for acrylic painters
- ABOUT ACRYLIC PAINTS
professional - hobbyist - student - about color names
- ABOUT ACRYLIC PAINTING BRUSHES
materials - shapes - care - shopping
- ABOUT SURFACES FOR ACRYLIC PAINTING
canvas paper - canvas board
cotton - linen - wood products - paper products
- ABOUT PREPARING SURFACES
FOR ACRYLIC PAINTING
acrylic gesso - acrylic painting medium
acrylic molding paste
ABOUT ACRYLIC PAINTS
Acrylic paints come in several types. "Gel" types are offered as either soft body or heavy body. "Fluid" paints are used somewhat like watercolors. "Open" acrylics can take several hours to dry instead of just minutes.
Price is a good indicator of quality; the higher the price, usually the better the quality. There are three grades: professional, hobbyist, and student.
Made of the finest materials refined to the highest standards. Compared to other grades, professional colors (also called “artists’ colors”) have cleaner and more brilliant tone, plus greater strength. Although more costly, less paint is needed with professional paints to do the job than with other grades, and with more satisfying results.
Hobbyist paints are of good quality and perform well. They contain less pigment than professional paints, but are a reliable and more affordable alternative.
Student paints are not recommended for permanent work. In addition to other shortcomings, they contain fillers that make it appear you are getting a lot of paint, when in reality you are getting very little pigment and thus weak colors. For those who must buy student paints, a hobby grade bright yellow and bright red are recommended.
It is easy to confuse student with artist quality paints; many companies make both. For example, shown are Liquitex Basics student paint toward the left, and the company's professional acrylic at right.
about color names
The names of some colors may be labeled as "hue" or "extra." This indicates the color is not the true pigment named (such as cerulean blue), but is composed of a mixture of less expensive pigments intended to mimic the named color (for example: cerulean blue hue). Genuine colors usually perform better than hues, but hues made with permanent pigments are acceptable.
ABOUT ACRYLIC PAINTING BRUSHES
Brushes are the primary tool in the painter's arsenal. Poor quality brushes can impede a student's progress, while those of good or excellent quality facilitate it.
To prevent paint from drying in brushes while working, acrylic artists keep them soaking in water. Since prolonged immersion swiftly causes natural hairs to rot, acrylic painters mainly employ synthetic brushes.
There is a tremendous range of choices in synthetic brush materials, far too many to effectively review here. Some are quite soft, others on the stiff side. There are thicker and thinner filaments, and those that load a reasonable quantity of paint versus those that pick up just a skimpy load. The only advice that can be given is to try different types and brands until you determine which are best for your purposes.
Shown are the brush shapes most frequently used by acrylic painters.
A soft-haired round of good quality can be brought to a fine point and is often used for details. Round stiff brushes are more blunt.
Flats make somewhat soft marks and quickly can cover a large area. The tip is squared off.
Brights resemble flats, but their shorter hairs make them firmer for producing better defined marks and for working paint vigorously into the picture.
Has a rounded tip to produce marks that are softer than a flat can. Good for blending.
Not shown, it is a very long haired filbert and makes extremely soft marks.
A fan-shaped brush that produces parallel grasslike or twiglike lines, it is also used for hatching or texturing.
Resembling a flat or bright, the wide shape can be used for painting broadly while the pointed tip allows for detailed manipulations.
Soaks up a lot of water making it useful for wetting wide areas or for painting loosely with well thinned paint. It can create soft, out-of-focus effects like clouds.
Traditionally for drawing ships' rigging in nautical pictures, it remains an excellent tool for making fine lines.
Protect brush tips by storing and transporting them in an appropriate manner. When in use, keep brushes immersed in water to prevent paint from drying in them, and rinse them under running water from time-to-time while working. Rinse and clean brushes thoroughly with soap and warm water when done painting to prevent dried paint from building up in them. Pay special attention to the area around the metal ferrule.
To prevent damage during shipping, manufacturers coat brush heads with a weak glue that must be removed in order to test a them (ask the clerk for water for this purpose). When moist, it should be possible to groom a soft-haired brush to a sharp point or edge. All types of brushes should assume a defined shape and be free of loose hairs, splits, and other anomalies. Check for responsiveness by bending the brush in the palm of your hand. When released, the brush should spring back to its original position.
FOR ACRYLIC PAINTING
It is possible to paint with acrylics on nearly any material that is free of oil and grease.
Sold as a stack of sheets bound together into a pad, canvas paper has a canvas-like texture that is thinly coated with cheap acrylic gesso. It is extremely absorbent and should never be used for permanent work.
Like canvas paper, canvas board’s absorbent surface is difficult to paint on and it should never be used for serious work. Constructed of a sheet of cardboard wrapped with thin fabric coated with an inferior grade of acrylic gesso.
Cotton canvas is available in several weights and with either a medium-coarse or a smooth texture. It may be purchased by the yard uncoated or coated (with acrylic gesso), or coated and “pre-stretched” on a wooden frame.
Raw cotton should be prepared before applying paint (see below). Pre-stretched canvases are reasonably priced, but most are lightweight and prepared with student grade acrylic gesso. A few companies now offer a premium version coated with professional quality gesso.
More expensive than cotton, linen is prized for its durability and for its responsive surface. It is available by the yard in both raw and prepared forms, as well as pre-stretched. Preparation may have been done with a high grade acrylic gesso or with a traditional oil ground (for oil painting only). Sold as extra-smooth (portrait), smooth, medium, or rough, linen is rated for weight (in ounces) and thread count (per inch). Better quality linen, especially in heavier weights, may be double-weave. Raw canvas that can be held up to the light with little or no light showing through is superior to linen that allows much light to penetrate.
Panels of good quality and properly prepared provide a reliably stable surface.
Scraps, planks, and sheets can be obtained at reasonable cost at a lumber yard, be cut to the desired size(s), and then prepared for acrylic painting (see below for preparation information). Thin sheets and planks should be cradled for support (glued to a frame of wood strips).
Solid wood panels are more prone to warp and crack than other types of panels, such as those described here:
Of the two types, high density (HDF) is less prone to warping than medium density (MDF).
Superior to fiberboard, it is sold smooth-one-side (S1S) and the more reliable smooth-two-sides (S2S).
Offered in a range of grades and types, but the best for artistic use is 3/4" dieboard in which all the plies are of equal thickness. S1S dieboard is less costly than S2S and serves just as well.
Ampersand Gessobord is a fully prepared panel for artists' use. In front is a thin panel. The other two panels are cradled (mounted on reinforcing wood strips).
One of the most reliable wood products for artists is Ampersand gessoboard. It is carefully produced fiberboard sold as a simple panel coated with high grade acrylic gesso, or as a panel on medium or deep cradling.
Watercolor paper and museum board are highly portable, easy to store, reasonable in cost, and are permanent. Preparation isn't required before acrylic painting, but it is recommended. (see below).
Museum board is an archival mat board available in several thicknesses; select one that is heavy enough to be fairly rigid. Heavy weight (300 lb. or higher) watercolor paper is preferred over light weights; you can choose from 3 different surfaces: hot-pressed (smooth), cold-pressed (slight tooth), and rough (pronounced texture).
ABOUT PREPARING SURFACES
FOR ACRYLIC PAINTING
Most surfaces can be painted on directly with acrylics, but acrylic gesso will reduce absorbency of the surface.
Select professional grade materials for the best results. Acrylic gesso can be applied directly to the canvas or panel, or the fabric or wood may first be treated with Golden GAC 400 or PVA sizing. Follow the package directions for application.
Only the face of canvas needs to be gessoed, but an equal number of coatings should be applied to both sides of paper, museum board, and thin wooden panels to help prevent bowing and warping.
Basically a white paint, apply it to the painting surface with a wide, flat brush by stroking in a back-and-forth motion. Allow the gesso to dry, sand it lightly to remove imperfections, and then apply a second coat crosswise to the first. A third coat is optional. To reduce glare on the finished painting, apply the final coat in a vertical direction.
acrylic painting medium
Painters who prefer that the natural tone and texture of the surface be visible in the finished painting may prime the surface with acrylic painting medium, which dries transparent. Either gloss or matte medium may be applied as described under “Acrylic Gesso” (above).
acrylic molding paste
Molding paste can provide a textured surface to paint on (center bottom) or a carved surface (lower right).
Also called "modeling paste," it is a thick compound that can be either brushed or troweled onto the painting surface. Some types produce unique textures. The paste can be built up into a thick layer to produce textural effects, and when dried may be carved or sanded. Acrylic paint may be mixed into it to give the paste color.
TOOLS AND ACCESSORIES
- Brush Brands
- Painting and
- Canvas & Paper Brands
- Brands of Acrylic Gesso
& Painting Mediums
- Easels for Landscape
painting & palette knives
A knife facilitates more precise color mixing than a brush, and is also a painting tool. Metal is preferred over plastic; look for stainless steel and keep it in water while working to prevent paint from drying on it. Choose a knife with an offset handle and a blade that is firm but springy.
Look for a painting knife with an offset handle like these.
canvas & paper brands
Economically priced pre-stretched cotton canvas is sold by A.C. Moore, Michaels, and Jo-Ann craft stores. For better quality at reasonable prices, try Dick Blick. Blick also offers excellent raw, prepared, and pre-stretched linen canvas, as does Fredrix.
Artists who paint on watercolor paper should use only heavy-weights (300-pounds+). I have had particular success with 400-pound Lanaquarelle hot-pressed paper.
brands of acrylic gesso & painting mediums
For painting medium, suggested is a basic matte or gloss medium. Matte medium makes the paint more opaque, and a gloss medium adds transparency to the pain.
for landscape painting
There are two basic types: telescoping and French. Be sure the easel you choose is well constructed and sturdy, and that it elevates your painting to a comfortable height when standing.
Of wood or aluminum, telescoping easels are like tripods with three legs that collapse or fold for easy carrying.
A full-box French easel is at left, and a half-box at right.
French easels resemble paint boxes. They have legs and a canvas support that fold out, and a box with a fitted palette that holds your supplies. A full-box model is about the size of a standard paint box and holds plenty of items; the half-box type is half as wide, holds less, but is considerably lighter in weight. A French easel is sturdier than a telescoping easel, more stable in wind, and holds your painting more securely. It is heavy, however, especially when loaded up with paints, and can cost several times the price of a collapsible easel.
ACRYLIC PAINT PRICES & QUALITY
Many companies make more than one line of paints. In addition to a high-grade professional paint, a company may also offer a hobby or student quality product. When shopping, be aware of which grade you are purchasing.
Listings are arranged from least expensive ($) at top to most costly ($$$$$).
A recommended (!) or highly recommended (!!!) designation applies to the price bracket within which a paint brand falls.
$ Student grade of
Poor to Acceptable Quality
$$ Student grade of
$$$ Hobby grade of
$$$$ Professional grade of
$$$$$ Professional grade of