The Freedom of Using an Opaque Medium!

Lisa Larrabee

Why are we so afraid of change? Wow, that’s a big question. Let’s reign it in a bit. Why are we so scared to make changes in our paintings?

Artwork by Lisa Larrabee

Often, the biggest fear is that we won’t like the result. Maybe we feel pretty good about a painting and are afraid it won’t be as successful with the change. Sometimes, the fear is that we won’t be able to disguise the change and that it will be visible in the final result. Whatever the reason, the fear is more of a mental obstacle than a physical one if you use an opaque medium.

Lisa Larrabee
Opaque vs. Transparent Pigments

Using opaque pigments means that you cannot see through them. This allows us to cover existing areas and make changes directly over the previous layers. Even if you create luminous, transparent glazes, you can make opaque changes to your painting and then glaze transparent layers over the top to unify the correction. The most important step is being willing to make the change in the first place.

One way to tackle any uneasiness over making changes to your painting is to practice making changes. It sounds too simple, but it is essential to gain the confidence to make the change when it counts. Often, we are willing to take bold steps with our work when we are completely unhappy with the piece. It places us in a what-have-I-got-to-lose mindset. This can be frustrating, but it is also a golden opportunity! Once in this mindset, there is no more fear! The trick is to allow yourself these opportunities without going through the pain of a failing painting. How? Create a designated time for studies and experiments. Give yourself a safe place to fail, rebuild, test, and explore without negative consequences.

Let me use my portrait demo as an example. This demonstration was done over three sessions. With each session, there was a variation I chose to incorporate. It was fun changing her hairstyle and altering her gaze. I enjoy looking back at the stages and seeing how each change affects the overall image. (It’s important to note that objects like the flower and strand of hair could have been covered completely, but I enjoyed the looseness and seeing a bit of the history in this painted sketch).

Artwork by Lisa Larrabee

Art Challenge

  • Choose a simple subject that changes over time.
  • Paint a small, simple study of it from life.
  • Make changes to your painting as your subject changes.

Some things change faster than others. Paint a flower as it blooms and/or wilts, ice cream that melts, or the mountains at different times of the day.

You can choose to document your painting stages to keep a history of the evolution but don’t allow it to become too precious to paint over. Remember, this exercise is designed to give you the confidence to change your paintings.

Did you accept the Art Challenge? Share your progress on our private forum with friends of the Art Verve Academy.

Follow Lisa Larrabee
on her instructional blog at
or visit her website at

Sponsored by the Art Verve Academy. Enroll in studio art classes for adults in Tucson, Arizona, at

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