(This is an older article I resurrected for some folks. Enjoy!)
“Why do you use acrylic paints versus oils?” This is a question that I get asked so regularly. Firstly, it seems funny to me that so many people feel that using acrylics is subadequate than using oil paints. Granted, oils have been around for centuries and were wisely used by the masters. For those of us that do not frequent contemporary art galleries or museums, oils seem prominently used because that is what we see. We only see acrylics when we are viewing contemporary pieces because acrylics are a fairly new medium.
Developed in the late 1940’s, acrylic paints are a synthetic paint made from pigments blended with synthetics, such as polymethyl acid esters. Since acrylics are water soluble, they are very versatile lending themselves to be used on a multitude of surfaces, mixed and used as different washes, and clean up easily. In addition, their smell is less toxic than that of oils making it easier to paint in poorly-ventilated areas. Many painters begin with acrylics because some companies provide less expensive acrylic paints than oils. However, many experienced artists choose acrylics over oils for their many benefits such as …
I particularly like acrylics because acrylic paints have less fumes than oils. In winter in Tahoe, windows need to remain closed to preserve heat and using oils would mean needing ventilation. I also like the drying properties of acrylics. Acrylics dry in less than a half an hour where oils can stay wet for three days. I have two giant dogs who shed hair like crazy. Just think of how much dog hair would be in those paintings if they were oil! In addition, since the drying process is fairly short, I can work wet on dry and avoid smudging earlier layers. I also work on several pieces at one time because of my layering process. Having a layer in one painting dry while I’m working on another keeps my creative energy going. When I am done with one layer of a painting, the layer in the previous painting is already dry. This way I can continue painting in the way I enjoy because my paints are dry.
I highly recommend sampling acrylics to many 2-dimensional artists out there. You will be surprised at the versatility in transparent washes to opaque layers. And to art lovers, take some time investigating contemporary artists and their mediums. We have had a long time to enjoy the masters- let’s take some time to appreciate the artists who are living among us today.
Recommendations: To people who are interested in painting, I would suggest sampling a small set of acrylics (white, red, yellow, blue, black, brown). Again, since you are sampling them, you should be able to find a sampler kit for under $20, along with a few brushes (a 2″-3″ flat for a wash/background/gessoing, 1″ flat, and a #5, #10, or #1 round, depending on how much you want to spend).