When I say ‘mediums’ I do not mean the kind who reads your palms, bends fresh air into ectoplasm or gazes into the stars and tells your future. (You can still go to these ladies and gents if you want of course, but they really don’t mix well with acrylics unless they’re water soluble!) No. Mediums are those products which enhance your paint and give it properties which it doesn’t already have, and which you wish it had! Read on!
Retarding Medium (Retarder).
This is a useful medium if you’re making the transition from oil painting to acrylics. I’ve been working with acrylics for twenty years now, and one of the things I like about it is that it dries fast and I don’t have to wait days for it to be touchable. However, you may get a real fright when you put your brush on a dry surface if you’re used to the texture and feel of oils. A retarder keeps the paint wet so that you can blend for a short time, giving the feel of oils. It won’t stay wet as long as oil paint though.
Flow Improver (Aid)
You can thin your paint with water (duh! No brainer!) And dilute it down to the consistency of watercolour if you wish, but the more water you add the less pigment there is, and your colours will become transparent. That’s fine if it’s the effect you want, but if you’d like to thin down your paint and not affect the color you can use a flow improver which dilutes without compromising the color strength.
Gel medium is fabulous if you like to paint thickly (impasto – isn’t that a great word)? It’s gluey enough to retain bristle marks, and because it’s sticky it’s good for collages. I tried a collage with ordinary acrylics and it was a complete non-starter. Use this stuff; it works. Trust me – I’m an artist… Oh, I forgot to mention that it comes in matte or gloss.
Yum! Now we’re talking! Modeling paste can be added to your pain to make it thick enough to be molded. It’s stiff enough to use for relief work and can be sanded and sculpted after it’s dry, giving a whole new dimension to your paintings (a third one, in fact)!
Now this is where the fun REALLY starts! I LOVE this stuff! It’s similar to modelling paste but more so. It’s kids’ stuff for grown-ups. Imagine you’d like to imitate the texture of sand. No problem! Go and get a handful of the gritty brown stuff and chuck it in! Mud, sticks, tree bark, beads, hair – the list is endless and only limited by your imagination. In fact,Informative I feel the urge to go and get some right now…
Glazing Medium and Gloss Medium are very similar. Both will enhance the sheen of the paint’s surface and thin it down so that you can work in washes. Glazing medium is also available in satin finish if you don’t want that – ‘where are my sunglasses’??? shine.
Some artists like a completely non-reflective finish. Because acrylics are by nature a slightly glossy product they can be mixed with a matte medium to give that army-jeep absolutely flat finish. If you’re not so passionate about military vehicles you can use a 50/50 mix of matte and gloss to give your painting a hint of a glint. This is just fine for me.
A few words about acrylics: one of the big problems with using my favourite medium is its drying time, as mentioned before. It tends to dry faster in hot weather, so I’ve found that keeping it at the bottom of the fridge in a polythene bag keeps it wet for a short timeif you need to be somewhere else or you have leftover paint. (Be careful that you don’t end up with purple tomatoes or rainbow colored lamb chops, though!) Another alternative is a stay-wet palette which you can buy at most art suppliers.
One more thing: DO NOT under any circumstances try to use additives meant for oil paints in your acrylics. Oils are organic and oil based and acrylics are water-based and synthetic. Oil and water don’t mix. If you try to make them – I know from bitter experience that it won’t work.
Happy Days! xxx