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Loading Your Brush, Creating Soft Edges & Pricing Your Work

Nov 21, 2019

"How do I get my paint to glide on my canvas?"

0:01:29 "I prime and sand all my canvases with three layers of gesso. I use water and medium, I have good brushes, but the strokes of color don't work right for me. Maybe it's the way I load my brush. Maybe I worry about being too perfect."

0:02:08 I'm going to do a really short video that will talk about the different ways that we can load our brush depending on the kind of work that we're doing and where we are in our painting process. Early in the painting we may use a different kind of thickness in our paint than we would at the end of the painting. I'll do a really quick video that will walk through that. Without seeing you load your brush I don't know if I could answer but usually it's using more paint rather than less paint. That will be very helpful for you because when we're not using enough paint, the paint will get dry on our brush and won't glide on.

0:03:22 When Dianna Shynne (in that last lesson on color 101) put down her paint onto her palette she had a lot of paint on her brush. There were large amounts of paint to draw from. And when I look at her paintings up close I see that she puts on a lot of paint. It's beautiful, really gorgeous. She puts a lot of paint on her palette, then when she's mixing, she's grabbing a lot of paint and it's really thick and juicy.

"Do you have other favorite colors?"

What are some of your other favorite colors when you're not using your limited palette? I don't have favorite colors, I just use all the colors that I have.

 0:06:16 If you go through the Paint-Along lessons, where I describe the palette that I have, you will see all the colors I use. I don't really expand beyond that. If I'm not using a limited palette, I'll be using the essential palette or extended palette. And there's probably about 10 or 12 colors in that plus white and black. It's the range of the color wheel. I just like to mix these colors together and create things that are representing what I'm looking at or an imaginary version of what I'm looking at.

I think a lot of times people might be asking this question because color can be tricky and hard. We have to figure stuff out but I don't think there's any solution to the hard work of learning. And in the Color 101 lesson coming up we are going to be talking about freedom in color choices.

0:08:08 I'm going to start it out by talking about freedom. If you're watching a a ballet dancer or some type of dancer you think, "What they're doing is so beautiful. What they're doing is so free and they have great joy in what they're doing." But what you don't see is all the years of hard and dedicated work. Before they were dancing with freedom they were practicing for hours and weeks and years so they could dance with freedom. It doesn't look like they're thinking about it.  It just looks like they're moving and gliding along the floor like an ice skater.

That's what we need to keep in mind when we're thinking about our color choices. We want freedom, we want to get to that place where we're not even thinking about our color choices, where we're just instinctively choosing colors and expressing our vision but we have to be willing to put in the time. 

0:09:53 That's why, in our Color 101 course, we are trying to limit our colors and do things that are really basic. We are asking, "How do we mix colors?" and, "How do we see colors that work together well?" There's no magic formula.

I can't say, "These are my five favorite colors, and now that you know those colors, every painting that you do is going to turn out perfectly. You're not going to have to go through the years, the weeks, the time, of working on the fundamentals." But once you get some of the fundamentals painting is so fun.

Let's remember, "Hey, we're taking steps forward." And when paintings don't work let's make mental notes of what we were doing at the time. Failure is actually not failure. It's actually a step forward in the right direction. We're growing and learning and the "mistakes" will be valuable to us in the future.

0:11:31 Some of my earlier paintings are so bright and colorful. I look at them and say to myself, "They're so ugly to me" or "Oh my goodness, I can hardly look at that." There's so much color and not enough nuance or gray. But I learned through those paintings. At the time, I was pretty happy with some of them, but they were all steps along the way. And what I'm doing now is a step forward hopefully too.

"Phthalo Blue is shiny and Ultramarine Blue is flat. Does that matter?"


"After the painting is done and I've varnished it, it all comes out the same, but while I'm painting the shiny versus the flat is distracting to me."

0:13:17 What I'd suggest is you try mixing some matte medium in with your paints. It would make the paint more flat when it dries. When it's wet, it's always going to be slightly shiny but when it has dried on the canvas, you will have the ability to see it with the same sheen.

0:15:01 I've never had that problem though I know what you're talking about. There are others colors that are more shiny, like a dark violet. I think it has to do with the transparency of the color although it could also have to do with the manufacturer. You might want to try a couple of different paint manufacturers. But to some degree some of those things you just need to get used to.  I have had times when I've  done a glaze over something and I've used a high gloss medium and then I've painted over the top. Then it makes it hard to see what the colors are doing and how they're working.

0:16:25 What I've done in those cases is I've put another glaze over the top of what I'm doing. I might put a matte or satin glaze over the top. Just one coat. Then it will all be the same sheen and it will all be more flat. Then I can keep working. 

"How do I soften the edges when the paint dries so quickly?"

"The Road Home" - Jed Dorsey - Acrylic

0:16:56 "I have trouble softening the edges or breaking up an edge sometimes because the paint is dried so quickly." This is the challenge of working with acrylics. "For example, if I paint a sky then put distant trees on top of the dried sky color, it is hard to make the tree line look blurred because the sky color is dry. Do you use a retarder to keep both forms workable or just make sure you have some of the sky color on your palette to work into the trees?" This is what will transform your paintings from being good to being great, when you can figure out how to make soft edges with acrylic paints. That's the biggest thing that makes people turn to oil paints and not use acrylic paints. There are a few different ways to do this.

0:18:24 I don't paint in the order that you're saying. I don't normally put on the sky color first, and then put on the trees after that. I usually paint it the other way around. But it's kind of the same difference and you still need to figure out how to keep your edges soft. One idea is to put the two paints on at the same time and blend them right away.

0:19:32 If you are doing a color on top of a dried color you can use your finger to smudge that edge. That's what I do a lot at the end of a painting session. If you look at my hands you will see that my fingers are all covered with paint because I've been using my fingers to smudge the paint and create dry, soft edges. That's probably my first thought, to use your fingers.

Or you can spray a little bit of water, or a mix of water and medium onto the canvas. For example, where the sky color in your instance would be dry. And you can cover that with a mix of water and medium, and then put down your trees on top of that.

0:21:05 It will allow you to blend a little bit because you'll be putting it on top of a wet surface. It will extend the amount of time that you can come back over with a brush. I paint opposite though. I paint the foreground to the background almost all the time.

You asked, "Do you keep some of the sky color on your palette so that you can come back with that color later to fix or soften the edges?" And I would say if I was doing something in the order that you're doing it (painting the sky and then putting a tree on top) and wanting it to be soft 0:21:55 I would do exactly what you just said. I would keep a little pile of the sky color off to the side. Then after I've finished the sky I would have extra and I would put on the trees. Then I would come back and I would work together with both of those colors and I try to make those edges nice and soft. Right where they need to be. And blend it where they need to be.

0:22:28 But there are probably about four or five different ways of getting soft edges. It really depends on what your overall desired effect is. They will look slightly different. If you have a preferred method you might say, "Well this is the one that I like the most and I'm going to do this 90% of the time." Try some different methods and see which one works for you, because one of them will be your go-to method. I'm going to make a short tip video and I'll show you what I'm talking about.

0:23:42 Creating soft edges with acrylics is one of the distinguishing marks in my mind of someone who has mastered acrylics. It really shows the difference between just putting the paint on and actually having mastery over it. It is best when paintings have a combination of nice crisp edges where we want the viewer's eye to go, and we want their eyes to be drawn to nice soft edges, where we can leave things to the imagination.

"Do you use other mediums like glazing liquid or retarder?"

"I notice for your videos, and classes you were using just water as thinner. Do you worry about the integrity of the acrylic paint adhesion in the long term? I was under the impression water was not the best."

 0:25:05 I don't normally think of myself as thinning down my paint too much, but I do wash out my brush in water and I don't always take out all the water so when I put it back in I have water in my brush. But I would never worry about that at all. But if there are instances where you are putting a lot of water on your canvas, and you are watering down your mixture of paint 0:26:22 you probably do want to think about mixing some medium in there.

When I'm doing a glaze I always put in about half medium and half water. Then I mix that and put my paint color into that. A glaze is basically like a wash over the top of paint that is already there to influence the color and move it in one direction or the other.

So I don't use a lot of medium because, in general, I don't mix it with my paints. But when I'm doing a glaze, that's when I will use medium with my water to thin it down. But it does increase the ability of it to adhere to the layers underneath. Sometimes if I do a wash without a glaze I will come right back over the top with a layer of medium because that will adhere really well. Then I'm not worried about the layer underneath. 

 "What kind of light do you use in your studio?"

0:27:46 Greg asks this, "Have you talked about studio lighting? What kind of light bulb do you use in your studio? I've noticed that the lighting in my paint area is not correct and I have been reading about lumens and light appearance. Do you take these into consideration?" If the light on my canvas is too bright, the colors, and the values that I'm looking at will be off. If it's too dull, I can't see what I'm doing. So getting the correct lighting is really important. At my public studio, I have some really bright lights. They are actually gallery lights that are meant to show off the painting when it's finished. But they're not the best lights to paint under because they're so bright.

0:29:20 If the painting is not under those lights, it looks quite a bit different than it does when it's under those lights. So natural light is really good. What is always recommended (at least in the northern hemisphere where I live), is north-facing lights or north-facing windows because that light is going to be out of direct sunlight. It'll be reflected light, but it still can be quite lit up. And you don't have to worry about direct light influencing things. So having a correct lighting situation is super valuable when you're painting. 

0:30:55 I've painted several times in situations that are poorly lit and it's really difficult. Or if it's overly lit, it's equally as bad because it didn't allow me to see what I was working on and adjust the values and the colors accordingly.

(One of our members made this suggestion: Use 4500 to 5200 Kelvin lights for the ideal lighting in your studio.)

"What is the difference between heavy body acrylics and the different grades, student and professional?"


0:31:53 Student grade paints have more filler and less pigment. So it's usually the same pigment, but there's just less of it and there's more filler. So to fill out the paint tube, they use a kind of acrylic medium. But when you buy the artist grade paints you're getting a really highly concentrated amount of pigment with a really good amount of filler or binder. The stuff that makes the pigment actually stick to your painting. 

0:33:28 Pastels are pure pigment and it's dust or chalk. And it needs to be covered with glass so that it doesn't come off. If you rub that it will come off but that's what a binder is for. When you buy acrylic paint it's in a binder to make it adhere and be smooth for mixing. That's where the actual acrylic medium is doing it's job. And when you get the student grade paint it has more of this filler or binder. It's not a strong pigment and is not doing much for us in terms of creating a better painting, 

0:34:58 Heavy-bodied versus fluid or soft body paints is not so much to do with the quality but rather a difference in the viscosity of the paint. That means how thin or thick it is. The fluid paints  are obviously more watery but it's not watered down. If you buy Golden fluid acrylics, you will find that it is quite expensive but is not watered down. This paint has a super high concentration of pigments but the viscosity of the medium is a lot thinner than the heavy body paint.

0:35:57 It's really up to you what you prefer. Some people paint primarily with fluid acrylics. I use heavy body acrylics primarily. But I have fluid acrylics for things like glazes and toning a canvas at the beginning of my painting. They are easier to use. I don't have to work out the chunkiness that can be there if I'm trying to make a heavy body paint into a glaze. I have to do a bit more work to get it into that form, but with a fluid acrylic it's already like that. You can just put a little bit of water in there and thin it slightly and you're ready to go.

"How do you structure your days as a professional?"

Dorena says that she had a month off and she found that she did not do a good job with time management. She's asking if it is difficult for me to follow a schedule, and she's wondering if she could ever be a full-time artist because of this scheduling challenge.

0:37:58 I've been self-employed almost my entire life. Before I worked as a professional artist I was in construction and worked for myself. Before that I worked for an organization where I had a supervisor but I was basically self-employed and managed my own schedule. I would say practice will help you. If it's brand new to you and you've only gone to a job that tells you exactly what to do every day then it will take you a bit of intentional effort to set up a schedule.

0:38:56 Because of acrylic University I do have a bit more of a schedule now. I do certain things on certain days. Every Thursday I'm doing this Q&A. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday we're doing stuff related to Acrylic University. Friday and Saturday I'm doing things at my public studio. Monday is a planning day, so we have some structure in our life.

I think when you're early on, it's harder because you don't necessarily have a lot of things that you are responsible for. So you have to be really intentional about setting those helpful kind of guidelines in your life. Do not be misled in thinking, "Oh I'm just going to paint every day and it's going to be so fun. It's going to be the joy of my life. I'm not going to have to work hard. It's going to be my dream world." I love what I do. It's the most fun I've ever had in my life. And I worked harder this year than ever. And every year I work harder than I worked the year before.

0:40:40 So you need the right mindset, to expect to work super hard as a professional artist. If you're not structured with your time you'll end up going in circles trying to be productive, trying to figure out what you should do. I think the best thing to do would be to think, "If I had one day a week where I could paint, like a Saturday, how would I set up my schedule?" That might actually be enough for you to practice. It can be hard enough to be consistent and sticking to a schedule for one day. 

0:42:16 When you're a professional there's all these other things to think about like bookkeeping, galleries, researching shows, scheduling things, and keeping track of all sorts of stuff So with that there's a greater need to be organized and to be intentional with your time. It's funny that you ask because I haven't always been very structured. I wouldn't say that I'm particularly good but I'm way better than I used to be. 

0:43:20 You just have to be really dedicated to it. And you have to have a mindset that you'll do it at whatever cost. You'll not give up, and you'll keep pursuing it even when it's hard, even when you have to work a part-time job and you have to work 12 hours everyday for three years. That's how you make it sometimes. But I think you can do it, it's just whether or not you really want to.

"How do I use palette knives?"

0:44:10 Andrea says, "I've been practicing, but just don't seem to have the knack for it. I either get too much paint on my knife and it gets all goopy or not enough and it gets sticky. I would love to be able to do geometric shapes and leaves for example. I would also like to be able to do marble-like backgrounds. When I mix too much on a canvas, of course, all the colors get homogenized into one color instead of having strokes and swirls."

I use a palette knife but I don't use it for the things that you're talking about. At least marble-like backgrounds. And I'm not gonna give you a pat answer, to say this is how you should do it.

0:45:14 I know an artist named Linda Wilder. She uses a palette knife quite a bit to shape things like trees.  If you look on Instagram it's Linda Wilder Art.  Perhaps she has some videos. I've seen some things of hers where she's using a very large palette knife and is shaping rocks and trees. It looks really cool. 

"How do I decide on price points for my work?"

0:46:49 "How do I price my work? I went online and found some different formulas. The one I used for a holiday craft sale was length plus width times 19 but then my prices were too high."

This is one of the top three questions for an artist. If you price your paintings too low, people may not value them but if you price them too high, people may not buy them. If you price them just right, you're hoping that you'll sell every one and that people will still value them.

0:47:44 This is a hated topic. One of the most important things is that your pricing makes sense, and pricing by size is the only way that I know that it really makes sense. If you price something on how much time you have into it or how much you like it, that doesn't make sense. To anybody else, other than you, you can't just randomly choose a painting that you say is your favorite and price it two times as much as every other painting. 

0:48:50 A lot depends on your goal. If you're trying to make a living as an artist then you need to figure out how you can generate enough money from what you're doing to provide for yourself.

0:49:28 One of the best books I have read, from my dad, was called, "How to Make a Living as a Professional Artist." It's a really old book, probably written in the '60s. The author's main point is that you should sell everything you paint. That goes against some of our popular notions because I think a lot of times artists price their work really high. Then they never sell anything. But they feel like they're valuing their work because their prices are really high and they would never think about lowering their prices. If they lowered their prices it would mean they're under-valuing their work.

I've had shows in really cool places that I've had really expensive work and I haven't sold anything. And I've had shows in places where I've had really low prices, and I've sold everything. Guess which one I felt really good about and which one I felt really bad about?

 0:50:51 The ones where you sell feel so much better than the ones where you stand around and wait for somebody to buy something. You will find more joy in pricing your work at a place where people will buy it and you can always increase your price. If you start really high you get stuck. No one cares about your work because they don't know you and they don't know how cool you are. They don't know how great your work is. Until you get a bit of a following, it's harder to price your work.

0:51:52 But you have to price it for what you are happy with. You can't price it too low but you can't make it so that your work is not valued. You have to figure it for yourself as an individual. What will work for you and what are your goals? There are some resources out there, some art marketing guides that can be really helpful.

My friend, Justin Vining, in Indianapolis has done something that's totally against what most of the art world would say. He prices his paintings quite reasonably. He sells a 9 by 12 framed piece for $225 (at least in 2018). 

0:53:03 They are plein air pieces that he has painted and put together. The gallery was taking a 30% commission and he was selling the pieces for $225. That's not a lot of money but he would sell about 80 of them in one show. And he would sell other paintings that were a lot bigger and more expensive. So he had a range from $225, for these really reasonable paintings, to $3000 or more for big paintings. But price per inch he was still making okay money on those smaller ones. And he would finish them in a short amount of time because he paints a lot and he paints outside. He does it with enthusiasm and he works super hard. Then he gets people excited about what he's doing and sells to hundreds and hundreds of people all the time. They are following his work and they're excited about what he's doing. And he's always promoting.

0:54:18 And unlike a lot of people, he's chosen to try to sell everything he paints. He doesn't raise his prices to $600, which a lot of artists would do. He doesn't walk away from the gallery, having sold 10, and taking home 70 to store and keep track of. He's been an influence on me, When we lived there I noticed what he was doing and we had some really good conversations about it. I think that his method of marketing is something that the art world needs to hear. He's been a successful full-time artist for eight years now.

0:55:17 He's looked at what the market can bear where he lives. He lives in Indiana, not New York. And it's not LA. So he's looking at where he is at and he's looking at what he sold things for in the past. And he's just making it work with where he's at. And he sells almost everything he paints. So that is my advice on pricing your work even though I didn't give you a specific answer. 

"Can you suggest warm up or daily painting exercises? I want to paint daily, and struggle with deciding on subject matter."

 0:56:17 Paint small first of all. If you are wanting to paint regularly, instead of painting a big painting every once in a while, or even working on a big painting every day, I would suggest getting some really small canvases, or a pad of those paper canvases you peel off, or just getting a nice sketchbook that has thicker paper. Use that as your warm-up, and your initial push into the day. Get into the habit of grabbing something artistic everyday. Grab your paint brush, your pencil, and do a sketch.

0:57:53 Then you're doing something that is turning that creative part of you on. It takes courage to do it. We procrastinate so much. We can use the excuse that we don't know what to paint. 

0:58:52 We need to change our mindset that we only need to do one little thing. You can look around. I'm looking right now at my table in front of me and there's a little candle, a big candle over here, a tray that has a salt and pepper shaker here and a couple of candles. There's a basket with some stuff in it, there's a bowl of grapes up there, a lamp over here. If I was being creative enough I could find 10 things that I could either paint or sketch or draw.

0:59:37 The main thing is setting it as a goal and then creating small enough exercises for yourself so that it's not so daunting or expensive that you feel like you can't do it. If you're trying to do something on a very expensive, big canvas and you don't want to mess up or waste that canvas, that can be limiting. But if you're doing something that is in a sketch book, or something that is on something that's reasonably small and inexpensive, that's where the freedom can come.

That's where using your acrylic paints can be so great because they'll dry fast. You can make changes really quickly. You can be done with it and put it away. And you don't have to worry about something being wet. And you're going to get into this habit of using that creative part of your brain and getting your whole self into it. And you're going to be growing in your skills. It's going to be more and more fun every time you do it. At some point you're going to say, "Wow. I've been doing this for two months now. I can't imagine not doing this," I hope that that is helpful Jan. and I hope that you do get into that habit because that would be super awesome.

1:01:14 Lydia says, "A friend of mine takes one day every other week and just takes buckets of photos of things that simply make them feel good. Then they have a photo file that makes them excited to paint." That is a super good suggestion, Lydia. So I think that deals with the issue of, "What should I paint?" Because sometimes if we don't have something in front of us, or we don't know what we should do, we need a place to go where we can see things that did excite us and did move us and did make us kinda connect emotionally. So maybe one day say to yourself, "I'm not going to paint on this day. I'm going to take photos. This is my photo day." And you spend half an hour going around and looking for things to capture that will really motivate you in the future.