Acrylic Painting Outside the Square!

(This tutorial was previously published in the book Paint Mojo A Mixed Media Workshop by Tracy Verdugo, copyright 2014. It is republished here courtesy of North Light Books and

The grid is a representation of the Western way of thinking, where everything has to be “just so,” rigid and compartmentalized. In this artwork we are going to embark on the beginning of a journey to let go of this rigid structure and step bravely but tentatively into the unknown. Almost as soon as we create these boxes, we are going to “go outside the lines” and escape them!

What You Need

  • 12″ × 12″ (30cm × 30cm) plywood board or canvas
  • acrylic paints, favorite colors including Titanium White, Metallic Gold and Raw Umber
  • collage glue or gel medium
  • collage papers (text, scrapbook papers, magazine images)
  • disposable gloves (optional)
  • paintbrush
  • pencil
  • ruler
  • stencils/stamps
  • watercolor pencils (optional)

square step 1a 1. Draw up a grid of twenty-five equal boxes on your board.

square step 1b

On a piece of text that speaks to you, lightly sketch an image you feel aligned with. You can use one of your symbols or something in your environment that speaks to you. I used a Derwent watercolor pencil to sketch with so it would blend in easily once I began adding paint.

square step 2

2. Mix up a wash using Titanium White acrylic and water. Brush lightly in and around your design. Watch for serendipitous moments whenever you are painting. As I filled in the white, the words joy and flies popped out at me in the heart area of the bird. Love! I decided to leave them visible.

These wonderful occurrences will happen more and more as you feel yourself in the flow and they will often direct the next step of a painting.

Add in a dark tone in a couple of areas, too.

square step 3

3.  Gather your collage elements together and begin to think about a color palette. Try to limit it a little so you don’t get overwhelmed with possibilities. I decided upon soft greens and magentas with a hint of aqua and gold. Move them around the board, trying out different placements until you are happy with the layout. There
is no need to stay in the boxes. Remember we are breaking out! Overlap some elements and also think about repetitive themes to connect the elements of your painting.

I have several images and patterns that link back to the main bird symbol. Can you find them? Glue the images in place using collage glue or gel medium. Add a thin layer of glue over the top. Don’t worry about small creases and bubbles. These add character and we are moving away from a need for perfection.

square step 4

4.  With a thin brush and some Raw Umber paint, roughly paint in the grid lines that are still visible. There should now be an interesting balance between structure and a more playful placement of your collaged elements.

square step 5

5.  Place the paints you have decided upon on your palette along with some white and some Raw Umber. I personally avoid using black to mix dark colors, but you should experiment to see what appeals to you when mixing colors.

Begin to fill in areas with your paints, loosely and intuitively. Placing darker colors against lights will
add a pleasing contrast. Don’t be afraid to be messy and definitely go outside the lines! You may want
to cover some collage pieces up and leave some peeking through.

square step 6

6.  Add a stenciled design to create more texture and surprise, and repeat the design in another spot.

Using one of your own personal foam stamps, continue to layer in more color, scratching through some of the layers with designs and symbols to show the colors underneath. Push some of the colors around with your fingers (disposable gloves are optional) and watch what happens when the colors mingle. Try to maintain an attitude of curiosity and wonder and stay aware of those moments when you are about to slide into panic or critical mode.

square step 7a

square step7b

Step 7 detail

Step 7 detail

Step 7 detail

7. Look for ways to connect areas, for example, the turquoise paint on the top left, lightly smeared over the Raw Umber to almost meet the collaged blue flower element. Or the tiny blue dots I painted in from the neck of the bird up to the square piece of collaged paper, which carries the same design.

square step 8

8. Continue to find ways to refine the color placement and add cohesion to your painting. Here I added some magenta and turquoise tones to several areas including the bird, a feather stamp (more repetition) and dots to connect the feather to the dream catcher above and anchor the painting below.

square step 9

9. A few Metallic Gold highlights for a bit of oomph and an added butterfly symbol in the dark area to the left and it’s time to say Done!

(This tutorial was previously published in the book Paint Mojo A Mixed Media Workshop by Tracy Verdugo, copyright 2014. It is republished here courtesy of North Light Books and

Cover_U7579.inddTo find out more about or order a copy of Paint Mojo A Mixed Media Workshop by Tracy Verdugo, click here.

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One Response to Acrylic Painting Outside the Square!

  1. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading Paint Mojo so far, and my first painting from the techniques has been an interesting journey, exploring some ideas I’ve not used before. I am delighted to recommend this great book filled with Tracy’s work as well as quite a few other artists who make a wonderful contribution to the work. ~Hobby