Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Is there a Difference in Acrylic Paint?

I'm in the process of doing mixed media mini paintings combining giclee prints on canvas with traditional art materials like acrylic paint and gel medium. This Buddha painting was the first one and in the process of painting the background I started to wonder if I might invest in better paint... or even if I could. After all I was using one of the best known acrylic heavy body paints in the business—Liquitex— and I always thought they were pretty darn good.

But on this piece I noticed the paint was too heavy. It didn't spread well enough and while I could mix some gloss medium in (and I did) I really like the intense pigment of paint used straight out of the tube.

As "luck" would have it I currently have a part-time job at an art supply store -- Ellis Arts in Chico, CA -- and getting to know the inventory so I can do a good job selling it is kind of part of my job responsibilities.

So, with full support of my boss, I got to sample paint. We have several lines of acrylic paint at Ellis. Golden, Liquitex and Graham are the "professional" grade brands. We also carry student and craft grade paints. I tried out the Galleria series by Winsor and Newton and Art Advantage.

Was there a difference? Yes!

First off, all the brands made a similar color mark on the page — Mars Black was the color I tried. But the Galleria and Art Advantage paints were matte finish instead of glossy. That means they don't reflect light very well and if that's the effect you want then it would be good enough. Not for me, but since we're on the subject — for those who care — the next question is, of course, was there a difference in those two brands? Way big! The Art Advantage is very inexpensive — which means you get a lot more for the money — but the Galleria was a much darker paint. You'd have to use more of the Art Advantage for the same effect. Basically, pile it on thick and be glad it's cheap enough to do so.

But I don't like the matte effect. I want the most intense colors I can get and I love sparkle and shine. Glossy paint looks wet even when dry and to me the colors always look much more vibrant. So I ruled out the student grade paint right away and turned my attention to the professional ones.

This is where having a photo of the test on the internet could really win the day. Of course, I don't have one -- maybe I'll get one later -- but it's not the color you need to see. The color looked very much the same across the same brands. All glossy, all deep black, all pretty much what you'd expect, but the smoothness and coverage was wildly different. The Golden (the most expensive and currently the most respected brand) and the Liquitex worked pretty much the same. But the Graham was amazingly different. Glossier, smoother, and intense coverage all the way down the page.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention... all the way down the page? What was the test? Me and another employee swiped a small amount of paint from the top of the tube and wiped our fingers clean on a clean sheet of white paper. Approximately the same amount of paint was used for each test. Liquitex and Golden swiped about a third of the way down a 6 inch piece of paper before starting to fade out. Graham made it all the way across—keeping its intensity almost the entire way.

That's the paint I want for the work I'm doing now. Great color, great smoothness—a pleasure to work with—and the very best gloss. It's the least expensive professional grade acrylic paint our store carries which always makes people suspicious. But when you're not as well known in the business, apparently, you have to try harder. It feels REALLY weird to be writing what is essentially an ad for some company's paint and not be receiving a kickback or anything. But it's also weird to be launching into the business of trying to sell my paintings and wanting to share a bit about the process of something as mundane as choosing a brand of paint.

(But I guess that's what blogs are for.)

The Buddha mini-painting above is for sale in my Etsy shop.

No comments: