8 Use Solid Colors to Create the Illusion of Blending
This is a technique that’s technically blending without blending. You don’t attempt to soften edges or blend the paint at all. You can create a blending effect by placing similar colors next to each other. This is similar to the posterization effect that illustrators use.
It’s not the best technique for painting flawless skies or water reflections. But a lot of the blending in paintings is in small areas and this actually works fairly well.
This painting of sunflowers looks like it contains a lot of smooth blending. However, if you look at the detail of the stems below, you’ll notice that there are hard edges between the colors. Those greens don’t contain any blending at all. I did use blending in other areas of the painting, but it’s surprising how placing the right colors next to each other will create the illusion of blending.
In the example below, the hard edges and banding are obvious because the difference in value between yellow and red is too great. The stems of the sunflower are similar shades of green so the effect is more subtle.
For this example, I’m using Liquitex soft body acrylics. The colors are Cadmium Red Medium and Cadmium Yellow Medium. The soft body paint is thinner than regular acrylic so it’s easy to brush on.
I begin by mixing about 6 versions of orange from yellow to red. You can see them on the palette paper in the photo below.
I apply the paint to the canvas as solid stripes. I start with the solid stripe of yellow at the bottom. Then I clean my brush and pick up the next color on my palette and paint it right next to the first color. I don’t try to soften the edges or blend it into the next color. I just apply each color as a stripe.
After I apply three of the orange colors, I start to apply the red from the top down. I had to figure out how wide each band should be so that there’s enough room for all the colors on the canvas.
The final result is something that contains a lot of obvious banding. If there were more steps of colors in between, the edges would be less obvious, similar to my painting of sunflowers above. Most subjects are made up of patches of color. If you match those colors and place them in the right location, it will create the illusion that they are blended together.
Acrylics dry quickly and it’s easy to create hard edge brushstrokes with them, so why not turn that into an advantage? The fact that the paint dries quickly means that you can create numerous layers of color in a rapid manner.
Here’s the final result. Obviously, there’s not enough steps to create the illusion of a smooth gradient but in many cases it wouldn’t matter. Another option is to incorporate the hard edge look into your style.
9 Allow the Brushstrokes to Show
Another blending option is to all the brushstrokes to show. In the painting of trees above, I didn’t spend much time trying to blend the colors. I simply mix each color and apply it without fussing with it.
I had plenty of orange and red paint left over from the previous example, so I use the same colors again for this demonstration.
As in the other examples, I work my way from the bottom to the top from yellow to red. The difference is that I don’t try to create a totally smooth gradient, I allow the brush marks to show.
There are many different ways that you can apply the paint with the brush. For example, you can experiment with applying the paint in different ways to see what the results are. Try different brushes sizes and different types of bristles. Another thing you should consider is the thickness of the paint. Many impressionistic painters use thick paint.
In this stage, I have all of the colors on the canvas. I can leave it this way but I spend some extra time applying more paint and experimenting with brushing the paint on.
Here is the final result. While I can see the brushstrokes, it still creates a pleasing blending effect.
What’s the Easiest Way to Achieve Smooth Blending With Acrylics?
In my opinion, I think that using Golden open acrylics are the easiest way to achieve a smooth blend. This is because they they allow you to blend the paint for extended periods. The Atelier Interactive acrylics are worth considering too.
The interactive acrylics will allow you to take your time with blending but you can also use them like fast drying acrylics when necessary. The advantage is that you can control the drying times.
If you don’t want to switch brands you can also experiment with adding retarders to your favorite regular acrylics. You have to be careful not to add too much retarder so that they don’t remain tacky. Retarder generally doesn’t contain binder so that’s another reason why you don’t want to add too much of it to your paints.
Can I Mix Blending Techniques in the Same Painting?
Yes of course! For example, you can use dry brushing and glazing in the same painting. In fact, I find that it’s more interesting if I use a variety of blending techniques in the same painting.
In this painting, I use watercolor techniques for the sky, and there are areas where I allow the brushstrokes to show. While I was working on it, I misted the painting with water to prevent the paint from drying out.
Creating smooth blends with acrylics is often considered to be very difficult. But with the right materials and techniques, it’s relatively easy.
The advantage of acrylics is that you can control the drying time to suit your needs.
The fact that regular acrylics dry quickly is actually an advantage for many of these blending techniques. For example, I can apply numerous glazes within a manner of minutes. I can dry brush a number of layers on a painting in one session. Thick layers of acrylic paint will dry within minutes or hours, whereas oils can take months to fully cure.
I hope that I’ve given you some new blending techniques that you can incorporate into your paintings.