Among the new and old friends who came to Banff last Saturday was a burgeoning painter who told me about a recent switch from oil to acrylics. “Those acrylics, they dry too fast,” he said. “How do I get that stopped?” I glanced over his shoulder at a painting done by my dad while sitting in the sunbeam of a glacier not far from where we were standing. “At first, they dry too quickly,” I said. “With time you may find that they don’t dry quickly enough.” We talked about remedies to keep the paints moist, like dribbling medium over the palette and setting it on a wet sponge. We discussed Open Acrylics and their greasier consistency and how they’re slower to dry.
When asked whether she preferred dancing with Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly, Cyd Charisse replied, “It’s like comparing apples and oranges. They’re both delicious.” Oil, in its buttery decadence, offers the gift of patience and planning. It seduces new painters with time-honoured stages of mastery and holds onto experienced ones with the possibilities for technical rebellion. In his 1890 Manual of Oil Painting, English portraitist John Collier implored his readers to never touch an oil painting unless it’s very dry or very wet. “There is nothing more fatal than to work at a picture when it is sticky,” he chided. Perhaps this constant danger helps oil retain its abiding supremacy.
And so, why switch? The zippy, flexible, full-coverage, easy clean-up, fresh ease of acrylic beckons with a promise of convenience and new possibilities, with the turmoil left behind in the wet box.
PS: “Acrylic may not be for everyone, but it is used by more artists today that any other painting medium.” (Stephen Quiller)
“Flesh was the reason oil paint was invented.” (Willem de Kooning)
Esoterica: “Even when we have done our best to hasten the drying of our picture, it will certainly not be in a fit state to work on again until a clear day has elapsed,” wrote Collier in his Manual for Oil Painting. “This is one of the serious inconveniences of oil painting; but it can be easily met by having two pictures going on on alternate days, which is not a bad thing in other ways, as the change of subject gives the eye a rest.” And if you’re thinking of making the switch, you can still work simultaneously on multiples for fun, for a change of subject and to rest the eye. When they don’t dry quickly enough, you can paint in the sun, use a hairdryer, or even perch them on stands over the baseboard heater, as my dad was prone to do.
“I work in whatever medium likes me at the moment.” (Marc Chagall)
There’s a hush… a palpable electric presence radiating from some of the paintings in New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and in the galleries of the Frick Collection.