Unusual Painting Media

This is all about trying  out different unusual painting media.   I selected the following from the exercise list either because they are readily available or because I wanted to try them.   Jam, icing, coffee, coke, ink from the wooden end of a brush, household paint, enamel, ice, nail varnish.

Jam ( and peanut butter). Used jam to paint plates and also decided to include peanut butter for comparison.  The jam was not so easy to manipulate and control the shape and surface compared to peanut butter which allowed finer control.      Also tried pouring icing from an icing bag onto a black background.   Using the icing bag was like writing with a dripping pen with fine control.   This kind of media has in inherent short life span.


Coffee, made to the right strength, can be used effectively like watercolour and create washes which can be built up to be darker.  If watered down too much it becomes vary faint.  Pools of coffee dry out leaving a darker ridge around the edge.   Using a wet in wet technique for the reflection and wet in dry for the plate worked and draws attention to the plates and interest in the reflection.

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Coke on the other hand was too watery and gave a very faint stain on white paper.  Once dried it did leave a thicker but still faint sticky brown mark at the bottom of the painted mark.


Painting ink from the wooden end of a stick creates thin lines which start intense and gradually fade as the ink quickly runs out.  The lines are therefore consistently limited in length and intensity.   This does create a sense of rhythm, maybe even a meditative approach.  This made me think of an artist John Franzen who painted lines within a breath.

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Pouring paint to draw outlines is hard and requires the right consistency of paint, the right amount to pour to get a flow and the right vessel to pour from.  I found the household emulsion poured from a spoon worked well if a little difficult to control.  I did get some waves in the line created by a reduction in the flow.

Pouring acrylic onto aluminium can be done however I’m not so happy with the result.  The acrylic was mixed with a thinning medium and a little water until it seemed like it could be poured.  Two colours were mixed and poured from cups onto aluminium.  It may have been too thick because it didn’t spread much and held its shape.  I was able to control the pouring to get a good shape and once down I was able to use a spoon to further mix the paint, see the swirl for the spoon head.  When wet the surface was flat but when dry the paint sank where water dried out, creating a very uneven surface.  The colours also dried much darker.  An nice effect was when ink was added to the surface which had been scraped back to the aluminium.  The ink dried and allowed reflection to shine through and contrasted against the darker acrylic worked well.


I explored painting ink straight onto aluminium and found it very difficult to apply to the aluminium because it keeps pooling and moving away from where you want it.  Its also difficult to mix the colour and keep the consistency right so that it maximises the transparency.   I found painting in direct sunlight helped.


Ice was difficult to use because it soon becomes a surface of water.  For the time just after taking out of the freezer the ice can take some watercolour or ink, then after a short time I found you can press paper on and get a print with the colour forming patterns along ice break lines.  I tried filling half a straw with ice to create a long thin line but I didn’t get any obvious colour mixes.


Painting on pva reduces absorbency of the surface resulting a lighter brighter result where brushwork is more visible compared to working on paper.   This is true for acrylic, oil, watercolour and gouache.  The oil paint direct from tube was oily and created the sharpest contrast for the brush marks compared to using linseed oil or thinner which created a wash with a blurred brush mark.

Painting the collection of clothes worked out well with the light and dark acrylic rings looking like the hat and providing light and shade.  The heavy dark green brushwork of oils created a soft heavy feel in comparison to the hat and transparent material from nail varnish.  The nail varnish creating a light although shinny feel.  Its possible a layer of pva may reduce the shine.  Overall I was pleased with this result because it captured the contrasting clothes needed in the hot sunny outdoors and cold indoors for city life in Hong Kong.


Painting enamels is messy, smelly and harsh on the hands and brushes.   However its easy to paint onto the aluminium, can be glossy or matt and can be manipulated for some time on the surface.   I decided to use enamels to paint the collection of his and hers perfume. Having discovered the transparent reflective nature of ink I could see this being used for the glowing red perfume bottle and enamels for the rest leaving parts of the perfume top bare aluminium.   I was pleased with the result, the ink shows promise and delivers a warm glow when light is reflected.   The ink needed to be thinner to maximise the colour reflection although this was very difficult to control.   The enamels create a sharpness partly because of the gloss finish and partly because of the sharp edges which I left to form naturally.

The collection of pens and pencils was full of colour and seemed to have movement in the form of a spiral sweeping around.   I decided to try painting the pens on to the collection of mobiles and paper.   I first painting the mobiles to support the spiral from top left down and round to the right with the large ipad shape to attract the eye.   I also painted a course white around in the lower right with sand and gesso to contrast with the smooth reflective black glass surface.   The pens were painted in enamels and I moved the pain in the direction of the spiral movement.  The rough surface slows the movement down as intended but doesn’t work well overall.   Theres a lot going on, the focus is not clear and the movement is not as I intended.  I like the different colour mixes starting to happen on the smooth compared to rough surface.

The following painting of shoes compares a well used shoe with the foot marks on the sole next to a more delicate less well used shoe.   This contrast and the position of the pairs caught my eye.  I started with layers of coffee for both shoes, starting thin and building up the layers with more coffee.   I added some water colour to the souls of the well used shoes.   The outside of the well used shoes were shiny and well kept so I started with a layer of pva before using oils.   This was to prevent the oils from absorbing into the paper and creating a brighter glossy look.



Painting on aluminium

Aluminium is a totally new surface to try painting on.  I bought sheet aluminium cut down in various sizes from a metal shop.  There are some obvious benefits to using this before I even start such as its smooth surface, it’s shiny, it won’t bend or get damaged that easily.   However painting is not all that straight forward.   Painting acrylic watered down bobbles on the surface in unpredictable ways and easily scratches off when dry.  Thicker acrylic just peals off when dry.  Oils which are oily slide off the surface if vertical or retreat like the acrylic.  The oil paint needs to dry out a bit first to reduce or remove the oil.   Ink only seems to take if I apply neat using a dropper, although it is very hard to control as it wants to retreat.  Enamels do work well straight from the pot and also thinned with thinner.   Enamels create swirly patterns where they meet until they dry which takes at least a day. The enamel primer is Matt grey and I’m not sure of its benefit for supporting enamels because its changing the surface colour and opacity.  It is possible to gesso the surface but this is easily scratched off like acrylic.  Household paint went on but also easily scratches off.  Gary Hume seems to use some sort of etcher to prime the surface first but not sure what type or where to source.   I found a metal primer but this is red and unsure how I’d use it effectively as a ground when I really want the aluminium to interact with the paint.  Nail varnish takes well to aluminium drying fast and layering up with some translucency for some colours and the varnish.

Artists from feedback


Les Meninas 1656 oil on canvas 318 x276cm.

A grand group portrait of a scene centered on an infant.   The size must mean its close to life size.   The light from the window highlights the infant and her ladies in waiting and draws attention along with the sharpness of brushwork on the infant compared to those figures in the periphery and dark vast room.   The grand scale of the work and the room compared to the figures adds to the grandness.   The flowery parts of the dresses are painted with movement and have clearer edges drawing attention over the other parts which are blended loosing much of the brushwork.


Rain, Steam, and Speed – The Great Western Railway 1844 91 x 121.8 cm oil on canvas

The eye is immediately drawn to the funnel on the train moving towards the viewer.   The rest of the painting is almost completely blurred with very faint hints of people and animals.   The blurriness of the train compared to the funnel creates movement.  There are areas of impasto heavy near white paint over-layered with washes of colour.   It seems he paints the white paint thickly early with a knife then adds washes of colour over from light to dark for the sky.   Then dark to light for the train.

Snow Storm – Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth 1842 91x 122cm oil on canvas.

The boat is completely engulfed by the storm.   The sweeping wide brush work gives the waves the movement and strength over the small boat which is being tossed around.  The smoke is warmer and darker than the sky and spirals out with the flow of the storm.   Similar use of thick white for the light with coloured washes over-layered.

Sketchbooks of turner show he mostly captured the key features with outlines.  Sometimes he would include some shading lines to indicate shadow.    Some of the marine sketches of boats use ink and were probably made far quicker(a) (Top Left) Composition Study for 'Walton Bridges'; (b) (Top Right) Composition on the Theme of Walton Bridge; (c) ?Maidenhead Bridge 1805 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

A Sinking Ship and a Boat in Rough Seas circa 1805 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851


Peter Doig

Man dressed as bat 2007,Oil on linen, 275 x 200 cm.  He kept the rain damage to the painting, allowing rain to affect it then using the marks to influence his marks.   Painted very thin washes, can almost see through the image.


Painting layers

In response to tutor feedback and wanting to understand more about both Peter Doig and Turners approach I’ll be painting the same image several times.   The idea is to paint half the paintings faster within 15 mins per layer and the other half slower within 45 mins per layer.

I choose acrylic because it allows painting of thin layers which dry quickly.   The top left started with pure white applied with a knife for highlights then applied washes of reds and blues and yellows.  Top right started with a darker background wash, the bottom left with very pale washes, the bottom right with stronger washes of reds and blues.  I’m finding it difficult to decide what is a layer because the paint dries so fast I can paint over it once I’ve changed colours.    This just means I maybe painting too much in a layer within the timeframe.

Applying the white thick at the start for highlights seems to help applying subsequent washes because the highlight remains visible.  On other paintings with coloured ground I seem to paint layers building up around the intended highlights to keep them brighter which diminishes the edge quality.    I’ve read that painting in layers from light to dark requires more skill because mistakes are more evident.

Applying the main colour thick instead of white creates a very saturated vibrant look but in this case not appropriate for representing the liquid in the bottle.   Less saturated washes seemed to build up and look more luminous in comparison.

I found it very difficult to slow down with this technique and take up to 45mins for a layer.   This maybe because I only used a large brush and so each layer only involved a few brush strokes to cover the painting.    Also  I was painting  4 in parallel and so divided my time between them for each layer.

Its clear I should build up the layers from light to dark otherwise the colours appear muted and dull.

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Note it is possible to use salt to get a grainy texture within the layers (used in bottom right of the longer painting group)