I am primarily an abstract painter and for my abstract paintings I'm very happy using a combination of Golden Heavy Body and Golden Fluid acrylics. But from time to time I like to do some representational work and sometimes -- especially with portraiture -- find the drying time of regular acrylics to be a problem.
As soon as I heard about Golden's Open Acrylics line I headed up to the Pearl Paint store (where they have the full product line) in Iselin, NJ, and bought some samples to experiment with. I thought I'd share my experiences with others who might be curious. For those interested in the bottom line: I'm very happy with these paints and plan to continue using them for representational work where smooth blending is required.
[I had experimented with the Atelier Interactive line about a year ago (ugh, I went overboard and bought a lot of paint) but was rather frustrated with those paints as they didn't really stay open very long. I admit, though, that I might not have been using them properly. Not knowing any better, I used a Stay-Wet palette for the Interactive paints, but this (a) caused the paints to melt fairly quickly and (b) the introduction of water into the paints causes them to dry *much* darker than they appear when first applied. So after a couple of unsatisfactory false starts with Atelier Interactive, I shelved them... Having now used Golden's product in a different manner (see below), I could perhaps give the AI products another try.]
Fortunately, Golden provides at least a decent amount of information on their web site to get you started, although hopefully over time more information will be published about tips for using these paints to their best advantage. I would recommend than anyone interested in using the paints read the technical application page
This time, rather than use a "wet" Stay-Wet Palette, I tried a more "traditional" approach. I laid down a piece of gray paper into a dry Stay-Wet tray and put a sheet of glass on top of it -- no sponge, no water underneath. This provided a nice neutral gray palette for mixing paints. In between painting sessions, I gave the palette a light spray of a mixture of water and the OPEN Thinner product, plus I put a folded paper towel moistened with water into the tray and sealed the palette with the cover. I don't know if this was necessary, but the paints definitely do stay open this way and they don't melt! (However, after a couple of days, some of the thin paint mixtures on my palette dried up a bit and weren't quite as workable, even after adding some Thinner.)
I've never done any painting with oil paints so I can't accurately compare the feel of the Golden products with oils. However, straight from the tube, these paints stay open on the canvas *much* longer than regular acrylics. I don't think I could go in five hours later and just start blending away, but it is much easier to do blending, create soft edges, and adjust tones to already applied paint with these paints than it is with Golden's other products, which dry so very fast.
To prepare the support, I started with an inexpensive pre-gessoed, pre-stretched cotton canvas and covered this with a layer of Golden GAC-100 followed by a coat of Liquitex gesso. (I don't normally do this, but wasn't sure how absorbing the canvas would be, so I figured I'd sort of provide an isolation barrier with the GAC-100 (as mentioned on the Golden web site for prepping wood supports); I like Liquitex Gesso for its ease of application and generally smooth finish.)
I then toned my canvas with *regular* Golden heavy body acrylics (in this case, I mixed a blueish gray with ultramarine blue, burnt umber, and Liquitex gesso). I made a drawing of the still life using a water-soluble pastel pencil (Stabilo), which I find works well and is easy to wash off later if necessary. (In the image below, I've Photoshopped the canvas a bit to try to make the white drawing appear more clearly, so the canvas color is off a bit.)
I then began working on the painting proper. I had purchased both of the small trial paint sets which are split up into "Traditional" and "Modern" colors, as follows:
Hansa Yellow Opaque (PY74)
Quniacridone Magenta (PR122)
Pyrrole Red (PR254)
Phthalo Green BS (PG7)
Phthalo Blue GS (PB15:4)
Indian Yellow Hue (PY73/PY150/PR206) -- curious combination of Hansa, Nickel Azo, and Quin B.Orng
Alizarin Crimson Hue (PR122/PR206/PG7) -- Quin Magenta, Quin B.Orng, Phth Green BS combo
Ultramarine Blue (PB29)
Sap Green Hue (PR101/PY150/PG36/PBk7) -- Red Oxide, Nickel Azo Yellow, Phth Green YS, Carbon Black
Van Dyke Brown Hue (PR101/PBk7) -- Red Oxide, Carbon Black
The tube sizes in these trial sets are 3/4 oz and all colors are Lightfastness I. Both sets come with Titanium White, and I also bought a tube of Carbon Black (I don't normally use black, but this came in handy when I needed some really dark darks, or for making a gray to help dull down some other colors). Putting both sets together made a pretty decent full palette, although it's not the set of colors I would choose if I were picking all of the colors independently.
I had initially planned on painting the darks first in my still life, but because I didn't really yet trust the ability of the paints to stay open, I instead started working "object by object" through the painting. So, I first worked on the red onion and was very, very happy with the blending properties of the paints! It was very easy to smoothly blend colors on the canvas, especially once I switched to a very soft flat brush (instead of the filbert I had been using to lay on the paint).
I didn't have any issues with the "pigment load" of these paints, although some of these colors are quite transparent (even the Hansa Yellow Opaque isn't that opaque). In the future, I think I might lay down some local color over the toned canvas using regular Golden arcylics, perhaps made opaque with some gesso or white paint.
In between painting sessions (as described above), I squirted some water/thinner onto the palette and sealed it closed with the palette cover. When I returned (as long as a day and a half later), all of the paint blobs squeezed from the tubes were still completely workable, though some of the thin mixtures of paint had dried somewhat. For the most part, I could re-activate these by adding some Thinner and scrubbing it into the paint, although this paint didn't handle quite the same as when it was fresh.
I've often seen oil painters "wipe off" sections of their paintings, even days after the paint was laid down. I don't think you can really do this with the OPEN Acrylics. You can wipe the paint off very shortly after it's been applied, but after it starts to tack up you'd need to use some thinner and then very carefully (I think) scrub it off (although I didn't try this). After it had dried for a day or two, I don't think you could easily wipe off any of the paint, though it would be easy to paint over.
To summarize, I think these paints are very cool! They aren't magic, but I think with some more experience it'll be pretty easy to strategize work on a painting to best take advantage of their properties (e.g., use regular acrylics for toning and perhaps local color). I will continue to use them for representational work and am going to give them a try on an upcoming portrait painting (though I'll probably want to add a few tubes of other colors for this -- ah, another excuse to go to the art store...). I hope you find this summary helpful!
Here's the final painting...