For many artists, the idea that acrylics belong in a kindergarten classroom rather than an established painter’s studio begins in art school. Professors have been known to drill art students with unspoken rules like “don’t paint a large sculpture red,” “don’t put a circle in the middle of a composition,” and “serious painters use oils, not acrylics.” This final generalization, passed down from one pompous painter to the next, is, in many ways, a grave misfortune.
1. You only need a few simple tools
Acrylics are not a high-maintenance medium. While you’ll need many (at times expensive) supplies to begin oil painting (paint, solvents, mediums, brushes, rags, gesso, canvas or board, and a ventilated space), you need just four simple tools to get started with acrylics: the paint itself, a brush, a cup of water, and a surface (commonly known to artists as a support).
Out of those tools, Tauchid recommends investing the most money into your paints—the higher grade your acrylics are, the more pigment they’ll contain. A good support is also a vital element to your artwork. “When you’re building a house, you have to build a really good foundation, and then everything follows from there,” Tauchid explained. As for brushes, she advises that you don’t need too many, and recommends those with synthetic bristles, instead of raw animal hairs. The choice has little do with morality—synthetic bristles simply take better to acrylic paints.
For artists who are used to oil paints—which often requires solvents like turpentine, a safe disposal tool for toxic materials, and the time-consuming task of removing paint from brushes––cleaning up with acrylics will feel like a breeze. If you’re using a palette, you can easily scrape off any excess paint, then run a wet rag over its surface to finish removing the residue. Or, you can let the palette dry and peel the paint off.
2. You can control its consistency and texture
One of the most significant aspects of acrylics is how malleable they are. If you incorporate a medium––an additive that thins or thickens your material––acrylics can take on the qualities of other paints. For example, if you add an acrylic retarder with your paint, it will decelerate the drying time so that it acts more like an oil-based paint. You can also add mediums to make your acrylics crackle, shimmer, or dry even faster.
To better understand how mediums will change your paint, Tauchid advises familiarizing oneself with five key terms––viscosity, rheology, luster, relative coverage, and texture. Each of these elements makes up a fundamental part of how paint acts: viscosity is the consistency; rheology is the flow; luster is the sheen; relative coverage is the transparency; and texture is the tactile quality.
If you’re a painter who is new to acrylics but familiar with another medium, like watercolors, using mediums can be a good way to adapt to acrylic paint’s behaviors. By manipulating the paint with mediums, you can transform the way it looks and acts to comply with your preferences.