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Hone Your Dry Brush Technique.  Understand The Possibilities.

Add texture and colour to your work. 
Discover strategies to lift your paintings using dry brush technique.

Understanding the possibilities of dry brush technique can create some wonderful effects.  From creating soft fluffy clouds, to texture on a tree, it’s worth spending time developing your dry brush technique.  

As with all brush techniques, it’s important to have a very clear understanding of the mark you want to make BEFORE you make it.  

In order to understand the marks your brush will make, there are a few things to consider. 

When painting realistically, to create a soft “fluffy” effect, you will need to use a brush which is soft and round.

To create soft, fluffy effect when using dry brush technique, you need to use a brush which is soft and round.

Understand the mark you want to make first

A brush with a hard, sharp edge will leave a “sharper” mark.  This brush is probably going to be harder to control when painting soft things - like fluffy clouds for example. 

An excellent place to use a sharper, firmer chisel brush would be when painting the backs of waves.   Using it on its edge can suggest the reflection of the sky.

Using a hard, chisel brush can be good for creating reflections of the sky on the backs of waves, using dry brush technique

Acrylic paints often dry very flat, and it can be hard to create the illusion of grain and texture. Dry brush technique can be your salvation.  

Creating some build in the underpainting, and then dragging a dry brush over the high spots, is a lovely way to enhance parts of your painting. 

As an example, a VERY dry round, soft brush, dragged over the foreground (sand areas) of a beachscape, can create the impression of grains of sand.

As an extra bonus, that addition of tiny flecks of colour can alter the warmth or coolness of your sand. 

It’s a great way of altering shades and hues very subtly

The process can be repeated over and over again to get the strength and colour required.  It can be quite non-committal.

You can also use this technique with smaller brushes.  Drag them gently and strategically to create the impression of branches in the distance, or grassy tendrils on sand dunes. 

Here’s a couple of examples. 

Make sure you experiment with the possibilities of dry brushing!

Create simple but effective illusions using a small brush and a dry brush technique
Use a dry brush technique and a small brush to experiment with these kinds of effects.

An Exercise!

Spinifex Grass - dry brush technique


Forest Green

Dioxazine Purple

Cadmium Yellow Medium

Burnt Umber


Canvas/paper/something to paint on (white-ish surface)

2 x chisel brushes (flats) 

1 large (approx 2.5cm across)

1 small (approx 0.5cm across)

What to do:

Mix a touch of Forest Green with the tiniest hint of Dioxazine Purple.  Add Cadmium Yellow Medium and White.  You should have a slightly dirty, greeny grass colour.

Load your large brush and BEFORE you put it on your surface, test it on something else (your easel, husband/wife, neighbour’s cat, etc). Take most of the paint off and apply it gently & strategically to create grassy bits.

You should be able to create marks something like this:

Dry Brush Technique - Exercise to create spinifex grass which is prolific on our beaches.

You may need to occasionally add a touch of medium or water to your paint (which sounds dumb because it’s supposed to be a dry brush technique.  Nevertheless...)

Repeat the above process with a lighter version of the above colour. (Add more White and Cadmium Yellow Medium).  Paint some highlights here and there.  This will be a very subtle effect.

Dry Brush Technique - Step 2 - an exercise to create spinifex grass.

Take your small brush, load it with some Burnt Umber thinned with a little water.  Remove most of the paint, and test it again before you paint it on your “real” exercise.

Use the edge of your brush, and gently run a loose scraggly line at the bottom edge of the grasses extending out into the sand.  This creates the impression of the grasses sending out runners.  

Dry Brush Technique Exercise - Step 3 - an exercise to create spinifex grass - adding runners to the grass.

Go back to your large brush.  Grab some Burnt Umber, and remove most of it from the brush.  Now drag that VERY gently and subtly over the “sand” in the foreground.  Voila!  Warmth.  And grains of sand.  

Dry Brush Technique Exercise - Step 4 - an exercise to create spinifex grass - shaping the sand dunes.

Very simple!  This is a great way of creating sand dunes, which can subtly lead viewers into and around your painting.  A handy and subtle compositional tool.

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