Acrylic Painting – New Kid on the Block

Settling into Acrylics

One of the newest paints on the market, acrylics have yet to pass the 100-year mark for longevity. So we have no proof that they will last, although all indications are in that direction. We do not know yet what the restoration problems will be.Yet they are the number one preferred paint for free time/professional painting artists. The speed of modern life is is probably one reason they are so popular. Also, the desire to commit to an unknown process is fine, as long as it doesn’t take too much time.

The main difference between oils and acrylics is drying time. Acrylics are the fastest of all paints. However, one can buy a medium to add to the tube paints to slow down the drying time. Tubes are the best form the paint comes in, as the acrylics in bottles are thinner and more mixed with other, unknown colors. Tubes are far superior. Most of the strokes one uses depend on the thicker paint which does not run. The fast drying time of acrylics cuts the time for blending and working wet to a minimum, and is therefore best used by fast painters. The other difference is that this paint requires water for thinning and cleanup. Acrylic paints may be thinned with water and used as washes similar to watercolor paints, but washes won’t reconstitute once they are dry. Nor does the paint itself re-constitute. You can peel it off your palette as a thick, slick clump. So while some of the techniques you would use with acrylic as a wash may be similar to watercolors, acrylics do not lend themselves to the color lifting techniques of gum-arabic-based watercolor paints. That swings the painting to the acrylic system, which is an additive system. In that system, you add and cover up, whereas in watercolor, you lift and subtract to regain luminosity. Otherwise, acrylics are a nice, rich and creamy medium meant to be spread thickly.

Acrylic Paint: Wet or Dry

There are matching issues to be aware of, so that you paint the best sorts of strokes for adding onto. For instance, you can’t match a wet patch to a dry patch perfectly. The paint dries lighter than when it is wet. Using striated colors or grades of color, or the toll painter’s trick in trade of double and triple loading colors onto your brush is your best guard against disappointment here. One really good tip is to use a very small amount of white to add to your colors to decrease the transparency they have, and to increase the covering power of the paint. Then you won’t have to layer as much for correction as you would just to add a nuance, a detail, a color you just noticed.

One caution in addition to the quickness of drying time is that some have erroneously been told that you can use acrylic as an underpainting for oils. Don’t use acrylic paint under oils. It dries to a slick finish, and the chemical bonding is not similar, so adherence of layers is more than likely a precursor to delamination. That means basically that your painting falls off. Oops. Layer similar paint films. You can make an acrylic wash and cover your canvas with it so that the drawing you made shows through. The good news is that you needn’t wait long to start painting your thicker layer of acrylics. You can block colors in, you can have separate color piles mixed to work fast. Just remember, little piles dry fast; larger piles stay wet longer.

Softening edges can be tricky, modeling, likewise. I found in my studio that using dry brushing techniques help for that, as well as dry blending techniques, spreading the last bit of the wet edge further in a feathering action.

All in all, acrylic is a very beginner-friendly paint to jump in and start mixing colors. The color names are not quite as difficult as those for oil and watercolor, since they are synthetic products and it is a new medium using readily understandable names. That may change, however, from time to time.

Get you a pie tin and a zippered plastic bag to close it airtight after each session and some of their drying time can actually be saved. I would blow it up and drip a few fingertips of water in it to keep it moistened and ready for use. I’ll have to warn you, however, it’s kind of stinky when you open it back up. That, too, dies down fairly quickly. If it bothers you too much, you can always throw it away.

If you haven’t done it yet:

Download My Free eBook, Acrylic Painting Techniques Easy(ier).




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