How to Paint With Expression

This is going to be a little Bob Ross-esque with a dash of expressionism, and it's for anyone who cares at least a smidgen about art because it's a mix of tutorial and an illustration of how I personally go through the process of painting. So here's a glimpse into my little studio:


It's nothing fancy (this is an 850 sq. foot two-bedroom house, after all), but it's what I got and I made it mine.


These are the basic tools for acrylic painting: Paper towels, various brushes, pallet (the immortal ice cream container lid lives on), a container of water, and paint. It's actually pretty simple; it just looks messy. Probably because it is. Anyway...

The biggest challenge for me is getting over that daunting blank canvas. If you stare at it too long it will seriously mess you up. The possibilities are so endless that you start to feel utterly incapable of thinking of anything to paint at all. Mind. Totally blank. Like that canvas.

I am a half-hearted user of Pinterest (I'm sorry, Pinterest! It's not you, it's me), but my very selective "Painting Inspiration" pin can sometimes reboot my brain, or a random Google search. This time, I typed in "Marquette, Michigan" because that's where I want to live. I'm exercising a lot of restraint to not gush about it... The following picture caught my eye as I mindlessly scrolled.


That is not Marquette. It was some article about European living in comparison to Marquette (Marquette's better. It will always be better). But my brain said "Oooo!" when it saw it so I indulged it.

Since this is going to be more of an abstract painting, my very first order of business is penciling in a vague guide of the painting's movement.


This basically grounds me in the canvas and lets me see how the composition will look. You can just see the backward "S" shape, which is a tried and true layout for anything:


I saw a saying once that really helped me with starting a painting (I can't find the author though...)

Get out of the way and the art will make itself.

Profound, right? It kicked my butt, at any rate. So I grabbed my trusty "mop" brush and just WENT for it.

Big Brush Type

This is one of my favorite brushes: it provides some fun texture depending on how you use it, and it covers large areas, which are both ideal for more emotional paintings like this one. It also forces me to commit from the get go because it just glomps the paint right on.

It's pretty important to consider your color pallet before diving in so you don't end up wasting paint and getting frustrated halfway through. I'm a huge fan of teals and oranges contrasting together with a purple-ish blend between them. Planning your colors makes it far easier to organize your paint dollops on the pallet so you don't end up accidentally mixing a bunch and getting amoebic dysentery brown.

Here's the paint dollops I used for this first part: yellow, orange, red, a deep magenta, violet, and a big glob of white. Start with the lighter colors, like yellow, orange, and red in this case, and work in the darker colors as you go along so to avoid ending up with a dark, muddled blob.

It sometimes helps to dip the brush in several colors at once so you can get a cool, quick multi-color effect.

First App

Then, make like Shia LaBeouf in a Nike ad and Just DO It!


So now we have a fun, humongous blob. The key is to just focus on one step at a time. This step is strictly color and layout. I'm pretty happy at this point about how the colors are working together, but I got a little crazy and deviated from that pencil guide, so it looks a tad flat on the left. That's what the white paint's for! Let's all take a moment to be grateful for white paint. It washes away so many transgressions.

Blending White Big Brush

CLEAAAAANNNN that mop brush and dry it off. Then dip it in that white paint dollop and go to town with it, wetting and wiping your brush as you go along so the white doesn't get contaminated.

Applying White

Blending White

After globbing white on, I used a smaller brush to blend some spots so it mellowed out the edge of the blob a little. Paint the whole canvas, even if it is with just white paint. Otherwise, it will never look complete and the bare canvas texture against the painted portions will look a little stark. I tried to incorporate just a hint of color with some sections of white to add a little interest.

Splashes Detail

Here's an example of some of the wild fun you can have with brush texture! Just stippling a lightly-loaded brush creates some neat effects.

Before Details

Done! Just kidding. It honestly looks fine as far as color and composition go, but it really is just a bunch of paint glomps. Now for the fun part!

Tiny Brush

It's our favorite little round brush! Hi, guy! We are so ready to paint small details with you and we will not be intimidated by that.

I took the canvas and paint out to the living room for this part because, let's be honest, it's way more fun to agonize over tiny paint details while crouched on the floor with Friends playing in the background.

So I didn't document this part all that well (do you know how hard it is to take a good picture of your own hand using a dinky brush??), but it's pretty straightforward: wait for the paint to mostly dry (it can still be slightly sticky), wet the small round brush really well before dipping it in a fresh white dollop, and continually wet it and dip it as you go along. The wetter the brush/ paint, the smoother it will glide on the canvas. If you do over-wet it, though, it'll dilute the paint too much and cause running. Just keep a paper towel ready to dab it up and try again.


Now we're actually done! I just went with the flow of the painting for the small details and helped along some of the edges to mesh better with the little buildings; it's really about trusting the art with this and just having fun. Don't those small white lines make all the difference, though? Totally worth missing Rachel and Ross's first kiss for. No, I've never watched the show before or knew anything about it. I can show you the rock I live under in the next post. I have some great refurbishing ideas for it.