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Beginning Acrylic: Susette Gertsch’s Tips and Techniques for learning to paint in acrylic

Susette Billedeaux Gertsch’s new book is both “how-to-do” the basics of painting with acrylics and how-not-to-be-tied-down to the realistic details in nature. It’s refreshing to find a “beginning” painting book that right away gives you permission to be painterly rather than a slave to realism and accurate drawing, which is what intimidates most beginning painters.

Starting with advice on setting up and lighting a studio space, and an introduction to acrylic paints, brushes, tools and mediums, the book continues with some of the many mark-making techniques used by acrylic painters. These are techniques used by both representational and abstract artists and will inspire the beginner to experiment and play.

Gertsch then gives a very brief introduction to color theory and recommends colors for the beginner’s palette. This section would be more helpful to the beginning artist with more illustrations of the color wheel to show intermediate and tertiary colors, and with lines linking the text (i.e.,  “color intensity”) to the applicable illustrations. Similarly, the section on drawing that follows, particularly illustrations about light and shadow, would be more helpful with lines pointing from text (i.e., “definitions of core shadow or form shadow”) to those parts of the illustration.

Gertsch very briefly touches on “7 important elements of art” and “8 important principles of design,” none of which are specifically illustrated in a way that would make them clear to a beginning student. For more advanced students, however, the concise list with definitions is a nice reminder.

Clearly, the best part of this book is the last half, which covers plein air and landscape painting design and techniques. Gertsch herself is known for her landscapes; not too many years ago, she challenged herself to paint 300 plein air paintings in a year, then exhibited them in Midway. She is also one of the founders of the Midway Art Association and their annual plein air painting competition at the end of June.

In the last half of the book, there are helpful lines and captions that clearly show the reader those parts of the illustrations that make the author’s point about paint application, color or design. And this is where Gertsch’s own painterly style will inspire and embolden the beginning painter. Though it’s not easy to paint as beautifully as Gertsch, it certainly seems easier than trying to follow the example of more realistically detailed painters.

From Gertsch’s step-by-step illustrations, artists will see how to quickly block in a painting, layer acrylic colors to show form and depth, add texture with brush strokes, and when and where to simplify or add details for interest. These are lessons that an artist could study endlessly from Gertsch’s finished paintings, or paint along with the examples from start to finish.

Two of the painting lessons involve figures in the landscape, typically a more advanced subject choice for most artists. But Gertsch breaks it down in such a way that a not-so-experienced artist can follow along without fear. The book also emphasizes, in several places, the importance of color temperature, how to adjust temperature for atmospheric perspective, and how to use a warm or cool underpainting to add depth and to unify a painting.

Though the choice of a matte paper stock dulls the colors in the illustrations, the book is beautiful and well designed. It will be a nice addition to a painter’s library of reference books, especially if your goal is to experiment with acrylics and a painterly style.


“Beginning Acrylic – Tips and techniques for learning to paint in acrylic”
Susette Billedeaux Gertsch, M.F.A.
Walter Foster Publishing, a division of Quarto Publishing Group

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