Mini Tutorial: Acrylic Swirls

How It’s Made

Guys, you know by now that I am OBSESSED with line work. Pretty much every variation of tutorial I post will have something to do with fine lining. I can’t help it 😉 It’s my therapy.

I will link everything I personally used to make this piece and give you general directions, but feel free to swap in your own favorite paints and supplies.

MATERIALS AND SUPPLIES I USE:

*Links contained in this post are affiliate links for Amazon or Dick Blick and I will earn a commission if you make a purchase at no additional cost to you. These commissions help fund more content like this, so thanks!

  • 10″x10″ stretched canvas (Blick– I usually order in bulk for the best deals!)
  • Acrylic Paint:
  • Paint Brushes: I love cheap synthetic brushes!
    • 1/2 inch white synthetic brush of any sort will do.
  • Catalyst Wedge (Blick or Amazon)
  • Fluid Paint Mixtures (Blue, white, and violet)
  • 2-20 gauge Fineline Precision Applicators (Blick or Amazon)
  • Liquitex High Gloss Varnish (Blick or Amazon)
    • Applied with a cheap foam brush.

General Directions:

Anytime I do a tutorial, I don’t want you to think your piece needs to look exactly like mine. Honestly, I don’t give enough direction for that to happen. I just want to give you tools and techniques to go and make your own version. So let’s get started!

THE BACKGROUND:

The Basics: For the background, you are going to slowly build up layers of color. Start light, build up darker layers, and keep adding white around the edges of each color section for a loose blend between sections.

Broken Down Instructions: Starting with white, a little cadmium yellow, and lake blue, use your 1/2″ brush to create a light background. You’re going to be heavy on the white here. You can blend vigorously here to get a soft base layer.

Then, with looser brush strokes while the first layer is still wet, apply lake blue to the bottom right of the canvas. Don’t blend too much. Then add Golden Pthalo green and blend upwards to the middle. Then add Golden Teal to the bottom left and top right corners. You’re still working while the entire surface is wet (use a misting spray bottle to keep your paint moist while working if needed).

Next blend Golden Permanent Violet to the upper left corner. Then a little more cadmium yellow in the middle and blend with the green section.

Now you have a soft background that you will continue to build upon. Let this layer dry. Then using violet, darken the upper left corner. Using prussian blue, darken the bottom right corner. As you can see from the video, I keep moving around the canvas and building up layers of color. As I work with darker colors, I blend a little white into the edges and keep my brush strokes loose to create more expressive blends.

You will want to let some sections dry, and work some sections while still wet. I encourage you to feel it out.

Once you have built up your colors to a point you are happy, let it dry completely.

The Wedge:

I use a the Catalyst wedge to create even more layering and depth on my pieces. Once your background is dry, you can use the wedge to layer white, blue, and violet upon different areas of your canvas.

I use a fluid mixture of these colors to create a light opacity. The key is being able to see beneath the layers. You can use colors straight from the tube with more pressure, or you can use the Golden Fluid Acrylics. If you want to use my recipe for the colors I used check out this post.

Experiment with the pressure you use and use a flick of your wrist to create more expressive layers. Let each color dry before adding the next one. Then let dry completely.

THE LINE WORK:

Using your Precision Applicators, fill one with gold paint, and one with white paint and a little water. (See this post for detailed use instructions on the applicators) The gold paint is already pretty thin so you may not need to add water.

I started doing gold lines on this, and to be honest, I hated it. Rather than giving up, I just considered it another layer and kept going. There are no mistakes! For this portion, I applied the gold, let it dry, and then came in with the wedge again and added layers of white and purple. Then let that dry.

Whenever I start my line work, I stare at the background colors and wait for it to tell me where the natural contours of the lines should go. Sometimes I follow the curves of the wedge applications. Sometimes I work on the dark areas only for more contrast. There is no wrong place to apply the lines. Let your piece speak to you and start to follow the flow of the background.

For my swirls, I started with a thick pattern. You can apply a two thin parallel lines and then fill in the center for a bold line. After I had a general layout, I then came in with thin lines. Watch the video to see how I did it, and then go with your own flow 🙂

Final Touches:

I LOVE me some splatters. After my line work is done, I come in with my white fluid mixture and a flick a coarse bristled brush to add a layer of splatters. Then, I paint the sides of my canvas black and let it dry completely.

Lastly, I come in with two layers of Liquitex High Gloss Varnish and the piece is done!

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If you enjoyed this little tutorial and want to learn more, let me know through Instagram or Email, or consider becoming a Patron of mine to support more content like this. Now go get messy and share your creation on Instagram using #messyeverafter!

-Kelly

SUPPORT MESSY EVER AFTER ON PATREON:

A lot of artists don’t like to share their secrets, but I’m an open book. If you enjoy the content I create and the advice I give to other creators, please consider becoming Patron of mine on Patreon. Pledging as little as $1 a month supports this content and my career as an artist.

Further Reading:

The Last “Paint Marker” You’ll Ever Need

My Favorite Refillable Fineline Applicator

I’ve been using variations of this fineline applicator since January of 2017 and it is what I get asked about most often. My work has always been very illustrative, so finding a paint marker that didn’t run out half way through a painting or finding a tip that actually made clean fine lines was a struggle for years. Years, I tell you! I can’t fully express just how much I love this applicator.

I wrote another blog post a while ago that contains a variety of bottles I have used. You can read it here, but this new post will just highlight the one I use most often.

The Product I Use:

(The links provided in this post are affiliate links and I will earn a commission if you make a purchase. These commissions help fund the creation of more content like this at no additional cost to you. So thank you for supporting this site! Buy all the things 😉 )

The Blick option is technically cheaper if you buy enough to get free shipping on your order. Either way, getting 3 bottles for $10-$14 is so worth it. I’ve been using the same three 1oz bottles for over 18 months. How many paint markers do you go through in 18 months?

Why you may love this applicator as much as I do:
  • You can fill it with any color you want.
  • It’s refillable so you never have to worry about replacing paint markers ever again.
  • You can control the flow and consistency of the paint.
  • You can get super fine and opaque lines that very few paint markers can achieve.
  • You can disassemble the tip and soak in water to clean it out.
Things that may frustrate you initially:
  • It takes a little practice to get used to the metal tip and feel of the bottle.
  • The tip can clog if you don’t use it enough or let the paint dry out (but you can clean it out by soaking it in hot soapy water and then shoving a thin wire through the tip.)
  • You’ll need to fill the bottle with your own paint and it can be a little tricky to get the consistency right at first.

The Basics for Filling The Applicator:

I fill my bottles about half full with acrylic paint, and then add avlittle bit of water. I place my thumb over the top and shake the crap out of it. Then, I put the tip on and test the applicator on scratch paper/canvas to make sure it has a good consistency. The paint should flow easily, but not run all over the place. Keep adding water or paint and shaking until you get there.

Using a soft bodied acrylic paint makes it easier to mix and reduce clumps. I personally use Brea Reese Titanium White for my applicator. It’s super smooth. You can use any kind of paint you want, but you’ll just have to play around with how much water you may need to mix it to the right consistency.

Use Tip #1

I have heard from my followers that the newer bottles may have a longer metal tip that can be a little awkward to draw with. I haven’t tried this solution yet, but if you were to slid a thin wire into the tip (to prevent the tip from collapsing) and then cut the applicator tip to your desired length with a wire cutter, this could solve the problem.

Use Tip #2

If you are drawing on canvas, you may find the metal tip will “catch” on the texture of the canvas and cause uneven lines. This can be solved with practice by holding the tip further from the surface and using the edge of your hand to stabilize your movements.

Use Tip #3

If you watch some of my videos and wonder how on earth I get such long and smooth lines, you will find you can do this too by changing how you use your body when drawing. The trick is to keep your wrist rigid and use your whole arm/shoulder/torso to move the pen. I often will use my entire forearm against the canvas to stabilize the movement and then move my torso back to create the line. It feels weird at first, but if you’re working big it will help tremendously.

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If you enjoyed this little product overview and want to learn more, let me know through Instagram or Email, or consider becoming a Patron of mine (See details below!) Now go get messy and share your creation on Instagram using #messyeverafter!

-Kelly

SUPPORT MESSY EVER AFTER ON PATREON:

A lot of artists don’t like to share their secrets, but I’m an open book. If you enjoy the content I create and the advice I give to other creators, please consider becoming Patron of mine on Patreon. Pledging as little as $1 a month supports this content and my career as an artist.

Further Reading:

Mini Tutorial: Rainbow Coral Reef

How It’s Made

I’ve had rainbows stuck in my head for the last couple of weeks. This piece is vibrant and oh so adorable! You’ll love playing with the materials I used.

MATERIALS AND SUPPLIES I USE:

*Links contained in this post are affiliate links for Amazon or Dick Blick and I will earn a commission if you make a purchase at no additional cost to you. These commissions help fund more content like this, so thanks!

General Directions:

First, you’ll want to cut your watercolor paper to your desired size. I like working around 4″x4″. Using any cylindrical object you can find or a protractor, create a circle in the middle of your paper with pencil.

For the background, you’re going to slowly work your way around the circle and blend each color as you go. Starting with yellow, and ending with yellow.

THE BACKGROUND:

  1. Using the size 10 watercolor brush, wet the entire surface of the circle.
  2. Using the size 4 watercolor brush, deposit Cadmium Yellow ink on the paper. Start from the middle and work upwards.
  3. Move to Lake Blue and start applying left of the center and upwards. Blend the blue with the yellow to create green, and then deposit more blue and work from the left down.
  4. Apply Ultramarine Blue to the bottom left and work into the Lake Blue.
  5. Add Violet on the bottom, blend with the blue. Rinse your brush.
  6. Add Medium Magenta, blend with violet. Rinse your brush.
  7. Now, apply more yellow on the edge of Magenta to create orange. Work upwards and blend with the plain yellow in the center.
  8. Rinse your brush and allow the ink to dry completely.

The Line Work:

Once the ink is completely dry, erase any visible pencil marks around the edges, then assemble your sketch pen. I prefer the larger nibs, but you can choose any of them. I recommend taking scratch pieces of paper and practicing with the pen and ink before moving to your finished background.

Using the Pen White Ink, I apply ink with the dropper on both sides of the nib (you could dip into the bottle instead, but I don’t like to have the ink exposed to air for too long to prevent it from drying out).

To create the designs, you’re going to start from the bottom and work your way up to the middle of the circle. The designs don’t have to be perfect and this is meant to be an organic layering of rounded shapes. Watch the video above a couple of times to see how I move through the designs and then try your hand at it. It doesn’t need to match mine. Let your natural style come through.

The ink takes a little time to dry, so work in one area and allow it to dry before moving your hand over it to prevent smudging.

At the end, add a sprinkling of stars/bubbles to the upper area of the circle and voila! Finished!

***

If you enjoyed this little tutorial and want to learn more, let me know through Instagram or Email, or consider becoming a Patron of mine to support more content like this. Now go get messy and share your creation on Instagram using #messyeverafter!

-Kelly

SUPPORT MESSY EVER AFTER ON PATREON:

A lot of artists don’t like to share their secrets, but I’m an open book. If you enjoy the content I create and the advice I give to other creators, please consider becoming Patron of mine on Patreon. Pledging as little as $1 a month supports this content and my career as an artist.

Further Reading: