Technique Tuesdays: Expressive Painting with Annie O’Brien Gonzales

Welcome back to Technique Tuesdays! This week we’re sharing a lesson in expressive painting from mixed-media artist and professional painter Annie O’Brien Gonzales. Originally featured in our March/April 2017 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors, this tutorial will show you how to create a gorgeous floral painting using acrylic paint. Expressive acrylic painting allows for endless mixed-media techniques, but Annie recommends trying out a few in each painting rather than throwing all of them into one. This will allow you to determine which techniques work best for you. Follow Annie’s instructions below to get started.

Expressive Painting
“Welcome Spring” artwork and step-out photos by Annie O’Brien Gonzales. Finished artwork photo by Sharon White Photography.

Expressive Painting by Annie O’Brien Gonzales


  • Floral arrangement or a photo of one
  • Painting surface: Gessobord panel or canvas (I used a 18″ x 18″ stretched canvas.)
  • Pencils and crayons (I used Derwent Watercolor pencils, Stabilo® Woody Pencils, Soho™ Urban Artist Soft Pastels, Caran d’Ache® Neocolor II Watersoluble crayons, Faber-Castell Gelatos®)
  • Synthetic bristle brushes, flat or bright (I used 1/2″, 1″, and 2″ brushes.)
  • Golden® Artist Colors Fluid Acrylics in your color palette (I used Phthalo Blue (Green Shade), Ultramarine Blue, Quinacridone Magenta, Alizarin Crimson Hue, Cadmium Yellow Medium Hue, Hansa Yellow Light, Sap Green Hue, Phthalo Green (Blue Shade), Turquoise (Phthalo), Transparent Yellow Iron Oxide, and Iridescent Gold (Fine).)
  • Liquitex® Professional Acrylic INK! (I used Iridescent Rich Copper.)
  • Gift card or bowl scraper
  • Golden Artist Colors High Flow acrylic paints (I used Hansa Yellow Light and Ultramarine Blue.)
  • Ranger Tim Holtz® Distress Spray Stains (I used Evergreen Bough and Rusty Hinge.)
  • Mark-making tools (I used chopsticks, bamboo sticks, and a brayer.)
  • Stencils, homemade or commercial
  • Golden Artist Colors Acrylic Glazing Liquid Gloss

1. Set up a simple flower arrangement for inspiration, including some of your favorite blooms, or use a colorful photo.

NOTE: I usually choose three types of flowers with different shapes for an interesting arrangement.

2. Turn on inspiring music and begin to add random marks to create a loose mixed-media underpainting, using some of your favorite supplies, such as pencils and crayons, and alternating squirts of fluid acrylics and inks. Using a plastic gift card or bowl scraper, move the paint around the surface randomly. (FIGURE 1)

NOTE: My overall color scheme consists of analogous green variations with pops of red and pink for complementary contrast. Complementary colors are those directly across the color wheel from each other (red/green, blue/orange, yellow/purple), which provide the greatest color contrast, and therefore the most pop. I did the underpainting with all of the greens and blues from my palette added randomly. Since this is an expressive style of painting, the underpainting was done very loosely (the start loose-stay loose idea) and intuitively, without a lot of analysis. This style of painting also means that not everything is preplanned. You are responding to what is happening on the painting as you go along.

Expressive Painting

3. Make marks through the paint with bamboo skewers, a brayer, sticks, etc. Alternate adding various colors of paint with mark making until the surface is complex and layered. (FIGURE 2)

Expressive Painting

4. Add a stencil design or 2 to add pattern. (FIGURE 3) Don’t worry about composition at this point—you are building texture into the piece, even if all of these marks are painted over in the end. It’s important to stay loose and enjoy this part of the process. Allow to dry.

Expressive Painting

5. Map out your composition on the surface of the canvas, using a contrasting colored pencil or dry pastel. (FIGURE 4) The idea is to only place the arrangement on the surface, so just an outline will do at this point. Don’t add details.

Expressive Painting

6. Mix a small amount of transparent fluid acrylic paint with a larger amount of Acrylic Glazing Liquid. I used Phthalo Blue in a 1:3 paint-to-medium ratio, and added a light glaze to the background. Allow the texture of your complex underpainting to shine through.

7. Block in the largest flower shapes and leaf clusters, using your darkest flower color. Think shapes at this point, not detailed flowers and leaves. Create large areas of color as placeholders. I used a mixture of Phthalo Blue and Phthalo Green for the darkest leaf shapes and Alizarin Crimson and Quinacridone Magenta for the large flower shapes. (FIGURE 5)

NOTE: Uneven numbers of items create a better design than even numbers.

TIP: Create interest by making each flower a different shape and size as well as varying the spaces between them.

Expressive Painting

8. Choose a color for the vase, and block in a dark value of that color. I used a glaze of fluid Quinacridone Nickel Azo Gold mixed with Acrylic Glazing Liquid, using the same 1:3 ratio. (FIGURE 5) Using the same pencils, crayons, and stencils as before, recreate some elements and marks. Create a pattern on the surface the vase sits on, or on the wall, or scribble some marks into the flowers. Maybe all of the above, if you are feeling adventurous.

TIP: While you are painting, think about moving from dark to light, large to small, and big picture to detail.

9. Layer variations of color on the flower and leaf shapes. Think of creating 3 different mixtures of colors for the leaves and flowers. This means working forward from darker to lighter and cooler to warmer variations on the leaves and flowers. Add small details last, such as stamens on the flowers, stems on leaves, and dots of contrasting colors to the different areas to create a pop of value or color contrast. For example, you can see that I added the orange stamens for the lilies on top of the blue background, and yellow-green dots against the blue/green. Consider adding a few more stencil shapes or marks. (SEE OPENING IMAGE.) Don’t get too detailed or fall into the realism trap. Think of these details as the jewelry you put on just as you leave the house. Have fun with it.

TIP: It’s likely that you will want to adjust the values of the shapes that overlap to create more contrast, as I did. If shapes have similar values and are too indistinct, a common occurrence, choose some places to create greater contrast between the flowers and the leaf shapes by recreating the dark/light contrast.

10. Step back and take a long look. What’s working for you and what’s not? Make any necessary adjustments.

Annie O’Brien Gonzales is a professional painter, teacher, and author from Santa Fe, New Mexico. Her work is represented by galleries across the U.S., appears in juried exhibitions, and is collected internationally. She is the author of Bold Expressive Painting: Painting Techniques For Still Lifes, Florals, and Landscapes, from North Light Books, as well as three videos on expressive painting.

Visit Anne’s website at

Ready for more? Find this article on expressive painting and much more in the March/April 2017 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors. Print and digital copies are available to purchase in our online shop.

March/April 2017

You can also get print or digital copies of Annie’s fantastic book, Bold Expressive Painting: Painting Techniques For Still Lifes, Florals, and Landscapes, in our online shop!




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