How Do Acrylics Work? | Painting With Acrylics For Beginners

When it comes to painting with acrylics for beginners, there are so many techniques you can learn, mediums you can experiment with, and styles you can discover. But if you start your acrylic painting journey with the basics, as you’ll see here, you’ll have a better understanding of how acrylics work. It’s information that will save you time and money, as well as improve your painting arsenal of knowledge.

Books like Acrylic Solutions, Glyn Macey’s World of Acrylics and others are here to help you create your next acrylic painting. Keep reading to get to know your acrylics better. You’ll be glad you did! ~Cherie

Painting with acrylics for beginners | Julie Prichard, ArtistsNetwork.com

Untitled Yellow (mixed media on canvas, 24×24) by Julie Prichard. Keeping reading for expert advice on acrylic painting.

Acrylic Painting: How Acrylics Work

from Acrylic Solutions: Exploring Mixed Media Layer by Layer
by Chris Cozen and Julie Prichard

We’ve simplified this overview in an effort to help you understand acrylic painting products and their differences. For more technical information, visit the websites of the major acrylic paint manufacturers or attend a local lecture on acrylics. What’s most important to understand is that when you work with acrylics, you’re working within a compatible system. You have tremendous flexibility in combining products, tweaking consistencies and creating your own “designer” combinations. There are a very few exceptions to this compatibility factor, which we’ll point out along the way.

Painting with acrylics | Chris Cozen, ArtistsNetwork.com

Featured image: A View of the Kingdom (mixed media on canvas, 20×20) by Chris Cozen (PIN this!)

Polymer Base

All acrylics are made of polymers that are eventually combined with bits of other ingredients that change their behavior in some specific way. When a polymer is formulated to make paint, it’s produced in a fluid, pourable state. Most acrylic products begin in this way.

We like to think of polymer medium as naked paint, or what paint would look like if the color pigments had been left out. It’s the glue that binds the pigments to the surfaces to which it will be applied. The milky white color is a result of the water that makes the products moveable and pourable. When the water evaporates, the result is a film that’s clear and glossy. You can always tell when the film is dry because the white will have disappeared.

Matte medium is also a fluid just like polymer gloss medium, but it dries with a hazy finish and has a bit of tooth, or roughness, to it. This change in surface is a result of the addition of small white particles suspended in the fluid. When matte medium has dried, the color beneath it seems a bit more subdued or dull.

Gel mediums are created by adding thickening agents to the fluid polymer medium. Gel mediums come in various thickened states ranging from soft to extra heavy. Soft gel won’t hold a peak and dries with rounded edges. The thicker the gel, the more it will hold a peak or a line when incised. Gel mediums come in gloss, which dries clear; semigloss, which is like a satin finish; and matte, which looks hazy and has a tooth on the surface.

Pastes and textured gels are created through the addition of particles to the thickened mediums to create molding pastes, glass bead gel, pumice gel, fiber paste and many more. Depending on what has been added to the mixture, some of these pastes will be opaque and some will be translucent. Any of your paints can be added to polymer mediums, gels and pastes to create variations in transparency, texture and consistency. Do some experimenting to discover just how many variations are possible.

Painting with acrylics for beginners | Chris Cozen, ArtistsNetwork.com

Moon Bloom (mixed media on canvas board, 20×16) by Chris Cozen

Paint Formulations

Acrylic paint comes in a variety of formulations, each having its own personality. Simply put, most acrylic paints come as thick formulations found in tubes or thin liquid formulations that are pourable. New, slow-drying formulations have been created in recent years.

Painting with acrylics for beginners | Julie Prichard, ArtistsNetwork.com

Untitled (acrylic on canvas, 14×11) by Julie Prichard

Painting With Acrylics for Beginners: Pigments

Pigments play the most crucial role in art making because they cross the entire scope of artistic mediums, from oil, watercolor and acrylics to inks, chalks and more. It’s important to have a working understanding of pigments, why they behave in certain ways and which will work best for certain purposes.

A pigment is either naturally sourced or created in a chemistry lab. Natural pigments are earthy and chunky and behave the way we’d expect dirt and rocks to if they were ground up and thrown into liquid glue. These colors act as good grounding colors for our compositions. Even in glaze formulations, these pigments will give us the additional haze needed to imply clouds, fog or mist.

Natural pigments such as sienna, umber, ochre, cobalt, cadmium, titanium and ultramarine have been mainstays of artists for centuries; however, these pigments aren’t clean mixers. When you mix two strong primary earth colors together, the resulting secondary color is quite dull, not clear and clean. It’s very easy to make mud from colors that once started buried somewhere in the earth.

Chemically created pigments are altogether different in their structure and behavior. If you examined them under a microscope, you’d think you were looking at shards of colorful stained glass. Light passes easily through these pigments, just as it does through glass, making them clean mixers. These pigments create intense saturated paints that pack a powerful color punch and allow for an extremely wide range of glaze strengths. Sometimes the pigment names are difficult to pronounce, which is one way to recognize them: phthalo, quinacridone, hansa, anthraquinone, pyrrole and dioxazine. These latecomers to the art world have made a lasting impression due to their bold and beautiful demeanors. Though they’re powerfully pigmented, they remain sheer enough to see through. Add just a bit of a natural pigment, such as titanium white, and you can diminish their clarity almost immediately. Click to download Acrylic Solutions and continue reading…

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