A Quick Guide to Acrylics

A Quick Guide to Acrylics by Thomas Boldt.

Acrylic paint was first invented at the turn of the 20th century and has gone on to become one of the most popular and widely-used paints of all time. Renowned for both the quality of its color and its flexible nature, fast-drying acrylics are the tool of choice for many beginner hobbyists and professional painters alike.

Whether you’re a novice painter or an experienced hand with a brush, it’s always a good idea to experiment with new techniques. The flexibility of acrylic paints offers a wider range of options than we can cover in a single post, but we’ve put together a series different techniques you can use to switch up your style and explore new horizons.

Splatter

Popularized by Jackson Pollock, every artist has accidentally experimented with this technique at one point or another, thanks to the realities of working with paints. But accidental splatters only rarely capture the expressive potential of the style, while conscious effort can produce some amazing results. If you’re resisting experimenting with splatters because you feel it’s too messy or undisciplined, that’s an even better reason to push yourself to try something new!

Experiment with different splatter sources and paint viscosities, as different shapes will help create variety in the technique. Unless your paint studio is already covered in splatters (or if you’re not quite at the studio stage), you’ll definitely want to set up a drop cloth or ground sheet around your canvas to keep your sprays under control.

Washes & Glazes

Most people understandably associate washes with watercolor paint, but acrylic can pull off the same trick. You won’t get quite the same color fades as a watercolor wash, but you can use that to your advantage by creating a more uniform translucence.

Working with glazes is another way to change the consistency of acrylic, with the added benefit of a subtle shift in light. This requires adding a glazing medium to your paint mixture, but you can accomplish much more photorealistic lighting effects than you can with straight acrylics.

Remember that when you’re working with washes and glazes, you may find your paints too thin to cling properly on an easel. Either work flat on a tabletop or be careful not to get too much thinned paint on the brush. Unintentional gravity drips can be extremely frustrating to correct!

Impasto

Once you’ve experimented with washes, you might want to go the other direction and experiment with impasto. Instead of thinning the paint down to the point of translucence, the impasto technique uses thick layers of paint to create an almost sculptural surface. This is usually best managed with a series of thick brush strokes (often with time in between for the base layers to begin to set) or with the help of a palette knife or similar tool.

Be careful not to layer too thickly, though, as it’s possible to wind up with a chunk of half-dried paint on your floor and a suddenly empty canvas!

Additional Tips

When working with acrylics, layers are your best friend! Because they can cover so well, you can quickly build up dimension with the help of carefully layered colors and hues.

Before experimenting, remember that acrylics dry quickly. A spray mister of water close at hand will help keep your paint workable for longer.

If you don’t want to water down your paints to keep them workable, acrylic retarder slows the drying process chemically, allowing much more time to blend your colors.

Featured painting: Mountain Light 1 by Andrew Thompson

 

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