People have asked me why I paint with Acrylics, and not with oils or watercolour or some other medium. I just wound up painting with this medium as the result of experimentation. Some artists that I know are very biased about their medium of choice, but for me they all have merits as well as drawbacks. When I started painting we all used poster paints and watercolours for the most basic of reasons, they were the most affordable and the easiest to work with and clean up if we made a mess. As I got older I wanted to try other things and an older student(this was in high school) painted with oils and I wanted to try it, so she agreed to give me lessons. I loved the opaqueness of them, and fact that they were thicker than watercolour, so I painted with them for a number of years. I would still be painting with them, but for the fact that I wanted to be able to paint finer detail, and was unhappy with the oils and I saw an article of a wildlife painter that painted the way I wanted and he painted in acrylics. So I bought a starter set and away I went. Turns out that it is not the medium that sets the style at all, but how you paint with it, but I was committed to the new medium, having spent some of my money on paint and brushes. But as it has turned out acrylics is the medium for me for a number of reasons.
For one thing the way that I paint is perfect for the medium. Acrylics dry quickly, which can be a huge problem, but I addapted to the fact, and paint with it. Paint a section, wait a bit for it to dry, and paint a layer on top, as many as you wish. I tend to paint in little bursts and love the fact that I have no worries about contaminating wet paint with new paint. Another advantage is ease of cleanup. Acrylics are water soluble, so all one needs to clean brushes is a dish of water. Which also means I can paint anywhere. A little water, and away I go, and because they dry in minutes, wait a bit, and carry the painting safely away.
That is not to say that I think that acrylics are better than oils, they are not, and they are not worse, they are only different. A finished painting has merit for its design and execution, and what it is painted with is really irrelevent. Too many people look at a painting and judge it based on what it is painted with and that is really unfair to the piece. There are many different media, and they alll have benefits for the artist, and drawbacks.
Oils are great to paint with because they blend together nicely and the smell of the oil is a great part of the experience, but they take forever to dry, and the solvents required can be toxic, and cleanup is difficult. Buyers like they because they have history. The first oils paints were used 500 years ago and they have demonstrated their permenence, but used incorrectly they will crack and yellow with time.
Watercolours have a wonderful transluscence which gives them an ephemeral quality unique to the medium, but they are difficult to use well, and they fact they are painted on paper, gives the medium a relative short life span if not done right. And watercolour is not very forgiving of mistakes.
Tempera is another water based medium that an ancient lineage. It has been used in one form or another for millennia. They are very durable and some of the most famous works are painted this way. Egg tempura uses egg white as the carrier for the pigment, which makes the paint a lot of work, the dry pigments are mixed with the egg, and only what is needed for the session is made.
Fresco is one the most durable-the Sistine Chapel ceiling is a fresco painting. To paint with fresco a tempura paint is applied to a section a freshly applied wet plaster, which absorbs the pigment deep into the material. As a result the painting becomes part of the wall, not just painted on the surface. A fresco must be painted while the plaster is fresh, so only as much as one is willing to paint is applied at a time.
Acrylics is almost a mix of the other media. Its medium is a polymer emulsion, and as the water evaporates it forms long chain molecule which is water resitant. The reason it can be painted over with out affecting underlying layers. But because it is water based it can also be thinned and applied like watercolour. It can be used with watercolours, or painted like watercolours, it can be painted on many different substrates, can be applied thick or thin, opaque or tranparent, however one wishes. But it does have a lack of history, which is the reason for the bias away from it. Acrylics have only been around for about 70 years-a long way from the centuries of the other media, and as much as the experts claim it to be durable, only time will really be the judge.
Posted by glenfrear
at 11:00 AM PDT
Updated: Monday, May 18, 2009 5:07 PM PDT