The Chemistry of Acrylics

Acrylic paint is my favorite media to work with. It dries quickly which makes it easy to layer and cleans up effortlessly with soap and water. The paint is not as diluted as watercolor, but can be manipulated to produce a sheer look. The colors available are unlimited and can be mixed to create unique hues. My favorite acrylic paints are Liquitex professional acrylics. I also use Liquitex Basics which are still great paints at a reasonable price. The nice part about their paints is that they are formulated to be inter-mixable which removes any worry about compatibility. There are also many types of mediums available to change the texture and transparency of the acrylic paint.
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Understanding how the type of media we are using works allows us to manipulate what products we are using to achieve a desired result. Acrylic paint is water soluble which means that it can be diluted easily with water or used with other water soluble mediums. Since oil and water don’t mix, it is important to use media that is compatible. Mixing chemicals can not only be dangerous, but also affect the way the paint behaves when it is used. Only hydrophilic materials will dissolve in water. Water is a polar molecule with the Hydrogen ends slightly positive and the negative ends slightly negative. Non-polar molecules have a neutral charge and have neither a positive or a negative end. These non-polar molecules are hydrophobic and get repelled by water.

Knowing how to use mediums will produce more flexibility in how the paint can be used. Since acrylic paint dries so quickly, it can become frustrating to work with if you need it to dry more slowly. The amount of time the paint stays wet and workable is referred to as open time. Gel mediums will increase the open time, add body, and extend the volume of the paint.
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Fluid mediums reduce the viscosity of the paint making it thinner and increases the flow of the paint. They can be used to dilute the paint instead of using water and will ensure the paint does not crack when it dries. Over diluting with water could break down the viscosity of the paint too much for the desired result.

The surface you choose to paint is just as important as the paints you choose to work with. I prefer to work on stretched canvas that has been coated with a layer of Gesso. This is a very inexpensive surface primer that works best on porous surfaces such as canvas, wood, and paper. The stretched canvas available in common craft stores are ready to use and already have a coating of Gesso on them. If you plan to make your own canvas, I would suggest at least two coats of Gesso to prepare it. Once the painting is complete I suggest using a water based polymer protective finish such as Minwax Polycrylic which can be purchased at a local hardware store. Given this basic understanding of acrylic paints, it is now time to create; Happy painting!

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