Your Explorations of Acrylic Paints & Mediums

Last fall I interviewed a number of acrylic painters for a special supplement in the December, 2008 issue of American Artist, and I was fascinated to learn how many creative ways artists can use these water-soluble paints and mediums. Washington, DC artist Franklin White was shown squeezing Liquitex acrylic paints from a pastry tube, Virginia artist Bruce Skillicorn explained how he duplicates the look and feel of oil paintings in his acrylic landscapes, South Carolina artist Phil Garrett shared his excitement about Golden Artist Colors’ new Open Acrylics that remain wet longer than traditional acrylic paints, and New York artist Mikel Wintermantel listed the advantages of using Chroma Atelier Interactive Artists’ Acrylic paints to create atmospheric landscape paintings.

Acrylics are perhaps the most versatile artists’ media because the paints can be applied in thin washes or thick brushstrokes; they can be combined with mediums that change their drying time or texture; and they will adhere to surfaces such as paper, canvas, wood, plastic, and fabric. Recently, manufacturers of acrylic paints have increased these creative options by expanding the range and types of colors, the method and time of drying, and the sculptural integrity of the materials.

Research indicates that a high percentage of people who read American Artist work with acrylics, and many of the artists who post photographs of their paintings on the magazine’s website are enthusiastic about acrylic paints and mediums. If you are among those who appreciate the versatility, water solubility, and fast drying time of acrylics, you might want to update your knowledge of the products and techniques available by reading what others have discovered.

And if you have found effective ways to use acrylics in creating your artwork, you might want to share information about the products and techniques that help you express yourself. For example, you might want to explain whether you use a fluid or thick formulation of the paints, whether you adjust the drying time or texture by adding mediums, or if your experimental techniques could only be explored with acrylics. I’m sure others would benefit from your discoveries.

M. Stephen Doherty

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About M. Stephen Doherty

I've been interested in art since I was a child,  and I was fortunate to be able to take Saturday art classes at the Cincinnati Art Museum from the time I was 9 years old until I finished high school. I majored in art at Knox College and graduated summa *** laude, Phi Beta Kappa (proving artists can use both sides of their brain!).  I then earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in printmaking from Cornell University; taught art in public schools, a community college, an adult education program, and a college; worked in the marketing department of a company that manufactured screen printing supplies; and was hired to be editor of American Artist in January, 1979.

Thomas S. Buecher introduced me to plein air painting and it immediately became a passion of mine because it got me outdoors and allowed me to continue learning when I traveled to judge art shows, attend conventions, give lectures, and interview artists. Over the years I've exhibited my paintings at Bryant Galleries in New Orleans, Trees Place Gallery on Cape Cod, and in a traveling exhibition titled From Sea to Shining Sea.

I've written 10 books on artists and art techniques and contibuted articles to magazines, websites, and exhibition catalogs. Now as I prepare for semi-retirement, I'm trying to hone my painting skills -- especially those related to painting portraits.

I've been very fortunate to have met thousands of talented artists who have enriched my life with their art, their friendship, and their advice. I am grateful to Jerry Hobbs and Susan Meyer who hired me in 1979, to the talented people who worked with me on the magazines, and to the artists and advertisers who supported American Artist, Watercolor, Workshop, and Drawing  magazines and the related websites.

I've also been blessed with a supportive, talented wife, Sara; a daughter, Clare, who works for an insurance agency; a son, Michael, who is a computer enginner in Austin; a son-in-law, Shawn, who can fix and carry anything; a granddaughter, Amanda, who has me wrapped around her finger; and my mother, Dotty, who has advised and encouraged me from the beginning.

4 thoughts on “Your Explorations of Acrylic Paints & Mediums

  1. Thanks Steve for this post.

    My favorite way to use acrylics right now… first by starting with transparent washes on 300lb watercolor paper and then going over some areas with opaque paint (white added) where i choose to. The combination of transparent and opaque gives a lot of control over the final results.

  2. Lori, do you worry about the acrylic being watered down too far? I’ve had people warn me that if I dilute it too much, it won’t adhere to the substrate properly. That it needs to be thick enough to form a very thin skin.

  3. I have been painting with acrylics for at least thirty years. I am a simple acrylic painter. I usually use some water and if i need to I add some gloss or gel meduim. I now take my water from a pitcher that contains a Brita filter. Recently I have become interested in several of the meduims that an artist can use to slow drying time. I may start to investigate some of the textural gels when I go back into to my abstract work. The range of products to create textures and extend the paint is quite amazing.I began using a stay wet palette a few years ago. I used to think that this product was a big joke. I have found that the joke was on me. Using the stay wet paleete has added to my enjoyment of using acrylics. The paint stays wet for some time and becomes very fluid .Using some ammonia when wetting the sponge keeps the sponge from becoming nasty. While buying the palette paper and replacement sponges costs some money I do save time because my paint is ready to go and it doesn’t dry out .The fact that my paint mixtures are always there for each painting session is a big plus. The majority of the time I use the gloss heavy body but I am increasing the amount of fluid acrylics.I have found that the fluid acrylics are of enormous value in building up layers of paint or laying in an intial appilcation of paint on a pre-stretched canvas. Using fluid acrylics on this type of support helps to prevent a build of paint that contributes to that “dead” over worked appearence that gives a plastic feel to the canvas.
    I have not used any of the acrylic varnishes except for Grumbacher’s Hyplar Spray Varnish which I think is now discontinued. When I started to work exclusively with acrylics a few decades back the general perception was that acrylics did not have to be varnished. It seems that research has proved otherwise. Eventually I may start to varnish my paintings especially if I do work with more texture.Hopefully someday there will be a varnish for acrylics that combines both the isolation and the final coat. I have not tried the Open Acrylics by Golden but I am giving them a serious look. I remember painting outdoors years ago and having twenty or so paint tubes all over the ground! The one drawback that I have had with acrylics is that I have found them to be a pain to use outdoors. I do remember reading an article in American Artist about an acrylic artist who put the acrylics mixed with meduim in the trays of a painting supply box. It seemed like a good idea but I never tried it. I am a studio painter who goes outside to sketch for ideas . The fast drying rate of acrylics has never troubled me and there were only one or two times that I had trouble matching colors when trying to match the fresh paint to the alread dried painting.

  4. Hi Stephan,
    I have been working with the nice people at Chroma on all sorts of adventures in utilizing their Interactive Acrylics. They have sent me some prototypes mediums to try. Their thick slow medium is similar to Neo Meglip or Maroger medium when working with oils or alkyds. I have been mixing that with their interactive modeling compound and/or impasto gel to get texture and body quickly but still able to rework the paint if needed. There is no plastic feel to this great paint.
    I still finish most of my paintings in alkyds and oils. With the nice satin/matte finish of the paint I can easily paint over the Interactive Acrylic without much prep that was previously required when attempting to paint oil over acrylic.
    I keep my pallet open for days on end with a quick mist of water and sealing off the air using a tupperware dish.
    The ideal of using this new generation acrylic for me is that I can quickly get several layers of underpainting done yet still rework if needed before I commit that painting session to full cure. What used to take me days, even weeks can now be attained in mere hours…. that is, provided I am inspired and on my game. If I am not, no harm, no foul…. I just wipe off the uninspired.
    During a recent workshop I demonstrated this quite dramatically. After 3 days of intensive work on an October landscape, (clear blue sky, fully rendered white clouds) in front of my students I painted a vibrant magenta smiley face right in the center of the sky. I then showed them all as I spoke of the safety net of painting over cured and sealed Interactive paint…. The air conditioning was on at the gallery so it wasn’t long before the smiley face was touch dry… I made all my workshoppers touch it to prove it. At first using water only some of the smiley face came off, uh-oh…. even I wondered if I had blundered. But with a quick swipe of their unlocking formula it went right back to the finished painting. No worse for wear.
    A collective sigh of relief was heard…. but then… then there were a lot of excited ideas floating around about all the possibilities of working with cured and uncured layers of paint.
    I am still experimenting in between serious painting sessions. Every day something new is discovered.
    Thanks for the mention in this blog!
    Take care,