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 ways to discover your own creative style. But if you start your acrylic painting journey with a strong foundation, 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.

Acrylic Painting: How Acrylics Work

Painting with acrylics for beginners | Julie Prichard, ArtistsNetwork.com
Untitled Yellow (mixed media on canvas, 24×24) by Julie Prichard.

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.

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.

Naked Paint

We like to think of gloss medium and varnish 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.

Nothing But the Matte

Matte medium is also a fluid just like gloss medium and varnish, 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 and More

Gel mediums are created by adding thickening agents to the fluid polymer medium. These mediums come in various thickened states. Gloss or soft gels 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. You can find gel mediums that dry with a clear finish, with glosses finishes and with matte finishes — which appear hazy and have a tooth on the surface.

Tons of Texture

Pastes and textured gels are created through the addition of particles to thickened mediums to create modeling pastes, glass beads, ceramic stucco, black lava 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.

Paint Personality

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. The latest news in acrylics is Liquitex’s new Cadmium-Free colors, the world’s first non-cadmium acrylic paints with the same brightness, color strength and opacity as cadmium paint, offering artists a safer option in their practice. If you want to try painting Cadmium-Free, click here to receive your free sample.

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.

Found in Labs and in Nature

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.

Dirty Mixers

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.

Clean Chemistry

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. They pack a powerful color punch and allow for an extremely wide range of glaze strengths.

Tongue Twisters

Sometimes the pigment names are difficult to pronounce, which is one way to recognize them: phthalo, quinacridone, hansa, 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.

New Acrylics for New Artists

The latest achievements in acrylic innovation have arrived with Liquitex’s new Cadmium-Free colors, the world’s first non-cadmium acrylic paints. For beginners and established artists alike, these paints deliver the same brightness, color strength and opacity as cadmium paint, but offer artists a safer option in their practice.

Acrylic 12 artists cadmium free

Try them for yourself!

The Liquitex brand prides itself in creating and delivering a best in class product with ingredients that are the most safe and effective for you, the artist.

Enter your information HERE to receive a sample of Liquitex Cadmium-Free and cadmium paints and see if you can tell which one is cadmium free!

Painter Tony Ortega on Living His #ArtLife

Printmaker and painter Tony Ortega is one of thousands of talented artists who uses Liquitex acrylics to set his artistic visions free. Ortega’s latest body of work re-imagines iconic imagery with insertions and appropriations that speak to his Mexican-American identity.

 

Sponsored by

Liquitex was the first water-based acrylic paint created in 1955 and since then we have partnered with artists to ensure that we continually evolve and innovate – resulting in a long history of acrylic innovation. Today, Liquitex offers the largest array of vibrant acrylic paints, mediums and tools to enable acrylic artists to continually explore their art and take it to new and unprecedented boundaries. With our innovative drive, our creative passion and our intense desire to share the joys of artistic expression through unparalleled education and community outreach programs, Liquitex is and will continue to be a strong partner to help artists explore their art for decades to come. 

This article contains excerpts from Acrylic Solutions by Chris Cozen and Julie Prichard.

 

 

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