ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Acrylic Painting: Two Secrets

Updated on June 24, 2010

"Beautiful oil painting!" "I love your 'oils'."

Has this happened to you? I have received these compliments about my acrylic paintings for many years. Even my gallery owners have told clients (in my presence) that my paintings were done in oil. Yikes! I have had to do a great deal of verbal correcting such that clients/viewers know which of my paintings are truly created in oil as to those that are in acrylic.

Over time, I have tried to discern what it is about acrylics make folks think they may be oil paintings. For over a decade I have assisted artists with this issue and now it is here for you to read.

A Little Test:

Take a look at the following pieces. Which of these two do you think was painted in acrylic? :

Which Painting is in Acrylic, Which in Oil?

1. Cares to The Wind

2. Daydream

Ok, Try the Next Two - Which is the Acrylic?

No peeking ;)

1. Fields of Gold

2. Summer Smiles

Ok, One More Set...Which is the Acrylic?

I know you'll get this one:)

1. Lavender 'n Lemondade

2. Brand New Day

Last Thing First!

BEFORE I REVEAL which is which, I'll tell you in my estimation what it takes to make an acrylic appear like an oil painting. One caveat, this only holds true with representational or impressionistic paintings. I cannot answer for those who use acrylic for non-objective (abstract works.)

2. Yes, 2. I am giving you the second thing first!! This one aspect alone will make for ease in painting and allow you to work wet-into-wet when needed. Not really a secret but how I use it may be to some new to the media:

Retarder is the key element. You may already be using retarder in your paint. Most brands direct you to use it in your paint - up to 15% retarder to paint. I have done this, but found that at 15%, the paint can lift off of the painting surface and/or take so long to dry that the paint is left with sticky feel. Furthermore, it may be become difficult to paint over top even after the paint has dried..

Instead, I recommend using a small spray bottle (like a miniature travel-sized hairspray size) filled with water and about 10 drops or one good squirt of retarder. Shake well. Whether painting in your studio or outdoors, first spray your painting surface to break the tension and allow for the paint to glide on. Don't overdo this part or you'll end up with a very, very wet application of paint (unless this is the effect you desire.)

Second, spray your paints as soon as you squirt them out on your palette, and spray lightly frequently so you to maximize your investment. You can go hours with just a spritz now and then without the need to discard paint.

Third, in your washing cup or jar, place clean water with a few drops of retarder added. Bingo! All three of your painting areas are covered with a light touch of retarder, enough to keep your work just wet enough to extend workability, but not enough to make a mush of your painting.

If painting outdoors on dry or windy days, you may have to add more retarder to your bottle, water cup and palette. When you want a passage or area of your painting to dry, it will in short order...shorter than if you added retarder itself into the paint.

I spray my canvas frequently when outside to keep the painting going. One of the hallmarks of oils is that you can work wet-into-wet. Doing the above allows you to do the same in acrylics.

What about other mediums like extenders, flow release, etc? Unless you are trying to get a layered effect like glazing in oils, you do not need any other mediums, particularly if you are working alla-prima (in one session.) The more "stuff" you put into your paint the more diluted and broken-up the pigments become. The only thing I see using other than retarder is a medium for glazing...a story for another day.

First Things Last

1. Ok, my golden tidbit of advice. No matter if you are working in oil or acrylic, treat them THE SAME. In other words, do not change your strokes, movements or treatment of acrylic just because it dries faster, etc. The more adept you can become with your style of painting across media the more your work will look like oil, period.

I have used everything from watercolor, casein, and gouache to acrylic and oil. When painting I keep everything the same. The only difference is working dark to light (in oil/acrylic) or light to dark (watercolor, etc.) Strokes remain the same.

The only time this changes is if I am creating a very tight, representational architectural rendering for say an A&E firm. If it is a Fine Art painting I am creating, I almost ignore what is in my hand in terms of material to achieve the same look across all media.

The Challenge

FOLLOWING THE ADVICE ABOVE MAY give your painting the appearance of oil, however, with a caveat. When looking close-up you can indeed tell the difference, especially between an oil painting that has a heavy impostor (thick application of paint) vs. an acrylic painting. Why? Because no matter the paint brand, even the new, thicker acrylic brands, acrylic paint just cannot hold a candle to oils. That beautiful, oil impasto is unmistakable.

There are thickeners you can use in your acrylics. Nevertheless, again, these are additives that can dilute the pigments. Therefore, they still do not hold up as well or flow as nicely as oils. I continue to experiment with any new products that come onto the market. So far, the best thing you can do to make your work look like an oil painting is do the above two things PLUS use MORE PAINT. There have been times where I have been able to emulate oil painting texture by simply using more paint...lots more paint.

If you are a very good painter, you will not need to do this as your technique alone will serve you well.

Why all this talk about making an acrylic look like an oil painting? Because when acrylics first came on to the scene, they had a plastic look. They still can. But with practice and patience, your acrylic paintings can make people say, "Great oil painting," as you smile.

Ta Da! Finally...

Ok, Which paintings above are acrylics? Click on any image above to reveal the media and how each was painted. If you want to save time these are the acrylic paintings:

Set 1: Daydream (#2)

Set 2: Fields of Gold (#1)

Set 3: Brand New Day (#2)

I am sure you guessed one or all correctly. But the point is that you CAN make your work look painterly if and when you want to. YOU control the paint, not the other way around. AND, if you want to have a tighter or looser rendering, you can do so...in acrylics!

All the other little thumbnails are acrylics too. You can't click on them but at least you can see more samples.

Go Gettum!

It's Your Turn! Please let me know what you think... - I invite all feedback and questions.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • LDianeJohnson profile image
      Author

      LDianeJohnson 3 years ago

      @whodis: Hi whodis,

      Understand any misgivings about paint and mediums. I have asthma so have had to extra careful whether dry or wet media. The mister you'd be using here is a simple small store-bought bottle (for plein air painting) or large for the studio.

      Since the retarder is only a few drops in the water and the water drops carry the water/retarder mix, it should not be a problem unless you have the wind blow it back into your face. Even then, I do not know the makeup of the retarder. For this I'd contact the manufacturer. Acrylic itself, gives off unhealthy fumes. Always paint in a well-ventilated room (of course you know that;)

      If still an issue, I recommend spraying then leaving the room for a few moments so the drops are no longer in the air. This is not like an aresol which is VERY fine mist.

      Hope this helps!

      Best, Diane

    • profile image

      whodis 3 years ago

      Misting retarder is a great tip however I have one misgiving: I don't like sprays or mists as I believe I'll be breathing it in...Especially as I paint all the time... Are you aware of any health risks?

    • LDianeJohnson profile image
      Author

      LDianeJohnson 4 years ago

      @arnelart: arnelart,

      Thanks for your message. You are working hard and trying all, to the best of your ability. You're problem is exactly as you stated, so you are not "seeing things" ;) a and are not alone.

      When using a "thin" wash of color in acrylic using water alone or even the retarder mix, it can break down the pigment particles till they just fragment, unlike oil which flows within an oily base over a dry underpainting.

      Whenever you create such a watered down wash you'll always get "hard edges." Even when you try your best using a feathering brush, strokes and even bubbles can be generated.

      While acrylic is an opaque media, when using too much water it breaks that capability. So what's an artist to do??

      Ok, I think somewhere in my article I mention that I don't use mediums. But I DO when using "glazes" of color as in oil painting. I use a matte medium if my painting is to be on the more matte side. So if you want the look of oil, use whatever under-painting you like (flat grey to start), then start glazing using satin or gloss with your pigments mixed in. I usually stick with matte or satin, as gloss is just to much for me. Everyone has their preference.

      Doing this will allow for soft edges even feathered unnoticeable ones (or harder ones) without breaking up the pigment as the mediums are made from the same stuff as the acrylics themselves.

      My rule of thumb for glazes, if you want to end up with a matte painting, use matte. If you want it satin, use satin, THEN even though acrylics don't require a varnish, you can pull the whole final painting together using a matte, satin or gloss varnish. Try this on a canvas that you have under-painted with your same gray as the ptg you're working on before touching your actual piece.

      I can do unlimited glazes using acrylic working this way. (Think I should do a lens on this topic alone!)

      TIP ABOUT VARNISH (also applies to mediums):

      If using Satin, don't trust the maker's bottle. Some satins are about as glossy or very heavy and thick. So I buy a bottle of full matte, and a bottle of gloss, and an older, but cleaned-out bottle of varnish.

      Pouring in the matte first, then the gloss. The gloss is strong stuff. So experiment with putting say, 2/3 matte to 1/3 gloss. (You can always add more cream to your coffee but you can't take it out;) This can create a lustrous satin finish. If not glossy enough, you can always add more gloss!

      If coating the entire canvas, lay the canvas flat on the back on a floor or countertop. I use a wide black sponge brush (in hardware stores) sized depending on the canvas size. I pour out the varnish onto the middle of the canvas (if a small one) or pour varnish onto a plate or bowl. Taking up a bit of the varnish on one side of the chiseled brush, I then work quickly going one way then the other across the canvas from top to bottom only ONCE, it sets up fast but takes longer to cure. Use lights to see that there are no missed spots. While stroking, do not overwork!!! Why? Because you can create bubbles that will not open and go flat. Once that layer is dried (I generally wait 1/2 to one day), do the same in the other direction from top to bottom.

      Oh, and if you like a particular artist's style, such as Greg's, find him online and see if he will respond to your questions. Most artists out here are more than happy to share a tip or two. Some not of course. But it cannot hurt to contact him!

      If you need to talk further about your particular issue, just email me.

      All the Best,

      Diane

    • profile image

      anne-beeton 4 years ago

      Thanks for the tip about adding the retarder to spray bottle. I am really trying to love acrylics. Your pep talk about "just paint and forget the medium" was great and encouraging. Also to use lots of paint. I will keep trying.

      Thanks thanks again Anne Beeton

    • profile image

      arnelart 4 years ago

      I'm making the transition from oil to acrylic. In my paintings, I start off with a gray undertone. I then try to paint with a thin wash of color. The issue I'm having is when I place the thin wash of paint to color the gray undertone, I find that the edges of the paint just I just applied creates a dry water mark edge. It doesn't spread out evenly. I diluted the color with water in hopes that it will spread smoothly but it doesn't. Will the water bottle and a drop of retarder fix this issue? I like Greg Simkins style.

      Thanks and I look forward to your response

    • profile image

      becky-anderson-779 4 years ago

      @LDianeJohnson: I am new to all of this, but love painting!! Is there a particular retarder, type of paints, varnish that you prefer? Do you ever spray your acrylic paintings afterwards to protect them? If so, what do you use? Thanks SO much for your help.

    • LDianeJohnson profile image
      Author

      LDianeJohnson 4 years ago

      @anne-beeton: Hi Anne,

      So excited that the article helped you! Yes, the retarder/spray bottle was magic to me - still is :) Also great that you were encouraged. Boy, we just can't get enough of that!

      Best in Painting,

      Diane

    • LDianeJohnson profile image
      Author

      LDianeJohnson 4 years ago

      @LMRIGGEN: Yeah! That's good detective work! I am amazed that you could see so much detail in such small web pictures! Great job. Thanks for taking the time to really extract all you did to learn what you did!! Kudos:)

    • profile image

      LMRIGGEN 4 years ago

      i guessed all of them correctly! couldn't help but notice the signatures etched into the oil vs. painted sigs on the acrylic :P i also took notice of the blending around the edges and could see how the oils were worked together more nicely so i didn't feel like a cheater!

    • LDianeJohnson profile image
      Author

      LDianeJohnson 4 years ago

      @fatima-f-azam: Fatima-f-azam, I am so thrilled that the information about acrylics has helped you! That means more to me than anything: when someone gets their questions answered or learns something new from anything I can share. All the best with your own paintings!!

    • profile image

      fatima-f-azam 4 years ago

      This was wonderfully helpful! I had trouble painting the scenes I wanted to with my acrylics, which I did pay a lot for and wanted to use. Thanks to your fantastic advice I can now put them to use. Thank you so much. This was so very helpful! :)

    • LDianeJohnson profile image
      Author

      LDianeJohnson 4 years ago

      @anonymous: Thanks! Glad it was helpful:)

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Great advice. Your paintings are beautiful.

    • positivevariance profile image

      positivevariance 5 years ago

    • acrylicpainter profile image

      acrylicpainter 5 years ago

      Great lens and some fantastic paintings. I use acrylic due to the reduced smell and their adaptability. I agree retarder is a very personal choice and if you use too much the paint just does not dry properly. I think it depends on where you live, work and your climate as to what works best for you as well.

    • LDianeJohnson profile image
      Author

      LDianeJohnson 5 years ago

      @acrylicpainter: Bingo! Absolutely. If you live in a dry desert area, you will need more, if in a humid area less or none at all (predicated on using traditional acrylics.) If using Golden Open acrylics, same goes. Why? because it still dries faster than oils and may need a spritz or two. Thanks acrylicpainter for your comment!!! :)

    • profile image

      seosmm 5 years ago

      Beautiful work and very nice lens!

    • profile image

      pemoeurm12 5 years ago

      nteresting lens. Good ideas, thanks for sharing.

      -----------------------------

      spray bottles

    • LDianeJohnson profile image
      Author

      LDianeJohnson 5 years ago

      That's great Alicia Mae! Even still, it's fun to do a quiz once in a while, Best, Diane

    • profile image

      AliciaMae 5 years ago

      I got all three right :) but then again, I use acrylics and know how they work ;)

    • Judy Filarecki profile image

      Judy Filarecki 6 years ago from SW Arizona and Northern New York

      This is one of the best lenses I have read in a while. You are teaching something and explaining very well. Most other "art" lenses are tending to be designed to sell a lot of stuff. Thank you for sharing. Retarder here I come!

    • profile image

      JannaB 6 years ago

      Enjoyed your lens. Good tips that I'll try using soon. Thanks!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      I got 2 of the 3 right. Don't know how :o) I appreciate the info on use of the retarder which I have never used. Thanks!

    • LDianeJohnson profile image
      Author

      LDianeJohnson 6 years ago

      @chuckyklost13: Hi chuckyklost 13, Sorry for the delay in getting back to you on your question on my lens. I did not get a notice about postings. You can use anything in my article you like. Simply pull the words you like and attach my name to it like any other person who is quoted. Thanks for asking first. Appreciate the courtesy! Best, Diane

    • profile image

      handokoart 6 years ago

      good lens and Excellent Useful Tips, i like using acrylic for my artwork,

      I actually prefer to say this is acrylic paint, acrylic paint which may be able to do so? such as oil? then you will smile with satisfaction. please come to my lens, I expect your suggestions and criticism thank you very much.

      http://www.squidoo.com/portrait-acrylic-painting

      http://www.squidoo.com/painting-shoes

    • profile image

      chuckyklost13 6 years ago

      This is very informative and I love the works. Is there any way I can get a painter quote on some of these.

    • profile image

      ticklishmermaids 7 years ago

      Very informative!

    • profile image

      PainterGal 9 years ago

      A Great Lens! Exactly the information I needed. I must remember, "You control the paint, not the other way around." Makes so much sense. Thank you.

    • Richiewest profile image

      Richiewest 9 years ago from Devon, United Kingdom.

      Nice work, and advice. I too have experimented with various acrylic techniques. I find working very fast can also reap similar results, but is only really viable for smaller paintings.

    • lovemybob profile image

      lovemybob 9 years ago

      Excellent tips and welcome to The Painting Group!

    • mllamb46 profile image

      mllamb46 9 years ago

      Great lens! 5*s from me. :)

      ~Melody

    • profile image

      webseitler 9 years ago

      Great lens! I love the way you crafted it. :)

    • profile image

      Oh Petit Bebe 9 years ago

      Beautiful paintings, really. Great tips too.

      Sara

    • KarenC LM profile image

      KarenC LM 9 years ago

      I love it. I happen to love art. Great tips. I'd love to have you visit my

      Designer Dog Breeds