Acrylic paints are some of the most versatile and popular art materials for contemporary artists. They offer so many positive attributes: fast drying time, water cleanup, huge color selections right from the tube (including metallics and texturals), multiple surface preparations for both before and after painting, brushes and other tools to work with, wild creativity, plus a modern history that includes space-age polymer elements. What more could you ask?
Acrylic paint was first discovered in the late 1940’s. In its original state, it was formulated as house paint, but artists began to use it because it dried quickly and offered qualities that oil did not. Whether rolled on or brushed, the paint was more permanent and impervious to water damage. That opened lots of new areas of artistic application.
As more and more creative persons used the paints, demands for higher quality pigments and mixes were made. Several companies that had previously manufactured only oil paints began to enter the market with acrylics. Today there are many manufacturers, both domestic and foreign, that make acrylic paints. Any artist has a huge field from which to select the perfect texture, pigmentation and formulation.
Permanence of the surface of an acrylic painting is created by the nature of the material. Acrylic paints are formulated in combination with a binder that is water based and evaporates after the paint is applied. This evaporation process bonds the “plates” of color together into a near-plastic surface. It is far more flexible, stronger and fades less than oil.
Considering the fact that no art material is totally inert, one should exercise care and avoid prolonged contact with acrylic paint, just like oil. But, having said that and considering the ease of cleanup (water with mild soap), there are huge advantages to using acrylics. No petroleum/solvent contact is a huge leap towards a healthier studio environment.
While the same brushes can be used for either oil or acrylic, those designed strictly for acrylic work do best with acrylic application. They hold and flow the pigment with certainty. Their shapes and designs offer great variety of line and stroke application. When cleaned properly, they will last a very long time. But one caveat is that you absolutely must clean brushes after painting. Once set up, the paint is almost impossible to remove. Accidents, if caught early enough, can be cleaned with regular alcohol, but this does not include completely dry acrylic paints. A good product for cleaning, preserving and restoring brushes is General Pencil Company’s “The Masters” Brush Cleaner. This removes oils, acrylics, watercolors, stains and varnishes and helps prevent paint buildup in the ferrule. It also prevents the hardening and build-up so common with today’s acrylic paints. “The Masters” also conditions and preserves your brushes to keep them like new. See your retailer and visit www.generalpencil.com.
Along with a selection of brushes, an acrylic artist might want to consider using some of the soft rubber, wedge- shaped tools for forming, slicing and incising the wet, malleable paint on the surface of paintings. Sharp-edged designs, scribing and such can be easily done with these tools.
Many artists are taught painting with the understanding that it is somehow cheating or improper to use color straight from the tube or jar. With acrylics and the choices of color you have, it is almost improper not to use paint directly from the tube. Why not? If the color needs some enhancement – make it and you will be that much closer to the result you want. Jar paint consistency is usually thinner than tube colors. For muralists and knife painters jar paints offer the exact texture they need.
The surface upon which an artist paints makes a huge difference in the completed work. There are lots of materials to surface your ground when working in acrylics: pumice, granular mixes, metallic powder additions and modeling pastes. It is this variety of surface possibilities that adds to the overall acrylic experience.
Painters can use acrylics in a number of dilutions, depending on the effect they seek. Water added to pigment will yield a nice wash or watercolor effect. Thick, creamy pigment can be manipulated with a palette knife to yield delicious textures and dimensions. Dry brush spot application can add drama to edges, ellipses or light concentrations.
Surface coatings range from matte to high gloss, so you can create or alter for any topical finish you want. Liquid and thick, jar style coatings are used also for mediums. Again, this is a versatility few other media offer.