Ralph Larmann

Art Department

University of Evansville

acrylic painting notes

Here is some general information on acrylic painting and its unique attributes.

One of the most inviting qualities of acrylic paint is its easy clean up and vivid color. Unlike oils, acrylics can also be used on paper because they do not cause decay in natural materials.

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Acrylics are pigment suspended in a polymer binder which can be dissolved in water before they dry. After the surface of the paint has begun to congeal, the areas which are dry to the touch are permanent and can no longer be dissolved without a special solvent. This drying process is much quicker than oil paint (usually an area is dry to the touch within one hour) and allows one to build up layers within a painting very quickly. Clean up tools and palette with soap and water.

Always use synthetic bristle brushes with acrylics. Nylon brushes work well. Natural bristles will draw in the moisture which causes them to swell, then break down.

Color is something that can be frustrating to deal with in acrylic painting. The polymer binder in acrylic paint has a semi-opaque milky look before it is dry. As the paint dries the paint becomes transparent. This taints the way one sees the color. When in the liquid state, colors in acrylic paint appear to be lighter than they will be when dry. One must account for this discrepancy by visualizing how the color will appear in advance. Beginning acrylic painters should expect some trial and error as they learn how to do this.

Acrylic paint tends to be less glossy than oil. To create glazes or increase gloss one must use gel or gloss medium. Gel medium is essentially clear polymer binder that, when mixed with the paint, slows drying, creates transparency, and adds gloss to the acrylics. Soft gels and liquid gels are available to thin and allow acrylics to "flow better." Some high solid gels can even give an impasto surface to the paint. There is an extensive variety of products now available for the acrylic painter to aid in the manipulation of the paint's character.

Hint: By adding water to acrylics they can be thinned to have a more liquid consistency. This can be used to create watercolor-like washes in a painting. Be careful though, it is best to thin acrylics with gel medium because thinning with water can weaken the paint.

updated 07/15/04

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