Create an Acrylic Tribal Arrows Painting of Your Own
“He bent His bow and set me as a target for the arrow. He made the arrows of His quiver to enter into my inward parts.” – Lamentations 3:12-13
Early in their marriage, my parents had taken several mission trips to South America and Mexico. Evidence of these adventures was all over the house, from the large wooden carvings of bearded men to the stacked baskets filled with hand-stitched embroidery. Among these relics was an 8’ blowgun with a woven quiver full of darts made of honeysuckle thorns. And on top of that lay a lengthy wooden bow with several 6’ long arrows, all hidden in a large pile behind the living room furniture.
Of all these items, I was drawn to the arrows. They had colorful striped fletching with carved points, each one different for their intended purpose. Occasionally when I was alone, I would pull one out from behind the old couch and hold it up over my head by its bamboo shaft. It was as light as a stick as I motioned forward thrusts over my head; it cut through the air without resistance. At times I almost lost my grasp, certain it would fly several feet into the kitchen if I failed to hang on. I imagined living as an indigenous warrior as I admired my intimidating stance in the reflection of the television screen. As a child who had only seen such things on PBS, I wondered about the weapon’s creator as the war colored wrappings and feathers flew above me.
The bible has a lot to say about arrows; apparently God is in favor of them. Scripture says that God is a warrior who fights for us. It’s hard to picture Him fighting against anything because we know with one word He could bring the whole world into extinction. But apparently, God has a quiver full of arrows. They are mentioned in Job, Psalms, Lamentations, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and several other books. When God shoots an arrow, He doesn’t miss. His aim is perfect, His draw is strong, and His penetration is deep. The targets are always enemies; and often our worst enemies are ourselves. God uses unique arrows to inject humility, insert protection, and change our direction, sometimes violently.
“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” -Romans 5:10
Before I became a Christian, I had an enormous amount of pride that kept me from submitting, trusting, and honoring God with my life. I believed He is existed, and even believed in the Bible for the most part. But being a genuine Christian means I follow Christ and choose His perfect will in all things; so I have to die to my own desires and my faulty sense of justice every day. Not an easy task. A shot to the chest definitely catalyzes the dying process. I was brought to my knees with a direct hit on June 6, 2013. Without it, I never would have seen myself for the enemy that I am and surrendered to His lordship. Understanding the intent of the arrows not only allows me to endure the impact, but also frees me to adore the One who loves me enough to make me His target.
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” -Galatians 2:20
Step 1) Find a canvas.
I have had this canvas for several years, a $10 find at Goodwill. It is a approximately 3′ x 4′ large with a thin wooden frame. Obviously you could do a version of this in any size you wanted with one or just a few arrows. This canvas was already covered in a 1980s textured painting of pastel colored flowers in pots. If you are starting from a new canvas, you can add your own texture with gesso, or even construction caulk if you get creative. Apply it with a palette knife and let dry a couple of days before the next step.
A couple of years ago, I played around with a landscape scene that had potential. Just as I was getting somewhere with it, I applied a wash to it before the paint was set properly and smudged the entire thing. So the canvas went back into the basement.
Step 2) Apply a base coat.
I loved the background texture and wanted to keep it a little rough looking, but I needed to cover my previous mishap.
I had white paint leftover from the dentist mural, so I started applying it in crosshatch strokes (vertical and horizontal strokes that overlap) with a 2″ brush.
I really liked the base colors coming though the white underneath, so I started letting it show a bit more. It’s important with impressionistic style paintings to be very intentional with the design. The paint strokes can look a little messy, so the layout and composition should be cleanly planned for balance.
I wanted my long arrows to be straight, standing vertically on the canvas. I opted for the T square verses the level because the canvas was sitting on carpet.
Step 3) Draw your arrows.
I wanted arrows that reminded me of my parents’ arrows. But you can do a Google search for any type of arrow you like.
A close up of how the fletching and points started out.
Step 3) Add more details.
A little more progress on additional arrows.
Step 4) Check for Cohesive Design
The canvas needed more balance, but I didn’t want it to be the same all the way around. I mixed up a purple/mauve color to top it off on the edges. I applied this and the gray paint with a dry brush technique.
You can see how the dry brush highlights the texture in the background.
Step 5) Observe from a distance and make corrections.
I highlighted more of the texture on my own and created shadows. The mauve color was a little too girly for me, so I balanced it out with some muddy colors throughout. Now it looks a little like arrows mounted to a textured wall.
With every piece of artwork, it’s super important to keep stepping back to see how it looks at a distance. After staring at things up close, your brain has trouble viewing it as a whole picture instead of just sections.
And if you are brave, ask someone for suggestions or if anything catches their eye that should be corrected. Nate is a great designer, so I asked for his help a couple of times. He pointed out a few things and I made those changes (he has to look at it too!).
Step 6) Finish all details.
Once you are happy with all of your details, you can seal it with polyurethane (there is a water based matte one I like) or gesso (which is much more expensive).
And after finishing off some details in the arrows we are finished! It brings a sense of adventure to the room and a nice memory of my parents.
Even though some of these arrows are very colorful, I was careful not to neglect my color pallet. It was important to stay away from green for a modern 80s look.
The arrows are relatively simple, and not very realistic. So the texture in the background really helps to give it depth that the arrows may be lacking. When painting for myself, I am drawn to more impressionistic and free style strokes.
It’s also a good idea to have repeating colors and strokes in the small details for cohesiveness.
This fletching might be my favorite. It reminds me of the chicken feathers I would collect on the farm when I was young. I also love how the blue brightens up the monotone feather.
I didn’t realize this photo was a little blurry. But this fletching is very close to some of the fun feathers that hang from several of the relics and wall hangings.
Step 7) Hang!
I finally have this canvas hanging on the wall after 8 years of it hanging around in my basement. Because of it’s size and placement in the small room, keeping the background subtle was key for creating a nice impact without being overpowering.