Art Studio Secrets: More Than 300 Tools and Techniques to Inspire Creativity

Art Studio Secrets: More Than 300 Tools and Techniques to Inspire Creativity

by Marjorie Sarnat


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Award-winning illustrator and painter Marjorie Sarnat presents an outstanding refresher course in creative thinking, suitable for artists of every level. In this guide, she shares the tips and techniques she's discovered in the course of her personal experiences and explorations. These 300 quick, easily grasped text passages detail methods for adding inspiration and innovation to your creative process. The new, hands-on approaches to materials, painting surfaces, and texture applications can help you find a fresh angle for your style or break through a creative block.
Every "secret" in this book is expressed in practical terms geared toward boosting your artistic abilities. From sharpening your drawing skills and applying media in unique ways to creating intriguing visual illusions and refining your choices of color and composition, this guide is loaded with advice and fresh ideas. You'll also find cost-saving ways to obtain and manage your art tools and supplies as well as scores of ideas for making art with creative kids.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780486826721
Publisher: Dover Publications
Publication date: 12/18/2018
Series: Dover Art Instruction Series
Pages: 192
Sales rank: 1,163,425
Product dimensions: 8.20(w) x 10.70(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Marjorie Sarnat is the author and illustrator of Dover's bestselling Creative Cats Coloring Book and Owls Coloring Book as well as more than a dozen other books on art and creativity. The Chicago native is an award-winning mixed-media artist whose fanciful coloring book style evolved from her love of patterns, which she developed in the course of her work as a textile designer.

Read an Excerpt


Creative Acrylics

Acrylic paints are an infinitely versatile medium. They can be used in either opaque or transparent applications — or anything between. There are multitudes of paints and mediums available. Acrylic paints and mediums are strong adhesives, so they are ideal in collages.

Most colors are not toxic if you keep them out of your mouth. Wear latex gloves if you are concerned about skin contact. Several lines of acrylic craft paints claim to be nontoxic; you can find them online.

Almost every acrylic product is compatible with every other, so you can experiment to your heart's content.

About Acrylics for Kids

Let kids use acrylic paint. They're not any messier than tempera or watercolor paints if you catch drips before they dry and remember to rinse the brushes often. Acrylics clean up well with soap and water.

The creative results are highly satisfying for kids because acrylics offer endless possibilities for expression.


Use dimensional paint in pointed-tip bottles from craft stores to draw "embossed" lines, or make raised dots and marks on your paintings. Let dry and paint over the raised paint with acrylics, varying your colors as you paint over the raised lines and marks. You can achieve a variety of interesting effects with this easy technique.

After the raised paint is dry, you can create another effect with glazes. Allow the glazes to pool near raised areas, creating darkened accents near raised lines.



Mix colors with a palette knife onto disposable palette paper. Let dry, then peel them off and attach to another surface with acrylic gel or wet acrylic paint.

Acrylics always bond to each other. Don't forget to look at the underside of the skins; they have exciting color effects too.

Acrylic skins will mold to any contour, so you can decorate dimensional objects, bas-relief work, and assemblages.

You can also leave them on the palette paper and cut them into specific shapes to use in paintings.

Always save disposable palette paper with dried acrylic paint on it. You can use the skins in a future project.



To make acrylic mosaic tiles, use a palette knife to mix colors onto a disposable palette, canvas paper, or other heavy paper. Use gloss medium for creating clear and transparent effects. Let dry. Cut into squares, and adhere the tiles to a surface with acrylic paint or the gloss medium. A final coat of clear acrylic varnish will keep the tiles bonded to the surface.



Attach small wood shapes to sticky back paper, or adhere them to heavy paper with a glue stick. Swirl acrylic paint colors over the entire wood piece surface.

Let dry. Pull them up or cut them apart, and adhere them to a surface with acrylic gel. Rearrange them for random effects.



To make acrylic mosaic tiles, brush colors onto a clear acetate sheet, sandpaper, or foil, letting some of the surface texture show. Use gloss medium for creating clear and transparent effects. Let dry. Cut into squares or strips, and apply to a surface with acrylic paint or medium.



Mix colors onto clear acetate, leaving many areas open. Let dry, then paint the opposite side, leaving some areas open. Mount against another colorful or interesting surface with acrylic paint or medium. You can layer acetate paintings over each other to create interesting effects that have depth.

Acetate sheets are available from office supply stores.


Paint acrylic colors onto clear acetate, then smoosh the painted side against another painted surface, such as a painted canvas board. Let dry. The paint will bond the acetate to the canvas. Trim the edges of the acetate, if needed.

Thick paint may need extra time to dry, especially since the acetate is nonporous.

This simple technique is great fun, and the results are always surprising.



Photocopy intricate or bold black-and-white designs onto clear acetate. Paint the backs with acrylics. Let dry, and cut up for collage use. Or layer these clear base designs over printed papers. Make sure the copier you use is approved for clear acetate sheets.


Acrylic high-gloss varnish is the glossiest, clearest one-step gloss varnish I have found. It's glossier than regular acrylic gloss varnish. It creates an "encasing" effect on collage pieces.


Spices such as pepper, sesame seeds, kosher salt, and dried herbs make interesting texturing mix-ins for acrylic paints and varnishes.

Some artists mix in small pasta shapes. Acrylics thoroughly seal organic material, so don't worry about decay.

Consider adding tiny beads, glitters, crayon shavings, broken ceramic, clock parts, small nails and screws, paper clips, staples, sand, small rubber bands, and other small particles as mix-ins. Let dry. Paint over the textured surface, or burnish or roll over the texture with metallic rubbing cream or paint.


Sprinkle dried herbs, coffee grounds, wood shavings, sawdust, crushed eggshells, seeds, or kosher salt directly over wet acrylics for distressed or earthy effects.

Let dry, and coat with clear acrylic medium or glazes. Add to your list of possibilities with ingredients you find in your everyday life. Paint over in a single color for interesting bas-relief effects. You can cover the surface or let bits of the underlayer remain uncovered. Seal it with clear acrylic medium.


A drop or two of colored ink, food coloring, dyes, or liquid watercolor mixed into clear acrylic gloss or matte varnish makes wonderful tinted glazes.



It can be frustrating to artists who work in acrylics to discover that as the paint dries it becomes more transparent, often revealing underlying areas and brushstrokes you didn't wish to show. Particles in the paint are milky when they are wet but dry clear. You can make acrylics slightly more opaque by adding a bit of acrylic "chalky" paint to your regular acrylics or adding a bit of opaque watercolor (gouache) to the acrylic paint. On the other hand, the transparency of acrylic colors makes for beautiful colors when layered and used in glazes.


Matte medium will have a slightly milky surface, which can create muted beauty when layered over colors and collage elements. If you want an ultra-transparent look, use gloss mediums.


Although acrylics can be diluted with water, avoid watering them down when applying foundation layers to an artwork. The water will prevent the binding properties from holding your paint together, and you may experience some flaking. It's best to dilute acrylics with acrylic mediums.


When painting with acrylics, you can get raised ridges from your brushstrokes that will dry that way. Some artists like this effect and use it in their expressions. If you don't want ridges, which will peek through additional layers, flatten them with your brush before they dry. Soft brushes minimize the ridge effect.


The natural transparency of acrylic paints can be used to your advantage by painting in thin layers, called veils. The layers build up beautiful color, similar to how more transparent glazes do. For this technique, thin the paint with matte or gloss medium and a bit of water.

Start with a dry underpainting that is fairly flat and not too textural. Continue to apply thin layers of color wherever you want them, one color at a time, letting the paint dry between the layers. Apply many layers to some areas, and let some areas have few layers. The results will be soft and show lovely subtle color effects.


Easy Transfer Techniques

A transfer technique is a way to apply a drawing or image to another surface or substrate. Transferring saves time because you don't need to draw an image from the beginning. Transferred images have other advantages — each one has a unique look. They can look a little distressed, ghostly, or uneven. You can emphasize these qualities as part of the personality of your piece or use your transferred image only as a guide.

There are a great many transfer techniques. I included the following because I've found them to be the easiest and least complicated to work with, while yielding the best results. All use basic materials.


Transferring an image to a substrate involves applying a thin layer of acrylic medium or paint between the image and the substrate.


Toner-based/laser print images work well. Black-and-white images are best. Magazine images in color often work too. Ink-jet images do not work. If you want to transfer your own drawing or sketch, make a toner-based/laser print of it.

Tip: If you want to transfer words or letters, you must have a mirror image so that it will appear in the proper direction.

Tip: Consider enlarging or reducing your image on the copier to get various compositional effects.

Acrylic Medium

Soft gloss gel medium works best and gives the clearest image. Liquid acrylics and other gels and mediums work too. Matte mediums give a cloudier image, which may be desirable. Heavier gels and heavy bodied paints leave an uneven texture (and transfer) under your image.


Transfer onto any sturdy surface such as canvas, canvas board, chipboard, illustration board, wood, or heavy papers. The substrate surface should be fairly porous so that your transfer adheres well.


Use a brush or palette knife to apply the acrylic layer to the substrate. Avoid the buildup of ridges. Do not add water at this stage.

Tip: Some artists apply the gel to the back of their image and apply it to the substrate. Some artists apply the gel to both the substrate and the image. I prefer applying it to the substrate only, but experiment if you wish.

Add Your Image

Trim loosely around your image. While the acrylic material is wet, place the image facedown onto the substrate. Gently burnish it down with your fingers, working from the inside out so you don't trap air bubbles. Avoid getting acrylic onto the paper backing of your image.

Let Dry

Let the acrylic materials dry completely. This requires twenty-four hours or more. The acrylic material may feel dry to the touch, but if it is not thoroughly dry, the images will break and tear as you remove the paper backing.

Removing the Paper Backing

Lightly sand the paper backing of your image to break down the fibers. Dribble, mist, or sponge some water onto the backing to soften it, and let the water soak in for a minute or two. Fabric softener added to the water may help.

Remove the paper backing by sloughing it away with your fingers in a circular motion. Try using a soft toothbrush, vegetable brush, or sponge.

After the paper is removed, you will have a transparent or translucent image embedded in the acrylic medium or paint.

Tip: Sometimes the image gets cloudy again after it dries. This is because bits of paper that are still attached become opaque as they dry. You can remedy this by gently repeating the process of removing the paper or coating the image with gloss medium, which tends to make the paper transparent. Matte medium will not work.

Tip: If part of your image tears away, you can use a permanent marker to fill in missing lines. A distressed effect can be very appealing too.

Tip: If you wish to have a more subtle transfer to paint into (less contrast), mix a bit of a light color into matte medium and coat over your transferred image to create a veiled effect. Add more color to the medium or apply additional coats of the mixture for an even lighter image.

Optional Final Coat

Some artists apply a coat of Golden's GAC medium for smoothing and isolating the surface over a transfer. I have not found this necessary, but every artist has unique preferences.

Paint Your Painting

Glaze over your transferred image. Paint into and around it. Add collage elements. Apply and layer more transfers to your substrate. The possibilities are infinite!

Tip: This is an artistic process and not intended to be perfectly controlled draftsmanship. See what you get and respond to it, adjusting and expressing as you go.


There are many variations for this basic transfer process. All acrylic paints and gels work in a similar way and are compatible with each other. Experiment with various gels, mediums, and paints to find what works best for you.



Use toner-based photocopies or laser prints (which are also toner-based). Ink-jet copies do not work.

1 Trim around your image, but leave a little space around the edges to make it easy to handle. Lay the image faceup on a nonporous surface, such as palette paper or a plastic sheet. Tape the image down at the corners with masking tape or something similar.

2 Gloss medium/varnish and soft gloss gel medium work well. Apply either over the image with a soft brush or palette knife. Let dry thoroughly. Add a second coat if you wish. This will make the skin more durable.

3 When the coating is thoroughly dry (twenty-four hours or more is best), soak the coated image in lukewarm water in a shallow pan for three or four minutes. Soaking for too long may cause the image to fog.

4 Place the image facedown on a clean, nonporous surface. Begin rubbing the paper backing in a circular motion with your fingers until most of the paper is removed. A soft brush or sponge may help. You may need to repeat this step.

5 Let the skin air-dry. Sometimes an image looks milky, but it will clear as it continues to dry.

6 You may cut the dry skin. Use acrylic medium or gel to adhere the skin to a painting on canvas or a paper surface, or wrap it around a three-dimensional object. The color beneath it will show through the clear film.

You may paint the back of the film, gold leaf it, or apply it to collage paper before incorporating it into your artwork. The possibilities are endless and exciting.


White transfer paper creates delicate effects over dark surfaces. It adheres best over dark paper and dark painted watercolor or gouache areas.

Lay a piece of the transfer paper over the surface, with the transfer side down and the back side up. As you make marks onto the back of the transfer paper, your lines will transfer white onto dark.

To transfer a line drawing, tape it to the back side of the transfer paper. Position these papers onto your painting surface and tape them in place. Now trace over the drawing with a ballpoint pen. Lift the transfer papers, and you have a white line drawing. Remove any white residue with a kneaded eraser.

The white lines can be enhanced beautifully with acrylic glazes tinted with color. You may need to apply more than one layer of glaze.

Kid-Friendly with Supervision


To transfer a drawing onto canvas, board, or paper, trace your subject onto tracing paper. On the back side of the tracing paper, trace over the lines with a soft pencil or pastel pencil. For pastel pencils, use a warm neutral like sienna or umber. Lay the paper right side up over your surface. Position it, and tape it down. Trace over your original lines with a ballpoint pen or sharp pencil. It's best to use a red or a contrasting color so you can see if you missed any lines.

The underside pastel or pencil will transfer the image onto the surface.


There are many techniques for transferring images onto surfaces. Some require expensive materials, are more involved than I wish to tackle, or offer iffy results.

The following technique is my favorite because it's simple and satisfying.


* Chartpak brand colorless blender markers: They have strong fumes because of the solvent, so wear a mask or work where ventilation is good. Note: Other brands of markers will not work.

* Images for transferring: Use toner-based photocopies or laser printer copies. Black-and-white images work best because color inks do not always transfer well. Note: Inkjet prints will not transfer.

* Scissors

* Wooden spoon or a flat, smooth burnishing tool

* A surface to transfer onto: Heavy paper, cardboard, and wood work well. Canvas and textured surfaces give you uneven results (which may yield a look worth exploring).


Excerpted from "Art Studio Secrets"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Marjorie Sarnat.
Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Preface, xi,
Introduction, xiii,
CHAPTER 1 Creative Acrylics, 3,
CHAPTER 2 Easy Transfer Techniques, 9,
CHAPTER 3 Mixed-Media Methods, 15,
CHAPTER 4 Faux Encaustics, 23,
CHAPTER 5 Assemblage & Collage Tips, 29,
CHAPTER 6 Faux Egg Tempera, 37,
CHAPTER 7 Artsy Effects, 41,
CHAPTER 8 Texturing Tools, 51,
CHAPTER 9 Managing Materials, 59,
CHAPTER 10 At Your Surface, 65,
CHAPTER 11 Composition Rules & Clues, 75,
CHAPTER 12 Color Tips & Truths, 83,
CHAPTER 13 Drawing Secrets, 95,
CHAPTER 14 Tonal Values, 101,
CHAPTER 15 Painting in Oils, 107,
CHAPTER 16 Artist Trading Cards, 115,
CHAPTER 17 Finding Your Style, 121,
CHAPTER 18 Creativity, Inspiration, & Idea Sparkers, 131,
CHAPTER 19 Visual Reference, 139,
Awesome Resources, 147,
About the Author, 169,

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