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Catherine's Art Studio

My time in the studio has been a bit limited lately while I have been taking care of my grandson Ethan so when I do get out there I have to make the most of my time.  Having the studio and work space clean, organized and ready to work is very important for me.  I had about an hour one day last week so I decided to clean up my work area and organize my painting supplies.  In doing so I thought I would share some photos of palette and layout of my work space.  Having my art supplies organized and easily accessible makes it so much easier to get started when I do get to “play” in my studio.  I have made a diagram of my palette layout and also taken a photo of it while it was clean and untouched.  After trying many stay wet palettes systems I have finally decided on the 12” x 16” Masterson Sta-Wet Palette Seal. First I lay in a yellow Stay-Wet Handy Palette Sponge.  These sponges are super thin, you soak them, squeeze out the excess water and place in the bottom of the palette.  Next I place a sheet of palette paper over the sponge, this helps keep the paints moist from underneath and easier to lift up the amount of paint you need with your brush or palette knife.  I took an 8 x 10 piece of glass out of an old frame and placed that on top of the paper near the bottom edge but centered between the two sides.  Finally as you can see in the diagram below I place my colors on the palette paper in a clockwise direction starting in the lower left corner and following around to the lower right corner.

Diagram of Catherine's Acrylic Palette

The brands of acrylic paint I use are Liquitex and Golden Acrylic.  I like both of their qualities and I lean toward Liquitex because the caps are larger and easier to handle.  The tubes are vinyl and don’t crack like the metal paint tubes, I hate leaky tubes! I have made a wish list that I carry in my wallet of the paint colors I need and the brush sizes I want so when I get a 50% off coupon at one of the craft stores I can get what I need at half the cost.  If I need more than a few colors or brushes I order from Dick Blick Online Discount Art Supply and save on shipping.  They also let me make a wish list so when I am ready to order I can pull it up on their site and click away.

At the top of this blog is a photo of my work space while it was clean, below is a close up photo. I am left handed so this would be reversed for a right-handed artist. In the work space photo you will see that I have made my own brush holder out of medical syringe holders glued into a pencil tray.  It works great to separate all the different types of brushes and I can locate what I want very quickly. I did have to crowd these things a bit to get them in the photo so you could see the general layout. You can click on any of these photos to see a larger view.

At this time I am painting on old banquet tables because my son-in-law Scott wants to make me a custom desk and cabinets but we haven’t had the time nor the money quite yet.  I have to be patient because Scott does an awesome job on any project he works on so I know it will be perfect.  You can see some of his handy work in the photos below of my studio he finished out of an empty garage.  As you can see I also work on my porcelain painting,  jewelry and beading all in one studio and still  have lots of room for student work areas.

It is nice to have everything set up, clean and ready to work as soon as I get an Art Break!  Since my Art Breaks have been short and sweet lately I have been working on small pieces.  I discovered “Artist Trading Cards” recently and whenever I am working on a larger painting I try to create a similar painting on one of them.  They are 2” x 3” cards made out of water color paper. I am not real sure what to do with them yet but here are some of my finished ones:

I hope to hold a class soon for beginners on “How to Paint Flowers with Acrylics” in my studio.  If you are interested contact me by email at: and I will let you know when I get it scheduled.  Painting with acrylic paint is very versatile and satisfying once you get a system down. One of the most important factors is keeping the paints moist and cleaning your brushes frequently with soap and water.

I hope I have inspired you to paint with Acrylics!



As I think back to my very first art experience I remember sitting with my dad and watching him sketch, paint or carve various art projects.  In the short 8 years I had with him one of my fondest memories is of him teaching me how to draw a tree.  I think that is why to this day I enjoy working up my ideas in pencil first. When working from a photo I like to make a black & white copy of it.  This helps me see the subtle transitions between the lights and darks and their shapes.  Black and white photos flatten out the image more to show us the shapes of the shadows and spaces around and on the subject.


Cardinal on an Apple Tree Branch/ Acrylic Techniques on Canvas Board

My daughter Katie is Program Director for Fenner Nature Center in Lansing so I have access to great nature photos of plants and wildlife.  Fenner will be having their annual “Apple Butter Festival” this Oct. 15 & 16.  In the spirit of this I created this painting of a cardinal on an apple branch.  This is my own composition.  When I sat down to compose this I thought about my negative space and creating a path for the viewer to follow through the piece.  If a branch catches your eye and leads you off the canvas then there should be something to pull your eye back onto the piece and help your eye travel through and around the composition.  I did this with the position of the branches, leaves and even the shadow apples.

I used an analogous color scheme on the painting.  I wanted it to feel warm and vibrant like a fall afternoon.  Analogous colors sit next to each other on the color wheel.  I used the Cardinal and the apples as my main color and then built my scheme around that. I always have my color wheel close at hand.

I am still exploring how I want to lay out my pallet for acrylic painting.   I found that the pallet paper was curling up on me so I replaced it with an 8 x 11 sheet of double strength glass for mixing on.  I used narrow strips of the pallet paper to squeeze out my paints on, letting the edges rest under the glass to keep them down.  I mist my paints often and place the cover over them if I have to step away from my painting for any amount of time.  I also find I have to keep my dirty brushes moist and wash them often so the paint doesn’t dry up and ruin them.

Please feel free to comment or contact me if you have any questions or just want to share.  Have a great painting experience!

Getting Motivated!

I finally got a chance to get back to my studio and play with my paints this week. Playing is hard work! I have been asked to teach a class at Fenner Nature Center in the fall on painting flowers with acrylics so I figured I’d better get busy. My primary medium has been overglaze on porcelain for the last 30 years. (Wow I can’t believe I am old enough to have done something for 30 years!) Since 1996 I have traveled around the country holding seminars on painting on china so now I am shifting gears a bit. As I am trying to stay closer to home to help care for my grandson Ethan I will be teaching locally and out of my beautiful new studio here in my backyard.

In the last few years I have been branching out and working in Watercolor and Acrylics. Watercolor is the closest to the china painting style as we use the white of the porcelain the same way a water-colorist uses the white of the paper. At the same time, I am secretly enjoying the acrylic painting style because I finally get to use white paint! I also find that acrylics are virtually odorless and nontoxic, clean up with water and within 30 minutes of finishing the painting are dry and ready to frame. Acrylic paint is a fast drying paint because it consists of pigment suspended in acrylic polymer emulsion. Acrylics are very versatile in that the finished painting can resemble anywhere from a transparent watercolor painting to an oil painting with lots of texture. In addition the colors can be bolder. Another bonus of using acrylics is that a wide variety of surfaces can be painted on. At the present my favorite surface is Claybord©. This is a masonite type of board coated with Kaolin which is the main ingredient in porcelain. Using the Claybord© makes me feel like I still have a connection with my porcelain. So……………having said all that to say this………..I just finished this painting of a white daisy that I hope to use as a study for my class.

Still playing with Acrylic Painting Techniques

The more time I get to escape into my studio this week to play and experiment with my Acrylics the more I realize how much I am learning and enjoying working with them.  I can’t stress enough times how I like the fact that acrylics are odorless and non toxic.  Don’t have to worry about odors in the studio and everything cleans up with soap and water.  Can’t get any simpler than that!

Rose of Sharon /Acrylics with Blending Medium on Canvas Board

Acrylic Blending Medium

As I have said before, my Porcelain Art seemed to come very easy to me but trying something new at this stage in my life seems a bit scary and I feel a little unsure of my painting ability.  So I started rethinking what my style is.  I looked back thru my career as a Porcelain Artist and found some of my published art pieces.  I decided to try to duplicate this style with Acrylics. I had to think why I was struggling and what could make this transition smoother.  I decided to explore Wet on Wet painting techniques with the use of blending mediums.  I had a jar of Acrylic Blending Medium and Watercolor blending medium.   These mediums slow down the drying process of the acrylic paint and allow the artist to blend colors, make a smoother transition from light to dark and soften hard edges.

I found that the Acrylic Blending Medium could make the finished product a bit too shiny for me so I tried the Watercolor Blending Medium to see if I liked that better and I did.  I put a small amount in a small plastic cup used for medicine, as I have an abundance of them, and I dipped my brush into it and then into my paint.  I found I liked this medium much better and it allowed me the smooth transitions I was looking for.  Of course I am still not 100% happy with the painting but I am getting closer to my goal.

My hopes for this blog is to let people out there know that it is never too late to learn.  Don’t be afraid to try Acrylic Painting or any painting technique you might have wanted to try.  I would normally not share my experiments with the world but I want to touch anyone who might be struggling a bit like me and to learn as we go along together.   I still have a list of things I want to do when I grow up!

Acrylic Gel Medium Transfers

One thing on my list is to try photo transfers.  I don’t know much about them but have always been interested in the look.  I did some searching and I found a young man’s site that explained how he did it step by step.  I have never tried them because of the caustic solutions I had heard you had to use.  Paul Fujita says you can make transfers with just Acrylic Gel Medium, photo copies and water.  Check out his site to see the step by step directions with photos.  There are so many possibilities here and I can’t wait to try this.

I hope by sharing my journey I have inspired at least one person to jump in there and start painting.  Please feel free to comment or contact me if you have any questions or just want to share.  Have a great painting experience!


Re-Invention of an Artist | Acrylic Painting Techniques

Wild Rose -Acrylic on Claybord©

Acrylic Painting Tips

I would like you to join me as I transition into Acrylics.  For many years my main medium was Porcelain Art, but as my time in the studio is a bit limited for now I find that acrylic painting techniques provides me with a finished product in less time.  Don’t get me wrong I still hope to have time to do my Porcelain painting and hopefully teach here in my home studio.  Porcelain Art, also know as China Painting, is and has been my first love in the art world.  It all came very easy for me and I taught many seminars on it.  I hope to excel in acrylic painting as well and get a chance to set up classes in it also.  I have always felt that my art was like therapy for me, as I can become very involved in painting the beautiful nature around me and forget all the craziness in the world, at least for a short time anyway.

I enjoy teaching others almost as much as painting so I hope to share some of my painting techniques, struggles, triumphs and “masterpieces” with you.  Please feel free to contact me if you need help or have questions.

Acrylic Painting Techniques

As I make this transition I would like to share with you what I have discovered to make the process a little easier.  Acrylic paints dry very quickly, this is good for getting a piece finished in a short time but can be bad when your paints dry up before you have finished your masterpiece.  What I have found through my research is that you have to use a wet pallet system.  You can purchase a wet pallet from any of the craft stores but I have found a simple plastic tray works if set up correctly.  There is a thin yellow pallet sponge you can purchase that works very well but wet paper towels work almost as good.  You have to decide what you are comfortable spending to get set up.  You will also need to have a squirt bottle close by to mist your paints and keep them moist and creamy.  I purchased a tablet of pallet paper.  This is paper that is coated on the top side to help with mixing the paints.  First I place the damp sponge on the tray and then place a sheet of the pallet paper on top of the sponge.  Once I have decided on a color scheme I place  the paints onto the paper in an order similar to my color wheel.  Depending on the size of my painting I try not to get too carried away with large dollops of paint.  You can always add more but if you don’t keep the paints moist they will form a thick skin on top and you can’t rework it.

My best advice to you is get a few paint colors, some of the supplies I mentioned above and jump in there and start painting.  Acrylic painting techniques can  be applied to almost any surface so you don’t need an expensive canvas to start on.  I use watercolor paper, illustration board and of course my favorite Claybord© by Ampersand.  I have even painted on an electric guitar!

Happy painting,

Catherine Tonning-Popowich – Artist