View Full Version : Newbie question:painting fine lines in acrylic?

Ian Bruce
10-14-2006, 10:51 PM
I am totaly new to acrylics. Previously, I have been working in watercolor. I have decided that I really love acrylics! I was instantly able to get the darks that I struggled with in watercolor. I also like to be able to do impasto. My only problem, so far, is I am unable to get nice flowing lines (for instance; distant birch tree trunks and limbs). Glazing medium does not do it for me, it makes the paint to transparent, as does water. Do I need to get flow-medium? This is something I have heard of but not tried. What does it do? Any advice would be apreciated. Also, I do struggle somewhat with the exceptionly fast drying time and have some dificulty blending. I have being following the thread on the new Atelier Interactive acrylics and am considering changing to them when I upgrade from student paints. Any suggestions on that?

10-15-2006, 01:29 AM
flow medium wont give you the flow for fine lines, at least not by itself, you need an ink like consistency which generally means water. Another option is a very small brush and frequent reloads

10-15-2006, 01:43 AM
Flow medium will work. It is designed to thin without diluting. I also use retarder medium (AKA extender medium) which does the same but it takes much longer to dry because it's for extending the drying time of acrylics. I use a synthetic rigger brush (you might have this with your watercolour brushes.) You can get a rigger in sable but I prefer synthetic myself for those fine lines.

Happy painting Ian

10-15-2006, 03:30 AM
You could try one of the low viscosity formulas, like Golden Fluid or Liquitex soft body acrylics. Golden fluid acrylic has a consistency similar to motor oil or heavy cream, but has the same binder and pigment load as their heavy body formulas, as does the Liquitex (the type in 2 oz. bottles, not the squeeze tubes) which is just slightly thicker.

Be careful with the flow release agents. They are surfacants (i.e, detergents), and work by reducing the surface tension of the water already in the paint mixture. Too much of this will keep your paint soluble after it has dried.

10-15-2006, 06:46 AM
The Golden Fluids work great!!

Charlie's Mum
10-15-2006, 08:41 AM
Welcome to acrylics and to the forum.

Definitely use a rigger as Elaine mentioned - the long hairs give a nice fluid line - fine!
I sometimes use glazing mediums, but mostly just the water.
You could also try acrylic inks - these are very saturated - like the liquid acrylics - and will give fine lines.

Have you checked out our classroom threads in the Information Kiosk - a sub forum here? Very useful for techniques and all sorts of info:D

Haven't tried the Atelier - I use W&N finity and Liquitex Heavy Body and I'm hapy with those :D

Lady Carol
10-15-2006, 11:45 AM
Hi Ian :wave: welcome to the forum :D

As you will find there are several ways to get to the end result and you will have to try several to see which works best for you. Another option would be to experiment with water thinned paint and a liner brush (also called a rigger brush). I always found that glazing medium although it does not dilute the paint, it makes it more transparent and several layers of paint is sometimes necessary. Thus I favour water thinned acrylic over glazing medium for this application.

10-15-2006, 12:17 PM
I am glad to see this thread. I have been struggling with this issue also. My struggle, however, is because I am adapting to painting after a couple of years with pencil work. I will like for a rigger brush also.

10-15-2006, 02:05 PM
Ian-- Lines - they're not what you do, they're what you leave behind. Put down the color you want for a line - overshooting, then fill in with the colors you want in the larger spaces. --Merritt

10-15-2006, 02:43 PM
Ian-- Lines - they're not what you do, they're what you leave behind. Put down the color you want for a line - overshooting, then fill in with the colors you want in the larger spaces. --Merritt

I think what you are saying here is the tecnique called negative painting, and though it is an option is probably more difficult if you are wanting winter trees in the distance with lots of branches. Keeping the branches fine and natural looking might be more difficult for a beginner than using a rigger brush and thin paint in my opnion. Just thinking out loud here.:wave:

Another thing to consider Ian. If you do get a rigger brush and find a thin consistancy of paint that suits, remember it is easier to get a natural branch by pulling the rigger brush away from the tree trunk than pushing it upward from the trunk. You could try turning the canvas upside down perhaps. :)

10-15-2006, 03:22 PM
it is easier to get a natural branch by pulling the rigger brush away from the tree trunk than pushing it upward from the trunk

Golly - thought EVERYone did it that way! :rolleyes:


10-15-2006, 06:11 PM
Regardless of which medium I'm using, when I want REALLY fine lines I use the EDGE of a painting knife. I have a variety of knife shapes to choose from. One with a long straight edge works best for straight lines - or for getting good straight edges on large shapes.

When wanting linear details in acrylics, I use the regular acrylic medium sold by whichever paint line you choose. Adding a bit of water might be needed too, depending on your technique. I avoid thinning my acrylics with water as much as possible - preferring to use the medium instead.

For really squiggly fine lines, such as tree branches, I use a "riggers" or "liner" as has already been suggested by several others.

And don't overlook the technique of "scratching in" lines - that is - after one layer has dried, overpaint with another color and then scratch back through the wet layer to create a linear effect. I find this particular useful for drawing foliage/limbs/twigs.


10-15-2006, 07:31 PM
one more tip

Often, pure, out of the tube acrylic pigments are a bit, or a lot, translucent, with or without water, medium, etc - much the way the opacity of watercolor paints varies by pigment

and since truly pure color is kinda rare in the real world -

mixing in even a tiny amount of some other pigment can dramatically increase opacity - a tiny fraction of turner's yellow into Alizarin crimson, for example, or a touch of white, or ultramarine blue in raw umber.

Play a bit - often it takes very little of the compliment or complement to increase opacity - and glazing later can restrore the intensity of the dominant hue.

Mixed pigments, thinned to flow nicely from a rigger, can produce very fine lines with character.

10-15-2006, 08:46 PM
i thought i read on here somewhere about a company that makes acrylic inks.

Ian Bruce
10-15-2006, 10:45 PM
Thanks for all the help! I do actually have a couple of riggers (I am one of the few people who actually use them to paint ships rigging). I will try your suggestions. It seems that while watercolor is technically difficult, acrylics have their own extended learning curve--due to the huge choice of acrylics of different viscosities and the wide choice of mediums! Acrylics do seem easier to handle, however, even from day one. Thanks again!

10-16-2006, 07:16 AM
Ian-- In a book I have by hugh greer, he uses a ruling pen which is a tool used by architects. He is an acrylic painter, uses golden fluid acrylics, and is a very accomplished artist. The tool is shaped like tweesers with the end that holds the paint coming together and adjustable by a screw. Staples carried this for about 6 or 8 bucks. He uses the tool for tree branches, fence posts, etc. Hope this helps.The other hints are also very good. Len

10-16-2006, 10:09 AM
i thought i read on here somewhere about a company that makes acrylic inks.
I have long used this brand of acrylic inks and highly recommend them to others:

FW Acrylic Inks (http://www.discountart.com/store/FWacrylicartistink.html)

Also don't overlook the value of acrylic paints formulated for use in air brushes. The paint mfr. GOLDEN makes a complete line of airbrush acrylics.

lenbet said: ...he uses a ruling pen which is a tool used by architects.

I've tried using a ruling pen, as well as ordinary quill pens and those with calligraphy tips and all require the paint to be thinned too much for my taste. I don't like "inky consistency." That's why I prefer using the edge of painting knives since I can drag them through paint that is on my palette and then apply it to the surface of the painting at whatever consistency it is on the palette.

When I use acrylic inks, I am doing "pen and ink" work on paper supports - not using the ink as a substitute for acrylic paint. That doesn't mean others might not find it useful to use the inks in their paintings. I always go for "whatever works!"

10-16-2006, 10:58 AM
OK, one I have not tried myself, but heard about it from another artist. Paint your final / first color. So, say your doing a rope, you paint the rope color on the area. Then apply string to the surface in the shape of the lines you want. This person was using tape every so often to hold the string in place. Paint over the string in the surrounding color. So say a blue sea color. Pull off the string and viola, perfect thin lines in the first color. Ok, the person who was telling me about this was not sure of the process themselves, so could be some holes here. For one thing, it seems like the string would have to be stuck down tight to the first color layer or the 2nd color would get underneath and mess up the lines. Also, it seems to me like the string when pulled out could damage the 2nd color layer. So, like I said, I haven't tried this. I tend to think a layer of clear medium over the first color would be a good thing to stick the string in while it is still wet. And then it seems like it would be best to pull the string out while the 2nd color / top color was still fresh, maybe tacky but not totally dry. And it might work better with nylon fishing line instead of cloth string. Needs some experimenting with to see if it really works. I suppose this could fall in the category of urban painting myths too. One of those tricks that only works on Halloween with a full moon or something. Well, gives me something to do this Halloween anyway.

10-16-2006, 11:50 AM
Amaze-- Yes, I was talking about negative painting - for fairly large areas. For smaller shapes, like tree limbs, a rigger is a good choice, or a small round. --Merritt

a. ladd
10-16-2006, 06:08 PM
Palette knife edges will only work best on a smooth surface (unless you got a steady flow from it to seep into the texture creases).

Besides riggers, the so-called "dagger" brushes (adapted from auto stripers) hold a good volume and flow and can make wonderfully fine lines with practice. But they are more difficult to make sharp angles or tight curves without practicing to twist the handle in the right direction.

Hardware and auto supply dealers offer small glass bottles with caps using interchangable, serrated metal wheels of different fine widths to roll paint onto a smooth surface. They also fit multiple wheels for multi stripes. Bit of a pain to set up, use, and (especially) clean, though.

You can find some squeeze bottles rigged with thin metal tube barrels for fluid paints in Jerrys or ASW's watercolor or assessory sections. They are also available for using with masking fluid to make negative lines.

Fluid or ink acrylics are fine if you settle for transparent or semi-opaque coverage. But if you want the very best opacity along with high intensity and flow, then the underrated vinyl acrylics are the way to go (Cel Vinyl, Polycolor, Flashe, Chromacolour, Vallejo, maybe some of the "acrylic gouache" brands).

10-16-2006, 06:56 PM
A. Ladd's post about the wheel rollers at auto shops reminds me of another one I read about. That is to use a pizza wheel cutter. It works the same way I suppose except doesn't hold much paint.

10-16-2006, 07:03 PM
all of this reminded me of one more trick

lay down a layer, doesn't have to be thick, of the heavy body gel medium, the kind for building texture and volume, in the general region where you'll want the fine line(s) - and feather the edges to create a smooth transition at the edges. Carve, scratch, scrape or otherwise draw your thin lines into the heavy body medium. Let dry completely. When every other element of that passage is complete, paint over the scratched lines with whatever hue you want the lines to be - and immediately wipe the excess off - leaving pigment only in the grooves you've made.

So - if you were going for tree branches for example, you'd lay down a foundation of the heavy medium, just thick enough to hold the scratch track of the branches, and draw, scrape, scratch away the still wet medium to leave a groove in the medium the size and shape of the branch. When that was dry, you'd paint over it with what ever is visible behind the branches - sky, water, dirt, elk, etc. Let that dry. Last, paint along the scratched branches with thinned paint, and wipe off the excess, leaving pigment only in the grooves.

This could be used to create very fine lines indeed.

10-17-2006, 01:36 AM
Hi Ian neat to see you over here too.

I am having a play with my acrylics again and am finding your thread very interesting as I have never used flow retarder before only water.

I have some FR here but don't know what to do with it??


10-17-2006, 09:23 AM
I wonder how many reading this know what "rosemaling" is? Those who have tried rosemaling, or are adept at doing it, know all about painting fine lines. By noodling around on the internet one can find all sorts of references to the decorative art form, and instructions on how to accomplish designs using a variety of mediums and surfaces/supports.