Two Sides to the Coin
"Acrylic paints dry too fast!"
"Oils are so much easier!"
"It doesn't blend!"
"Everything's so hard edged!"
"The colors are so bright and garish!"
I hear comments like these quite a bit when teaching and on my teaching website
And many turn away from this medium because of ideas like these. Or employ mediums to try to mimic oils, which will never work just like oils, and so they are frustrated and give up.
I think this stems from wanting to use acrylics as you would oils, or another medium.
Acrylics are their own medium, just as oils, watercolor, pastel, colored pencil, graphite. You wouldn't try to use the techniques for one of these mediums in another!
Instead the key is to understand the benefits of this unique medium and use them to your advantage.
The primary benefit? They dry fast!
Why is this a good thing?
Layering is key to my technique of painting. It allows you to:
- Build texture and interest immediately "Alla Prima" All in one sitting without having to wait for each layer to dry for hours or days. By the time you finish covering your canvas with a layer, you can start another!
- Keep colors clear. No Mud! Because the layers underneath are dry, you can cover them completely with another color with no mixing or muddying of the color below. Or you can only cover partially and have those other layers of color peaking through.
- Alter and refine your shapes. This is why acrylics are actually much "easier" than oils. Change your shapes, refine your details endlessly. Without scraping, without erasing, without re-wetting and pulling color. Just put in another layer! Paint around shapes to refine them. Nothing mixes, nothing muddies, just new fresh color and brushstrokes.
- Change your mind. Everything doesn't have to be preplanned, carefully drawn out. You can follow your artistic inspiration. Adding elements, deleting them, change your focal point or the whole concept. Just by more layers.
- Make fresh, clear brushstrokes. Each layer is starting new. Retain the brushstrokes that are working and simply redo those that don't. Until you like what you see!
- Make multiple washes and glazes. Thin your paint with water and you can create a wash that will dry right away. Allowing you to do dozens of washes if desired, in a short period of time.
Keys to Success with Acrylics
Things to Avoid
- Fiddling. Repetitious brushstrokes. I call it "petting the paint". Lay the paint down, adjust the edges if needed, and leave it be. This is the biggest learning curve. Mastering this will instantly make your paintings fresh. Not mastering it will cause you great frustration with paint gumming up and creating unwanted lumps and patches.
- Tiny amounts of paint. I often see tiny, watercolor sized dabs of paint out on palettes when I teach. Use more paint! Load up that brush. That's how you create brushstrokes with clear intent and boldness. It also allows you to blend colors together smoothly.
- Dry palette. Your paint will stay moist throughout your painting session if you set up your palette to provide moisture. If not, you will have dry piles of paint, and you won't be able to lay out all your colors for easy mixing. You can use a "Stay Wet" palette which is available, or make your own out of any shallow sealable container. I put down a couple of layers of wet paper towel, topped with a piece of disposable palette paper. Click here for a short video on my palette preparation.
- Using Straight Tube Color. The answer to the comment of overly bright colors is simply in mixing. In reality acrylics use all the same pigments as oils or other mediums. the only difference is in the medium that the pigment is mixed with. Acrylic. You can buy many premixed tube colors as well. I prefer to mix my own. It is simpler, more economical and gives you an endless range of color nuances.
Inspiration for CreativityPainting with acrylics teaches you to be BOLD. To keep your brushstrokes quick and loose, to dance across the canvas. Timing is everything. The medium teaches to quickly and fearlessly lay down the paint. Fearless because you know whatever you lay down you can simply redo if you don't like it! You don't have to feel any pressure of "failing" because everything can be corrected!
BlendingYou can blend large areas beautifully with acrylics by being aware of these techniques
- Use lots of paint. Don't skimp. Mix up a big pile of the two or more colors you want to blend.
- Use a large brush. Synthetics work well, not hard like a bristle, but not too soft.
- Move quickly and lay down your colors, blending them as you do.
- Stop when the paint gets tacky! When your brush starts to drag and the paint feels gummy. Stop!
- Repeat your process once the layer is dry - a minute or so. You can repeat as often as you like, either covering the previous layer completely or partially until you achieve your results.
EdgesIf your painting seems "hard edged" or lacking a softness that you want. This is timing as well.
- Be aware of the edges created by your brushstrokes.
- If this is a soft area, shadows, distance, supporting elements, gradients of color. Simply adjust your edges right after you lay down your brushstroke.
- Work in small areas, adjusting and blending those edges you need soft. Leaving those you want more crisp.
- You will develop a rhythm of laying down and adjusting and blending to achieve the edges you are looking for.
"First Light" by Karen Ilari