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How to Make a Space Painting - New Pen Plot Art

Posted by Michelle Chandra on

Just this past July, I hosted Plot Party, a week-long pen plotting art challenge on Instagram! One of the prompts was mixed media, which I turned into an excuse to get out my paint brushes and acrylic inks and make a painting to plot on.

Many years ago, I loved making abstract acrylic paintings. This time around was a little different though, as I ended up using my Aero Color acrylic inks (rather than acrylic paint!), watercolor paper and lots of water to "watercolor" with my acrylic inks. (Learn more about using Aero Color inks with a pen plotter in this blog post!)

Here is the final painting, which I ended up selling shortly after Plot Party!

How to Paint a Space "Galaxy" with Acrylic Inks

Where do you turn to when you want to paint a space galaxy and you are under deadline?! YouTube, of course!

Armed with techniques and ideas, the first step was to tape down my rough textured watercolor paper to a masonite board with blue painter's tape on all sides so as to create a half inch white border, then saturate the paper with water.

I prepared a plastic paint tray with violet, phthalo green, black, metallic gold and silver Aero Color acrylic inks, diluting them with water. Using a round brush, I flung ink at the paper starting with the brightest and lightest ink (pthalo green and violet!) This part is really fun as the ink spreading with the water on the paper in this initial stage is quite mesmerizing (and could be a painting in and of itself, if you stopped there!)

From there, I added washes of color, painting them on in cloud like forms to create an atmospheric feeling of space (making sure to leave some areas with the lighter green and violet not completely painted over!) Successive washes should get darker by mixing in black ink (or using dark blue) for that feeling of space. I also used a paper towel at times to remove some of the ink and work over areas again if needed. Finally, I finished the work by spraying metallic gold and silver ink with a brush to create a feeling of stars.

The process is similar to watercolor in that I painted washes of color with the acrylic inks and diluted the inks with water. However, the two mediums are different. Once acrylic ink dries, it is not reworkable and will be permanent on the page. Acrylic inks are also more unpredictable (being open to working loosely is key!) Also, they will dry much lighter than how they appear when wet (which is part of the fun!)

Once the painting was dry, I quickly photographed it so I could create mockups with my various generative designs in Illustrator. It was very difficult to decide what design would work on the painting (given there was only one painting, I started feeling a tad precious about the process!) I needed a design that was much simpler than my usual designs so as to allow the underlying space painting to still shine through underneath. I ended up settling on a simple "space rays" generative design with the lines drawn using metallic gold and silver Posca pens (extra fine!)

Similar to the watercolor painting process, I taped down the painting to the AxiDraw on all sides with blue painter's tape so the painting would lie flat on the pen plotter and also so the paint markers would not draw on the white paper border.

Some Key Learnings Making Space Painting Pen Plots!

I had so  much fun with this entire process of plotting on a painting, that I decided to make even more paintings to plot on! A small collection of space paintings are now up in my shop for preview and will be available for sale  Saturday Aug 28th at 11AM PT (join my email for first dibs!)

Here are some key takeaways I learned making more space paintings:

1. It is really hard to replicate the process and each painting has ended up being pretty different. Things are a bit unpredictable when working with acrylic ink, but I also had fun switching up my approach each time!

2. I used cold pressed watercolor paper by Strathmore for many of the new paintings. Working with smoother paper means you lose some of the cool, extremely textured effects that are possible with rough watercolor paper but you can also paint softer, more dreamy paintings. To create dreamier scenes, use looooots of water (a spray mist bottle is handy for this!)

3. To create harder edged areas of color and more texture, use less water and work on a painting surface that while wet, is on the drier side. 

4. With practice, I have begun to feel a little less precious about plotting on each work. I do have to remind myself often that I can always make another painting if I mess up the pen plot!

5. It has been pretty hard to get a clean edge using painters tape and acrylic ink, the ink saturates through for a deckled effect (which has it's charm!) 

6. There is a huge difference depending on what paper is used! Rough paper is amazing for fun textured effects but sticks more to painter's tape and rips easily.

All of these pen plot paintings are now available to preview in my shop and will go on sale Sat Aug 28th at 11AM! Join my email for first dibs on these paintings! 

New to pen plotting?! Interested in making your own plot art?! Take 10% off an AxiDraw pen plotter and accessories with discount code DIRTALLEY10 when you buy directly from Evil Mad Scientist, the makers of the AxiDraw!

All Generative Art, All the Time

But what if you want to learn more?! Check out these additional blog posts:

michelle chandra of dirt alley design


Dirt Alley Design was founded just off a dirt alley in San Francisco in December of 2016 by artist Michelle Chandra. In 2019, she began a new project - geometry art created with code and drawn with a pen plotter. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @dirtalleydesign where she posts new generative designs daily 




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