By the Practical Artist
I have always painted in Acrylics. Although over the years, I have attempted to use other mediums but they were a poor fit. Oils stink, are messy and take way too long to dry for me. Watercolors are too unforgiving for a ‘seat of the pants’ painter like myself and I usually ended up with something resembling a kindergartener’s finger painting. I don’t have the patience for colored pencils or graphite pencil. When I attempted charcoal and pastels, I usually ended up looking as if I’d been playing in the coal bin. Sometimes it was a colorful coal bin, but still—But like Goldilocks beds, Acrylics and I fit just right. I really don’t understand why some artists seem to have so much trouble with them. Over the years, the most common complaint I have heard about working in Acrylics is "it dries too fast". No offense intended, but in my experience, this problem is caused by the artist's unfamiliarity with the properties of the medium. There is a little bit of a learning curve and I understand that it’s hard to change your work pattern to adapt to acrylics. If you really want to give them a try and are willing to change your work pattern a little, I think you might be happy with Acrylic paint.
Some basic facts about Acrylics: 1--Drying times for Acrylics is actually comparable to Watercolors. 2--Acrylics, like watercolors, dry by evaporation. 3--One of the things that affect working with Acrylics has to do with the thickness of the paint an artist applies. The thinner the application of paint, the faster Acrylics will dry. QED. 4-- If the artist applied a thick layer of paint, even though the paint may be dry to the touch on the surface, it may still be soft underneath for several hours. 5--Acrylics will dry darker than when first applied. 6—Mixing Acrylic paints ‘greys’ or darkens them. Acrylics straight out of the tube are always brighter than any color you mix together. This isn't a terrible thing; I consider the difference to be negligible. If it’s important to you to retain that initial tube brightness, I suggest you use thin glazes instead of mixing directly, allowing the color underneath to bleed through. Acrylics master painter Jerome Grimmer uses a medium instead of water to overcome this issue.
Unlike Oil paints, Acrylics won't wait days for you, but there are ways to slow down the drying time. The simplest way is to just refrigerate the painting. Yep, I said put it in the refrigerator for the night. Cold temperatures slow down the drying time of Acrylics. Of course, that probably isn't practicable for most artists. Unless you are painting miniatures, I doubt you will have room for a painting in your refrigerator! If you live where the daily temperature is between 40o and 50oF you could stick it out on your unheated porch overnight. However, your palette can be sealed and kept in the refrigerator and your paint will stay workable for several days.
The next simplest way to slow down the drying time of Acrylics involves using water. I saw this technique demonstrated by TV artist Jerry Yarnell and it works great in the short run. Dip a large brush in your rinse water and brush it over the canvas until the canvas is thoroughly wet. You can smooth out any dripping runs with a damp brush. Using clean or dirty water is irrelevant; you are going to cover this up with paint in a few minutes anyway. This will keep the paint you apply workable longer. Remember a spray water bottle is your best friend when working with Acrylics (they still sell them in the laundry section of department stores--I just bought a new one). Periodically spray down your palette and the portions of your canvas you need to keep wet. If a drip occurs, blot it away with a paper towel.
There are also commercial mediums to slow down drying time. They work, but I personally didn't like them. My paint seemed sticky afterwards, and it was difficult to judge when I could start working over the top of the painting I had used them on. I admit that issue probably has more to do with my own painting techniques than how well the medium worked. You see, I sketch up the painting, paint over the drawing so I can place background shadows and highlights where I want them, and then redraw the foreground objects, people or animals. To do this the paint needs to be dry, and hard enough to stand up to the pressure of my pencil or charcoal. Thickly applied Acrylic paint is soft enough that a hard pressure will leave an imprint even if the work is completely dry, so the "slow-dry" mediums just didn't work for me.
While it’s true that not every medium will suit everyone, I suggest if you really want to learn to work with Acrylic paint, you take one of Grimmer’s or Yarnell’s workshops. Yarnell also has video series about painting that can be purchased from his website. http://www.yarnellschool.com/
Jerome has a video on YouTube about working with Acrylics that is free to watch. Jerome Grimmer Mixes Acrylics https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qaW3Gz5UMks
Tags: tips on working with acrylics