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Adult hands painting a small painting of a real mandarin.
A student at a table with paints, a palette and brushes.

Use the paints you already have and learn whether there is anything else you might need to buy.

Some people start learning to paint with acrylics. Others begin with oil then switch to acrylics under the assumption that they are less messy or toxic. Watercolorists switch because it is less difficult and expensive to frame an acrylic painting. Then there are painters who are prevented from bringing their oils to communal spaces.

No matter your reason to try them, rest assured no medium has been more misunderstood than this one. You see, it’s all about the additives. Knowing how to use them will give you a tremendous range of effects that simply cannot be achieved with oils. Yet visiting an art store and knowing which additives to get can be a bit intimidating, so many students continue painting without them and reaching the conclusion that acrylics is a difficult, unwieldy medium.

 I can water them down almost like watercolors or I can use them thick like oils. I believe they are respected as oils when the painting is good and they look awful (same as oils) when the painting is bad. Patricia Ann Rizzo

Acrylics are in fact, a great medium for novices and experts alike. They are very forgiving (just paint over your mistakes). They dry fast, enabling you to work on successive layers in an accelerated timeframe. You can clean everything with water, and gel medium has a very mild odor compared with turps. When you mix in a little gel, the results can be undistinguishable from an oil painting.

So, to all the acrylic haters out there, you simply don’t know what you’re missing!

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Rebeca Garcia-Gonzalez avatar
Rebeca Garcia-Gonzalez is the author of these posts and the instructor at Rebeca's Art Classes. She completed her BFA at the University of Puerto Rico and moved to SF seeking to complete an MFA. She did her graduate studies in education instead but continued painting. Later she served as program administrator in a couple of non-profits, After a position as Deputy Director of the Richmond Art Center, she is now painting and teaching full-time and loving it!

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