I tried my hand at acrylic painting for the first time…here’s what I learned…

Komal Mahmood
Jun 13, 2020 · 6 min read

Acrylics truly are a whole new world in art, at least for me they were a bit difficult, unalterable, less forgiving of mistakes…

I’ll be honest, I have been working with graphite for nearly thirteen years now, and I have done two oil portraits before so I have a fairly good idea about light and shade. However, acrylics turned out to be a completely different medium:

  • They dry out too quickly
  • The colors might alter (somewhat) post drying
  • They clump too fast on the brush

BUT…they have one HUGE pro (among minor others):

  • They are water soluble so way too easy to clean!

I made the above portrait of my dream boy, who has precedents in the real world in fragments only; the nose of this celebrity, the eyes of that celebrity, the face cut of my high school crush, the hair of some South Korean pedestrian in one of those campus ground interviews…hehehe…and I digress!

I painted it on a black A4 sheet, drew the sketch in a yellow chalk (which I stole from my mother’s stationery kit), and then I proceeded to painting.

Sadly I did not click pictures whilst painting because I was too wound up on the acrylics swiftly drying part. However, I can still give an account of my experience with this medium.

Acrylics are quick to dry, unless you mix some retainer to slow down the pace, it dries up almost the moment you put it to paper. Mastering the medium would, I believe, require some practice specifically at getting used to not blending out the shades.

When I worked with oils, I could apply a blotch of color mix to the canvas and apply yet another blotch (I am talking about my first oil attempt) of a very different value, but blend them with swift strokes right on the surface and it would yield an allright result. Since the blending makes it easy on the eyes. Acrylics however, require one to be cautious about the color values.

If you check the color gradient in monochrome you will see that the lowest shade and the highest shade are two separate values on a gradient scale.

A similar color gradient in red is given below

Notice how the darkest shade in red corresponds in value to the darkest shade in black. If you turn a colored image into monochrome, you will see that the region of light yellows or light red (or any other color) will yield in grayscale values that would correspond exactly with your colored value.

An example is below (of my own artwork)

The red on his cheek on the left yields a dark gray in the grayscale image on the right, whereas the gray-blue in the colored image yields a deep gray-black in the grayscale.

Note how they are not blended, because media like watercolor and acrylics mostly do not allow it. Which is why careful selection of values to yield attractive results on the page are a crucial task when working with these media.

The above picture is my first oil attempt, when I had little idea about values in grayscale. But the blending enabled me to produce a portrait not very conspicuous or jarring in color values.

I therefore practiced and studied color theory before I proceeded to wasting money on acrylics (and the paper that I would put them on). I started by corresponding colors rendered in color pencils with their values in grayscale. Theory of light and shade can be of great value here, and for that a color wheel is key.

The color opposite to your desired color would actually help you darken your hue. Blue can darken orange and vice versa. A beginner’s mistake in color theory is to use black for darkening and white for lightening which often results in the color becoming a shadowy or a muddier version of itself. Learning color theory can be especially useful when painting with acrylics, because compared to oils, they are brighter.

Well not so bad for a first attempt eh ;)

Of course there were some mistakes in this portrait, the colors seem saturated on the nose, the eyelids, and the lips; the high points of the face, where the light hits the sharpest. But what I am happy with is that the values are close and therefore don’t seem blotchy to the eyes.

What I attempted to do with this portrait was to paint in bold colors. Instead of working with muted browns, grays, reds, and sienna, I wanted to depict a sort of fluorescence; the purples, oranges, emerald green, ultramarine and therefore bring about a glimmer and shine.

Ultimately, it wasn’t a very difficult medium, although like every other it requires practice. I would strongly advise all beginner artists out there the following :

  • Perfect your graphite drawings. I can’t stress enough how invaluable it is for understanding light and shade. Do portraits, still life, landscapes. Try textures; skin, hair, dust, mud, foliage, fabric…anything you see before you, even the wood patterns. You will know how the strokes work.
  • There is no shame in starting off with cheaper products. Your stationery need not always be Faber Castell, Windsor and Newton, Albrecht Durer. You don’t have to spend a shit ton to get your art going. Try whatever gives results. They could be low grade crayons, charcoals, colored pencils, even the watercolor kit and five markers set your little brother uses in kindergarten. Heck I’ve even used my blush and eye pencil in art pieces!

The point is, you need to figure out techniques and tools that enable you to produce your best artwork. It need not be perfect, it just needs to work.

I’ve seen countless videos and blogs of side by side comparisons of ‘artists’ using a drugstore brand on one hand and a designer brand on the other. With a clear manipulation of timelapse and effort they showcase how a renowned brand is far superior to a cheaper one thereby influencing young or older but newbie artists to hop on the ‘pricey but artsy’ bandwagon.

No one knows what goes on behind the scenes, the effort being put in the individual piece, or whether these artists are being paid by brands for promotion. We do not know. Why should any random Karen and Lloyd or Felicia and Floyd on Facebook or YouTube or any other feel they are entitled to influence you? They should not and you need not allow them to influence how you work your way to the finish line.

You just need confidence and a will to make it to the end! ;)

Art Direct

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