Art Smart: Acrylic Paintings

No one is born understanding all the different types of paintings and art that artists are creating. In this series we will be taking a look at the basics of each type of art so that you can feel confident and art smart! Wondering how I got to be ART Smart ? I apprenticed in an art shop for three years and while I was there it was my job to play with everything and teach people how each medium works.


What are Acrylic Paints?

Well to answer that, let me explain quickly what paint is and we can go from there.  All paint is made up of pigment (think of this like powdered colour – so for a red paint you may have a pile of red powder) and a binder that makes it stick together.

In acrylic paints a polymer binder is mixed with the pigments. Polymers are chemicals and if you are interested in the technical explanation of what they are click here. For our purposes think of polymer as plastic.

When you apply acrylic paints to a surface they dry in a thin layer of plastic. These paints dry quickly and when they do they are water resistant, durable and permanent. And really hard to get out of clothing – after putting a bunch of holes in clothes I liked trying to get the paint out I now wear full body protection. It is impossible to “just quickly fix that spot” with out dammage. Trust me, if you ever do this wear a paint suit, your good jeans will thank you.

Second City 300 clean

How should I care for an acrylic painting?

If it is on canvas, you can hang it framed or unframed away from direct sunlight and heat sources like fireplaces. The heat can cause expansion and contraction of the painting’s surface and over time that weakens the painting’s surface. Worst case scenarios: you get cracks or the paint gets soft enough that you can dent it, scrape it off or leave finger prints in it.

If your painting is on paper, I’d definitely recommend that you frame it with a mat. Not only is a mat a nice enhancement to your painting, it also protects your painting by keeping the glass from touching the paint. Changes in humidity can cause paintings that are next to glass to stick to the glass.

Liz 90percent 003

More about Acrylic Paintings

Acrylic paints are pretty new as far as art history is concerned. They were invented in the 1950’s and have been gaining popularity since.

They can be thinned with water to replicate the look of a watercolor painting, or used directly from the tube to create paintings that look like oil paints or they can be used to create looks that no other medium can make.

Some critics suggest that acrylics are not as luminious as oils. (Then again – everyone’s a critic, what do they know?? I do happen to be biased to acrylics myself…) But to get beautiful, transparent layers you can add gloss medium to the paint from your tubes. It creates luminousity and makes your paints last longer.

As a biased acrylic painter, I’d have to say that if you are looking for a medium to play around with as a beginner that I’d recommend acrylic paints. You can get student grade acrylics for between $4-$7 per tube  (avoid the cheap stuff – it will just frustrate you and leave wierd patchy spots in your paintings). Acrylics are quick to set up and clean up with soap and water. (Yay for easy clean up – no fumes to deal with either so you can paint in your closet if that’s where inspiration strikes) And the best part for me is that if you make a mistake you can always paint over areas you don’t like.


3 responses to “Art Smart: Acrylic Paintings”

  1. Thanks for this useful post. You have given an easily understandable explanation of acrylics and made them more accessible to those of us who haven’t used them… yet.

  2. Elaine, I’m glad you found it helpful – I debated for about a week before I decided to go ahead with this series =)

    Jen – I used acrylic paints for my 30 days series. Most of the work I do is in acrylics, even though I have an arsenal of other toys. I think my next fav medium is oil slicks followed by watercolour which is what I cut my teeth on- so to speak

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