Shiny Ball Syndrome: Don’t Get Caught in the Highlight!

Hey guys!

So I wanted to write a post to compliment my previous post on using grounds, that is, I wanted to talk about the colour white a bit more.  Last time we talked about avoiding white as a colour to start painting over for various reasons, and today I want to talk about yet another situation in which to avoid white.

The Basic Painting Process

When painting with acrylics, after we have our ground down and it’s completely dry, we usually start painting our backgrounds, working our way forwards, and eventually painting the very foreground of our image.  We also paint the subjects in our painting in a dark to light manner, meaning that we generally start with the shadowy colours, layer on midtones over top, and then finally layering over our highlights.

The problem many beginner painters run into is the lure of the highlight.  The final highlights, those of pure Titanium White, pull our entire painting together, giving it that final dimensional layer, and sending back our shadowy parts even further.  It makes our paintings look truly finished, giving that impressive glint of light in the spots where our subjects shine the brightest.

It does all of this…as long as we don’t jump the gun and use it too soon.

The problem we have as human beings is that we’re attracted to shiny things.  Just like raccoons with tinfoil, we see highlights and shimmery things with the utmost attraction.  Our problem is that we tend to look at that little blob of Titanium White on our palette and think, “Ohh….shiny!!!!” and immediately reach for it before we’re anywhere near the highlight stage.

how to paint with acrylics
That beautiful pure white can be hard to resist!

The Problem with Too Much, Too Soon

The problem beginners have with pure Titanium White is that we reach for it far too soon in the painting process.  Usually we have just finished our midtones, start looking around for a source of highlighting, see that pool of bright Titanium White calling our names, and like a raccoon to aluminum our little paws reach out and grab it.

What happens when we start using pure Titanium White immediately after the midtone stage is that it can be too much white too soon.  Using pure Titanium White everywhere we want a hightlight can leave our painting looking quite chalky, with too much pure white sticking out at us.  It also hits us with a wall in terms of painting progression, because we can’t make that white any brighter, so we basically come to a roadblock and decide that our painting is finished and there’s nothing more we can do.

Highlights Have Layers

What we fail to see in this situation is that our highlight layers have various parts to them.  Just as our overall painting has darker spots and lighter spots, so do our highlights! Not everything is super bright white, some spots may be only slightly lighter than our midtones. Having this variation is what really makes our final images sparkle.paint pure white last

Look closely at your reference photos and you will see that only a very few spots are actually white.
Most of the highlights are simply a lighter, brighter tint and hue of the midtone colours. So next time you reach that spot where you’re tempted to grab that pure white and start going sparkle crazy, take a step back, breathe…resist the urge…. then try something like this instead:

  • Use a glazing technique to start brightening up parts of your painting
  • Use a different colour to brighten up your midtones (eg. mixing a bit of yellow into greens to brighten them up, or a bright green into a blue to alter it’s hue and make it look lighter)
  • Use a weaker white (like zinc white) to mix with your midtones to start creating lighter tints
  • Use Titanium white mixed with your original midtones, and your brightened up midtones to see what kind of stronger highlight colours you can get.

…after you’ve finished a couple of these steps, then you are ready.  You have resisted the shiny ball syndrome and proved that you’re no painting amateur.  Now you can take your precious pure Titanium White and apply it to the few select spots where the highlights are the strongest.

Then step back and see what a difference saving pure white until last can really make in the quality of your work!

Raccoons everywhere rejoice! Someone has overcome the temptation!

leave white highlights for last
“You have made me proud, human!”

Thanks for reading! If you’ve found this post helpful, please share it by clicking a social share button at the bottom of this post! Thank you!

Till next time, keep creating!

-Ashley <3

♥ Paint With Me ♥ Part 1: Setup

Hey guys!

I’m so excited to finally be doing this with you!!! This is our first ♥Paint With Me♥ project, where we will make some art together, step by step!

acrylic painting for beginners

I chose this whimsical tree painting due to the fact that I wanted everyone to be able to do this if they want to, regardless of their skill level.  These whimsical trees are not realistic, so there is much more room for “error” than in a painting of a real-looking tree.  You don’t have to worry about it looking accurate because it’s a fantasy, abstract tree – it can look however you want it to look!

I also wanted to incorporate my love for whimsical birds and birdcages, so I thought it would be cute to have two birds who each flew our of their own cages to be together. ♥

And you DO NOT have to draw the birdcages if you don’t want to! Feel free to give it a shot for yourself, but if you’re a beginner and you’re worried about drawing them, you can click the links below to download a PDF file from that you can use to help you (I’ll show you how to use it when we get to it).

Download the Birdcages PDF (facing left) here!

Download the Birdcages PDF (facing right) here!

Read my blog post about grounds here!

So take your time, follow along, and at the end of this month you’ll have your very own whimsical tree painting that you painted yourself!

Thanks so much for watching, and let me know via Instagram (ashleypicanco) or Twitter (@ashleypicanco) if you’re making your own!

-Ashley <3

What is Composition in Art?

Hi friends! Happy TGIF!

I thought this would be a good time to write a little introductory post to the world of composition in fine art.  This coming Tutorial Tuesday will be the start of a few videos I’ve made dedicated to helping you lean the basics of what makes a good composition (I meant it to be two videos but it’s actually going to be three because my second video ended up being 40min long!!! Who wants to sit for 40min and listen to me blab on and on!? So it’s broken up into two 20-min videos 🙂

So before we go into what makes a good composition, let’s have a look at what composition means:


The definition of composition from is described as the action of putting things together; formation or construction.

This is a good definition for us because in art, composition is literally the way you piece together your painting.  It describes all of the elements you have in your painting (both main subjects and background objects), and the way your chosen colours, placing of the subjects, and use of the canvas space interact to give an overall impression of your artwork.

The goal of good composition is to retain the viewer’s attention, leading them around your painting, guiding them through all your painting has to offer before letting their eyes drift back to the main subject of your painting.  A good composition is the difference between a viewer taking one slight look and moving on, and stopping in their tracks to get a better look at your work.

So what are the elements of composition?

Composition consists of the following:

  • Focus – your main subject.  Other elements will be dulled down to draw attention to this focal point.
  • Space – where your subject is located on the canvas and the relationship it has to its surroundings
  • Colour – the hues,tints,tones, and shades in your art and the feeling they provoke in the viewer
  • Line – movement through your painting.  This can be created with an actual line drawn on canvas or in a grouping of objects that form a visual linear path through your image
  • Shape – The overall clusters of items in your painting and how they’re perceived.  This cam be actual geometrical shapes or organic, non-defined shapes.
  • Balance – The overall feeling of the artwork being stable.  A balanced painting makes the viewer feel more comfortable looking at your painting, while an unbalanced painting gives a feeling of uneasiness (although the viewer will probably not be able to determine why they feel that way, they’ll just feel like something is “off”)
  • Contrast – the distinct difference between areas in a painting.  A high contrast painting is sharp and attention-grabbing, although can be off-putting.  A low contrast painting can fail to catch the eye of a viewer, although once looking the viewer will feel soft, calm and comfortable looking at the image.  Generally a happy mix between the two is what to strive for, unless your art is making  a statement that can use a high or low-contrast image to help convey the message.
  • Unity– elements within the painting that are similar.  This can add to balance.
  • Variety – elements withing the painting that are different.  This helps a painting be interesting and intriguing to the viewer
  • Scale –  the perceived size of the elements within your painting, as they relate to one another.  This is another element that if it is wrong, the viewer will feel off-putted and uncomfortable looking at your painting.  On the other hand, deliberate exaggerated scale and proportion in a painting, so much that the viewer understands it is intentional, can add to variety and interest.
  • Pattern – the repetition of an object or certain element in a painting. This can add interest and balance to a painting.  Our brains love patterns.  Just be careful not to overdo it as too much pattern can make our brains start to zone out and become uninterested.

Alright, so there you have it! Hopefully you now understand a bit more about what composition is all about (it’s literally everything about how you put together an image!).  Thinking about all these things when you’re trying to paint can make you crazy!!! But don’t worry, I’ll be posting my first composition-related video on Tuesday!! In the upcoming videos I’ll be sharing with you the two rules of good composition, and well as 10 tips for good composition!

Also please keep in mind that if you’re a beginner this can look overwhelming, but as you paint more and more and start to see what good compositions look like, most of this stuff will start to become intuitive.  You’ll simply want to place your subjects in certain areas, and you’ll think “this looks nice here” – well that’s your composition instincts at work!!  So don’t get worried about this stuff!

I hope you’re looking forward to our upcoming tutorial videos, and I’ll talk to you real soon!

-Ashley <3


How to Mix Grey

how to mix grey with acrylic paint

Hi friends! Continuing with our colour mixing adventures, next up is grey!  Now the first thing to pop into a beginner’s mind when thinking about mixing grey is white and black.  This is a very quick way to mix a neutral grey (know those tubes of paint you can buy called “neutral grey”?  That’s all they are…alter the ratio of white and black to get your different tones and you’re set! Save your money!)

Grey is abundant in nature, look at all the beautiful greys in this picture!
Grey is abundant in nature, look at all the beautiful greys in this picture!

Grey, however, can actually be made in a few different ways besides the standard neutral grey method,  but first we should think about why we would want to mix grey in the first place (after all, weren’t we trying to AVOID this in our colour bias lessons?) Well, actually grey has a few key purposes in painting:

  • To tone down a saturated colour into a more muted tone (I talked about this in my color theory tutorial)
  • To paint a certain area a grey colour (duh!  lol )
  • To use as a shadow colour in a painting (as opposed to black…a rich grey can bring more life to a painting’s shadow than flat black)

So in thinking about these reasons to use grey, we can think about how to mix such a grey.  Neutral grey (white + black) works for toning down a colour without changing it’s hue.  When thinking about a grey to use at face value, as a grey colour itself, however, we might want to add a punch of colour to the mix.

A complimentary grey can be mixed by using – you guessed it!- complimentary colours.  Remember that complimentary colours make grey when mixed, so playing with the ratio of your colours can give your a wide variety of greys to choose from!  Adding more white or more of the darkest complimentary colour will let you alter the tones of your grey to get the right darkness or lightness of the grey that you need.

You can also mix a warm or a cool grey depending on how you alter your ratios…more of the warm complimentary makes a warm grey, more of the cool complimentary makes a cool grey!

Finally, a primary grey can be an excellent choice for shadows as opposed to black.  Primary grey is made by mixing three primary colours together.  Take any red, blue, and yellow that you want and mix them together in various ratios to get different coloured greys.  You can use any primary with any colour bias you want! Play with it and mix them together to see what you get!  Don’t forget that you can add white to the mix if it’s getting a bit too dark to lighten the tones.  The beauty of a primary grey is the fact that it’s literally made from all three primaries, and thus will look great sitting next to any secondary colour, allowing that colour to look more vibrant as it’s secretly sitting next to it’s complimentary primary colour!

Grey has many uses in painting, and can be mixed by a variety of means.  Play around with your paints and you can discover your own recipe for grey that suits your needs!  Just remember before you use a neutral grey or a plain black for shadows…think about the richness and vibrancy you can create by mixing your own special grey!  Painting and art is all about experimentation (sometimes the process is even more important than the final result) so have fun, be brave, and create something wonderful!

***UPDATE: I’ve created a video tutorial demonstrating how to mix any gray color you need using these three methods, so if you want a step by step demo of the techniques in this post, watch it here!

Till next time, keep creating!

-Ashley <3

What Colors Make Brown?

Brown is all around us, and provides a warm neutral setting for nature's vivid colours
Brown is all around us, and provides a warm neutral setting for nature’s vivid colours

Hi friends!  We’re continuing with our colour mixing theme today and diving into another paint colour: brown!  Ah, brown.  At first it seems like such a boring colour…but brown is all around us, and the type of brown you mix for your paintings can have a real effect on the final feel of your finished painting.  [Read more…]