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Lesley Brooks 

Landscape in acrylics


Biography: Having initially gone into a civil service job, Lesley decided to do an access course at Leicester de Montfort followed by fine art at Coventry. This was followed by PGCE then classroom teaching at a primary school where she went on to work with special needs children. Since retirement Lesley has found more opportunities to experiment with her own art and share it. 


Lesley says art is a continual process but you will find your own way of working and can share shortcuts.


Lesley’s favourite medium is oil, but she finds acrylic versatile. Although she enjoys life drawing, she mainly concentrates on landscapes, constantly finding inspiration whilst out and about. This is often a building  or something that indicates a human presence: a boat, a path, or the light. Lesley enjoys the simplicity of the north Norfolk and Norfolk Broads landscape.


Lesley says she came to realise that composition is really important. A bad composition leads to struggle with the painting and a lack of balance.


Lesley starts by making a 3 x 3 grid on canvas or canvas board. This gives a foreground middle ground and background. The focus will be where some of the centre lines meet. The grid also helps to get proportions right which is very important. View finders, either solid or through a smartphone can be helpful. 


Lesley used to use thick paint with a wet palette. Winsor and Newton Galleria Acrylics are Lesley’s favourite. Liquitex are good but are expensive. Cheaper materials mean that it’s easier to be less precious and make mistakes!


Colours used:

Cadmium yellow

Lemon yellow

Cerulean blue

Pthalo blue

Alizarin crimson

Winsor violet

Burnt umber

Burnt sienna

Raw sienna

Winsor violet

Titanium white


Retard medium if needed

Pearlescent tinting medium (was known as iridescent)


Lesley puts the shapes and rusty warm colours down first and starts to add some tonal values. With acrylics you go from dark to light. Brushes used are mainly synthetic. 


Lesley mixed cadmium yellow, burnt umber and white, a useful colour to go under sky as it is an opposite colour. Tone and tonal values are really important but Lesley really enjoys colour. It makes the colour ‘sing’ when you put it over the top. In a large expanse of water, you can see the structure in reflections and what lies beneath. Lesley likes verticals in a landscape to give balance. The composition she is working on has a boat at the focal point and lead lines going into it. Several times during the process, Lesley went back into the painting with a pencil to mark areas that she wanted to work on. 


Aerial perspective is used to push things forward. Even though the background is green trees, Lesley puts some mauve in. Burnt umber is useful for toning a colour down. 


Question about wet on wet: with oils some residual paint can come through, less so with acrylic. This has more of an effect with watercolour. Sometimes marks are made without planning, they are instinctive. You tend to layer up more with acrylic but it is possible to remove the top layer and move it around to some extent. 


Lesley mixes her own greens. Red is very important when making a green. Burnt umber is also used to tone it down. Lesley added some pearlescent medium. It gives a mauve tinge. Cobalt blue makes shadows more convincing - this was a recent discovery that gave Lesley joy. The more you dip into colours the more cohesion is created. Lesley added green, allowing under paint to show through. Winsor violet and lemon yellow makes a nice greenish grey. Grey is such an important colour according to Lesley. Before the break, Lesley added some blue for the water with titanium white for the highlights. She used a cloth to blend/reveal what was underneath. 


In answer to the question ‘do you ever leave your work ‘unfinished’ Lesley says that she likes to retain some of the energy of the underpainting. If the underpainting works she will leave it. 


Water is difficult to paint. Rather than try and paint every ripple she will suggest it in areas, similar to painting brickwork or a meadow of flowers. 


Lesley was asked whether she was using different brushstrokes. She said she was describing a form and in a way she saw it as sculpting. She sees it as intuitive. Lesley likes long flat brushes, although she was using a filbert. They can give you a nice edge. Because she was sitting at an angle to the work, Lesley has found she is using her brushes differently. Having won a voucher for Rosemary brushes, she was able to purchase from their range of synthetic brushes, which she found transformative. She spoke about Cesanne and how it was evident that certain brushes had become available during his lifetime, hence the profusion of rectangular marks that could be seen on his later work. 


In order to make the water more convincing, Lesley used yellow ochre for the lowlights (below the surface). Using a flat brush, she painted ripples. 


The result was a vibrant painting the belied the rather dull day on which Lesley’s reference photo was taken. 


Meg Grant

To view an enlarged copy of a picture 
please click on it.
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