A subscriber asked, “What do you say to people who are acrylic snobs? One of the oil painters who is in a show with me said that it might not be a good idea for me to mention the word acrylic on the title cards. ‘After all,’ she said, ‘it’s just plastic goop.’ This hurt me and I can’t stop thinking about it. Worse, I couldn’t think of a nice comeback — nothing better than, ‘But I love acrylics!’ ”
Most of the bad attitude you hear about acrylics comes not from collectors, but from other artists. This is unfortunate because the same narrow views can work against other media — watercolour for one. As an acrylic painter myself, I get around the problem by praising oils. I’m on solid ground here — I worked in oils for thirty years. I tell folks that nothing will ever beat them for texture and workability. Only occasionally do I mention oil-based problems: darkening, yellowing, oxidizing and sinking in, etc. It’s not the pigments, it’s the medium — traditional thinners, drying oils — particularly linseed oil. Also, because of technical ignorance and creeping amateurism, oils can require early restoration — some after only a few years. Interestingly, decaying oils these days are restored with acrylic. If you’re in the mood sometime, you can check out a few of the oil painters whose work has ended up as restorer’s hell: Rothko, Ryder, Pollock, etc.
Back in high school I made some early skirmishes in acrylics. We called them co-polymers in those days. Years later I noticed that they still looked fresh and bright. Working juicy, I had discovered that in acrylic you are okay using lots of medium. As well as being a big strong molecule, as far as we know the molecule stays big, strong and clear — almost indefinitely. Of course, being a relatively new medium (about 70 years), the jury is still out, but most experts think that the future looks great for acrylic.
What’s not to love about acrylic? Let me count the ways. Apart from apparent permanence and strength, there’s flexibility, controllable opacity, colour fastness, resistance to pollutants, opportunity for variety of creative methodology, adaptability to mixed media, as well as speedy drying and cleanup. Used knowledgably, there’s less toxicity with acrylic. More than anything, glazing and scumbling in acrylic are a piece of cake.
PS: “Today, very little serious oil or fresco restoration is undertaken in anything other than acrylics.” (Ian Hebblewhite — Artists’ Materials)
Esoterica: I switched from oils to acrylics in 1974. I did it for health reasons. My price structure stayed the same. Oils/acrylics — same prices, same increases. Resistance to the medium has been infrequent and generally from the ignorant. Collectors, I’ve found, have to like what they see, and by and large they trust the artists to know what they’re doing. Medium is not such an issue. I still love oils. I delight in cruising the surfaces of the masterful ones. But I tell people, “In acrylic, what you lose on the corners, you make up for on the straights.”
This letter was orginally published as “Acrylic snobs” on June 2, 2006.
The audio letters are now ready to give as a gift!
The Letters: Vol. 1 and 2, narrated by Dave Genn, are now available for download on Amazon, here. Proceeds of sales contribute to the production of The Painter’s Keys.
“There are many ways to paint and each expression should take its unique path. That is why acrylic is so rewarding – if you understand the medium’s potential.” (Stephen Quiller)
Highlights: See all 6 Mosaic’d churches in Ravenna, a UNESCO World Heritage Site; Visit & sketch the places where Michelangelo sketched in the late 1490’s in Bologna; Wander the house where Renaissance artist Rafael’s grew up; Tour the castle that inspired a chapter in Dante’s Divine Comedy; Paint while watching the sunset over a cliff-top castle; Ride a bicycle along the beach to a Roman Bridge built in 10AD that is still in use today!; Sketch alongside Canadian artist Joanne Hastie & experience how the Italian countryside inspires her art.
Included: 7 nights accommodations, 7 gourmet breakfasts, 7 gourmet dinners (wine included) at Hotel Belvedere in Riccione; transportation to and from Riccione to each location; watercolor sketchbook, plein-air starter kit (watercolor), ink pen, eraser
$3325 CAD per person
Click here to learn more.