intentional and say, "I'm getting my big brush out, and I'm putting down a big brush stroke, and I'm not going to touch it. I'm just going to let it be." Sometimes I do that at the end of a painting because if I've overworked it and I know that it had a looser feel earlier on I'll get out a bigger brush at the end. I'll try to do some really definitive brush strokes because I know that that is what I want.  

Fight against repetitive brush strokes that don't actually do a anything. Try to be as bold and courageous as you can. Use a bigger brush.

"I have so many photos I want to paint. How do I select the best one?"

Daniella, it comes down to design.

Also, most of the time if we just grab our phone or if we just have a normal camera, we just take a picture and everything that it pulls in is in focus.

That's  not the way that our eyes work. Our eyes focus on one thing. I'm looking at a lamp over there and the lamp is in focus. The very area that I'm looking is in focus, but in my peripheral vision, it's not as focused. I know it's there, but I can't describe in detail what's out there, except from memory. But I can see the lamp, and I can see every detail over there.

It's the same thing with a photograph when we're trying to paint from a photograph. It's really tempting to see every detail in a photograph. That was what one of the things I said when I was looking at the paintings that you've done. You did awesome with the really complicated scenes and I think it's incredible how courageous you're being. I'm thinking, "I wouldn't even try to paint this because it's too intricate for me."

But you were seeing all the details and you weren't editing the scene to make the viewer's eye look where you wanted. Everything that you saw in the photograph, you put into the painting. And everything was the same level of detail. So there wasn't an area that I looked at and said, "Oh, this is where I'm supposed to look."

When I'm looking at a photograph there are a few design elements that are pretty well known. There's the design element like an "S." There is one large object on one side and a small object on the other side. There's the tunnel idea. We're going to do a course on design. Hopefully that will answer more of your questions but what I would recommend for you is to start thinking about design a lot.

When I see somebody pick a picture that I don't think would be good, it's usually because they have a really strong emotional attachment to it. They love it because they love the object. It might be their garden or something in their garden. But the composition of the painting doesn't make sense.

So when I'm looking at a student's photographs and I think that it's a bad photograph to paint from, that's pretty much the only thing I'm thinking about. I'm thinking about the design, and asking myself "Where am I supposed to look?" If I don't really see something in the photograph that makes sense design-wise then the person needs to do thumbnail sketches.

You need to figure out if you really want to paint something. Your photograph matters a lot. Your reference material matters a lot. And if you don't have really good reference material, then you need to do a thumbnail sketch. You need to do several, and figure out how are you going to design that painting so that it's dynamic and so people will look at it and see what you really want them to see. 

But that's the general principle. That's the root of what I think about when I'm looking for something to paint. When I'm painting outside, you'll see me hold up my hands like this all the time.

I'm trying to see what the scene looks like? What if I move the subject matter over to the side? What if I made the rectangle more like this? I'm always thinking about design because that's the most important thing, in my opinion, in making a painting work.

I would take your photographs that you want to paint and use an editing photo program. Any program that you have. You can crop the image, or change stuff on the photograph. That's what I do often. I might have a photo that I really like but it might need to be adjusted. I might need to move something and sometimes that can be done in a program. I can crop it down and it moves the center of interest to a better location in the design.

Look at the overall feel of the photograph. See if you can visually start training your eyes to see what would make it more compelling and more interesting for you and for the viewer.

I'll try to take a look at some particular photos you posted. I'll try to do a little bit of work to show you exactly what I mean. And you can look forward to the design course that we're going to do, because that will be a more in-depth look at all of this. And we'll get into the different kinds of design elements and what makes something work better as a painting.

There's a lot of rules out there and a lot of different ways that you can think about it. You have to learn some general principles and then when you know those general principles it can help you make some decisions. The photo needs to make sense. If you mess around with photographs and crop them and shape them you will train your eye and your mind will start recognizing things that are more compelling, and beautiful. You will recognize better designs. Not just just simply taking a photograph and painting it exactly as it is. 



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