View Full Version : Need Help With Acrylics!!!

05-06-2009, 09:34 PM
After a lifetime painting in oils, I'm trying to teach myself how to work in acrylics; all my friends tell me how much easier it is and how the cleanup is kinder to my septic system. But I'm finding it very frustrating! Can't seem to get the coverage or opacity I want, and glazing isn't working either.

This is a cross-post from the Portrait forum, it's the little peasant girl from last month's portrait challenge painted in acrylics on gessoed muslin glued to a 10 x 12 wood panel. Of course it's still a WIP but I'm not making any progress with blending or shading. There must be some trick I'm missing - Can someone please help me???




05-06-2009, 09:42 PM
Are you kidding? This is beautiful! Don't expect it to be at all like oils. Learn it's characteristics and turn them to your advantage. Doesn't cover as well as oils? Start with an under painting. Are you using lots of medium in your glazes? Don't give up, you'll soon be on your way.

05-06-2009, 10:00 PM
This is a wonderful painting.

Oils and acrylics are very different, but I don't think that you are having a problem... this is beautiful.

Like all mediums in art learning something new is practice, practice, practice.

Mediums for acrylics can help with blending and with glazing let us know more about how you are working and we can probably help with some tips.

05-06-2009, 11:39 PM
From the beauty of this portrait, one would never guess you are having trouble adjusting to acrylics. Beautiful work. -- I understand the frustration that comes from switching from an oil paint background to acrylics but I find there is simply no end to what acrylics can do. Good luck - hope your frustration is shorter than mine was! This is a kind forum for finding solutions to problems.

05-07-2009, 12:44 AM
I also just switched from oils to Acrylics. I'm finding that the biggest thing to get used to is not being able to go back and blend later. Once I got used to the fact that the blending either had to be done when you apply the color, or by mixing more variations of the color on the pallet, I was a lot less frustrated. In that way oils were more forgiving. Overall, though, I find Acrylics to be much easier (I love not having to wait for things to dry for days). Figuring out the right mix for washes and glazes really helped me tremendously, too. I got help from people here, but mostly I had to just experiment for a while and find out what acrylics would and wouldn't do compared to what I'm used to. Hang in there. If you give it time, I think you'll like acrylics. You're obviously very good at them already.

05-07-2009, 12:51 AM
Oh, also, have you tried using a medium that makes it dry slower? Using that did make it a little more like using oils, although it doesn't blend quite as smoothly as oils do. The only problem I had was that you have to use the slow drying medium for the whole thing if you're going to use it. At least that's what I had to do, since, of course, oils and water don't mix and make your canvas repel paint when they get together. Someone please correct me if I just didn't know what I was doing. :)

05-07-2009, 08:32 AM
Thank you all for your kind words and advice. I will try to be more patient! In oils, I am accustomed to underpainting in tempera; can that also be used to underpaint acrylics? Does the support (canvas v. wood panel) make a difference? I have so many questions. Thanks for the help!


05-07-2009, 10:04 AM
I don't know about using a tempera underpainting. As far as I know everyone uses an acrylic monotone underpainting...when they do underpaint.

So far I've only done a couple of portraits. The first one was without an underpainting and I didn't use thin glazes...I had a devil of a time, and the results weren't as great as I'd have liked.

Since then I've used a grayscale underpainting and then applied thin color/gloss medium/water mixture glazes.....much better results and a lot less stress. Because the acrylic dries so fast I've found it easier to not fight it and just apply very thin overlapping layers of transparent glazes than to try to blend quickly. I'm just not that quick. :rolleyes:

Keeping a mister full of water handy (to lightly spray both the canvas and my palette) aids in keeping paint wet just a bit longer.

05-07-2009, 10:12 AM
I think that using a panel or canvas is more personal preference. The more coats of gesso the less absorbent the surface will be and your paint will stay wet and workable longer (if you straight to the panel with out priming it will suck the water out of the paint and it will dry very very fast. The same thing happens if you paint on unprimed watercolour paper or illustration board)

Lady Carol
05-07-2009, 10:57 AM
Are you kidding? This is beautiful!
I have to agree.

As for coverage, some acrylic colours are quite transparent but several layers of paint will solve that.

05-07-2009, 11:13 AM
Thank you all so much. I'll re-post the portrait if I make any progress.


05-07-2009, 11:22 AM

A really nice piece of work, can't help you with portraits though!


05-07-2009, 12:01 PM
One thing you might want to consider is painting on a mid tone grey or umber ground. Acrylics are less weighty and more transparent so the toned ground really goes a long way toward putting you in the correct value range straight away. You have to try it to know what I mean. Nice portrait with great dynamic brush work.

Shirl Parker
05-07-2009, 12:47 PM
Your painting is very nice. You didn't mention what brand of acrylics you are using. I sometimes do an underpainting in complementary colors. No detail, just getting paint over the whole support. You can always draw your sketch on later, or transfer it with graphite paper (grey or white)

05-07-2009, 01:28 PM
Hi Lynne, acrylics are typically very different from oil paint so it's no surprise that people who start in oils and move to acrylics find it frustrating - you're not alone! The huge gulf in working time alone is enough to prove a major headache for most people when they first make the switch.

Can't seem to get the coverage or opacity I want, and glazing isn't working either.
What brand(s) are you using? Also, what's your palette?

Acrylics are inherently not a highly-pigmented paint type and compared to good oil paints they can come across as being very weak.

Of course it's still a WIP but I'm not making any progress with blending or shading. There must be some trick I'm missing - Can someone please help me???
Early days yet :) Some people struggle with acrylics for years to get them to perform the way they want so give it some time.

One thing I personally suggest is not to try to get them to work the way oil paint does, but instead learn to use their natural characteristics (the fast drying in particular) as an advantage rather than a handicap.

There are many threads here in the main forum and in the Information Kiosk that could help with specific information on things that might help, including mediums of many types, retarders to lengthen the drying time and other additives. The new slower-drying acrylics (e.g. Atelier Interactive, Golden Open) provide something of a middle ground between normal acrylics and oil paint if the fast drying proves to be something you just can't deal with, although they're not without their issues.


Painter Nan
05-07-2009, 01:56 PM
I love your work, the face is lovely.
I have been trying to learn acrylics coming from WC and am finally getting better with it. like they said practice.
I have learned a lot from reading the hints here.

05-07-2009, 02:09 PM
Great advice, folks - I will be patient and do my best to master this medium. Your hints are greatly appreciated! Thanks again.


05-07-2009, 02:50 PM
I think your portrait is really good as is. It has some quality I can't explain that makes it work really well.

I have an acrylics background and am busy experimenting with oils, so I have been thinking a lot about the differences. For all my acrylic paintngs, I used some kind of glazing medium. My preference is for Golden brand. Now that I have done 2 whole oil paintings, one difference I find is that in acrylics I do more painting in layers to build up the color depth and to blend tone transitions. I do a lot of scumbling and glazing. A lot. It makes for a complex mix of colors and tones and I like the outcome. I still like the fast-dry characteristics of acrylics--and I think it is especially suited for more indirect painting methods. Over time, you will probably find something that works for you. In the meantime, the painting that you are doing looks really nice. :)

05-07-2009, 09:30 PM
Hi Lynne: It's a bit of a task to do in writing, but I will try to see if I can point out some things I see, without actually seeing the surface and your strokes in person.

On primed hardboard, acrylic can be very tricky to get down a workable routine, till you know the results of your actions, what occurs with certain consistencies of your paint, etc. The inconsistent streaky look of the strokes, as well as occassional "oopsies" of lifting some of the paint layer with one's next paint strokes, can be frustrating at first. Basically, you will Benefit from fast drying acrylics on hardboard because you can layer a colour, and then layer more, without waiting for it to dry so as not to lift the first lay down with the next. So, it's Good that it dries fast.

There are two ways of laying on your pigment strokes. You can thinly glaze with thin wet layers, similar to how you'd build with watercolour. Or, you can use opaque, more solid strokes and shapes that will then more "visually" blend.
What I find helpful, is work up a value base with a more monochromatic palette. You can alter the monochrome a bit near it's more later stage, to help slightly begin to defrentiate colours. IE: I use a slightly more rosey monochrome to lay in the mouth, on the second round, as opposed to the facial areas. However, I still don't get into any real definite local colour in this stage. This goes for eyes too, do them in monochromes. Leave you surface show through in various levels, for your lights, don't paint in lights where you highlights will be, let them be created by allowing the surface to remain. Your highlights will also have varying values, but the lighter they are, the more surface is being allowed to remain, to make them.

Working on a white surface I find, is also more work than working on a sightly tinted surface. Sometimes, trying to build up colour over stark white can appear streaky and less full and rich. Workgin on a tint helps one not need to "fill in" every little white space but tends to allow blending to work visually, better.

Right now here, I can see you are struggling with what colour to mix and use where. I can see all separate little coloured areas. I also knew you were working on hardboard, pretty much, before I read your text. I can see this because I see strokes and the slight transparency of layed in thin washes on what looks like a more slick surface, which is hard and the streakiness can be frustrating. Working on a toned surface will really help eliminate that and help you lay down strokes easier and more visually consistent.

As well, building from a monochrome and value establishing underpainting then introducing colour, will help keep more harmony between all the different areas, like hair, eyes, lips, skin, clothes, etc. That way, you won't be using Colour to establish your levels of dark, mids and highlights.

For your portrait, I feel you may be best laying in more opaque strokes than the thin washes it looks to me like you are using.

One thing I would also suggest even is try to work in monchromes for a bit, to get to know how the paint goes on the surface or surfaces you choose to work on. That way, colour won't muddle you up while you get comfortable with and develop some expertise using acrylic. It worked for me long ago, anyway. I started in sepia and worked up to colour. That way, I knew how the paint reacted and what cause and effects were happening, and how to physically blend, then I dealt with colour.

Good luck;

05-08-2009, 12:26 AM
Jocelyn - Glad you have shared your expertise which is accurate and detailed. Bob

05-10-2009, 08:05 PM
Jocelyn and all,

I finished the portrait this weekend, see below. I'm a little happier with it, but it was definitely a struggle! Will try next a monochrome on toned canvas paper and see how that goes. Thank you so much for your detailed advice, it is extremely helpful.



05-10-2009, 08:37 PM
Professional work whatever the medium! The dark spot on the upper lip is a little odd.

05-10-2009, 10:09 PM
Lynne, a couple of comments on your first comments...
my friends tell me how much easier it is and how the cleanup is kinder to my septic system.
Your friends have misled you! 1) Acrylics are not easy. They require a whole new set of planning and execution. As I am sure others in this thread have already told you. 2) Cleanup is NOT kinder to your septic system. Acrylic paint, whether washed whole from the palette or washed as particles from the brush DO NOT disintegrate in any sewer system - septic or otherwise. If your paint is wet when you flush it, there is a real possibility that it will coat your pipes on the way to the septic tank. Best solution: Let your paints dry in the open air. Then treat them as solid waste.

Having said all those things in dark tones, I hope you find acrylics as challenging and frustrating as oils. And I hope the rest of your attempts are as professional as your first!

05-11-2009, 01:32 PM
[QUOTE - The dark spot on the upper lip is a little odd.] Yeah, I thought so too but it's there on the original, see below.


[QUOTE - Best solution: Let your paints dry in the open air. Then treat them as solid waste.]

What about cleaning brushes? Do you do that outside under the hose, or is there a safe way to clean them indoors?


05-11-2009, 02:33 PM
"...it's there on the original" I see what you mean. Maybe a bad photo. Who is the artist and what is the title?

05-11-2009, 04:22 PM
It's one of the April challenge originals on the Portrait forum:

Alexei Alexeivich Harlamoff (1848-1915)
"Portrait of a Peasant Girl"
Oil on canvas
13 1/2 x 10 inches (34.3 x 25.4 cm)

I'm afraid my version is not quite as youthful/innocent as the original. But I love it, and may try again in oils where I'm much more comfortable.


05-15-2009, 01:00 AM
Don't give up on acrylics, just get a good medium to help with slowing down the drying and making them more blendable. Even the most pigment-loaded acrylics don't have as much pigment as high quality oli colors because the oil molecule is way smaller, leaving more room for pigment. But a good pro-grade of acrylic, especially one that doesn't contain any opacifiers, matting agents, or fillers, will give you strong color and generally good mixing.
Golden OPEN acrylics are very new, and the drying time is way, way slower than regular acrylics. Plus, they don't "skin over" on your palette so you can
keep a palette going for months just by putting a tight fitting lid on it in between painting sessions. You don't waste paint.
The OPEN medium can be used with your regular acrylics to slow them down.

You might need to review which colors will give you the best opacity (generally your inorganic colors like Cadmiums, Ultramarine, Cobalt, Ochres, Oxides, and Umbers) but bear in mind these often make duller mixtures.
The fabulous organic colors like quinacridones and phthalocyanines are by nature very transparent but they mix so well and are so strong they deserve to be included in your palette.

Try the OPEN, it really feels like oil, and while it isn't as opaque as some oil color, the working properties help you use all that oil-painting experience and they will give you the time to get it the way you want.

Working on gessoed surfaces (as opposed to plain paper) will also give you more open time.

Good luck!

05-15-2009, 12:05 PM
Fabulous!! She is gorgeous!
Love the brushstrokes and the tones used in the background and her skin!!
You are doing well with acrylics, it just takes practice to get used to how the medium works for you and your style.
Time will tell. Anxious to see more of your artwork, this is wonderful!!:clap:

05-15-2009, 03:37 PM
Even the most pigment-loaded acrylics don't have as much pigment as high quality oli colors because the oil molecule is way smaller, leaving more room for pigment.
Do you have a source for this bit of info?

Acrylics are lower in pigment in part simply because they have to contain water! :) This takes up part of the volume, where oils only need to contain binder and pigment in theory.


05-15-2009, 07:41 PM
Hi Lynne,

Thanks for posting an interesting thread. You seem to be doing well with acrylics already. My guess is that, if you stick with them, you will become more comfortable with them, and will find them more and more satisfying, natural and easy to use.

Some lines of acrylics have more pigment than others. Golden Opens are not particularly pigment rich (in fact, they are rather weak in that regard), but some of the other Golden acrylics are richer. Chroma Atelier Interactives are a pigment-rich line. Unlike most acrylics, they can be 're-opened' and blended even after becoming touch dry. You get hours and even days of blending opportunities this way.

Tri-Art is another brand that is more highly pigmented than most.

There is a new line of acrylics from Winsor and Newton that has virtually no wet-to-dry color shift, and is said to be pigment rich as well.

Apparently, acrylics are the only types of artists' paints that are consistently gaining floor space in art supply stores. They are almost certainly the most versatile of all the painting mediums.

There are also many different types of acrylic additives and mediums to explore, and new ones keep appearing.

There are many different viscosities available, both for the mediums and for the paints themselves.


For cleaning brushes, some people use a large (five-gallon) bucket for their rinse water. After the brushes are cleaned in smaller water containers, everything is deposited in the large bucket. Then the water is allowed to evaporate naturally. Eventually, there is a solid residue that can be discarded as such....

05-15-2009, 08:01 PM
I think this is absolutely lovely! It's tough to switch from oils but I think you'll
seriously master this in no time, just be patient they are definitely different, but your skill will win out. It's already visible.


05-15-2009, 08:06 PM
Just came across this at chromaonline.com, and thought it might be of interest to you:

I've been working with Interactive for the past year. I had never used Acrylics before, but was familiar with what they do. Especially the difficulty in blending. I was pleased to find that with Interactive, I have been able to get nice transitions in my work. It took me awhile to learn to use the paints and especially the Mediums since I was used to working with oils all my life, but after awhile, I was not able to tell the difference from my Acrylic and Oil paintings.

And also this:

Just wanted to let you know how I am going with the Interactive, since my last visit. I started using both the Slow medium, and the Clear Painting medium, and have found a dramatic improvement in the working times of the paint. For big blended skies, I lay down the Clear Painting Medium directly onto the canvas, which acts as a great color blender tool.
And since I have been using the Slow medium added to each color mix, I have found it more enjoyable to paint, rather than panicking about them drying to fast. I do use the water spray as well, but still find I am getting water droplets on other parts of the painting, which then dry lighter by a shade or two, thus requiring you to blend these out. ( Sometimes a pain).
Anyway here are a couple of examples of my latest works.

http://www.chromaonline.com/var/chroma/storage/images-versioned/209082/1-eng-AU/shane_martin1_small.jpg (http://www.chromaonline.com/var/chroma/storage/images-versioned/209082/1-eng-AU/shane_martin1_lightbox.jpg)Palm Island
http://www.chromaonline.com/var/chroma/storage/images-versioned/209085/1-eng-AU/shane_martin1_small.jpg (http://www.chromaonline.com/var/chroma/storage/images-versioned/209085/1-eng-AU/shane_martin1_lightbox.jpg)Big Blue Sky

05-15-2009, 08:35 PM
Bob, plastechie, squarepeg, kathie, Elaine, nilesh - thanks for the very helpful tips and encouragement. I will definitely try again using your advice. nilesh - love the smooth blended effects you get in your paintings! Is Interactive a brand of Chroma acrylics?


05-15-2009, 08:43 PM
Hi Lynne,

Thank you, I like my smooth blending effects too -- maybe I will show more in future. ;)

Yes, Interactive (or Atelier Interactive) is a type of paint -- and a unique type of acrylic -- made by the company Chroma (they make oils and other paints as well). I like these paints quite a bit.

Your painting indicates real promise; I hope you post more as time goes on.

05-15-2009, 08:57 PM
Bob, plastechie, squarepeg, kathie, Elaine, nilesh - thanks for the very helpful tips and encouragement. I will definitely try again using your advice. nilesh - love the smooth blended effects you get in your paintings! Is Interactive a brand of Chroma acrylics?


Here is a good, short video showing techniques with Interactives that are similar to working with oils: http://video.google.com/videosearch?q=mitch+waite+interactive&emb=0&aq=f#

The video can be viewed on any of at least four different video sites. Some might play better than others, depending on your computer. (Youtube seems to have a high quality or HQ mode that plays at higher resolution.)

There are some other informative videos here: http://video.google.com/videosearch?q=atelier+interactive+artists+acrylics&emb=0&aq=f#q=interactive+artist+acrylic+demo&emb=0

"Interactive Artist Acrylic Demo" is a good one; there are others as well,


On the second page, "Interactive TAM Video" gives a good sense of some of the techniques.