Introduction: Abstract Impressionist Mural

I design and create furniture and mirrors that are each a piece of art and are all made completely from glass. You can see these products at my LiiU web site, both the US site and the Taiwan site. These products use a high-temperature glass printing process that digitally prints patterns on tempered glass. You can read about the printer on my LiiU site.

I needed to test the capabilities of one of our vendors for printing on glass. I wanted to see how well they could scan artwork that was not perfectly flat, and how well it would work to scan large format source material to create larger glass pieces at high resolution. I also wanted to use the same source material to print glass several different ways in addition to the high-temperature process, to compare the results.

I decided the best way to do this would be to quickly make some large paintings in the style of abstract impressionism, with bold colors and figures. The colors exercised the range of the capabilities of the different processes, and the sharp figures made artifacts in the scanning and printing more visible. Another benefit of this plan was that it was a lot of fun to do these large paintings!

Step 1: Collect Your Materials

To do one of these paintings, you will need the following tools and materials (the links are to sample suppliers, but any reasonable equivalents will work just fine):

  1. A spacious area to work undisturbed
  2. A roll of white plastic sheeting
  3. Acrylic paints
  4. Set of brushes
  5. A putty knife
  6. Palette material - I used big pieces of tempered glass, since they were available, but just about any hard surface will do
  7. A water bucket
  8. A few large sheets of cardboard to serve as your home base and protect the floor
  9. Some clear plastic sheeting to protect the floor

Step 2: Lay Out Your Space

Lay down some clear plastic sheeting to protect the floor. Unroll the white plastic sheeting on top of it to make the work area for your painting. Make sure to leave enough extra space around the painting to give you room to walk around the painting without worrying about whether you have paint on your feet (more about that later). You should be able to get to all areas of the painting to work on them, and also stand back a bit to see what the work looks like from different angles.

Set up a piece of cardboard to serve as your home base, where you can keep your palettes and brushes. Make sure you have enough room to get to everything without having to slow down and interrupt your train of thought.

Open your acrylics and prepare some of each color you want to use on the palettes. If you need some spot colors you can mix them on the palette with the putty knife. Fill your water bucket with about 6 inches of water.

Step 3: Find Your Inspiration

This is really the hardest part. How do you describe how to be an artist? I certainly can't do it in 25 words or less here.

However, some practical advice: you need to have a picture in your mind's eye of what you are aiming for, before you ever put brush to canvas (or, in this case, plastic). What is it you are trying to say to the viewer? What is your vocabulary - is it the color? the shape? how the elements interact?

In my case, it was even more complicated, because the ceramic inks used in the high-temperature glass printing process are not RGB or CMYK. There is no magenta, but instead a sort of orange. Theoretically, the inks cover nearly the same color gamut, but it's not really the same in practice, and the software that does the color space conversion has a few quirks you need to get to know. So, I also had the medium in my mind's eye, and the effect it would have on the result.

My point is, you won't get it perfect the first time, so don't worry about it. Give it your best shot and have fun!

Step 4: Plan Your Execution

Now that you know where you are going, figure out how to get there. You'll be starting in the center and working your way out, so plan accordingly. When you layer the acrylics, there will be some mixing, so, which areas need the purest color first? Which colors do you want to pre-mix on the palette, and which do you want to mix as they are painted? What size brush do you need for different parts of the painting?

There's a lot to think about, and just like the last step, you won't get it all right the first time, or even the first few times. Practice makes perfect!

Step 5: Create

Now that you know what to do, you need to actually do it. Of course, it won't work exactly the way you planned, so you will be making some mid-course corrections. But that will not be too difficult, because you will always be guided by your inspiration from Step 3.

On a more pragmatic level, here are some tips you might find useful for this medium:

  • Make sure you get enough paint - scoop up the paint onto the brush with the putty knife and carry it over to the painting.

  • Get the large areas down first - the weight of the paint will help hold down the plastic and prevent it from moving around too much.

  • Don't be afraid to use water to mix/thin the paint that is already on the plastic - you can get some great effects this way, and you will learn how to use them as you go.

  • If you need to walk on a painted part, go ahead - just walk straight in from the edge and plan to paint over your footsteps so that they won't be visible in the final result. Once you get back off the painting, you can clean off your feet.

  • Always walk around the painting to see it from different angles as you go.

Be sure to watch me in the video to see some of these pointers in action!

Step 6: Finishing Touches

You're almost done! Step back, take a breath, clear your mind, and see where you need to make any final adjustments.

The acrylics will dry in a few hours, but try to leave your work undisturbed overnight to give it time to really set.

Clean-up should be simple and quick since you have laid out your work area efficiently and logically in Step 2.

Now enjoy watching the reactions of your audience!