Sunday, February 1

Acrylic vs. Oil, Pastel, & Watercolor

Today’s Image
Mexican Hats
Acrylic on Canvas Panel
20 x 16 in (51 x 41 cm)
Copyright 2009

In the Studio

I’ve been back in the studio this week I’m glad to report. I finished Today’s Image, an acrylic with the effect of a watercolor, which is the point of today’s blog--the versatility of acrylics.

Acrylic is the most versatile medium there is for artists in my opinion based on readings and observations. If you have ever tried acrylics, then I think you will agree. There’s nothing else like it. I’m not saying that acrylic is the best medium for artwork. I’m not saying acrylic is the most beautiful medium for artwork. I’m saying it is the most versatile.

There are those artists for whom their chosen medium is the one and only acceptable medium. They create with oil only or pastel only or watercolor only—period, end of discussion. If you have ever visited any of the art sites on the web that specialize in email opinions, then you’ve seen the arguments that rage on about oil, pastel, watercolor, and, yes, acrylic.

I wonder if oil painters, pastel painters, or watercolorists have tried acrylics. Actually I’m sure they have, but for some reason, you never hear them touting acrylics. I’m guessing they've pursued a particular medium throughout their education and career, and then stick with it. I would hope for open-mindedness, but have no expectations.

Acrylic is the ‘Rodney Daingerfield’ of the painting mediums. For those outside the US, the late Rodney Daingerfield was a well known US comedian whose whole stand-up comedy routine was based on his getting no respect, ever. I think acrylic is in a similar situation—it doesn't get that much respect.

And I don’t why. Acrylic seems to be put in the same category as hobby or craft artwork (as if there were something wrong with that). Take it from a casual observer, there appears to be a condescending, looking-down-your-nose attitude toward acrylics. Excuse me, but how narrow-minded and short-sighted.

Is it because acrylic is regarded as a hobby medium? Is it because it is not viewed as suitable for fine art? Is it because it has ‘plastic’ in it? Just what is it? I think it is simply arrogance. For some reason, oil and watercolor, and to a lesser extent pastel, are considered the painting mediums of true artists (whoever they are). I’m guessing because way back when, oil. watercolor, and pastel were the only painting mediums available.

Yes, the medium is only 54 years old (acrylic paint for artists was invented in 1955 by Liquitex). So what if it hasn’t stood the test of time yet, whatever length of time that is? What I read about oil is that most of the old oil paintings are deteriorating at a rapid clip due to the environment and light. In case you haven't noticed, most of those great old masterpieces that hang in museums or travel around the world on exhibit have been totally restored. I’m not just talking about the ones more than 500 years old either. There are plenty of 19th century masterpieces in the same shape.

I maintain the greatest painters of the past would have used acrylics had they only been available to them. Look, they jumped on the invention of paint in tubes as soon as it became available, didn’t they? They were a savvy and pragmatic group, so I’m sure they would have loved acrylic and all the techniques it affords.

Acrylic leads many lives. Here are just a few of the techniques and properties to remind everyone why it’s so versatile; it can be:
  • used like oils
  • used like watercolor
  • used for impasto
  • used for glazing
  • used for palatte or knife painting
  • used in mixed media
  • scumbled, scraped, and daubed
And those are just a few that come to mind. There are many more techniques for you to discover, explore, and create. Acrylic is the most versatile medium by far!


1 comment:

  1. Hi,

    I haven't tried acrylics yes but I'll try soo since I was given a set this Christmas.
    My opinion is that one should work with more than one medium.
    I find it rewarding in terms of learning and relaxing.
    I believe that chosing a medium has not so much to do with if it's more or less versatile but with what that medium comunicate to us.

    Take care,