Georgina’s Tips on Acrylic Paint

 PROPERTIES OF ACRYLIC PAINTS

A by-product of the then new plastics industry, acrylics were invented in the 1950s. They are as versatile as oil paints and have some unique qualities of their own.

One of these—vital from the beginners’ point of view—is that they dry very quickly, so that you can overpaint as much as you like. You can, of course, overpaint with oils but, because they are slow-drying, there is always a risk of churning up the colours and creating a muddy mess. Acrylics, once dry, are immovable, so that each new layer completely covers the one below without picking up any colour from it. Another advantage is that you can paint on more or less anything, from paper and board to canvas, and the surface needs no preparation or “priming”. 

The disadvantages of acrylics are that changes to the picture can only be made by overpainting, and the paint dries so fast that it cannot be moved around on the surface to the degree that oil paints can. Also, brushes must always be left in a container of water or washed regularly, otherwise they will be ruined. However, the virtues of acrylics far outweigh these minor vices, and those new to painting could find them the perfect medium with which to begin.

All paints are made from fine-ground pigment particles suspended in liquid and bound with a glue of some kind. In the case of acrylics the liquid is water and the binder is a form of plastic—a polymer resin to be precise—which forms an emulsion. Acrylics are thus water-based, not oil-based and if they need to be thinned, you use water not oil. Likewise, brushes used with acrylics come clean in water, not white spirit.  

In its liquid form the emulsion has a milky appearance, but after the water evaporates it becomes transparent. You can test this for yourself with one of the acrylic mediums—just brush some undiluted gloss or matte medium (which is an emulsion without any pigment) onto a tinted support. You’ll see that it’s rich and creamy right from the bottle, but transparent when dry. This is why acrylic paints dry darker than when first applied. 

The two main types of acrylic paints are liquid and heavy body.  

Liquid acrylic paints have a thin cream consistency and resemble slightly brilliant liquid watercolours or regular inks (which tend to be fugitive, or fading when exposed to light). Because they all look similar they may often be grouped together—mistakenly, since most liquid acrylics are permanent not fugitive.  

Heavy body acrylics have the consistency of toothpaste and come in a tube. They can be thinned with medium and/or water. They can also be used undiluted, with a brush or painting knife, for a more textured and “impasto” look.

Acrylic inks are also available which are very saturated with pigment.

In recent years a new type of acrylic paint called “open acrylic” has become available. These paints have a much slower drying time and remain “open” so they can be worked on the canvas for longer. 

A vast number of mediums are now available which can be added to the paint for various effects. Some slow the drying time, some add body. Some add texture or can be applied to the support to form an “impasto”-like ground which can then be painted over. It is worth experimenting. 

Impasto

         A way of applying paint, specifically a thick, textured application of paint where                   the marks made by the brush or painting knife stay visible. Impasto is evident in                      the work of artists such as Vincent van Gogh.

 A FEW BASIC COLOURS AND THEIR PROPERTIES.

Cadmium Yellow Light  A cool, transparent, greenish light yellow. 
Cadmium Yellow Medium  Makes lighter yellows when mixed with white. If you want to darken yellow try adding its complimentary—purple, rather than black which tends to produce an olive green rather than deep yellow. 
Cadmium Yellow Deep  Warm, deeper version of above. Most yellows are transparent. 
Yellow Ochre  Golden, yellowish brown 
Cadmium Orange   Of course you can make orange by mixing red and yellow but it’s handy to have as a convenience. 
Cadmium Red Medium   Yellowish, warm and relatively opaque. (Cad. Red also comes in light and deep). 
Alizarin Crimson  Cooler, bluish red. Makes pinks when mixed with white 
Ultramarine Blue  A good blue. Makes different light blues and greens than Pthalo Blue. 
Pthalo Blue  Also known as Thalo Blue, or Pthalocyanine. Intense and versatile. Goes darker with Burnt Umber. Has high strength—only needs a little to create lighter blues when mixed with white. 
Pthalo Green  Greens are hard to mix consistently unless you keep track of the colours and proportions that you use. Pthalo Green is a bright, bluish green and mixes well with Cad. Yellow for a variety of greens. 
Hookers Green  Transparent.. Makes interesting greens when mixed with cool   and warm yellows. 
Dioxazine Purple  It’s worth buying a very dark purple as you can waste a lot of paint trying to mix one, and it’s useful for adding to other colours—to yellow for various golds and for making “non black” darks when mixed with other deep colours. 
Burnt Umber  Warm chocolate brown. Versatile. Great for darkening the tone of other colours 
Raw Umber A cool, “greyer” brown.
Paynes Grey  Transparent, dark, bluish grey. Makes interesting blues when mixed with white. 
Mars Black  Relatively opaque. Add in small quantities to other colours until you get used to the strength. 
Titanium White  Opaque, bright. Strong tinting power—a little goes a long way. 
Zinc White  A transparent white. Good for glazes and “veiling”.

 

SOME BASIC TIPS FOR PAINTING

 

Hue   Name of a colour, e.g. blue, red etc.

Value    Light or dark

Saturation     Dull or bright   

Temperature    Warm or cool. Warm colours have more yellow, cool colours have more blue.

“Local” Colour    The perceived colour of an object. e.g. A green leaf, an orange carrot, a red apple etc.       

Some warm colours  Ultramarine Blue; Cadmium Yellow Deep; Cadmium Orange; Cadmium   Red Light, Medium; and Deep; Burnt Umber

Some cool colours  Pthalo Blue; Cadmium Yellow Light; Dioxazine Purple; Alizarin Crimson;  Raw Umber; Hookers Green 

Primary colours  Red, Blue, Yellow. These colours can’t be made. They are the basis of all other colours.

COMPLIMENTARY COLOURS

 These colours are opposite each other on the colour wheel. They “compliment” each other. They bring out the best in each other. They make each other “sing” – but if you mix them together they dull each other down (neutralize)!

Red/Green,   Blue/Orange,   Yellow/Purple

You don’t only have to mix black and white to make grey.

  • Mixing complimentary colours together with white makes more interesting greys.
  • To de-intensify (dull down) a colour add a little of its complimentary
  • For shadows on objects—add its complimentary to the body colour. For example when making shadows on a red apple mix some green with the red.
  • Shadows—If light is warm, eg. the sun, then shadows are cool and vice versa

  

LANDSCAPE GREENS AND BROWNS

Ultramarine Blue is the most versatile colour for landscape greens. It’s the base of a wide variety of cool and warm greens when mixed with cool or warm yellows. These can be used in cool shadow areas and warm light areas.

Pthalo Blue is a convenient blue that can be used to create rich greens and browns. Add White to it for a true blue sky. For shadow areas on cumulus clouds use a grey made from Pthalo Blue, Cad. Red Light and White.

Pthalo Green is the most difficult to use because of its intensity. Handle it like vanilla: Even though it has a delicious flavor, a little goes a long way and a lot is a disaster. The secret to successfully using Pthalo Green is to start with whatever other colour you’re going to use and then add the Pthalo Green to it. For instance, add a whisper of it to White for the sky colour just above the horizon. Add it to Quinacridone Red for deep, rich blacks.

 A FEW BASIC COLOURS AND THEIR PROPERTIES.

Cadmium Yellow Light A cool, transparent, greenish light yellow.

Cadmium Yellow Medium Makes lighter yellows when mixed with white. If you want to darken yellow try adding its complimentary—purple, rather than black which tends to produce an olive green rather than deep yellow.

Cadmium Yellow Deep Warm, deeper version of above. Most yellows are transparent.

Yellow Ochre  Golden, yellowish brown

Cadmium Orange Of course you can make orange by mixing red and yellow but it’s handy to have as a convenience.

Cadmium Red Medium Yellowish, warm and relatively opaque. (Cad. Red also comes in light and deep).

Alizarin Crimson Cooler, bluish red. Makes pinks when mixed with white

Ultramarine Blue A good blue. Makes different light blues and greens than Pthalo Blue.

Pthalo Blue Also known as Thalo Blue, or Pthalocyanine. Intense and versatile. Goes darker with Burnt Umber. Has high strength—only needs a little to create lighter blues when mixed with white.

Pthalo Green Greens are hard to mix consistently unless you keep track of the colours and

proportions that you use. Pthalo Green is a bright, bluish green and mixes well with Cad. Yellow for a variety of greens.

Hookers Green Transparent.. Makes interesting greens when mixed with coo and warm yellows.

Dioxazine Purple It’s worth buying a very dark purple as you can waste a lot of paint trying to mix one, and it’s useful for adding to other colours—to yellow for various golds and for making “non black” darks when mixed with other deep colours

Burnt Umber Warm chocolate brown. Versatile. Great for darkening the tone of other colours.

Raw Umber A cool, “greyer” brown.

Paynes Grey Transparent, dark, bluish grey. Makes interesting blues when mixed with white.

Mars Black Relatively opaque. Add in small quantities to other colours until you get used to the strength.

Titanium White Opaque, bright. Strong tinting power—a little goes a long way.

Zinc White A transparent white. Good for glazes and “veiling”