Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Should We Paint in Oil or Acrylic?

Camellia Japonica Sky zazzle_card

The discussion has gone on all week. Paul was introduced to painting in oils as a young teen and found it easy and quite user friendly. When he decided to try painting again as an adult he found his first experiences with acrylic somewhat challenging. Acrylic dries too fast for Bob Ross style wet on wet techniques and it's maddening to have the paint drying on the brush and palette before you get part way done. On the other hand it also encouraged him to paint more quickly with more boldness and spontaneity and we both think his first effort came out quite good. But for his next project he went back to oils and enjoyed the process very much. His strokes were more textured like a Van Gogh painting and more beautifully catch the light. Of course, a couple of days later they're still wet so they ought to be reflecting more light! That's the distinct downside of working in oils from my point of view.

I was introduced to acrylics when I was a young teen. Not having anything to compare it to I got used to working in acrylic, adding mediums and a little bit of water to keep my paints wet. I never learned wet-on-wet painting techniques but later, as an adult, I did learn to create an underpainting and use glazes for specific color effects and shading. And this is what I like best about acrylics: in oil painting I'd have to wait a week or more for the bottom layer to dry before continuing to paint. Acrylics dry in an hour or less.

And yet I find myself excited about Paul venturing back into oils. Acrylic paint can be used to achieve effects similar to oil paint if you use gel mediums and develop sufficient technique. But the paint alone tends to have a much more "flat" effect. What does that mean? Well, another artist I know describes oil paint as having the quality of being able to see into it. Without needing to add any kind of extender the paint has a transparency and depth that brings color and luminosity that isn't easy for a beginner to achieve with acrylic paint (and I, like Paul, took such a long break between my teenage painting years and taking up the pursuit again that I still place myself in at least an advanced beginner category).

I love the flat effect in many kinds of work. David Hockney is an example of a well-known and well-respected artist who has used acrylics to great effect as are pop artists Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein.  And certainly there are many artists who create acrylic paintings that look as luminous as any oil painting. Local Chico artist Caitlin Schwerin comes to mind. I really like what I can do in acrylic and yet... the last few times Paul and I went gallery hopping I couldn't take my eyes off the oil paintings. I'm afraid to try them—I've been telling myself to just add gel medium and keep practicing! But I may just have to experiment to find out what I can do to achieve the effects I want with each of them.

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