I finished this mixed media painting recently for my latest piece on Every Day Original, and thought I’d share a bit about the process here.
I started with a drawing with graphite powder and water on gessoed illustration board using brushes and erasers and pencils in the smaller strokes to make the marks. I’ve been enjoying working in graphite on gessoed surfaces on a few other drawings I’ve been doing in my sketchbooks because of the tooth that gesso has as well as the texture that the unsanded brushstrokes on the prepped gessoed surface provides.
My intention with this piece was to add acrylic paint in layers over the graphite drawing. Once I felt like the drawing was at a good point to start to add those paint layers, I sealed the drawing with a couple layers of spray fixative and then once that was dry, I brushed a coat of matte medium on it as well. I like to use matte medium especially when working in a mixed media piece that I may go back and draw with graphite on new layers. The matte finish still has a nice tooth to it that can be drawn on with pencil as opposed to using the gloss medium.
The first layers of paint were thinned with a mix of water and matte medium so that the drawing would still show through. The next layers were translucent, adding a bit of white mixed into my halftones and lights in some areas such as the face in order to push and pull the forms out from that drawing while still allowing for what was underneath to slightly show through. Another layer of translucent halftones was added to describe the forms while maintaining a steady transition from initial layer to these painted layers.
The graphite drawing gave me a lot of interesting textures to work into and manipulate a bit. There was an intention to tell a story in this, but to try to keep the imagery somewhat abstract, with hints at forms without describing the forms in full rendered iterations, so I did have some sort of intent going in, but to keep it the concept more abstract in nature. I’ve been working on some other sketchbook drawings here and there, and in those, I’ve been mainly attempting to depict abstract concepts or formless things such as weather and feelings or moods.
This image was painted from imagination, inspired by a dream depicting what I saw as a liminal state with a show of support in feathers swirling all around me, but never actually falling to the ground. I took it as a beautiful sign of transition, insight, protectiveness, and strength – a wider awareness in a time when the thought of what’s next seems daunting – to see the wind by way of seeing feathers floating in it as if to say that the direction is only determined by when/if I choose to go with where the wind takes me – and that there will be help and hope all around me, everywhere I may look to find it, in any or all of those directions.
I added the hands at a later stage, but had seen shapes that informed the development of them later as I built up the painting. There are a lot of ‘hidden’ forms of birds or bird-like features and shapes as well as feather-like imagery, but I chose to depict those as more like it was describing the movement of the wind or elements that we’d find in the sky. Well, my intent here in this post isn’t necessarily to describe what you should see because I’d really rather not do that with the images I paint, but I as I’m listing areas of development of the painting or any time I post about the process or progress of an image, it’s sometimes tough to not include things like that. The last thing I might add, though, is that I wanted the figure to feel calm and present in her surroundings. I intended to keep much of the marks loose as the initial drawing was, but refine in areas to add to the energy of the wind/movement and definition of the still/rendered forms. The purpose of layering, for me, is not really to cover the underpainting entirely, but to allow for it show through in some parts, as well as depicting a seamless integration of those layers by building up the transitions in thin layers. The last layer of paint is the most opaque but used in smaller areas and details.
It’s a small piece at 5×5”, and went relatively quickly because of the nature of the acrylic medium and how fast it dries. I work in oil in this same process of layering (but rarely with any kind of graphite underneath), but the drying time is slower, so it’s partly why I work with a few paintings going at once. I really enjoyed working on this and it was a nice switch from some of the other work I’ve currently also got going at the moment.
I love your posts Vanessa, they always seem to make me think in ways i hadn’t thought of in the past. I’ve been using graphite powder for years and never once thought to add water to it! LOL. Cheers-
hi Michael- thanks so much. I’m glad to hear my posts are helpful in that way! As far as using graphite powder with water, it definitely makes a difference what surface you’re working on too. Probably self-explanatory, but thought I should mention that. I’ve used graphite powder for years too, and much of the earlier years I used it was on paper and for figure drawing from life. I absolutely love using it in that way too – really, I basically love drawing materials that I can ‘paint’ with, so an introduction to graphite *powder* years ago was like Hallelujah! haha. I tend to use a back and forth of application and reductive technique, so for me, erasers, water, etc are used just as much as the drawing/painting material itself. You can gesso any surface and it will make it more sturdy and/or resistant to water or other wet media. I also will use alcohol to pick out with when using graphite. And then that creates a whole other fun thing to try because of the resistance to water and the effects you can get from that. Allen Williams posted a great article about using graphite on clay board too a while back. Definitely check that out if you haven’t seen it. Thanks again! 🙂
Does matt medium dry clearer than clear gesso?
hi Sam- Yes! Matte medium dries clear, unlike “clear” gesso.. ..So, matte medium is great for sealing and prepping a surface that you’d like to maintain the look of what’s underneath to paint or draw on top of, or just seal it as a finish but with a matte finish instead of gloss too. But I totally understand your question – clear gesso is so not clear.
Interesting you mention clear gesso by Liquitex, I use it all the time and seal charcoal drawings with it and it is always clear for me. It can get a bit milky on thick applications but for the most part I have no problems. And because of the tooth it adds, I can paint with a lot of different mediums on top of it. It really is a wonder surface to work on. That said not everyone likes the tooth. I feel Matte medium is just as clear, and the Ultra Matte Medium is a more chalky. But it adds tooth and is smoother than the guess so pros and cons for each. That said I prefer semigloss if I want a clear medium that is smooth and used for collage. Adds a lot of depth without being to shinny.
Wow. This is so stunning and creative. Love it. #feelinspired
Thank you! I’m so glad you think so, and so happy to hear that you’re feeling inspired!
I love this piece and you’ve inspired me to try this on a piece I have in mind. I had never thought of layering graphite and acrylic in this way, so I really appreciate you breaking down the process. I always love your posts!
Oh cool! I’m so happy to hear that this has inspired you to try something different and/or add to your existing methods- Good luck and have fun! Also, I should stress the importance of using fixative before brushing on matte medium. Depending on how much graphite is sitting on the surface (in my case in this piece here, there is a lot of graphite – I spray fixed it twice because the first layer still smudged a bit with my finger as a test), if you don’t fix it first, the graphite could smear when brushing on the matte medium. If it’s a pencil drawing as opposed to a graphite powder drawing, it’s less of a concern, but I’d still probably do a coat of spray fix too.. But in general, using graphite, matte medium and acrylic to build up your piece is a very forgiving process! Enjoy! And thank you! I’m so glad you love the posts!
Noted and thank you! I’ll try it out on some small test pieces to get a feel for it. I’m excited to experiment!
Have you ever sprayed matte medium over one of the graphite powders? Maybe by atomizer or airbrush ( I imagine it would clog up a spray bottle fast) I try to avoid fixative as it is so toxic hence why I roll on clear gesso to seal my drawings. BTW didn’t mention it in the earlier response but really loved this post. Those hands pulling down to reveal the light is the best part, glad you added it at the end. Inspired technique and painting. Thanks for sharing your process.
Your work is so wonderful. Your textures offer so much atmosphere and emotion. Is it possible to use powdered graphite this way on just watercolor paper or do it have to be a gessoed surface?
Beautiful!!! Thank you so much. Do you use workable fixative? And is it possible to paint with acrylics directly over that (if the underdrawing is already stable)? Because, I don’t like using matte mediums, unless I’m seeking a slightly cloudy effect. And with gloss mediums, once I’ve built up a few layers, it becomes literally “repellant” when I add new thin glazes of paint. I’ve always glazed thinly, which is easy in oils, but now trying to switch to acrylics, I’m having a terrible time with losing tooth (after many layers). I’ve tried every conceivable medium, and flow agents. I wonder if gloss medium can be sanded, to regain tooth?
Thanks so much for showing your amazing work! And for describing the dream images that inspired you. Certainly inspires ME too!!!
Your work is amazing, I’m a huge fan. I’m working on a piece right now and I want to try something like this out, I came back here to find the other post you did in oils but I’m so glad I found this instead as I’d much rather work in acrylics for time restraints. I wanted to ask you this about your piece however, where do you purchase your frames? That one is beautiful. Also, what colors did you use?
Finally! I found something related to what I’m working on now. Whereas you are using graphite, I am using vine charcoal and acrylic wash. As I painted, and redrew, redefining the idea, I isolated the charcoal with matte medium. Now I want to coat this painting with a unifying substance before working any more on it. MY QUESTION can this be simply matte medium, or something else.
I like your painting, beautifully worked within a complicated composition. Thank you for this article and I look forward to your response.
This is just stunning! I love the atmospheric feel of the piece.
You may have already heard of these but a few months ago I got my Scrawlrbox subscription box in the post and inside it were 2 or 3 (I forget how many exactly) tubes of graphite paint. I had never heard of anything like that before but the art print provided with the box looked incredible. At first glance all of the paints look grey, like graphite, but when you see them alongside one another you are able to see the tint of colour in each one. They’re called ‘Liquid Pencil’ – I have linked to the Scrawlrbox box that contained them so you can have a look if you like? I think they would be absolutely perfect for this kind of mixed media piece.
Helps if I actually post the link doesn’t it? Hahaha!
For the matte medium you used after the graphite, was it fluid or gel? I am trying to figure out what is the proper medium after graphite/charcoal before acrylic.
Michaela, I can’t really speak for Vanessa, but I assume she is using just a regular Matte Medium. Fluid and Gel are different consistencies of the standard version. Just go for the basic, classic Matte Medium. I prefer Liquitex, personally. You can always add water to it if you need.