Painting has been a sporadic pursuit for me in the past. After a 20-year hiatus with my art, I started painting again in 2017 — trying acrylics for the first time. I completed several paintings over the course of a month and didn’t paint again (this time with oils) until later that year — also for about a month before stopping.
2018 saw me dabble with watercolours a few times, but it wasn’t until mid-December that I got the acrylics out again. Since then I’ve completed ten pieces. My most recent piece — a 20×16 inch acrylic cloudscape is giving me a real sense of progress.
Whilst my medium of choice would be oils, with my current living circumstances it’s just not practical to use them. So I’ve been pushing forward with acrylics. It’s been a real journey of discovery.
The range of different paints takes some getting used to. Liquitex, Reeves, and Winsor & Newtwon all have different properties, and quality can vary greatly in ‘non-brand’ paints from stores such as The Works and B&M with some colours performing much better than others. Gaining familiarity with opacity, viscosity, sheen and drying time takes trial and error, and I’ve started binning any paints that just don’t perform.
I’m getting better at choosing colours each time I paint — knowing which ones to use as a base, what colour to add, and how much. For example: I recently discovered Cadmium Yellow should be mixed in sparingly as it’s such a powerful pigment. I’ve become comfortable knowing when to use Mars Black vs Ivory Black, I love Raw Umber, and I’m even getting used to predicting the colour shift that occurs when the paints dry.
Drying time is a major concern when it comes to working with acrylics. Paint will dry on the palette and canvas within minutes of applying it. It’s forced me to take a more strategic approach to painting, quickly working on one area that needs to be blended wet-in-wet rather than dabbling on all parts of the painting.
In addition to adjusting my technique I’ve also started tentatively experimenting with various acrylic mediums such as fluid retarder, slow-dry medium, glazing fluid, and flow improver. I’m gradually finding ways to use these to combat the fast drying times, though again it’s very much a case of trial and error until I find what works consistently.
Even when a painting is finished, there have been lessons learned. Yes, acrylics dry fast, but I now know to leave them a good few days before varnishing to avoid any smears. I also made the mistake of adding a second layer of varnish too early which caused the varnish to clump. A panicked trip to the sink and running the entire canvas under the tap sorted that one out, but it’s a mistake I won’t forget.
So coming back to why my latest piece has given me such a sense of progress: If I round it up I’d say I’ve actually been painting for around five months rather than the figure of two years that I’ve had in my head. Comparing this latest piece to my previous works, I feel I’ve done better with acrylics than I did with oils!
They say that as an artist you should enjoy the process.
I’m looking forward to the point where the process becomes second nature, and I can put everything into the painting itself.