Making translucent paints more opaque

Reader Question: I see you use bright colors on most of your work and I am trying to learn through practice with your inspiration, but have run into two issues:

  1. First and most important, have you found particularly bright opaque paints or is there something you do to prep the board (or your paint) to make your colors appear opaque? (My paints come out translucent, and I have found that in some cases the number of coats would still not do the trick.)

  2. Second, when doing your abstracts do you always work from the largest object to the smallest in order to cover the entire board?

  3. Do you lay down a background color to ensure the entire picture is covered with color?

  4. If I haven't already asked too much, will a steady hand come with practice (as in doing detail work, or when making smooth lines and curves). 

I'm happy to help! Here are the answers to your questions, in order:

  1. The paints I use are Liquitex Heavy Body Acrylics and Golden Heavy Body Acrylics, both of which are artist-quality, high pigmented paints. I like them because the colors are strong and vibrant. When I use these paints to create abstract art, I use them straight from the tube and just dilute them with water as needed – I don't use any additives, gels or mediums to make them more opaque than they already are.

    I don't know what brand you use, but if your paints appear translucent on the canvas, it may be due to the paint having more filler and less pigment. The exact ratio of pigment to filler can vary from brand to brand, but in general the Artist Quality paints will have more pigment than the Student Quality paints.

    With that said, there are some pigments that are naturally more translucent than others. For instance, Quinacridone Crimson always comes out rather translucent, regardless of the brand. To make the color more opaque for my abstract paintings, I mix it with another similar color. For instance, I'll mix Quinacridone Crimson with a touch of Cadmium Red to make the crimson appear stronger and more opaque. After it dries, if I want to darken the shade a bit, I'll add another coat of straight crimson over top.

    Any pigments with these in their names will be on the translucent side, no matter what the brand: Quinacridone, Naphthamide, Phthalo, Hansa and Anthraquinone.

    One tip for getting brighter colors with your acrylics is to gesso your surface several times before painting. Try applying 3-4 coats of white gesso to your next blank canvas and see if that makes any difference in the strength of your colors when you paint.

    Another technique to make your paint more opaque is to add a small amount of white gesso or white paint. However, your paints will take on a more pastel color.


  2. When painting abstracts (such as the one demonstrated in this tutorial), I do in general work from the largest shapes to the smallest shapes. I'll paint a large shape, then over that I'll paint a somewhat smaller shape, then over that I'll paint an even smaller shape, etc. I find that this technique is easier than trying to paint a lot of smaller shapes side by side.

  3. Sometimes I'll lay out a single background color over the entire canvas, but most often I'll fill the canvas with a series of various large shapes in different colors until the canvas is covered with color. You could try it either way to fill your canvas, as both ways are good!

  4. Yes, a steady hand will come with practice as you get used to painting. The more you paint, the easier it will become to do detailed work and to make smooth lines and curves. When I look back at some of my early paintings, I can clearly see that I did not have the same control over my paints as I do now. It just takes practice! :)

I hope that helps! Happy Painting!

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