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?
Acrylic is possibly the most versatile and forgiving medium. This day is structured so that beginners as well as more experienced painters can take a tour of its exciting possibilities while painting the still life. We’ll cover the uses of several additives and how to mix acrylic colors.
Register here, at the Frank Bette Center’s site. The FBC has a list of materials available once you register.
The workshop runs from 9-4 pm. It costs $80 for members and $100 for non-members. Here is the agenda for the day:
You will be able to receive instruction and create one or more still lives during this workshop. Each student will be given the choice of trying out a new effect with an acrylic additive. You will be able to receive as much or as little support as you specify. So that we can all be in the same page, during the first hour we will go through the basic steps in the development of an acrylic piece.
Here is the agenda for the day:
Introductions, purpose and goals for the class.
Survey of acrylic pigments and additives. The role of quality in acrylic supplies. How to prime cardboard.
Demo of the basic steps in starting a traditional acrylic painting.
How to prepare your own impasto or “fresco” textures.
Still life #1
12:00 – 12:30
Lunch (bring your own)
12:30 – 1:00
Demo: how to make acrylic behave like oils. Retardant, gel medium and acrylic glazes
1:00 – 3:00
Still life #2
Debrief or critique of the work done today. Evaluation an.d cleanup
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!
The third acrylics class was just like a food network show. We gathered round to see the making of modeling paste “recipes,” then we saw an impasto demonstration, and then it was time for us to try it for ourselves. Impasto is the application of thick paint to a surface. This can be done in a variety of ways with acrylic, thanks to the many applications of this medium and to all of the additives in the market.
We worked from simple references, mixing colors first on the palette, then applying the thick paste with a palette knife onto primed cardboard.
People like impasto because it visually reminds viewers of the very physical nature of paint while simultaneously creating an illusion. It gives you the opportunity to work with paint that is easier to control. Application with a palette knife does not require so much skill and some even say is more ergonomic than holding a brush. For people with arthritis, it is physically easier to spread heavy paint on a surface than to beat paint into a canvas.
I advised everyone to get the largest surface they could bring to class. Something we all discover sooner or later is that impasto call for a large palette or mixing surface. It is also more comfortable to use larger gestures to apply paint, and to be able to tilt the easel. Some people get rid of the easel altogether and use a table.