How to Paint Like an Artist – Using Very Unconventional Tools

How many times have you seen paintings at an art gallery, exhibition or someone’s home and you’ve stood there admiring the painting and thinking “I can do that” – especially if it is an abstract painting? Well, I must say that thought has run through my mind as well, but I’ve found that it’s not as easy as you might think. If you wish to sell your paintings, your work must be professionally and creatively thought through.

I am an artist. I have had many solo exhibitions, and I do commission work, which keeps me very busy. I was taught privately 35 years ago, and it took me until 10 years ago to expose myself as an artist by having my very first solo exhibition, which was quite daunting.

My teacher was a very well-known artist and the medium she taught me in was oils, mainly because acrylic paints weren’t available at the time. I prefer to use acrylics because I don’t like the smell of fumes from turpentine, which you use to clean your brushes and tools. Both mediums have both their positives and negatives. Whichever medium you use is very much as personal choice.

Oil paint is a smooth full-bodied paint, has a high level of pigmentation providing good covering power and, most importantly, has good working properties and light fastness. However, it takes a long time to dry. Acrylic paint is quick drying and light fast, has good covering power and tinting strength, has a smooth and buttery consistency, is made with high quality pigment and has a gloss finish.

My art teacher passed on before I had my first exhibition, so from then on I was self-taught and I chose to go down the path of abstract painting rather than traditional landscapes and portraits. My paintings are very bright, colourful, large and bold. It has been an interesting journey for me, and I have never looked back because I love what I am doing. To create abstract paintings was very exciting because I was never conventional in how I went about painting (and you don’t have to be), so I let my creative juices flow, jumped outside the box and tried to be different.

In this article, I’m going to show you briefly how to create a perfect palette for your painting. I’ll also give you some ideas on what tools you can use to make your textures and colours stand out on a canvas, while in many respects moving away from using the traditional brushing method.

More often than not, when I start a painting, I have no mental vision of how it will look when finished. As any artist will tell you, watching shapes, images and colours merge is an exhilarating experience. I would like to emphasise that the experience of the act of creating is as important to me as a finished painting.

Unusual Tools to Make your Painting Interesting

When choosing tools to use in painting, you are limited only by your imagination. I haunt hardware stores for unusual things I can use to make marks, gouge, scrape, sponge or scratch out parts of a painting. Palette knives, sponges, bird feathers, beach sand, toothbrushes, bamboo sticks, tissues, razor blades, masking fluid, salt, eyedroppers, combs, drinking straws, rubber rollers (brayers), sheets of plastic wrap, sheets of scrunched alfoil, nylon string bags, gauze, hessian, muslin, forks, old credit cards or laminated business cards, spray bottles used to disperse the paint on the canvas, sauce squeeze bottles for squeezing paint on the canvas randomly – these are just some of the items I use to create textures and other effects in my work.


It is always good to have a large assortment of brushes and use whichever ones suit your needs for a particular painting. I work with everything from a 4 inch hake brush to a variety of smaller brushes including round, pointed and square.

Modelling Paste

One of the most versatile acrylic mediums is modelling paste, which enables you to get wonderful textured and three-dimensional effects. It is a thick, translucent impasto medium that is quite flexible, meaning if used properly it won’t crack when dry.

Glazing Medium

Glazing mediums are great for creating a translucency. When mixed with paint and applied over dried underpaintings, they give an optical effect and enhance the colours.

How to Create an Excellent Artist’s Palette

Firstly – and most importantly – to achieve a good palette, you must prime your canvas with an acrylic gesso, preferably giving your canvas two coats. Acrylic gesso is most often used as a ground for acrylic and oil paintings. It gives the canvas ‘teeth’ to paint on and ultimately establishes a perfect palette to start your painting.

Your next step is to apply a coat of the primary colour as the base colour for your painting. With abstract painting, my opinion is that there’s nothing contrived about it, e.g. you don’t see even brush strokes or very precise drawings, so you can be free as you want to be, so long as you have an imaginary picture in mind to start with.I could go on forever, with different ideas. It’s very difficult to put all my ideas in one article, but I assure you that if you let your creative juices go wild you will end up with a very exciting painting.

Recently, a global television story featured an elephant artist; this elephant was so talented -especially choosing his colours and textures with his trunk – it was hard to believe, until you saw him do it. He had his first exhibition in New York just recently. So, if an elephant can do it, I believe we humans should be able to!