Use The Figure 8 Stroke To Create Realistic Paintings

Use The Figure 8 Stroke To Create Realistic Paintings

Creating a realistic background using acrylic paint can be challenging, but doing so is not impossible! A lot of the time, artists using acrylic paint have a hard time achieving the commonly desired "realistic look" that artists using oil paint can accomplish. 

Use this article to assist in your endeavors to creating realistic paintings, read on for details on how to achieve this technique.

Before Blending

Importance Of Foreground, Middle Ground And Background

Close your eyes and imagine a blank vertical canvas. Now imagine that vertical canvas separated into 3 parts – top, middle and bottom.

If you’re painting realistically you will have a foreground, middle ground and background. (Imagine a stormy ocean in your mind for this canvas.)

The “background” is considered the top of the painting: here lets squeeze out the dark blue blobs. Blend each section separately (more on this later).

For the middle ground this will be the middle of your painting. Here we squeeze grey to distinguish a difference between the middle ground and background. Now we can see the fog or clouds are closer to our eyes than the sky.

On the bottom of the canvas we will squeeze dark blue once again to represent water. The water is the closest to our eyes and it is a stormy day so the water's dark.


Canvas Prep?

Some artists will use an acrylic glazing liquid (broken down into one part glaze and four parts acrylic) to prep their canvas; I personally find this to be an unnecessary step as the realistic look can be achieved without it.


Basic How-To:

You’ll first need some supplies. You already have your canvas and workspace so get yourself at least two soft flat bristle brushes; they will work best with your acrylic paints. Another supply that is a must is a jar or cup of water and having paper towels on hand are always helpful.

Bonus tip: a spray bottle with water. Next, follow these steps.

  1. Start to blend the background (top) portion of your canvas using a figure 8 blending motion with your hand forming figure 8 brush strokes. Once the background is blended, then move to the middle-ground, then foreground. Use the same brush when blending. Finish one section at a time. Do each section by itself and move on to the next portion.
  2. A great blending method is to use a dry brush with no paint to help get rid of those brush strokes. Use the figure 8 method with this dry brush after getting closer to your desired color. 
  3. Layer more paint (If you need to add more color to get your desired look for your painting, add more paint.)
  4. I suggest lightly thinning your paint out with water. This will give you more time with the paint and will be more forgiving when trying to master this realistic scene look.
  5. Adding water should be gradual. If you add too much water, the canvas can show through the paint. Also, If you add too much water it will drip down to the bottom of your painting.
  6. Blend, blend, layer if needed (add paint), blend (with normal brush that has paint), dry brush blend (use figure 8), blend (still using figure 8), dry brush (more figure 8!)
  7. The key here is to be gentle like you’re conducting a symphony.

This will technique will help achieve that misty eerie view of the water. This step distinguishes how realistic and smooth your painting will look. No brush strokes.

       Pro Tips

      • Rotate between a dry brush and a wet brush to create this desired look.
      • Keep that figure 8 hand motion going. Don’t stop.
      • If you have additional brushes on hand, you can experiment with brushes of all different sizes.
      • If you find that your canvas is getting too dry as you blend and you have spray bottle, give your canvas a light misty spray as needed.
      • Be mindful of how hard your brush strokes are, which is why having a soft bristle brush as part of your toolkit to achieve this technique is so important. If you do not get rid of painting strokes as you blend your paints back and forth, your painting is not going to look realistic.

      The figure 8 motion gets rid of paint strokes. This is what we want. Want people to feel like they’re looking through a window when viewing your work?

      Once you are done with your blending, let your canvas fully dry but don’t let it dry during the blending process, doing so can make your paints nearly impossible to blend. This is why we suggest finishing one section of your painting at a time.

      The amount of time your canvas will take to dry depends on how big your canvas is and how thick you laid your paint on. One hour should suffice, but don’t rush it. I see so many artists get excited, wanting to move onto the blending part that they don’t give their canvas enough time to dry, thus ruining it.

      Oh the Possibilities: What to Create with Your Layered Background
      • Sunsets
      • Fog
      • Mountainous range backgrounds
      • A background for abstract work
      • A background for paint pens
      • The ocean
      • Clouds
      • A forest

      These tips should take out most of the heavy lifting but, if you find that your blending doesn't look realistic, keep practicing success doesn’t come without failure. 

      By: Marisa Sanfilippo

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