Preparing Plastic ABS sheet for Painting

October 14, 2020

In my on going experiments with synthetic surfaces, I recently purchased two sheets of ABS plastic for painting. ABS stands for “acrylonitrile butadiene styrene” and is a thermoplastic polymer. It has multiple uses for such things as computer cases to Legos. It can be run through a 3D printer to make all sorts of things. It can come in almost any color, but is typically available in black or white. In sheet form it often has a rough “haircell” texture on one side, and the opposite side is smooth as glass.

I first heard about this material for artwork many years ago from other artists who liked painting on it. One of those people is my friend, Kim Dow. She told me she gets it in thin sheets, and then has it glued to a foamcore for support. The two I bought are 1/8 inch thick, and 17×21 inches. The price varies online, but these were @ $10 each. The smooth side is sanded down enough to remove the shine, and make it capable to hold paint. I’ve done this in the picture above where you can see the sanded sheet on top. I used an orbital sander with a 120 grit disk which took just a few minutes to get it ready, and then washed off the plastic dust. Use protective goggles and mask so as to not inhale any of that. At this point the plastic has a paper-like feel, and can hold any form of paint, from gouache to oils. No priming is required even for oil, but I added a coat of very thin acrylic primer just to lower the value to a light grey (see picture below.) It’s a little streaky, but that won’t matter.

A new panel ready for paint. I should also mention that you can draw on these too once sanded down with dry media or inks. No priming necessary there either. Now it’s time to start making some art on these.


New Drawing: Art Teacher and Model

October 8, 2020

Here’s another sketch to show, grabbed from a youtube clip. It’s shows an art teacher and model preparing for a drawing class. I used a pastel pencil, and the page is about 10 x 18″.


EVA Foam as Art Material

September 22, 2020

I heard from some friends about a foam surface I might be interested in for painting on. It’s EVA foam that has many uses from mold making to padding in uniforms, but cosplay designers like it to make things like helmets and decorative outfits. It’s a thermoplastic material, meaning you can apply heat to it to soften it and mold it into different shapes. My local hobby store had several rolls of it in different thicknesses, but all the same 2×5′ lengths. I bought this 4mm thick roll for @$10.

I cut off a strip of it about 9″ wide and noticed that it still had the curl from the roll. I hit it with some heat from a hair dryer, and that made it lay flat, staying that way permanently. It’s very easy to cut with scissors or knife, and the surface feels very smooth and spongy.

The first thing to test out was different types of drawing media. The soft surface does not lend itself well to dry media. Pencils, charcoal, oil pastels and crayons did not work well; although, they did leave a mark. Soft pastels, however, worked acceptably. Erasing is not an option.

Inks, on the other hand, did very well on this surface, brushes and felt markers in particular. Hard metal tips from pens or nibs won’t do well, however. Hard felt tips, like the Micron markers did okay if you draw lightly.

Next I tested the surface for painting. I used gouache, casein, acrylic, and oils. After watching some videos online from different cosplay designers, they all recommended the surface be heated first to shrink it and close the “pores”, and then coat the surface with one of several types of primers to make it less absorbent. I didn’t find either of those two things necessary or to make much of a difference. In the above image, the left side was heated with a heat gun (1100°) and the right side is left as is. I also added a thin coat of acrylic medium down the middle.

Although the surface feels smooth, in this closeup of the drawing test you can see tiny pockmark holes in it. While this helps with adhesion of paint material, it leaves a dotted texture in thin coats of paint or ink. I thought maybe my heat gun might close them some, but I didn’t see that happen.

Here is a sample of the oil paint test, and you can see the dotted texture more clearly. I painted this over a thin coat of acrylic media so that it wouldn’t be too absorbent. Those dots are not noticeable in thicker or more opaque paint layers, and not too distracting, but something to be aware of. The oil paint adheres to this just fine, but I should mention that all the wet media took longer to dry on this surface than on paper or canvas. Undiluted acrylics took about an hour or so, and several days for the oils to not be tacky in the thicker areas.

Those pockmarks were less noticeable when I painted over a coat of acrylic medium. It’s also possible I may be able to fill them in with a gel or thicker primer layer. If the surface gets wrinkled or creased you can restore it with heat, but I wouldn’t recommend doing that after it’s been painted. Overall I’m pleased with the potential of this surface, in spite of a few limitations. It’s a good size at a decent price, and easy to handle.


YouTube Figure Drawing

September 16, 2020

While I continue in this time of quarantine looking for things online to draw, I’ve been clicking through youtube videos, and came across a good selection of figure drawing poses offered by the Royal Academy of Arts. This is Pose #7. It was offered as a 20 minute pose, but I decided to stretch that out a bit on the rendering, all charcoal on 18×24″ paper. Still finishing up the drapery on the bottom. Not sure yet if I’ll fill in the top.


Painted Sketch: Donna Stands in High Grass

September 10, 2020

This one is based on a quick pencil sketch I made as I hiked in some hills recently with my friend, Donna. Painted in acrylics on illustration board, 9 x 12″.


Making a Water Putty Panel for Painting

August 24, 2020

I have used Durham’s Water Putty before as a drawing surface where I painted a couple thin coats on a wood panel, similar to making a gesso panel. This time I wanted to try to make a solid tile panel out of the putty using a rectangular mold made of flour dough.

If you’re familiar with “Play-Doh” this mold material made with flour handles the same way. The recipe is simple:
1 cup flour, 1/4 cup salt, 2 teaspoons cream of tartar, 1 cup water, 1 tablespoon vegetable oil (canola or coconut)
Combine the dry material into a large bowl. Combine the oil and water, sprinkle a little of the flour mixture in it so it mixes better, and then stir it. Slowly add this to the flour mix while stirring.
Heat this on the stove: spray some oil into a large pot, and place your flour mixture inside it. Stir continuously for a few minutes until it all comes together into a ball. Remove it from the bowl and let it cool to room temperature. Store in a plastic bag, and it should last several months in a cool dry place. This makes about twice as much as I’ll need for my mold, but that’s also reusable.

To make my mold, I roll a small handful into a long tube shape that matches the edge of a picture frame used as a guide. The tube is about 1 inch thick. I then cut it in half lengthwise for both sides of the mold, and roll out another tube. On a large sheet of glass I place the pieces around the frame creating a rectangle shape. I make sure to press down some on the top of it to be sure there’s no gap between the glass and the dough.

Now I mix together the putty powder and water. The instructions recommend a 3:1 ratio, but I found that too thick to pour, so this mixture is a little wetter. This amount makes just enough for a 9×12″ (23x30cm) tile panel about 1/4″ (5mm) thick:
20 ounces putty powder, 8 ounces water
Add the powder to the water slowly while gently stirring to reduce the amount of bubbles. Ultimately bubbles won’t matter as you’ll see later, but the fewer the better.

I pour the putty mixture into the rectangle mold. Using a plastic spatula in small circular motions I gently push the mixture to the edges of the mold, being sure to fill the corners.

I slide the glass partially off the table to grab the glass and begin to shake it side to side, back and forth. This causes the putty to level out smoothly. I took a metal pin and popped some of the larger air bubbles to help make this surface as smooth as it will get on its own.

Anyone who does plaster casting will likely look at this and sadly laugh at all the bubbles, but in this case it won’t matter. That’s because you’re looking at the back of the panel. As the air bubbles rise inside the putty, the liquid fills the void underneath. Since the front is sitting on the glass, when I flip it over it will be extremely smooth and bubble free.

After it’s been sitting to dry for about an hour, I carefully test the edges to remove the dough mold. It comes off very easily without damaging the tile. After about two hours drying it’s soft enough to let me lightly shave the edge where it rose up the side of the dough mold. I later plan on gluing this to a wood board, so I need this as flat as possible.

After four hours of drying the panel is sturdy enough to remove from the glass. This is where plastic actually works better than glass, but unfortunately I didn’t have a plastic sheet handy that was large enough. With plastic I can slide it over the edge of the table, and gently bend it back away from the tile. I can’t do that with glass, so I take a knife blade and carefully work it under the tile. There are “release” sprays that model makers use for this purpose, but I didn’t want that on the surface of the tile.

The tile is dry enough now after four hours to safely begin painting, but I’m going to give it a few more hours anyway. A little sanding will straighten up those edges. You can score the tile with a knife when it’s still partially dry (about two hours or so) if you make the tile slightly larger, and that can give you a cleaner edge. If the surface feels too smooth to you for painting, you can sand it a bit with a fine grit paper. If you use a hardboard panel instead of glass or plastic, it will give a slightly rougher surface like paper, but the water will eventually cause you to discard that damaged wood panel. You’ll notice that this tile has a slight yellow cast to it, and some areas have dark spots and stains. It’s the nature of this material. That’s not a problem when you start painting over it, but it’s something to take into account. All paint media works well on this surface, but it is very absorbent, so oil might need a protective barrier of either thin acrylic or shellac. Gouache and casein paint work very well on this. This tile is stronger than plaster of paris, but it will still easily break if hit or dropped, so be careful. For that reason, gluing it to a firm support is wise.

I’ll work up something soon as a painting subject using this surface, and then post the results.

Homemade Play-Doh

Durham’s Water Putty


New Drawings: Sofia Sitting

August 8, 2020

These are a couple quick drawings I made today of a model named Sofia. They are based on a photo session I took a few years back. The paper is about 12 x 9″


Bubble and Streak Painting Technique

August 4, 2020

There was an art style of painting that appeared in illustration art of the early 1960’s that stood out in the eyes of many illustrators, a style that came to be known as “bubble and streak.” Two artists in particular used this textural approach in their work in dramatic fashion: Bob Peak and Bernie Fuchs. The streaking brush strokes convey dynamic motion and energy, while the bubbling dots of paint gave a unique texture to the marks. Here are some examples of their work using this technique:

Every time I see examples of this posted in forums, fellow artists wonder out loud how this technique was done. I’ve read different accounts in the past, guess work for the most part, but none of them seemed practical. I had made some attempts myself to reproduce it but never quite got it the same way. Only recently have I come across a method that happened to reproduce the effect consistently. A new artist friend, Matt Dicke, shared with me how, after many attempts, he came upon a solution that I was able to repeat, and I thought I would share the results. I also discovered my own twist to the approach.

This is how Matt explained his technique to me: the paper surface is first prepared with a coat of matte acrylic varnish. Mix acrylic paint with a larger volume of matte medium. Pick up paint with your brush, dip it in water, and then apply it to the surface. The varnish he described was the Liquitex brand, which is essentially a medium, not a final spirit varnish. In order to reproduce this, I had to use what I had on hand. To prepare the paper, I used a coat of Liquitex Gloss Medium & Varnish. Heavy body paint worked fine, but in the example I show here I used Golden’s High Flow Paint, which is very thin but concentrated with pigment. I added about ten times more medium to the paint.

On my first attempt, I got a lot of streaking, but only a few bubbles. I soon discovered that the bubbling appears more pronounced if I use less paint on the brush; more paint = more streaks, less paint = more bubbles. I would just touch the paint mixture lightly with the brush, dip it in water, and paint the surface. Bubbles would appear quite easily. I tried different types of mediums I had to mix with the paint, such as gloss or matte, clear gesso, polymer varnish, etc. and they all worked the same way, but the key was dipping the mixed paint in water to get a sort of foaming effect as I painted.

Next, for my own twist to this approach, I decided to use a synthetic surface instead of paper to paint on. In previous experiences with this type of surface, I had seen how acrylic paint tends to bead up some. I’ve made earlier posts about my experiments with a surface made by Du Pont called “Tyvek,” which is made from polyethylene fibers. Using the same brush technique above I was able to get bubbles to appear in the same way as on paper, but here I didn’t need to add a coat of medium first. You can see in the blue paint sample (heavy body) where the diluted paint interacts with the surface in interesting ways. It adheres to the surface quite well, even though it beads up some. Drafting film should behave the same way, but that’s for later tests.


Sketching in Quarantine

July 25, 2020

I hope all the people reading this are well in these days of COVID-19. It’s not easy being a figurative artist when all your subjects are locked indoors. As such, I’ve been digging through saved photos and scanned clippings to find subjects for art making. Here are a few of the better ones…


New Painting: Her Head in Her Hand v.2

June 22, 2020

Here’s my second version of the study I posted previously. This time I used a larger sheet of illustration board, 16×12″. Still used gouache, except I toned the initial layer with sepia shellac ink (first image.)

I had orignally planned to do this in full color, but this two-color look was too appealing to cover up. Maybe I’ll do yet another version. That’s allowed, isn’t it? The woman’s name, by the way, is Julie. She and I worked in the Shipping department of a computer store many years ago. I hope she stayed with that singing career she was starting.


Painted Sketch: Her Head in Hand

June 20, 2020
painting of a woman

I started this new gouache painting on a small sheet of paper I picked out, based on an old photo I found in my archive files. Unfortunately, the paper was too thin to hold up well to the water I was laying down, so I had to stop here. It was a good warm up, however. I’ll give her another go on a thicker sheet, maybe illustration board I picked up recently that’s also larger. This is 9 x 12.”


New Drawing: Used Tires

June 3, 2020

This was going to just be a quick sketch, and I thought I might add the shading in an ink wash, but started going with the pen and couldn’t stop. When I got to the fence I thought better of the whole thing, thinking that should be scratched lines which this paper wouldn’t support so I just stopped there. That’s how it goes sometimes. It was a good exercise with ovals, however.