Monday, August 24

The Joy of Painting With Acrylics

Today’s Image
View From Los Alamos
Copyright 2008

Today's Image
is a small postcard-size acrylic I painted last year.

After months of doing nothing but watercolor paintings, I’m working on an acrylic. It’s the first time I hauled out my two drawers of acrylic paints since February, at least. Not that I’m quitting watercolor, but I was afraid I would forget how to paint with acrylics. A couple of weeks ago I was wasting time and tried painting with acrylic on a scrap of watercolor paper.

It’s a good thing I did. I was surprised at how different it felt to use acrylic paint after seven months. Like anything else, if you don’t use it, you lose it.

With watercolor, you paint from light to dark; that is, anything white will get no paint, and then you paint the lightest objects first, such as light yellows followed by darker yellows, etc. This means you have to plan out everything you’re going to paint in what I think is laborious detail beforehand. If you don’t, you quickly learn that you can’t paint light blue over dark blue and still see it.

Whew—that’s work, at least for an acrylic painter. When I tried acrylics again, I was still trying to use the watercolor rules, being all tedious, and thinking about in what order I should paint. Then I remembered I don’t have to do that.

That’s when I said almost out loud, “that’s what’s so great about acrylics!” I had forgotten the freedom you have with acrylics. You can paint anything you want anyway you want it, and if it doesn’t work for you, you can paint over it—again and again and again and again if need be.

With watercolor you’re encouraged to use a limited palette of the three primaries—for harmony, you’re told as if it were almost a religion--as if there were some cosmic purity in using the fewest number of colors. Supposedly it's because the transparent quality of watercolor doesn’t lend itself to a lot of color mixing before it gets muddy. Watercolorists tell you that being able to see the colors through the transparent layers is nirvana. Really?

With acrylics you CAN use just the three primaries if you like, but unless you thin down the acrylic so that it’s like watercolor (which you can do), you don’t have to limit your palette. With so many acrylic colors available, you don’t have to “mix your own.” Oh, the palettes you can use.

Yes, yes, I know, acrylics dry in the blink of an eye, and it can get frustrating. A spray bottle of water is your best friend, and some of the new “open” acrylics paints dry more slowly, which makes them even easier to use.

No, they’re not oils either. I can almost hear oil painters saying oil is the only real way to paint. I have painted with oil paint, and it is a fine medium, but it’s not the only medium either. It carries an odor, even the “odorless” paint thinner, and it takes for--ev--er to dry.

I haven’t tried encaustic. Maybe painting with wax is the way to go, but I haven’t used it yet. That’s what I like about art, always something new to try.

So, I’ve been working on an acrylic this last week. I’ll finish it in a few days. It’s been a lot of fun to paint with acrylics again. But after that I’ll go back and do a watercolor, and then maybe another acrylic, and then another watercolor. We’ll see. But an oil painting—I don’t think so.


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