After all the doom and gloom of a spectacularly wet winter, there has been a burst of life in the garden as the spring flowers have suddenly started to bloom.
It just proves that there is always hope, no matter how bad things appear. I’m currently thinking about the direction of my personal artwork and mulling over possible projects for the coming year, including the continuation of previous ideas. Thankfully, I don’t have artist’s block, but there is always a nagging doubt about the validity of an idea – and then the sun shines on the primroses and I realise that ideas don’t have to be complex and have huge meaning. It can be as simple as a flower caught in the sunlight.
My artist’s block has also been curtailed by my weekly tutoring at The Letchworth Settlement and art group demonstrations held so far this year. Having to paint to a deadline, or a specific time of day, forces you to think on your feet, economise your paint strokes and talk about your method whether you feel like it, or not. I liken demonstrating or tutoring to being on stage as an actor, or presenter. It doesn’t matter what is going on in your life – for that moment, in that place, you are performing to the best of your ability, to help and inform others who have taken time out (and money) to be entertained or taught by you. It’s like a bubble of time, separate to the world outside, for 2 ½ hours (with tea and biscuits included).
This week I gave my ‘acrylic ‘class’ students a short item called ‘5 things you need to know about acrylics’ – a few facts and pieces of advice acquired over the years with the intention of de-mystifying acrylic paint. Some people avoid using acrylics because they think they are ‘difficult’, but really, compared to watercolour and oils, they are more versatile and forgiving (with practice). I thought I’d share that advice on my blog, just in case you fancied having a go yourself!
5 Things you need to know about ACRYLICS:
1. Acrylics are a water soluble medium – all you need to start painting is acrylic paint, something to paint on (usually canvas or paper), brushes and water. Along the way, you can buy fancy equipment, various mediums to add to the paint, stay wet palettes, etc. However, if you want to explore acrylic paints you can start off very simply – just as you can with watercolour paints. That way you can begin to appreciate how the acrylics behave as a medium – how they mix, how they dry and so on.
2. Acrylics are non- toxic – unlike the use of oil paints, for instance, which need solvents to thin them down. Those solvents, usually turpentine, can cause irritation to the skin and sore throats. As I say, you only need water to paint with acrylics, However, to make acrylics even more versatile, various mediums have been created to add to the paint. Essentially, acrylic paints are a colour pigment held in a polymer binder – polymer being a form of plastic. So, they can be thinned down and painted with – but once they are dry they are water resistant and become plasticised – like a flexible membrane. This is great, because the paintings do not need to sit behind glass or be varnished to protect them (though you may want to do that for an effect). Technically, they should last forever, and as long as you keep them out of strong sunlight and use decent quality paints, they should never fade.
3. You can paint on anything – originally acrylic paints were developed for painting interior and exterior walls, and because it is plastic and flexible when dry it can attach itself to pretty much anything. I remember a guy at school painting record cover artwork on leather jackets for pocket money! For the artist, it usually means painting on canvas or paper, but use your imagination – it could be used as a sculptural form in itself! Really, the only thing that dictates what is a good support is how long the substrate you’ve painted on will last, and how good the bond is between the paint and the substrate. So, for instance, if you paint on glass, and it’s constantly heating up or getting knocked, the paint may start to peel off as it’s a very smooth, non- porous material. If it’s paper, the pigment is absorbed and so the painting will last as long as the paper does, if kept well.
Basically, the acrylic paint will probably outlast the material it is painted on!
4. Acrylic dries quickly – Some people see this as a negative point, but to me that’s what attracted me to the medium in the first place. You can produce a quite complex painting, using all sorts of techniques of brushwork, that will be dry and portable in a couple of hours. With oil paints you’ll be waiting hours for each layer and it will take 6 months for the finished painting to fully cure. I just don’t have the patience! That said, you’ve got to be careful. Only use the amount that you need – little and often – or keep spraying the paints with a spray gun to keep them moist. You can also use so-called ‘stay wet’ palettes (which have a layer of moist blotting paper covered with a ‘baking parchment’- type paper within a tray) which keep your paints wet for longer but can become mouldy.
Also, watch your brushes. Don’t leave them to dry out with paint still on them, or you’ll never get them clean again. Keep rinsing them – but don’t leave them in the pot either. Just dry them flat. If you need to get some stubborn paint out do it soon as you can with liquid soap and water.
You can also add mediums, such as retarder or flow improver that essentially extend the drying time – keeping them wet for longer; allowing you to spread the colours further or make the paint bulkier.
5. Quality means quantity …of pigment! As in all paints, you get what you pay for. However, the quality of acrylics is largely down to the quantity or strength of pigment within the binder – for instance, a Titanium white acrylic from a certain cheaper home store, will be thinner and more translucent than an equivalent from Daler Rowney. I don’t see that as a problem, though, if you know about it. I mix and match different brands to give different results. The thinner white paint is great as an underlayer for skies, or for using as a mixing white to bind other colours. It’s worth just trying them out – they may be for you. At least cheaper brands give you a foothold in the medium and once you become more confident you can splash out a bit more on materials.