When I was a Fine Art major back in the 1970’s, the pursuit to master the classic painting mediums of oil and watercolor was still the distinct preference over the encouragement of acrylic artists. In fact, there was only one acrylic painting course offered in realism, wherein your chosen image was projected onto the canvas for you to basically copy. I never did explore acrylic painting then as I had my own preference for the more fluid and free flow found in watercolor. But a few years later, I discovered the wonder of watering down acrylic paints which ultimately replaced my use of watercolor paints entirely. I became one of those modern acrylic artists and versatile creativity was at my fingertips for a multitude of diverse expressions.
The emergence of acrylic painting has only occurred within the past century while we can trace watercolor painting back to the Renaissance and oil painting back hundreds of years. Acrylic paint was first explored by a German chemist named Otto Rohm at the beginning of the century with experiments in the combination of oil and watercolor elements. While acrylic resins in these early years were mostly used for industrial purposes, artists began their own experiments and application exploration with these new synthetic paints. By the 1940’s, the first acrylic paint to hit the market was called Magna paint, which was enthusiastically embraced by the well know artists of the time: Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Roy Lichtenstein to name a few. However, Magna paint was still an oil based paint. It was not until 1953-1955 that water based acrylic artist paints became commercially available, with both the current popular brands of Liquitex and Golden as initial pioneers of these first product lines. The history of acrylic painting opened a new door of creativity for artists.
It is interesting how the emergence of acrylic paints coincided with the artistic movements of Pop Art, Abstract Expressionism as well as PhotoRealism. The timing could not have been more perfect, as acrylics presented these blossoming, modern artists a new medium for their creative expression. The use of acrylic paints in modern art allowed for the emphasis of distinct lines, bold colors and hard edges in two dimensional images as characterized by the works of Helen Frankenthaler, Andy Warhol and Robert Motherwell. Acrylic paints further afforded the versatility of mixing this media with various agents to either dull or enhance the finish, or of creating diverse textures through mixing certain elements, like sand, into the paint. The range of acrylic media flexibility extends to the use of color as transparent washes or opaque, thick layers of paint; the addition of acrylic medium gels or pastes for sculptured features; and the capacity for acrylics to bond to a variety of surfaces. In short, the introduction of acrylic media into the art world spawned a new era of creative possibilities, and the potential for innovative artistic expressions which continues today.
Whenever I have exhibited my acrylic paintings for sale, most all viewers believe they are looking at watercolors on paper. This is a testimony to the flexibility of acrylic paints to be thinned with water, and treated in the manner of watercolor paints. While I employ many watercolor painting techniques in using acrylics, my only limitation is the inability to rehydrate washes once they have dried, a nice quality belonging to watercolors. Therefore, I tend to work more carefully when applying washes of color using acrylic paints. I far prefer all the many color choices available with acrylic paints compared to watercolors, especially the new additions of fluorescent and iridescent paints.
Perhaps one of the greatest benefits of doing acrylic paintings is the increase in productivity due to their quick drying time. While I am not limited to being an acrylic artist, I do love the immediate gratification of painting in acrylics. When I work on canvas, my preferred medium is Aqua Oils, which though they are water based, have a similar slow drying time as oils. When I start a work on canvas, my gratification is weeks away! Acrylic paints, as well as aqua oils, also provide a safer, less toxic environment in which artists can work.
The world of acrylic artists is an endless stream of fresh ideas and inspiration. I know artists who use acrylics to paint murals, paint on metal, stone, wood and glass and layer newspapers, comics, plants, shells, fabric and more into their paintings using acrylic mediums. I have artist friends who have businesses painting acrylics on furniture, mirrors, boxes, flower pots, recycled scrap metal and more. I have another business where I use acrylics to paint canvas rugs known as floorcloths. I am always excited, when I visit a gallery space or an online art gallery, to witness the creative versatility of artists made possible by the invention of acrylic paint. I wonder what will be next!