Made For Each Other: Abstraction & Acrylic Paints

Abstraction is a key part of how you paint or draw anything. It is seeing completely with the eye, and not allowing the brain to contextualize what we are seeing. But turning off the brain is no small task! I’ve found that painting with acrylics has given me a bit of insight into abstraction for two reasons: when painting with acrylics, each layer dries fast–so I can practice seeing (and painting) abstractly over and over again in a fairly short period of time. Also, the paints I work with are opaque, so gesture comes more strongly to the fore in any work because it is much less about blending than about making successive layers work together.

Earth and Shade II by John Harrell, acrylic painting.
Earth and Shade II by John Harrell, acrylic painting.

As I’ve confessed before, I’m usually a slowpoke ditherer when it comes to painting, largely due to the intimidation factor. When painting with acrylics, I found my speed because those paints dry fast! But that means that as soon as they do, I can go in again. I really enjoy the fact if I try to paint a figure or aspect of the landscape too literally, I can wait a few minutes, assess what I’ve done, and experiment more abstractly right then and there.

Mountain man by Richard M. Greene, acrylic painting.
Mountain man by Richard M. Greene, acrylic painting.

Many acrylic paints dry opaque unless you add a medium to make them more transparent. This solidity or opacity has proven helpful to a lot of artists who want to build up their abstraction chops. That’s because you can see your gesture completely in every stroke you put on the canvas, as opposed to brushwork that layers on in a more transparent way. Exploring gesture in an acrylic painting is especially exciting if I use a palette knife because the entire surface of the painting is looser, more textural, and all about big shapes and color.

In Abstract Exploration in Acrylic Painting with Jo Toye, you see abstraction and acrylic painting techniques come together in compelling ways. You will learn to explore the aspects of art that are the most interesting to you and merge them to create appealing compositions and beautifully painted surfaces that can be appreciated abstractly and on the basis of representation. Enjoy!

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Courtney Jordan

About Courtney Jordan

  Courtney is the editor of Artist Daily. For her, art is one of life’s essentials and a career mainstay. She’s pursued academic studies of the Old Masters of Spain and Italy as well as museum curatorial experience, writing and reporting on arts and culture as a magazine staffer, and acquiring and editing architecture and cultural history books. She hopes to recommit herself to more studio time, too, working in mixed media.   

2 thoughts on “Made For Each Other: Abstraction & Acrylic Paints

  1. Hi Courtney,
    I`d have to disagree with you about your statement that all acrylics dry opaque. There are many pigments that are transparent, such as Hansa yellow or the quinacrridones, just to mention a few. Liquitex marks the tube of paint letting artists know if the pigment is transparent, opaque or semi-transparent. Paints like Jo Sonja are acrylic gouache, therefore designed to be opaque, and craft paints like Delta, Americana and Folkart are also desgned to be opaque generally so that yes, you need a medium to render them more transparent.
    In my work, I use the transparency of some pigments to create layers, much like watercolour, so that you can see the colours underneath. Try them, if you haven`t already. You might like them!
    Donna from Montreal