Dear Sir;

I am new to Acrylic painting and would like some guidance on blending colors in this medium. The reason
I decided to ask you is that I read your article on acrylic glazes and found it to be very helpful.
Any information would be appreciated.

Thank you, Daniel Hi Daniel,

I am not sure what your concern is with regards to blending colors.  I will say that acrylics are the most flexible and forgiving of mediums.  They allow you to mix any and all possible combinations of colors without any problem, that is, from a technical viewpoint.  Unlike oils you don’t have to worry about the varying drying times of the different pigments when blending or layering colors.

If you are looking for information on ways of mixing colors for creative purposes, like how to get an interesting variety of mixed greens, then I will steer you elsewhere.

I will tell you that I rarely mix colors in my own work.  Go to the FCA website (artists.ca) and find my article called “Light Rules” in the Resources section.  It will give you some insight into my approach to mixing colors.  There are also a lot of books out there on color mixing and some excellent workshops through the FCA.

Hope that helps.  Let me know if you have a more specific question.  Cheers, David

Toxic Acrylics?

Hello David,

I would like any information that you might have regarding the health hazards
of Liquitex Basics Acrylic Color.

Sincerest thanks, Gloria

Hi Gloria,

All artist’s paints are toxic, including acrylics.  It is the pigment (color agent) not the medium (linseed oil, acrylic resin, etc) that is toxic.  Some colors (pigments) are more toxic than others.

Don’t eat them, bite your nails, chew on the end of your brush, or eat with paint on your hands.

If you get them on your hands it is ok, just wash your hands with soap and water to remove the paint (from under the nails too) before eating…  I wear gloves sometimes so I don’t have to worry about washing my hands too much.  But then, I’m a messy painter.

Hope that helps.  Have fun, David

Hi David,

I have just finished an Acrylic painting that is 18X24 and would like to know how to put a final finish on it. I have Golden Soft Gel(Gloss), Golden MSA Varnish (Gloss & also Matte), plus some Liquitex Soluvar. I would appreciate the order of how you apply these and how you mix them, if you do.  I would also like to thank you for the Weekend of Mastering Acrylics 1.   I took this course a few years back and have since sold 4 paintings. I also use only a Transparent Palette now and it is wonderful how the colors can be made to glow through. I have also finally got up the nerve to enter a juried show.     Thank you for any help you can give me.

Yours truly, Patricia

Hi Patricia,

Congratulations on your successes.  Did you say you use ONLY a transparent palette?!  I love how transparent passages in the painting recede with depth and inner life while opaque patches sort of jump out at the eye but the dynamic created by the push and pull of each on the eye is awesome and can be a very effective compositional tool.

Many people mistakenly believe that acrylic paintings do not need a varnish so let’s review that again.  Here is how to varnish a dried acrylic painting; you have all the right stuff:

1.  Apply one or two coats of soft gel medium (gloss) mixed 1 part water to 2 parts soft gel medium.  Use a wide soft brush.  Allow to dry thoroughly (may take a couple of days).  You can also use Acrylic Gloss Medium but I find that the above mixture brushes on better and doesn’t foam or cloud up as easily.  Be sure to only use gloss mediums for this layer, matte mediums are not durable enough.  This layer is called the ISOLATION varnish because if ‘isolates’ the painting from coming into direct contact with the final picture varnish which can now be cleaned or even removed with a solvent without affecting your painting.  Acrylic paintings are sensitive to solvents.

2.  Apply a coat of either the Golden MSA or Liquitex Soluvar with a soft brush.  You can mix gloss and matte in any combination.  I usually mix them 3-4 parts gloss to 1 part matte.  Read the instructions for the Golden MSA varnish as it needs to be diluted with a solvent (mineral spirits or turpentine).  Be sure to apply these varnishes in a well ventilated area.

Hi David,

I took your Mastering Acrylics 1 & 2 workshops in Kelowna in 04. I have been using your advice as to mixing gloss medium with the paints to maintain integrity of the colors. Usually for the final coat I use just gloss medium.  I ran into a problem when I used one part matte medium and four parts gloss medium as you suggest, for the final coat.  The digital image that resulted had a milky, hazy effect and the colors were not true, especially the blues. I have spoken to other artists and they have noticed similar effects.  My question is, why does this happen?  How do you eliminate the unattractive gloss on an acrylic painting?

Problem 2. I have a canvas that had a failed acrylic painting that was subsequently covered with gesso and repainted on.  This new painting has begun to peel away from the canvas in spots and only after being dropped and bumped.  I have painted over gesso paintings before and so have other artists I know and this has never happened before.  Any ideas why?

Thanks,   Looking forward to hearing from you. Jeannine

Hi Jeannine,

Well now, let’s see…

You say you use a final coat of just gloss medium on your paintings.  That is OK, and would be considered a layer of ‘isolation’ varnish.  For the picture varnish I mix 1 part matte to 4 parts gloss but I do NOT use acrylic mediums, I use an acrylic solution varnish like Golden MSA, or Liquitex Soluvar for the final picture varnish.  It sounds like you might be varnishing your paintings with acrylic mediums instead.  That would definitely be the reason for the milky appearance – these mediums are hard to brush on without ending up with a cloudy look, especially if the painting has texture.

Also, always photograph your paintings before varnishing them.  Any raking light will show up as glare on the image and digital cameras are particularly sensitive to light source.

Gesso does not have a lot of adhesive strength and will not stick well to an already painted surface.  It is meant to be used on an absorbent, porous surface with some ‘tooth’, like canvas, so that it can hold on with having to be too sticky.  If you want to cover over an old painting, use white paint first, not gesso.

Hope that helps, have fun!  David

Dear Mr. Langevin,

I just finished reading your article discussing permanent supports. Here is my question: I want to paint on an unstretched large canvas which will ultimately hang like a tapestry on a wall (if you are familiar with May Stevens acrylic water paintings, she staples (yes, staples) them on the top right to the wall. The dimensions I am working with are 84″ x 72″. I am trying to decide whether to use cotton or linen canvas. I am painting with acrylics. Do you think cotton canvas would be as sturdy as linen if I coat the back with acrylic polymer? How would gravity affect the unstretched canvas on the wall over time? If you could answer these questions I would be most grateful.

Thank you for your article.

Best regards, Laurie

Hi Laurie,

Sounds like a neat idea.  I would use heavy cotton canvas, a least 12oz, for acrylic and I would coat it with Golden’s GAC 400 medium on the back, probably two coats would be adequate.  The GAC 400 is a fabric stiffener that will help prevent the fabric from sagging under its own weight over time.  I would put a coat of acrylic medium on the front as well before painting.  This will help prevent sagging which is caused not only by gravity but by fluctuations is humidity.  The acrylic mediums will also make the canvas less absorbent for atmospheric moisture.

Here is a controversial question that has come up recently, again.  Several people have told me over the last couple of months they had heard that acrylics are not as permanent as oils, that they begin to fall apart within 100 years, the colors fade, that expensive paintings done with them aren’t being insured anymore, that some galleries in Europe won’t accept acrylic paintings, and so on.  “Is this true” they want to know, “Should I switch to oils?”  I can’t speak for insurance companies and European galleries but I can address the issue of permanence.  Accelerated aging tests done on acrylic paints show that the paint film remains flexible and in tact almost indefinitely.  Furthermore, because of the simple drying process of acrylics compared to oils there is little chance of acrylics cracking, flaking or wrinkling due to their improper application (acrylics dry by evaporation of water and all the colors dry at the same rate while in oil paints the different pigments react with the oil to create variable drying rates and degrees of flexibility and resilience of the paint film).

The question of the permanence of acrylics has been raised several times since acrylic polymer resins were first used to make artist paints back in the late 1950’s.  The last time it was stirred up was in the early 90’s when a number of articles appeared in major newspapers (The London Times, The New York Observer, The Toronto Star, and the Globe & Mail) about the deteriorated condition of some modern paintings and museum artifacts.  But the way these articles were written created confusion due to misinformation, and there were some faulty conclusions and assumptions.  For example, conservationists are saying modern paintings are falling apart, acrylics are a modern paint, therefore, acrylics are falling apart.  In fact, most of the paintings that are mentioned in the articles were done in oils!  Another erroneous assumption comes from reports of the deterioration of modern plastic resins used to make industrial and commercial products.  Cultural artifacts in museums, including astronaut space suits, are not holding up well.  Moreover, commercial resins and adhesives are often used by artists in their paintings and sculptures and the articles do not differentiate between these and materials designed specifically for artists.  Indeed, the paintings of many well-known artists like Jackson Pollack, Mark Rothko, Jasper Johns, and other Abstract Expressionist, including a large majority of the subsequent generation of artists, are rapidly falling apart.  There have even been a number of court cases in recent years because buyers have paid large sums of money for paintings that have deteriorated in a short time.  Painters like Jackson Pollack often used materials and methods not originally intended for art:  Food products; found objects; household or commercial paints, glues and solvents.  Permanence was not a concern in the creative process.  That it became a concern for collectors, museums, and conservationists says something about the art market and the artist’s role within that system; but that is another issue altogether.

So, back to the rumors.  I passed the question of the questionable permanence of acrylic paints on to a few experts in the field, including a conservationist at the Canadian Conservation Institute in Ottawa, and another at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.  They all said the same thing, they know of no new information or research suggesting that acrylics are not permanent.  When they are used according to manufacturers recommendations there is no reason to doubt their longevity.  There is a greater concern for the permanence of oil paintings, especially if they are painted in thick layers, or thinned too much with solvents, or painted on cotton canvas.  Many oil paintings no more than a couple of decades old are already badly deteriorated because most modern painters are not aware of, and do not follow the rules of permanence for painting in oils.  I would be very interested to know more about the original source of these rumors about acrylics.  If you have any thoughts or further information on the subject, please let me know.

Dear David,

I was just reading the September-October edition of Art Avenue. Robert Genn’s advice about “Dealing with Dogs”, (i.e. old paintings that don’t work) is great, but I am wondering if there is any way to go back and re-work acrylics when they have already been given their “final coat” of acrylic varnish.  I use a gloss medium when I am painting, so when I finish a piece I give it a coat of gloss acrylic varnish. I find that this evens things out and gives me a final “look” that I like.
The two products that I am currently using are:

a)  Mixed with water as a painting medium: Opus brand Gloss Polymer Medium.
b)  As a final varnish: Acrilex Gloss Varnish.

The problem comes several months later when I look back at what I thought was a finished painting and realize that it could benefit by some reworking. My understanding is that once the varnish is down the paint won’t adhere properly. Am I correct in thinking this?  Do you think it is safe to make the changes or should I use the mineral spirits to remove the varnish first? Is there any way to
get around the problem?

Thanks for your help, Moira

Hi Moira,

You say you use a gloss medium throughout the painting, then a “gloss acrylic varnish” at the end.  If so, it is not really a final picture varnish (it would be considered an ‘isolation’ varnish) and you can go ahead and make changes.  If it is actually an acrylic solution picture varnish then you would first need to remove it using mineral spirits before repainting.

Acrylic paint will not adhere well to an acrylic solution picture varnish but I think you are probably using a water based medium – I don’t think Acrilex makes an acrylic solution varnish.  It is most likely just an acrylic polymer (water based) medium/varnish like the Opus brand medium you use.  Sometimes acrylic mediums are labelled medium/varnish because they can be used as an isolation varnish when the painting is completed, like what you are already doing.  If it is a solvent based solution varnish you would certainly notice the smell and you wouldn’t be able to clean your brushes with water if it was solvent based.  It should say on the jar however.  Go ahead and make your changes unless you are convinced the Acrilex it is a solvent based varnish.

You can make changes and rework an acrylic painting at any time as long as you have not yet put a final Acrylic Solution Picture Varnish on it.  Liquitex Soluvar and Golden’s MSA varnishes are solvent based picture varnishes and are conservation quality.  I use them both for my acrylic and oil paintings.

These acrylic solution varnishes must go on top of the ‘Isolation’ layer of acrylic gloss medium that you put on at the end of your paintings.  It is essential to put this isolation layer to protect the painting from coming into contact with the final picture varnish, which is solvent based.  Acrylic paint is sensitive to solvents and can easily be damaged by coming into contact with them.

David,

I have a question about acrylic paintings.  Even though I use artist quality acrylic, the painting loses its initial vitality after a while.  In oil painting you attribute this to the fact that oil is absorbed by the gesso and cotton canvas.  But do you know why it happens in acrylic and how it can be avoided?  I have found use of acrylic finishes unsatisfactory as it puts a misty layer on the painting.  Use of varnish is a little better but it still darkens the painting and makes the possibility of making changes to the painting, if need be, somewhat cumbersome.  Is there a better way?

Tony,

I do have a couple of ideas.  Acrylic paints contain water which evaporates as they dry.  The water makes the paint look shinny and more transparent.  Once it is gone, the paint looks darker and a bit duller.  This is unavoidable.  Oils look the same after they dry, acrylics look less shinny and somewhat darker than when they are wet.  They also shrink, because of the loss of the water, and the edges soften.

Using an acrylic GLOSS medium can compensate for the lack of shine.  Thinning your acrylic paints with water also makes them look duller as it washes away too much shinny acrylic binder and leaves the surface more bumpy; bumpy = dull.  Use the gloss medium instead to thin colors for transparent effects.  Do not use a matte medium as this is designed to make the paint look duller.

Hi David,

I have been finishing my acrylic paintings with a watered-down gloss or matte polymer coat (or a mixture). I do it to have a uniform application of medium over the whole painting. Originally, when I used a thicker (less water) mixture I found what looks like large brush strokes appeared when viewing the painting at oblique angles. Can you tell me what was happening? By experiment, I found that a watered down mixture eliminates the problem.

I note your recommendation to use Golden MSA or Liquitex Soluvar and I will try them. Should they be watered down too?

Thanks, Charlie

Hey Charlie,

Acrylic polymer mediums can dry cloudy looking sometimes, especially the matte one.  Adding a bit of water does help as it allows for a more even application.  The mediums can quickly become sticky as they dry and this will cause the streaks in the brush strokes you refer to.  You must apply acrylic mediums quickly and with minimal brushing.  I not recommend using a matte medium for the isolation varnish because it is not as durable and will not protect the paint as well as the gloss medium.

Here is an excerpt from a Q&A I did on varnishing acrylics:

1.  Apply one or two coats of soft gel medium (gloss) mixed 1 part water to 2 parts soft gel medium.  Use a wide soft brush.  Allow to dry thoroughly (may take a couple of days).  You can also use Acrylic Gloss Medium but I find that the above mixture brushes on better and doesn’t foam or cloud up as easily.  Be sure to only use gloss mediums for this layer, matte mediums are not durable enough.  This layer is called the ISOLATION varnish because it ‘isolates’ the painting from coming into direct contact with the final picture varnish which can now be cleaned or even removed with a solvent without affecting your painting.  Acrylic paintings are sensitive to solvents.

2.  Apply a coat of either the Golden MSA or Liquitex Soluvar with a soft brush.  You can mix gloss and matte in any combination.  I usually mix them 3-4 parts gloss to 1 part matte.  Read the instructions for the Golden MSA varnish as it needs to be diluted with a solvent (mineral spirits or turpentine).  Be sure to apply these varnishes in a well ventilated area.

Hi David,

I love the way watercolour looks, partly because of all the whites and softer colors. I’d like to do the same in my acrylics, at least some of the time, but have been afraid to use whites to lighten the colors. Is mixing a lot of medium into the colour my only alternative?

Thanks, Esmie ,

Hi Esmie,

The whites you are referring to in watercolour paints are the whites of the paper seen through the paint I assume, since few people use opaque white in watercolours.

You can get a similar effect with acrylics but they will never look as soft or natural as watercolours because acrylic paint is made with a synthetic polymer resin that is supposed to mimic more the look of oil paints. Acrylics will have a shine and plastic appearance that will persist unless you dilute them heavily with water. When you do this you will rob them of their adhesive strength and flexibility and should then frame them under glass like watercolors. Water color paint has a higher quantity of pigment (color saturation) than acrylics as well. Adding medium to acrylics to dilute the paint and make washes, or glazes, makes them more transparent so you can see the white of the support (paper/canvas) but also gives them a shinny, plastic look.

Acrylics can do a pretty good imitation of watercolour but they do other things much better. It wouldn’t be my medium of choice to get watercolour effects. Instead I would stick to watercolour or switch to egg tempera paints – but then you will need to have fresh eggs on hand to mix your colors.

Hi David,

I have another question for you, if you don’t mind. I sometimes paint watercolour on gessoed illustration board. I like the texture I can put on it. Is this a fairly stable combination, or will the gesso flake off with time? How about watercolour on gessoed stretched canvas? This must need a varnish of some sort?

Thank you. Your help is appreciated. Esmie

 

Hi Esmie,

Wow, you do have a lot of interesting questions, and no, I don’t mind at all.

The gesso/watercolor combination on illustration board should be OK if it is handled carefully. The gesso will adhere reasonably well to the board and the watercolor will definitely soak into the gesso. The watercolor on gesso on a flexible surface like canvas will not be as stable unless it is finished (varnished) with a flexible acrylic medium. There are many painters painting in watercolor on board and canvas now and applying a varnish layer so that they do not need to be framed behind glass. It is effective and can be permanent if properly done.

Although these watercolor paintings can still be executed in light washes and blended like regular watercolors done on paper, they lose their characteristic matte finish because of the final coating.

Hope that helps, bye for now. David

PS. I should have my website up and running in the next couple of months and on it I will have an archive of many of my technical Q&A’s. Check it out: http://www.davidlangevin.com

Glazing Mediums and Retarders

Hi David, I’m working on a large painting and have almost finished.  Big problem yesterday though. Although I used the transparent layering and veils that I learned in your workshop, which I just love by the way, when I went in to do a light layer (gloss & paint) over a veil, the paint underneath started lifting off!

I rubbed the painting and most of the underneath layer came off.  Do you know why this happened?  Will my whole painting be ruined?  I am too scared to go in and touch any more in case it does it on the whole painting, it’s almost finished and I’ve been working on it for weeks!

Any suggestion would really help, Margo

Hi Margo,

There can be a number of reasons why paint would lift like that.  It is interesting that it lifted when you applied another layer over top of it.  I need more information: -what is the painting surface? -What is the ground, gesso?  -what kind of paint are you using? -what kind of medium are you using to make the glazes and veils?

-what other products/mediums are you using and does the ‘underneath’ layer rub off even without the glaze over top?

It is very likely an easy fix but it depends what you have used so lets start there.

Hi David,

How kind of you to get back so soon – you must have been reading my panicked mind!!! To answer your questions….

-I used canvas and gesso, four coats sanded really well in between each coat till smooth.

-I am using a few different brands of paint.

-The only medium I was using was Opus gloss medium, but I did run out at one point and used some Stevens acrylic retarder – later bought more gloss medium.

-I used a Liquitex matte gel to form some of the rocks but that wasn’t where I had the problem.

I had spent most of yesterday afternoon rubbing and scrubbing it all off.  I think I’ve got down now to where I can start again.  Thanks for ALL your help, it makes all the difference.  Margo

Margo,

As I suspected, the retarder is the culprit.  You say you replaced the Opus Gloss medium with the Stevenson’s retarder – it is not a medium for extending paint, only drying time!  I hope you didn’t use it full strength to mix with your paint, you are only supposed to add a small amount in paint or glazes.  It has very poor adhesive strength and flexibility.

It will not hold up if you used it full strength.  It is easy to test however.  If it is still soft and sticky, and you can scrape it off with your finger nail or painting knife then it will never permanently adhere to the paint surface below and I would remove it and start over.  Sealing it with a layer of medium or varnish will not work out in the long run.  Methyl Hydrate (denatured alcohol) would work for removing it.  Let me know.

Hi David,

The supplies list for you workshop says we need gloss medium, will Golden’s Acrylic Glazing Liquid work just as well?Thanks, Joan

Hi Joan,

No, it will not work for what we are doing, ‘Glazing Liquid’ is an unfortunate misnomer and I run into this issue at all my workshops and dealings with artists who want to extend their paints to make glazes and veils. It is a wonderful product that was originally designed for interior decorative home finishes. You can use it to extend your paints and make them more transparent but more importantly the Glazing Liquid extends the drying time – it is a slow drying medium that keeps the acrylic paint ‘open’ (wet) for an extended period of time.We sometimes use a Retarder to add to the paints to slow the drying time, you can only add small amounts of this product without compromising the integrity of the paint film. Golden’s Glazing Liquid can indeed be used more generously but it will remain tacky and soft for days if used to thick. You can learn more about this product on Golden’s website:http://www.goldenpaints.com/technicaldata/glazeliq.php

I do find that some of Golden’s GAC series mediums are excellent substitutes for regular gloss medium for transparent effects however, particularly the GAC 100, 500, and 700, which I use regularly. You can learn more about these mediums on the Golden website as well.

I use gloss medium to create glazes and veils in my work and I will sometimes add the Glazing Liquid to the mixture to extend the drying time for various effects. In other words, it is a good addition to the family of mediums available to the painter, but not a substitute for regular gloss medium. I just wish they would have named it ‘Slow Drying Liquid’ instead to avoid all of the confusion.

David

ACRYLIC MEDIUMS Q&A
Q:  Why does my painting look so glossy initially but ends up looking very matte when fully dry. I use a golden gloss extender and water when applying it.
What would you recommend using for an even somewhat glossy finish? I have used different sprays: gloss, very glossy and matte. I have ruined paintings because the finish is very uneven with some areas being glossy and others not. Very frustrating.
I am still fairly new at this.

A:  Different pigments dry to different gloss, also, acrylics start out glossy (water) and then dry darker and duller when the water evaporates.  If you use water to thin your paint, it will make the paint look even duller than normal.  I don’t use water.  Mix or dilute your colors with good gloss medium instead.  I like to use Golden’s GAC 500 and 700 mediums for thinning my colors as my medium.  A coat of medium over the whole painting when it is finished will even out the shine and protect the surface as well.

 

Q: I have been re-reading notes and websites and understand that using GAC 100 as a ground (hope that’s the right terminology) is the best way for good results; I bought an 8 oz bottle for $14; expensive!  I’m just wondering if there is a less expensive way for large canvases; I’m still a novice painter; maybe I should just not worry about permanency for now?  Is there something less expensive that I can use for:  a) covering up old paintings and; b) for unused bought canvases?

A:  GAC 100 is an ideal SIZE (a ‘ground’ is a white ‘primer’ coat like gesso) that is useful for sealing a surface that would otherwise be too absorbent or not appropriate, i.e. too acidic like a wood product, too receive a layer of ground (gesso) or paint.  It is a good idea to use the GAC 100 to seal cotton canvas before painting in oils so that the oil from the paint will not rot the fabric.  It is expensive; I buy it in the gallon size which is much more economical.  Like you say, if you are just practicing your craft and are not concerned with permanence, then you don’t need to bother as much with such matters. 

Q:  What are all the different Golden GAC mediums used for?  Do you use them all in your work?

A:  It is a good idea to go to the Golden website to learn about the different products and their uses.  They have excellent technical information and a very friendly staff of technical advisers that you can talk to on the phone as well.  I use mostly the GAC 100, 400, 500 and 700 mediums.  The 100 and 400 for sizing canvas and panels and the 400 for stiffening canvas for paintings done in oils.  The 500 and 700 I like to use for glazing, esp the 500, which I also use in combination with the soft gel medium for an isolation varnish. 

Q:  I bought gel gloss medium to do washes and it takes too long to dry.  Which gel mediums do you use and why?  Do you mix them with the paint? 

A:  There are a lot of different gel mediums on the market now and each one can be used to create a different textured effect or for collage work.  They come in varying degrees of stiffness and transparency as well.  You can use the thinner gloss gels to do glazing (washes) but they will be slower to dry for sure.  The self leveling gel can be used for transparent glazes with good results.  I rarely mix them with the colors but instead prefer to paint over top of them once they are dry to maintain the luminosity and intensity of my colors.  Still, you can certainly mix them with your colors as there is no technical reason why that would be a problem.  Using some of the stiffer mediums like the molding paste, pumice gel and crackle paste on canvas, esp if it is applied thick can result in sagging of the canvas as well as cracking and lifting of the medium.  Better to work on a rigid panel if you are using these ones extensively. 

Q:  with your acrylic paintings do you mix the gel mediums with the paint for achieving the textured effects?  Linda

 A:  There is no technical reason why you cannot do that, but I rarely do, preferring instead to apply the gel mediums and texture before I start to paint.  Here again, the ’Light Rules’ apply.  I don’t like to add anything to the paint that will take away from the light or intensity of my colors, unless of course I have a reason for wanting a certain color to be dull or muted.  I start with the drawing on the white canvas or panel (‘Light Rule” no. 2) and then I put on the various mediums and textures to achieve the effect I want (I can still see the drawing underneath), I let it dry for at least a day, then I paint over top of the textured surface.

 

Thanks for the questions, David

Hi David,

I noticed that your acrylic paintings are built up with lots of  texture and thick applications of paint. What particular medium do  you prefer for this technique? Heavy gels, perhaps? Have you managed to find a way to get this thick acrylic paint to resemble the textures of oil paint and, specifically, the way oils can hold all

the peaks and ridges and subtle details perfectly.

Thanks, Steve

Hey Steve,

Good question.  I use all kinds of texture mediums to create different effects.  When I first started using acrylics you could get gel medium and molding paste.  Now there are many to choose from, each with its own characteristic properties to impart a wide range of textured effects and techniques never before possible with oils.

The ones I use most often are the medium and heavy gels, the molding paste, pumice gel, and a few others here and there for various effects.  You have to try them all out to become familiar with how they will work for you.  Because all acrylic mediums are made with acrylic resin they are all intermixable and can be added to the paints in almost any proportion and combination.  The only precautions would be to make sure not to use the more stiff mediums, like the pumice and molding paste, in thick layers on a flexible support like canvas as they may crack.

With rare exceptions, I do not mix the mediums with the paints but rather apply them first and then paint over them when they are dry.  This method insures that the intensity and transparency of my colors remains unaffected, which is important to me in my work.

Compared to acrylics, oil paints are easier to work with under the brush, and you can create many more effects with a variety of brushes and techniques.  With oils, smooth blended effects and subtle nuances are readily achieved with different brushes and a skilful hand.  Acrylics dry much faster, so you need to decisive, put the paint down with a swish of two and leave it be, otherwise you will end up with ‘marring’ – streaks.  Acrylic paints are also much lighter than oils and so are easily pushed around with a soft brush.  Expensive brushes and fancy methods are all lost on acrylics though because when the paint dries they all but disappear.

To some degree you can get the acrylic paint to remain stiff and retain its brush marks and peaks by adding molding paste or even a very stiff gel medium, but it will never be as good as oil paints in this regard.  The reason acrylics don’t behave as oils do in this way is because they shrink and level out somewhat after the water, which takes up considerable volume in the paint, evaporates.

By adding a medium like molding paste you can make it stiffer and it will shrink less but then the molding paste dries white and will effectively lighten, dull down, and rob the colors of their transparency.  Oil paint has a higher pigment to medium ratio than acrylics and so the colors tend to be brighter and more intense.  Plus, of course, by taking up a lot of the volume of the acrylic paint with mediums, you are dulling them down even more.  If these things are not an issue in your composition, then it is worth a try.

David,

I’m from Ireland but have spent some time in Canada and discovered your work, I was immediately attracted to your style of painting.  I recently visited your website and think its awesome how you help other painters along

with advice and tips like you do, I would have loved to have gone to one of your workshops!

I’m an acrylic rookie and have a few questions as well – I hope you don’t mind!  Is the Golden Polymer Varnish with UVLS ok to apply directly over an acrylic painting or is it best to have an isolation coat?  If you’re doing glazing should the underpainting also have GAC 700, or another medium, in it?  When you glaze snow do you mix some paint with the glaze medium or do you use it straight?

Thanks very much, Roslyn

Hi Roslyn,

Thanks for the kind words.  Do not put the UVLS varnish directly on your acrylic paintings – you do need an isolation coat (2 parts Golden soft gel medium (gloss) to 1 part water) is a good isolation varnish.  The solvent needed to remove the UVLS varnish during restoration would damage your painting.  Follow the instructions on the jar.

The underpaintings do not necessarily need any mediums in them before you glaze over them.

Depending on the type of snow I am painting I use different amounts of medium, or none, usually Golden GAC 100 or 700, and sometimes regular gloss medium.   The amount of gloss medium I add makes the snow more or less transparent so the underpainting shows thru in varying degrees.  Not a lot of snow in Ireland I don’t imagine!

The “Glazing” medium by Golden is formulated specifically to slow the drying time, or ‘open’ time, of your acrylic paint.  It is not the same as a regular medium.  You can mix it with your gloss mediums or GAC mediums to do transparent effects like glazes and veils, or just mix it with the paint in varying amounts to slow the drying time of the paints.  It is not well suited to use as the only medium to make glazes and I wish they would not have called it ‘glazing liquid’ for that reason, it is confusing for many painters.

Have fun with your acrylics.  David

7 Comments on “Acrylics”

  1. marlene Oolo

    living on Vancouver Island ( comox valley) new at painting acrylic and just love my new adventure. and wanted to say yea,saw your name & opened the site and just from Q&A have learned so much already
    thanks for that.
    MO

  2. kari fox

    Hi David,
    I am looking forward to taking a workshop with you at the end of Sept on Van. Island.
    I would like to know how you choose to use acrylic in a painting, or choose to use oil.
    And do you use linen canvas or cotton canvas or boards ~ a preference to one?
    Many thank!
    kari fox

    1. david

      Hi Kari, I will be posting a blog about the differences between oils and acrylics, that will answer your questions and more. I use untempered hardboard and cotton canvas. See you in Sept.

  3. Michael Dyer

    I’ve also been asked this question lately. I was recently in New Orleans and noticed that oils appear to be selling for more money. I didn’t get the chance to talk to any of the gallery owners. It seems that people will pay more money for oils than acrylics. So the gallery owners will circulate rumours that oils are better than acrylics as long as they get more money for them. Early acrylics definitely had some issues and they are associated with cheap work. I prefer acrylics. As long as artists continue to use them, eventually the negative attitudes will disappear.

    1. david

      Agreed. Acrylics are relatively new but science and accelerated aging tests demonstrate that they will stand the test of time. I have not noticed that type of marketing in Canada but it certainly persists in some galleries in the US and perhaps abroad as well.

  4. joyce findlay

    Good Morning David, thank you so much for sharing your blog with everyone. I discovered your paintings on FB, and was so drawn to the color and vibrancy of them. I am totally a self taught artist, and in seeing the photo above, it opened my eyes as to what I wasn’t doing. When I paint my flowers, I use colors and my imagination to create, my paintings, when it came to landscapes, they were usually dull and boring, I wasn’t able to break away from the way I saw the landscape, even when I painted one, I used “logical” colors. The way you use color to create your vision is so inspiring to me. I certainly will be a little braver from now on. And who knows maybe will have to take one of your workshops in the future. I am certainly tempted.

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