This will be about my views on what it takes to put a three dimensional world onto a two dimensional surface. With a lot of digressing.
Don't forget to leave a comment, or a question if you have one, below the post. Thanks.


May 19, 2009


For the beginners, the curious, and the penurious

This is a table in my studio, not an ad for a brand .

I can't imagine a more tortuous way to paint than to squeeze acrylic paint out of a tube onto a disposable paper palette and, using a nylon brush, apply the paint to canvas board.
Yet this is the way a lot of beginners in acrylics paint. No wonder
they go back to oils, or watercolors, or give up altogether.
In its natural state, acrylic paint is fluid. It takes a lot of filler to
have it come out of a tube like oils.

But this seems to be what a lot of people want, and with no smell, quick dry, and water wash up. Oh boy.
The quick drying, however, causes problems; it hardens on the
palette while you're trying to manipulate it on the canvas. So you mix your colors on the palette, add some retarder (something relatively new), and keep trying.
Meanwhile you may have forgotten to keep your brushes in water.

Oh dear.
If you can deal with this and come up with a painting that works
on all levels I salute you. Remember, however, that canvas board will always brand you as an amateur.
A beginner will think," how can I put money into art supplies until
I know if I'm going to like it or, especially, be good at it?"

But....How can you enjoy the process and turn out something you're pleased with when every step is frustrating?

1. If you already own acrylic paint in tubes, fear not. Throw out the cheap brands. Collect a lot of small glass jars with screw-on lids. Baby food, Jr. size, is good. If no babies are in reach, buy the vegetables anyway and put them in soup or gravy. Pimento jars are good.

Shop with small glass jars in mind.
Even using fluid acrylics, I make a lot of mixes in jars. Different shades, tonalities, etc. I've always used gesso instead of white for mixes. Its cheaper, tougher, and has less gloss.

2. Squeeze each tube into a jar, add a little distilled water, and stir. Don't thin more than 25% or so. Distilled water is important if you have a well, especially if there's a lot of iron in your water. I've known it to subtly change a color. If you have a well with a filter system that uses salt, not good for paint. This may be nit-picking to some, but paint is expensive. For you high-fliers, the last time I looked Cobalt Blue was going for $ 3 to 5 per liquid oz. That makes a quart cost..... well never mind.

3. This is a good time to experiment with mixing leftover colors and put the results in a jar. Use any brush that feels right- bristle, nylon, or mixes. Just keep them from drying out. My favorite is mongoose.

4. For long term storage, or if you live in a hot climate, use about a tablespoon of white vinegar to each 8 oz. of water and use a little to top the jars.
It should prevent mold, which sometimes happens, and won't hurt the paint.
If you do find some mold, that won't hurt the paint either, just scoop it out.

5. If you work from the jars, you will almost certainly contaminate the colors with your brush. A sensible palette is a Teflon mini-muffin pan. 12 or 24 size. Using disposable tongue depressors, coffee mixers, or plastic spoons scoop from the jars into the muffin pan. The paint will last longer, and its easy cleanup. When there's too much built-up dried-up paint, immerse the pan in warm water and let it sit awhile.
The paint will peel off nicely. And can be used in a collage, even. Don't laugh, top prize in a museum show was won with a small sculpture covered with paint peelings. I knew what they were.


  1. I would have to leave a comment, if for no other reason than to compliment you on your subtitle!! Loved it! Thanks for these excellent tips on working with acrylics. I might be inspired to give them another try now.

  2. Thanks Chris-As a suprimo watercolorist if you don't already use the fluids, you should.
    I guess you know that low price sample sets are avaiable?

  3. What a practical post! Thanks for the benefit of your experience.

  4. You're very welcome.
    I'll be doing some tips for oils also. Plus oils over acrylics.

  5. Low price sample sets?? Tell me more...

  6. Great tips. When I painted in acrylics the muffin tin was my friend-- i still recommend to acrylic users. As were the old 35mm film cans-- the plastic ones. My dad even made a 'stand' for them; drilling wide wells into a length of 2 x 4, that the plastic containers fit snugly into. We were big fans of Golden in those days.

  7. Chris:You'll find starter/sample/introductory sets in the art supply catalogues. Although 2 0z bottles in the primary colors will do as well.Especially if you only want to try the transparent colors.
    RGb:You've reminded me about the film cannisters, way back when. Thanks, a good tip.
    A blessing for the muffin tins is they can be covered with saran wrap.