The Thick and Thin of Acrylics

With such a plethora of art supplies out there, what can we do to discover what works best for us? Experimentation is key, and there are many ways to test new products. Painting with Holbein Acrylic Colors MAT and Da Vinci Fluid Acrylics, I experimented with ways in which the two perform when applied.

Compare and Contrast
I used many Holbein Acrylic Colors MAT in this piece, some of them opaquely and a few segments wet-into-wet (see the left-hand side, where I dropped rose violet into green while it was still wet).  I also used a black gesso, to set off the bright pigments and provide a neutral to augment the grays I mixed, and also Holbein’s gray, a warm, light gray.

I used several of my stamps to experiment with painting the colors over a stamped image. On the right side, for example, I initially stamped with rose violet. I let it dry, and then stamped with Prussian blue. At different times, when I had paint on my brush, I came back and painted in segments of Arctic blue, carmine, olive mixed with yellow and Holbein’s grey. Areas of pure pigment—yellow ochre, ultramarine blue (just a slice) and green—surround the stamp on the right.

I mixed a gray with ultramarine, ochre and white to make the long rectangle coming from the top right. I used the rose violet both transparently on the left of the long rectangle and changed it gradually to more opaque by adding pure pigment. I also added layers and layers of paint to some of the areas. For example, on the bottom right I began with yellow ochre, then added some olive. It was taped beforehand, so I painted in the areas after the tape was removed.
The calligraphy at the top was started with rose violet, and I later added carmine and painted around it with the Holbein gray.

Dreaming of Matisse (Holbein Acrylic Colors MAT on paper, 22×30)
My objective for this painting was to use bold Fauve colors in conjunction with mixed grays to set off their brilliance. The model’s dress was painted with vermilion, and her jacket with a mixture of deep yellow, yellow and lemon yellow mixed with a tad of vermilion. Her hat was a mixture of Holbein’s gray, Arctic blue and shell pink.

Occasionally, I add another light color to the mixture. Cerulean blue and greens are painted throughout the composition in smaller areas mixed with reds to make grays.  The figure and surroundings are set off by black gesso. The face and skintones are mixtures of cerulean blue, shell pink, vermilion, light green, beige and Arctic blue.

Go With the Flow
To experiment with Da Vinci Fluid Acrylics, draw a series of overlapping geometric objects onto a small sheet of watercolor paper. Pick a few colors and paint them on. I used a little water with them to spread the paint. The pigments I used were opus permanent (a bit like quinacridone magenta, although less saturated and a little grayer), yellow ochre, Phthalo turquoise, quinacridone gold, leaf green (a yellow-green not unlike green gold), gamboge hue and burnt sienna. The grays were made with mixtures of opus permanent and cerulean blue. According to the company, these fluid acrylics are made to augment and match the colors in their watercolor spectrum.

Brush Painting of an Iris (Da Vinci Fluid Acrylics on paper, 8×10)
In this exercise, I wanted to see how the paint diffused in a brush painting. I used Phthalo turquoise, cobalt blue, opus permanent, quinacridone gold hue and quinacridone red. The paint flowed smoothly, making beautiful diffusions as I dropped color after color onto an already painted and wet surface, some making subtle and intriguing tertiaries.
After the initial brush painting dried, I added some calligraphy on the stalks and bulbs of the Iris. I executed the painting from memory in a matter of minutes. To build self-confidence, rely on your own memory and try a brush painting using your Da Vinci fluid pigments. Allow the pigments to do their own magic by dropping them into wet paint and allowing them to marry their neighbors.

See more of Betsy Dillard Stroud’s acrylic experiments in the October 2009 issue of Watercolor Artist.


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