Introduction to Acrylics

Close up details of the beauty of natural and simple subjects.
Close up details of the beauty of natural and simple subjects.

What is Arylic?

“The dictionary tells us it is a glassy thermoplastic made by polymerizing methacrylic acid and is used in castings, moldings, coatings and adhesives.  But as a painting medium, acrylic can best be defined as versatile.
An acrylic painting can resemble anything from a watercolor to an oil, though the techniques used in applying this medium are its own.  With a great variety of brushes, as well as a palette knife, sponge, tissue paper or even your fingers, you can apply acrylic in any consistency ranging from thin washes to virtually sculpted impasto.  It is workable on paper as well as fabric and wood.  Acrylic can be used with a whole spectrum of techniques from glazing to crosshatching, including scrubbing, sanding, spraying, bubbling, collaging.  There are acrylic paintings in every style and genre, created in the studio or on location outdoors.  To top off the list of acrylic’s attributes, it is extremely durable and colorfast when finished, and it is correctable by a variety of methods at any stage”.
 -Earl Grenville Kileen, The North Light Book of Acrylic Painting Techniques.
Liquitex Paints (my favorite – a little commercial – they are my favorite because they are true to color – limited palette).  From the Liquitex Paint website: 

Liquitex is a professional range of products developed for the acrylic art specialist by the world leader and authority in acrylic innovation. Our colors and mediums have been developed as a comprehensive system for work on virtually all surfaces and with an unlimited range of specialty effects, from thick sculptural techniques to thin permanent watercolors or inks and everything in between. The range is renowned for its versatility and is exceptionally well suited for all applications, from traditional to experimental to cutting-edge contemporary. Our palette includes Medium and High Viscosity Professional Grade Paints, BASICS and BASICS MATT Student Colors, Specialty Paints, Surface Preparations, Additives, Mediums and Varnishes for artists.

Drying Time:
The dry time for all water based artists acrylic media depends on how quickly the water can evaporate from the application. This is dependent on –

    • The thickness of the product. For example, fluid varnishes will dry much more quickly than thick gels.
  • The thickness of the application. For example, thin applications will dry much more quickly than thick applications.
  • Relative temperature and humidity of the environment. For example, applications on warm, dry days will dry much faster than on cold, damp days.
  • Absorbency of the substrate. For example, applications on absorbent surfaces will dry more quickly than on a hard, non-absorbent surface.

There is a difference between dry time and cure time.
Dry time is when the surface feels dry to the touch.
Cure time is when the acrylic film is fully stable, close to its maximum durability, water resistant and less vulnerable to attack by mild solvents. This usually takes at least three days for thin applications and may take much longer (up to two weeks or more) for thick applications such as with Liquitex Super Heavy Body Color .

For paint applications other than blending, wait until the surface is touch-dry before applying more paint. Thick applications should be firm and no longer ‘springy,’ with no obviously wet portions remaining beneath. Dry time can be accelerated by using a hair dryer.
For varnish application, paint must be cured before varnishing. For two coats of varnish, wait until the surface feels completely dry to the touch before applying a second coat. This means that there should be no feeling of dampness to the hand when placed on the surface. Dry time can be accelerated by using a hair dryer. A good rule of thumb is to wait at least 12 hours between applications of varnish.

Colors:  Color theory from my painting teacher, Jim Faber
Limited palette:

Napithol Red Light
Cadmium Yellow Light
Hansa Yellow Light
Phthalocyanine Blue
Acra Magenta (used to be called Acra Violet)
Titanium White
Yellow Oxide (optional – convenience color)

Paint, brushes, canvases, artist materials

Locally (Humboldt County), I recommend Ellis Art and Engineering Supplies – owned by Darryl LaTorre.  For online sources I have always used Dick Blick art materials (

Favorite Books:

Heart of the Artist book  (optional, recommended) by Rory Noland.
The North Book Light of Acrylic Painting Techniques by Earl Grenville Killeen (optional, for extra enrichment).  Available through – new and used books.  (published in 1995).  Also available through (used books).  I was a contributing artist.
The  Bible (the book of books)

Other helpful items:

Water containter
Paper towels
Hair dryer
Spray bottle with glycerine
Palette (enamel trays are excellent)
Plastic wrap
Spray bottle – plain water
Good lighting

Reasons to Explore Creativity:

Have fun – creativity is a good and gracious gift from God.
Grow in appreciation for others unique gifts and talents
Glorify God – dedicate your giftedness to Him for His purposes.

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