Monday, April 12

Watercolor Vs. Acrylic

My reference photo for next acrylic
Copyright 2010

Hi –

Today I’m working on an acrylic as my next painting. My last painting, which I showed you last blog, was in acrylic, and I enjoyed doing it so much that I decided to do another. Today’s image is my reference photo.

It had been months since I painted with acrylic. I have been concentrating on watercolor, which I also like very much. Most of the 12 or so paintings I completed in the last year were watercolors.

I mentioned I would blog about how different it is to paint with acrylic vs. watercolor and vice versa.

Let me reiterate. Painting with acrylic is very different than painting with watercolor (and vice versa).

It’s so different that you have to really concentrate on what you’re doing so that you don’t mess up either your watercolor or your acrylic, whichever you’re painting. (I don’t mean to imply, of course, that you usually don’t concentrate on your painting.)

It’s just that if you have recently been painting in either medium and switch to the other, there is a period of adjustment, hopefully short.

For one, you almost always paint with watercolor on paper (duh), whereas with acrylic you can choose a variety of supports from canvas to panel and, yes, even paper.

With watercolor you can mix your color and then apply it. Or you can also mix colors on the paper, but you’re likely to get either a happy accident or a mess. You can also overlay single colors over one another for the transparent effect.

You can’t do transparent overlays with acrylic. You can mix the color either before it’s applied or mix it on you support, but it has no real transparent quality unless it's really thinned with water (but not so much as to inhibit the binding of the paint to the support).

Watercolor dries lighter than when it’s applied. Acrylic dries darker. In either case, you have to judge and compensate for that.

Acrylic dries very, very fast so you have to work rather quickly and have a spritzer nearby. Watercolor is a little more forgiving, and there may be times when you want to even use a hair drier to speed up the drying process.

The biggie—in watercolor you almost always paint from lightest color to darkest color. This is because you can’t paint over darker colors in watercolor with lighter colors (again, duh), that is, if you expect to be able to see them. Some colors can be lifted, but you’ll still be able to tell it was painted.

In acrylic, you can paint light first, dark first, medium tones first—whatever order you like, it doesn’t matter. And you can paint over in acrylic as much as you like. That’s why I love acrylics.

I think cleaning up with watercolors is easier than with acrylic. They are both water-based, and brushes clean up with just soap and water. Try that with oil paint!

I hope you find this helpful, and I encourage you to try both.

Until next time.


  1. You can’t do transparent overlays with acrylic.

    what? yes you can. just mix it with water or clear acrylic medium.

  2. Thanks for taking time to comment. Maybe we're calling it the same thing, although the following blog post makes a distinction in acrylics and calls it glazing-

    Not sure if there's any difference between glazing and applying transparent overlays. Whatever. Thanks again for your comment.

  3. I'm a beginner but I've little knowledge about paintings since my childhood I've been drawing with pencils and painting with watercolors but I just joined arts school a day back so which one I should choose oil , water or acrylic ? I'm in ambiguity. Please help me.

    1. There is no right or wrong medium, all have their pros and cons. To advance your learning I encourage you to try both, and you should also look into oil and pastel as well.