When I think of the features that make up a truly American landscape, there’s one structure that always sticks out in my mind—a big, broadsided barn. They dot the countryside from coast to coast, sometimes crisply painted and cared for, other times weathered and ragged, worn out by time. They have been painted thousands of times, in oils, watercolors and as acrylic paintings, and many by well-known and skilled artists. How, then, do I find my way of painting this ubiquitous part of the American landscape?
To get to that answer, I went searching for barn paintings that I’m visually attracted to. I studied three of them to learn how each artist created the work and what painting techniques they used. One is a watercolor, one a tempera painting, and one an acrylic painting. Each shows the personal style of the artist as well as how they use techniques endemic to their chosen medium.
In Shaker Barns, Charles Sheeler visually pulls apart the barn complex and spreads it all around the composition. It looms across the entire expanse of the painting and juts into the foreground at the right. The barn has realistic details—the surface of the clapboard siding and roof shingles are highly finished, conveyed through crosshatching tempera brushstrokes—but the artist was most interested in the broad, flat planes of the structure. He gave the barn, which is usually presented with a folk-art feel, a modern cast.
Brenda Horowitz is an acrylic painting artist who works with bold, strong colors. When she incorporates a barn into the landscape, it has to compete for attention against things like a pink sky, blue mountains, and orange land, as in Red Tree. The artist created the barn as a broad swath of red acrylic paint with a white roof and two white lines marking a corner of the building and the edge of the roof. It is as if she is painting with a palette knife—scraping large passages of pure color across the surface.
Joseph Alleman’s paintings of barns are haunting. They are usually situated in wide open, somewhat desolate landscapes, and they seem forlorn. In Break of Dawn, the colors are muted but not muddy, and they seem to float above the surface of the paper, like a cloud of color. With watercolors you can get this by lifting out after you put down a stroke of color, but you have to be careful how you do this if you don’t want to leave marks or edges behind.
Sheeler’s crosshatching details, Horowitz’s broad swaths of acrylic color, and Alleman’s ability to create muted hues that seem to float on the paper are all successful because each combines strong painting techniques and innovative ways of employing them. That’s what all practicing artists should strive for—the balance between knowledge and execution.
In the Acrylic Artist Favorite Things for Summer Collection, dozens of different acrylic painting techniques are discussed in detail, from color mixing to acrylic mediums and more. That knowledge can put you in command of your acrylic artwork and allow you to better understand how to create the effects you want so that when you try your hand at a barn painting or your next still life or your first portrait, you do it with confidence and a style all your own. Enjoy!