Painting With Acrylics And Oils

Painting with acrylics and oils has advantages when combining the two mediums. This article outlines the process for artists.

Acrylics and oils do not mix. There reason is simple; one medium is oil based and the other water based--and oil and water never mix. You cannot mix acrylic and oil together as this will result in a gooey mess.

There are however other methods of using the two mediums together which are also a great aid to painters.

In Oil painting it is a traditional technique to paint an underpainting or a rough sketch on the canvas before finalizing your painting. Oils also take a considerable time to dry, especially if the paint is thick or contain a large amount of oily medium. This can be from weeks to months, depending on the amount of the humidity in the atmosphere. The usual way to painting an oil begins with the underpainting where the essential ideas and designs are worked out in rough. Underpainting also has the additional advantage of being visible through other glazed layers on top of it and thereby influencing the finished painting. By using an acrylic layer as an underpainting one has all the advantage of an oil underpainting while also saving time.

The What and Why of Acrylic

Acrylic is a polymer-based medium and is essentially plastic in nature. The rapid drying time that can be a disadvantage when one wants to develop and blend a painting, can be a blessing when the artist wants to establish the painting quickly.

Acrylics can be applied using all the normal oil based painting techniques, including glazing. Acrylics respond very well to thinning and can be painted over in fairly rapid succession. One can also paint thickly in an impasto style with acrylics.

The Underpainting.

Although many critics of acrylics claim that this medium does not adhere well to canvas, this is not the case in practice. Acrylics will adhere well to the rough surface of a canvas board or a stretched canvas frame. All one needs is a basic set of acrylics and water or acrylic medium that is especially manufactured for thinning the paint. Begin with a wash on the canvas. A wash is diluted mixture of the paint in water. Using a large brush paint on the canvas and roughly sketch the outlines and the areas for your painting. As a test you could use human torso as the subject. Taking diluted acrylic black or gray paint on your brush, outline the shape of the head and shoulders. Using acrylics in this way gives the artist a feeling of freedom to express himself, as this is only the initial planning stage for the painting.

Continue with your sketch using only the black or dark colors. You will notice that the acrylics only take a few minutes to dry and one can paint over each layer within a few minutes.

Continue experimenting with thin acrylics in this way until you have defined your general design of the painting.

Acrylics and texture

One of the great advantages of using acrylic an as underpainting for oil is the development of texture. Because of its quick-drying nature, acrylics can build up textural areas within a few minutes. On your test design, experiments with a few areas. In the example of a face, use the hair or the shadow areas and, taking some pure acrylic from the tube, apply the paint to certain areas with a palette knife. This will take a fair amount of practice before any confidence is achieved. The reason for this is that one can only see the final affects of texture once the oil is applied over the texture. Experimentation in painting is essential and do not be disillusioned if the first few paintings do not quite live up your high expectations. Remember that many famous artists threw away canvases that had not "worked", even at the height of their success and artistic proficiency. Texture can also be applied to the other areas. The use of texture is a vast subject and we are only touching on some basic issues here.

Applying the oil

Once you are satisfied that you have created an underpinning that will guide you in your work, the time has come to start painting in oils. Use turpentine or a mixture of turpentine and linseed oil to ensure that your initial coat of oil paint is thin. The first task is to extend the underpainting using oils. Most importantly, make sure that the acrylic is completely and absolutely dry. Wet acrylic mixed with oils is a disaster. Always remember that this process cannot be revered. In other words, you cannot paint acrylic over oil! Another important tip is to separate your tubes of oil paints and acrylics so that you don't mistakenly take color from an acrylic instead of an oil tube. Many is the time that I have grabbed a tube of oil in the throes of some great insight or movement on the canvas, only to find that it was a tube of acrylic paint.

As the work progresses you can begin to apply thicker and more substantial layers of oil to your painting. The purpose of painting thinly in oil at the beginning is to be able to see the guiding acrylic underpainting. Another important technique is called rubbing back. This means that you can take a clean cloth and rub the oil back to reveal the layers of acrylic beneath. As you progress and use these techniques you should find that the acrylic underpainting supports and adds depth and luminosity to your oil painting.

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