In acrylic, happiness comes a bit faster. Robert Genn
I will be teaching a class at the Richmond Art Center on Jan 11, “Acrylic Bag of Tricks.” In February, I will begin teaching a series of two workshops about painting acrylic still lives at the Frank Bette Center (Feb 24 and Mar 23). So I can rightfully say I will start the year with acrylics.
But did you know that I did not start using acrylics until 2005? I did not receive instruction in it when I was in art school in the 1980s. Some instructors used acrylics back then, but they treated it like a lesser medium. If, as painter Andrew Hamilton says, “acrylic is the only painting medium that can be all mediums – it can act like watercolor, it can act like oils, and it has its own innate properties,” none of this was demonstrated in the classes I paid for. Instead, the few instructors or colleagues that used acrylic complained of the loud colors, or the quick drying time, and of the fact that it ruined brushes faster than oils. After I left art school, the stigma persisted. So I did not touch acrylics. I did not hate them, I just did not know what was possible.
Fast forward twenty years. I took a figure painting class and met my friend Karen Zullo Sherr, a feisty lady who used nothing else. She explained it was “all in the additives.” Intrigued, I began reading and trying out acrylic “recipes” I found in books, and sometimes on video. I began experimenting with thickening agents and eventually graduated to image transfers. Along the way, I figured out how to take advantage of its many features in plein air and studio situations.
Over the years, I realized not everyone will like or use acrylic. To find out if you are cut out for it, take my quiz:
1. My level of experience is ___________.
a. beginner b. I have taken some classes c. I use a different medium for most of my work
2. I do most of my work ___________.
a. indoors b. outdoors c. both
3. This word can be used to describe most of my paintings:
a. experimental b. abstract c. traditional
4. I am _________ to solvents
a. very sensitive b. neither sensitive or insensitive c. not sensitive
Give yourself two points for every “a” response, one point for every “b” response and zero points for any “c” response.
If you scored 6-8 points, acrylic is in the charts! You are too neat for oils, too sensitive to thinner, you work where a faster drying time is not an issue, and you “seize the moment” as an artist. If you are a beginner, this water soluble medium is definitely for you.
Those who scored 3-5 points could give this medium a chance but first they would have to set themselves up for success. Using additives that mimic the qualities of oils, using retardants to delay drying time and taking the time to learn about the medium’s attributes will let you see what you’ve been missing!
Even if you scored less than 3 points, that does not mean you should write acrylics off. You may be very experienced with other media and thus ready for a change of pace. Your health might change later on and you might have to switch, or you might be getting ready to do different work. One never nows so why not check it out?
Are you a painting student on a budget? Like most artists (except perhaps for Jim Carrey and George Bush) I am frugal with art supplies. Not only do their prices climb up every year, there’s no need to waste what I already have. Some students have asked me to describe my favorite tricks for saving money on supplies, and so I have decided to write about it in a tongue-in-cheek way.
Where should we aim to cut costs? Ok. Let’s think of two kinds of learners. There is the student who is deciding whether painting is something they will like, and there is the student who already does a fair amount of painting during vacations, classes and workshops.
If you are figuring out if painting is for you, keep it a secret. Don’t let your relatives or close friends pick out your gear or supplies. There are many many choices, and you might end up with stuff you can´t use that you will not be able to exchange. If you already “spilled the beans,” tell them to give you gift certificates. Start perusing Craigslist and Nextdoor, noticing the art supplies people are selling or giving away, and don’t buy anything yet. There is a reason everybody is selling french easels, for example. They are sooo heavy! Next, get on Google and type “acrylic or oil painting supply list” and read what art teachers are asking people to buy. This will give you an idea of what is normal to use in a painting class with that media. Then wait to the twice a year art store sales at the beginning of each semester. A good store with lots of different brands and low prices is Jerry’s Artarama. But if you have more time, follow the tips below.
If you have been painting for a while, read on. Just keep in mind that I want you to save money with the intention of spending it on quality paint. This is the one area where you should “bite the bullet.” For everything else, here’s my list:
I hope this has helped. Now you are ready to go on an exciting search!
We used a giant gel plate for experimental monotypes, and I have to say the colors are always much brighter than when we use block printing ink. The other big difference is that the results cannot be altered as acrylic is not water soluble. But these prints can become a background for play with other paint with watercolor or ink, for example. The gel plate was created using a variation of a recipe I found on the internet. 6 months and $150 later, I found the right combination of gelatin and glycerin and now share it with my students. I love gel plates, not just because of their sensitivity to textures but because they require almost no physical exertion.
Pours on small canvasses are the happy experiments on which anyone can build a larger or more complex piece. I buy packs of these 9 x 12″ canvasses and do my teaching demos on them. The pours are exciting because the colors change right before our eyes. Anne Marie from BeadFX because has a much better description of what happens: “layer up various densities of paint dollops (heaviest on the bottom, and lightest on top). A couple of light swirls with a stir stick, and then you pour on your background. When you’re done, you start tipping the substrate, for a wonderful, swirling explosion of color saturated eye candy!” In our case, we sprayed liquid acrylic, poured some using a different recipe, and added latex paint at the end.
You don’t really need to take a class to learn how to pour acrylics on a canvas. I find that what people want to learn is how to prepare the various pouring recipes. But I always tell them that the internet has so many instructions for the curious. Michael Townsend has written an excellent article that goes beyond recipes. It is more of an overview, explaining how the various mixes behave on a level surface. I would start here first and then go to You Tube for the many variations.
Those who love texture will appreciate the point of enhancing it with specially-mixed acrylic washes. Learning to make this mix was the first part of our class. While there are many recipes for it on Your Tube, we were aiming to mix something that could be used in a variety of materials such as paper, molding paste or canvas.
Our surface was heavy watercolor paper because this paper can take a lot of abuse. We scored it, sanded it and covered it with masking fluid. The texture and hues on the wash can serve as a beautiful background for a collage. Once the acrylic washes were applied with a spray bottle, we tilted it and let the excess pour on a mixing tub that had an inch of water.
The second part of our class was devoted to learning how to mix the paint for a pour. This time we tried both paper and canvas. I had a few examples to show. There are many resources on You Tube that can show you how to make various types of pours, but I find there is no substitute for doing one yourself. Not everyone is comfortable with the messiness factor engendered by this type of activity. By the time we finished, our pours were hanging from a clothesline, dripping lots of paint on my studio floor!