Floating, also known as sideloading, is the most common technique used in acrylics. This is a process of loading both water and paint into a flat brush to create a gradation of color while painting. Learning how to float properly can be challenging because of all the variables involved in loading the brush. Being able to float well is the key to painting in acrylics. Practice is the only way this can be mastered.
It is important to learn how to load the brush with just the right amount of water. Dip the brush in water, then blot it on a high quality paper towel such as Viva. The shine on the hairs of the brush will fade away as the water is pulled out of the brush. Once the shine diminishes, it will be loaded with the proper amount of water. It should be wet enough to dampen the surface, but not so wet that a puddle can be formed. Refer to the above photo. To test the amount of water that should be in the brush, tint the water with some paint then stroke it on palette paper. If there are large beads or puddles of water forming on the palette paper, there is too much water in the brush. There should be just enough water in the brush to form tiny beads on the paper. If there is nothing coming out of the brush or not enough water to form these tiny beads, there is not enough water in the brush. The proper amount of water is important because the paint bonds with the water and causes it to flow from the brush to create the float of color. If you have too much water or too little water it will affect how you float. If the paint is “dragging”, there is not enough water in the brush. If the paint puddles or the paint is being carried to the clean side of the brush, there is too much water in the brush. The correct amount of water will allow the paint to flow easily out of the brush while creating an even gradation of color.
Many painters like to use a floating medium. These mediums have self leveling ingredients and make the floats look smooth. These are wonderful for new painters learning how to float. There are other mediums such as extender, gel blending mediums, etc. In general, I find these are created more for blending rather than floating. I do not use these mediums unless I am using special techniques. I have found that if the brush is loaded properly, then mediums are not needed.
Learning to load the proper amount of paint into the brush is another problem some artists have with floating. For the “basic” float, load about 1/4 to 1/3 of the corner of the brush with paint. Then, “work” the paint into the brush on a wax paper palette. Set the brush on the palette paper. Applying pressure, stroke the brush in the same place on the palette paper until a gradation of color is obvious. The color should have a gradation from an opaque coverage on one end to semi-opaque in the mid areas to clear water on the other end of the brush. Also, it is very important to use fresh paint when floating. If a “skin” has started to form, put out another puddle of fresh paint. A good analogy is painting with old paint is like driving with your foot on the brake and the accelerator. As soon as the old paint hits the surface, it is like applying the brake.
Once loading the brush with the “basic” float is mastered, it will then be necessary to learn how to vary the widths of your floats. The first way to vary the widths is to use more than one brush size when painting. I usually have at least three flat brushes out when I paint. I use a #6 flat, a ½ inch flat, and a 3/4 inch flat brush. By changing the size of the brush, you can change the width of the float. However, along with varying the brush sizes, the amount of paint loaded into the brushes must also be varied according to the brush size. If your goal is to create a narrow float, use a smaller brush, loading just the edge of its corner. If your goal is to create a wide float, use a larger brush, loading up to half the brush with paint. While this seems logical, this creates a lot of grief for many artists. They have their favorite brush and load it the same way each time they float. The only way to “break the habit” is through practice.
Now that loading the brush has been mastered, let’s focus on “how” to float. Many acrylic artists pull their floats in one long continuous stoke, using a lot of pressure and holding the brush perpendicular to the surface they’re painting. I’ve found that if a high quality brush is used and it is loaded properly, then it’s not necessary to apply a lot of pressure while floating. My floating is more successful if I use a very light pressure. Refer to the picture above. To ensure little pressure is used, I lay my brush back on its handle to a 33 degree angle to the surface I’m painting. This is easier to do if you hold the brush further back on it’s handle. Also, I have found that floating with multiple short strokes gives me more brush control than pulling in one continuous float. It allows me to start and stop without leaving a hard edge and I can easily turn the brush in any direction. Learning to float in this manner will help you successfully accomplish the more advanced techniques that are necessary to create three dimensional form. These advance techniques will be covered in a future Tuesday Tips article.
The technique I use is the Acrylic Layering Technique. To be successful with this technique, you must learn how to control the application of each float. Each float must apply a consistent concentration of paint. This is a common problem that students have when painting. They paint some areas heavier than others. To correct this, you need to spend more time working the paint into your brush, so that a light float is created. A light float has proper gradation, but is a thin application of paint. All floats should be applied in multiple thin layers, using the same color. I build these layers until I achieve a smooth and even application of paint. This is confusing to many acrylic artists. The idea of using the same color in multiple applications is different than what we are used to painting. You must remember when you are creating something realistic that you are trying to create a 3 dimensional form. If the value that you are applying is not smooth and even, it will not look realistic. With each application of the same color the coverage became more smooth and even. Once the first shade color is applied in a smooth and even manner, than you would go on and add a second shade color, covering a smaller area. This second color will also have to build in multiple thin layers.
I hope this has given you enough information to master the skill of floating. It really is the basic skill that makes acrylic painting successful. For those of you who have not master it, please take time to just practice floating on a practice surface without worry about creating a project. Taking the time to do this will eventually save time when you do your projects because you won’t have to spend so much time fixing your floats. Trust me when I say that you will learn how to master this, it is just like riding a bike, once you get it, you get it! Have a great week filled with lots of time to crate! Next week I will have a special “Treat” for you.
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