Oils vs Acrylics: Give Acrylics a Try

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Here’s the thing. Acrylics are harder to use than oils. I worked in oils for about 20 years before I took an art class at our community college and was forced to complete projects with acrylics. I thought I would lose my mind. The quicker drying time alone gave me fits. But I’m the kind of person who doesn’t let something like that hold me back. I worked with those acrylics for probably a year before I felt totally comfortable with the paint and all the additives.

If you are a crafter, any inexpensive acrylics you can find at Hobby Lobby or Michaels will work just fine. If you are a fine artist wanting to experiment with acrylics, you can probably get by with Liquitex Basics, but if you take your art seriously, I wouldn’t recommend them. They are a “student” grade paint and won’t perform the same.

My studio is completely outfitted with Golden Paints and their gels, mediums and pastes. I like that all of their products are made in the USA. I like all of their options for different effects. I like the fact that Golden is a family business with the right attitude. Years ago they “sold” the business to the employees so now they are owners, too. If I lived anywhere close to upstate New York, I’d sit on their doorstep until someone hired me.

Yes, Golden paints can be more expensive. But here’s the thing. They have such a high pigment load that you can add products to extend them without changing the coverage or qualities of the paint. If you buy heavy body paint, you can add Regular Gel Gloss in up to a 50:50 ratio, so you get twice the paint for the price. I have paint that has been mixed with Regular Gel Gloss and stored in air tight containers that is more than 10 years old and is still in great shape. If you are buying fluid acrylics (which I prefer) you can add Soft Gel Gloss to extend them.

Here’s the difference between oil and acrylic: oils are great for blending and thick and thin applications. Acrylics can be blended, too, it just takes more practice and patience. The big difference is in all of the options for changing the painting surface and the paint. You can add retarders that will lengthen their open time. You can add Coarse Molding Paste to make a very rough, almost concrete-like, surface. You can add gloss gels and mediums to thin them out so they look like watercolors. You can thicken them so you can carve into them.

Acrylics are a wonderful medium with a high learning curve. I love the books written by Nancy Reyner: “Acrylic Revolution,” and “Acrylic Illuminations.” The second book addresses techniques that use reflective surfaces like gold metal leaf, iridescent gold, copper and silver paints, and interference paints — that need a separate post just for them.

“Acrylic Revolution” is more about the basics and fun things you can do with acrylics. Yes, they are not easy to learn to use, but they are so worth the effort and can open your creativity enormously.

Written by

Quiet, full-time author and artist. Writes fiction and nonfiction. Lives with chronic pain and mental illness.

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