Alaskan Artist - Elise Tomlinson
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04/04/2006: "I wish I was a mole in the ground"

I definitely have a love/hate relationship brewing with acrylics...I love how fast they dry, but I also hate that. For example, you can't leave a fresh pallette and a couple of loaded brushes sit while you IM your sister for awhile (Dirty!). Plus, I can't help feel that they (the one's I'm using) look a bit...plastic.

There's also the issue of smell. I love that they are non-toxic but I miss the smell of oil paint and all the trimmings; it just doesn't feel like "real" painting without that smell (and the inevitable headache and coughing that follow). But on the plus side, clean-up is a breeze...a clear, toxin-free breeze. I started a new painting on Sunday using modeling paste to build up a texture I then painted with said acrylics. I thought it would turn out better but I guess everything has a learning curve. I'm curious, from any painters out there...which do you use: oil or acrylic (or something else)?

A couple of interesting side bits. Yesterday was the start of the Alaska Folk Festival. I wanted to go but I left work early with a massive headache that lasted for hours. The festival is a lot of fun from everything I've heard though. Last week I learned the finger picking pattern for my first bluegrass song "I wish I was a Mole in the Ground" so I feel like that gives me more street cred now! (Any folk/bluegrass fans out there?)

I'm actually going to meet up with a professor from the U of Maine (a friend of a friend) who has been working on a documentary about the festival for 6 years now. I'm inspired to work on a film project I've had on the back burner, to create a time-lapse of a painting...starting with white canvas and going until it's finished. It will probably only be a minute or so, I'll post it! Anyway, I have to get ready for work...I bid you adieu

Replies: 21 Comments

on Tuesday, April 4th, greg said

I think it's okay for acrylic brushes (and you *did* buy new brushes I hope!), to stand in the water jar for a quite while, even loaded! I never laid out too much paint that I wasn't prepared to use or waste, but I always wondered if misting it with water, like the watercolorists do, would preserve the palette for a few hours.(?)

I totally missed the smell too - and the nasty formaldyhde off-gassing wasn't at all a pleasent substitute! But not needing to buy expesive Kolinski Sable brushes is a plus!

So you're gonna be a movie star now?!? Can't wait!! :D

I love good ol' traditional bluegrass! Time to start strummin' yer dobro Elise! :)

on Tuesday, April 4th, Howard said

I've always used acrylics. I'm not sure why I never tried oils. I don't think I could stand the drying time with oils.

I think the biggest mistake people make with acrylics is that they try to make it look like oil. It is its own medium and has it's own look and you're right, there is a bit of a learning curve.

Since you're used to oils I'd use liberal amounts of drying retarder. A misting bottle really comes in handy to help keep your painting surface moist, but that also may lead to some dripping and running.

In my own personal experience I never found acrylics to look good when they are thick. The paint tends to have that plastic look about it when you use them thick.

Personally I like the fluid acrylics better than the tube type. The pigment load in the fluids is higher and with a glazing medium you can get some really amazing colours by over lapping.

Using modeling paste to build up the texture is a great way to go. I'm not sure which type you are using. I have one that's made with marble dust. It makes for a great matt surface to paint on that helps control that plastic look.

A coat of varnish when you are done really helps to get rid of that plastic look. Ironicly an oil based varnish tends to look better than an acrylic ones. There are a number of oil based varnishes made especially for acrylics with very short drying times.

To get an idea of how different your painting will look with a coat of varnish wet the surface with a misting bottle and just watch the colour pop out.

A book I've been trying to get from the library here titled "The New Acrylics" is big and glossy and full of colorful pictures has a lot of information on how far acyrlics have come in the last few years.

OH, and for the pallet. Find a largish flat rubbermaid container, line the bottom with a pad of paper towels, place your pallet on top and soak the pad of paper towel. When you want to take a break just put the lid on. The paint should stay wet for some time. There's nothing you can do with the brushes. You could wrap them in plastic wrap, but thats rather messy.

Hope that helps :)

on Tuesday, April 4th, Howard said

Yeah I guess I just leave my brushes soaking in water all the time. I never really thought about it. You'd only want to do that with Nylon bristle brushes though. Natural bristle brushes would get ruined from soaking in water for so long.

on Tuesday, April 4th, Elise said

Hey Greg, no, I'm not going to be a movie star...
I'm only going to film my canvas so that you can see a painting emerge, you will most likely only see my hand and part of my arm, so...maybe my arm will become famous? Maybe I'll get my fingers tattooed beforehand?

Anyway, thanks for the specific tips Howard, especially about applying the paint too thick. That is exactly what I did, I just globbed it on straight from the jar. I wonder if it's too late for me to fix that on my current painting if I now go over it with a more watered down layer? Can one do that with acrylics? You know the whole "fat over lean" no no with oils, is there something akin to that for acrylics?

Anyway, Rob had mentioned a misting bottle too, I just forgot about it. The wet paper towels and rubbermaid sound like a good idea too.

I don't want to give up yet, just because I've started out miserably...I'll give it a few more weeks and if I don't see some major improvements I might reconsider the switch.

Also, I plan to do my time-release using oils since that's more of a sure thing.

on Tuesday, April 4th, greg said

Here's another thing to consider - finishing a work in oils, over an acrylic underpainting! You can have a nice dry colored surface rather quickly, then noodle away at the nuances in lervly-smelling oils.

It's economical too. Large inexpensive acrylic colors and brushes ( I hate cleaning oils from big brushes!) :crazy:
and smaller amounts of oils needed and smaller brushes too! There's one theory anyway.

I have an artist's palette box, much like a rubbermaid type Howard describes. It's really airtight (plus you 'burp' it), and its recommended you grease the lid with a little petroleum jelly to ease the pry off/snap shut. I probably have some usable oils stlll hiding in it :P

on Tuesday, April 4th, greg said

oh, and NEVER (for all you kids listening) paint acrylic over oils!

case in point: my "snowflake bathroom!"

previous owners did some presale touch up doing just this. Now that we are all showering in it while the big bath is getting remodelled, all the acylic/latex is cracking and peeling off in little flakes which flutter down everywhere.

I see another bathroom project in my future :rolleyes:

on Tuesday, April 4th, leahpeah said

oils smell like painting to me, too. my grandmother painted with oils and i spent so many days watching her and smelling them. however, i hardly ever use them. i do have quite a bit of fun mixing gouache, acrylic and water color over the modeling paste.

on Tuesday, April 4th, Elise said

Thanks for more good tips guys. My friend Rick used to paint oil over acrylics and really loved it. I was planning on doing that but the acrylic bit looked so gawd awful I thought it might be a lost cause.

Oh, and that's funny about your bathroom Greg! hee hee (probably not such a chuckle for you though huh?)...

Anyway, I forgot all about gouache Leahpeah, I don't think you can paint oil over the top but I used to have fun painting with that, it gives kind of a nice velvety texture, as I recall.

on Tuesday, April 4th, Rob Roys said

I love acrylics.

I also prefer the fluid acrylics to the gel, but both have their place. When I first started using them I just experimented with different methods, read a couple of books, and let them take me where they wanted. Now I love them more than anything I have worked with. I think my break through with occurred when I started seeing acrylic as a vehicle for pigment rather than paint. That sounds redundant, but it means a lot to me! The only problem I have with them is bubbles-but I am getting better with that too. It has been 13 years so I think I may be a slow learner.

Try to focus on all of the positives rather than the minor negatives. It does not look like your oil paint. It is not oil, so it should not look the same. Mixing in clear gels will give the acrylic a more translucent appearance. I think that is the primary source of the oil paint look. Also using the more expensive acrylics (IMHO Golden are the best) with the most expensive pigments helps too. The “synthetic” pigments seem to look more fake than anything does. Also mixing in a little of the complimentary color will tine it done a notch. I use a medium called “Acryl Glazing Medium” liberally. Come by and I will give you a dollop. The AGL slows drying and increases translucency.

One person told me they wrap the brushes in plastic and put them in the freezer. I DO NOT VOUCH FOR THIS METHOD.

Acrylics are much less toxic than oils which was my initial reason for using them (switching from pastel). They are also kinder to the environment (how much is debatable).

Do not give up on them. Your lungs and liver will thank you for it.

on Tuesday, April 4th, Howard said

I use Golden as well. I don't think anything else comes close to them, and their glazing liguid is a MUST!!!! Golden use to have something called flow release which basicly makes the paint flow better. It also helped to stop the paint from sudsing.

I don't think the fat over lean rule applies to acrylics, but make sure to use a meduim to thin out the colour because just using water will only break down the paint and it will only tend to puddle on thicker paint.

on Tuesday, April 4th, Rob Roys said

I think part of why I like them so much is all of the additives you can tweak the paint with. As I empty the pint squeeze bottles I mix up new solutions of liquid paint, glazing liquid, and distilled water. The flow release always goes in. If it was oil I would have to worry about what I was mxing, with acrylic it is just fun fun FUN. The bubbles I get are here and there and always happen when I varnish. I can spend an hour going over that final coat and no matter what a bubble escapes my notice. I do all of the tips. What I use now is high solid gel-no bubbles with that, but it is better as isolation than a final varnish.

on Tuesday, April 4th, berry bowman connell said

Yeah, I remember the first time I got into m'dad's oils. The sensation I got was they smelled like orange peels.
GOD I loved that! And, I was terrible when I started painting with them because I din't know any of the "rules" then. Just did a few "personal" type pictures and tried doing copies of masters. Put the oils down to explore pastels, which actually handle similarly to oils.
Liked them alot. Finally went to school for art (when I thought there was some reason to,) and while I started with the oils, m'ex wife was an alergic asmatic, so, I asked the prof for permission to go acrylic.
DANG! That was hard! It took me near forever to stop using too much water, despite what they say about being able to glaze like oils, I never could, and about the covering power thing! Dang!
After the divorce, the first thing I did was jump all over the oils. But, now I was hooked on other things. How fast the acrylics dried was nice sometimes. I found that buying a medium that you can mix into your oils does speed up the drying time alright. Alkyds. Thing is, I haven't been able to get some of the nice darks I like for the medium.
Almost like water soluble oils. Nice to use and water clean-able, but, try to get your "black" from viridian and alizarin crimson is next to impossible. Always turns out purplish.
(sorry, this is going on and on again, isn't it?)
On the other hand, there are other things you can do to quiet that plastic look from the end picture.
Wiping down the finished picture with white vinegar?
Actually, one of the stunts I pulled just a few years back was to paint the whole picture in drywall mud (properly applied and dried) and then go back over it with acrylics. Or wall paint, which I also use. Think of wall paints as being like guache. Opaque. WAY opaque.
But, fun. Another shiney stopper would be using what ol' Pollock used.Not enamal, but rather, sand. Sprinkle it on as you paint, though. This also gives you a wonderful ground to put pastels over on top of the acrylics.

Now, as for the brushes. First off, if you're using bristles, you can leave them for fair amounts of time in a water environment, but, don't let it be soapy. Seems that soapy water works away at bristles fast and furious (I'll betcha at least five people reading this now are groaning....yeah. Dang! Who could'a guessed that something that was supposed to clean the brush would actually eat away at the brush hairs!) Just plain water does the one thing needed for extension of time, it takes the brush out of the air, which is where it dries.
And that "crap" they sell to slow down the drying time for acrylics? Same as the product for speeding up oil drying time, it "waters" down the purity of the color and you end up using way too much to get too little return.
Am I done? Well, I could go on and on big time about it, but, dang! Why don't I just leave it at that, eh?

on Tuesday, April 4th, Howard said

I've been using Golden's MSA varnish. It's a solvent based varnish and I've not noticed much in the way of bubbles. Your right about about all the things that can be done with acrylics. I have to stop myself or everytime I bought art supplies I'd be coming home with some new medium to try.

on Tuesday, April 4th, Elise said

Thanks for all the great suggestions everyone. It feels a bit overwhelming...I really do worry about my lungs though.

In the past year I've known two people who were diagnosed with lung cancer who died from it only a couple months after the diagnosis. Very scary indeed. And I have already put years and years of damage on my lungs and kidney, i'm willing to suffer for my art...but not *die*.

I have the new air purifier which I keep next to my easle but it's not 100% effective, especially when I paint on lots of panels with liquin to thin and they are set about drying in different parts of the studio/living room.


I will stick with it a little longer but I will probably have lots more questions and throw away a lot of false starts. But, that's part of what I wanted to do this year anyway, play around and learn new stuff, not just keep doing the same things that have worked in the past. i guess I'm a bit masocistic.

on Tuesday, April 4th, Elise said

Oh, and I meant to say "kidneys"...I still have both to the best of my knowledge.

on Wednesday, April 5th, Daniel said

Back before I made my own paint/ink, I used to mix acrylics and gloss gel medium at a 50/50 consistency. I always hated the "frosted" or "pastelish" look to my acrylic paintings and found this mixture worked excellent, I can't tell you how many people I surprised when I told them it was not oil. Stay away from the water-soluable oils, the colors turn after a few years. I worked pretty heavily with first-generation of Grumbacher Max Oils back when they first emerged on the market and now many of the paintings have a iridescent tinge to them - very upsetting.

on Wednesday, April 5th, Elise said

Hi Daniel, have you ever read the book Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut?

It's about an abstract painter who has fallen out of favor because after selling paintings for thousands of dollars, the paints started to peel off the canvas (untested acrylics I belive) anyway, it's one of my favorite books and I always think of it when I use an untested medium. I've never tried water soluable oils and probably never will. Don't they know that oil and water don't mix!

Anyway, bummer about your earlier paintings but the work you're doing now is proabably a lot stronger anyway.

on Wednesday, April 5th, Jackie said

E: While I don't do LOTS of painting - I have primarily used acrylics and guache. I have Liquin ( i think that's the brand?) - which are liquid type acrylics. I stay away from the Pthalos and those other artificial-looking pigments - they are just too glaring bright. They don't blend well with others, either. My friend who is a painter swears by Golden. I use a covered plastic palette - keeps the paint from drying out for quite a while. Though after a few weeks, they do turn to plastic. Maybe mine's just too old - it's seal has worn out. If I need to travel with it, I just add a piece of Saran Wrap between the lid and the paints. I have not tried an impasto technique tho - I like the glazing effects you can get with the liquid acrylics. THe more water you add, the lighter your color, it's almost like watercolor.
I'm sure there are still some toxins in acrylics - at least certain pigments. But yeah - no fumes, just that lovely plastic odor!

Like I said - I use oil-based stains for my masks. I've tried water-based, but they just don't look the same. So I sure know where you're coming from - preferring oils over acrylics! ;)

on Wednesday, April 5th, Elise said

Do you use an air purifier when you do your oil stains Jackie? I hear those can be quite toxic too.

Anyway, sounds like there's no one out there who only paints with oil. Am I a dying breed? (no pun intended)

on Wednesday, April 5th, Jackie said

E: :blush: Nope - no air purifier here! And here I am the one who told you all about VOCs (volatile organic compounds). I do open up my garage door. I guess if it makes any difference, it only takes me 1/2 hour or so at a time to apply one coat of stain. But then as it dries, all those fumes are leaking into our house, or out into the atmosphere. Maybe if I sell some pieces this June, I can buy meself an air purifier. I will check with one of our environmental engineers at work on the stats and stuff. :rolleyes:

on Wednesday, April 5th, Elise said

I remember that! (about the VOCs) thanks so much for that, I got the Air So Pure system which specializes in removing those types of chemicals.

You really should invest in one (or something similar) mine works great.