Nail those paints: the wonderful world of acrylics

Acrylics are my absolute all-time single favorite art supply. If I ever had to pare back my supplies {gasp!}, I would keep all of my tubes and bottles and jars of acrylic paints. And inktense pencils and gesso and….but, I digress. Let’s talk acrylics.

All about acrylics in depth primer to acrylic paints

I can spend a couple of hours just going over the variety and minute differences between the acrylic paints and brands available on the market, and all the ways in which you can manipulate acrylics with different mediums to achieve slightly different effects. But I’m going to distill it into the most usable and comprehensive guide geared towards art journaling.

Craft or student grade acrylics vs. artists acrylics

When you go out to get your very first set of acrylic paints, the first choice will be between student grade and artists acrylics. The main difference is the quality of paint {and of course, the price}.

Student or craft grade acrylics have a lot more fillers than pigment and tend to be more opaque and chalky. In fact, I don’t think I have found any craft acrylics that are transparent. Artist acrylics, on the other hand, are richly pigmented, which makes them really vibrant, and their smoother consistency makes them an absolute pleasure to work with. These paints also tend to have better lightfast {which means they don’t fade with exposure to sunlight} ratings than student grade acrylics. For art journals, this shouldn’t be much of a factor since your paintings will be in books that are stored on your shelf or in a drawer of cupboard.

Heavy body vs. fluid acrylics vs. acrylic inks

Acrylics are available in a variety of consistencies – extra heavy bodied, heavy bodied, fluid {or soft} acrylics, acrylic inks {or high flow acrylics}.

Extra heavy bodied and heavy bodied acrylics have a buttery consistency, making them excellent for use with a palette knife and for creating texture and body on your paintings.

Fluid {or soft bodies acrylics} are thinner and are ideal for detail work, fluid applications {like large washes of color}, watercolour effects and dry brushing.

Acrylic inks {or high-flow acrylics} are even thinner than fluid acrylics and are excellent for drips and glazes and fine, controlled brushwork and lettering.

Which of these consistencies you choose depends a lot on the kind of results you are after. As a starting point, it’s a good idea to get some heavy bodied acrylics, as these can be thinned down with water or an acrylic medium as needed.

Tip: Do not mix acrylics with too much water as it could break down the binder in the paint, causing it to flake off the surface. The ratio of water to acrylics shouldn’t be more than 50:50. If you want anything thinner, use a fluid matte medium.

Let’s talk brands

When you start watching YouTube videos and doing some research, you’ll see that a majority of artists use Golden brand fluid acrylics. You’ll also see a lot of art journaling artists raving over distress paints and Dylusions paints. And once you start to explore those further, you will fall into the rabbit hole of various artists offering their own line of acrylic paints. Each of these promises a formulation that is slightly different than the other paints on the market, and you will want to run out and buy up all of them.

And since I have done just that {ahem!}, allow me to let you on a secret: Yes, some of these paints do some wonderful things – distress paints react beautifully with water and Dylusions dry super fast and are easy to write and stamp over. But are these all wondrous paints that you absolutely have to have to create your next masterpiece? Well, no.

Your starter Acrylic paint kit

When you’re starting out, stick to the basics is my humble suggestion. If you are based in India, stick to Camel – get a few small tubes of Camel Artists acrylics and a few small bottles of camel fabrica acrylics. The fabrica acrylics are similar in consistency to Golden fluid acrylics.

If you start to enjoy and want to splurge a bit, pick a few tubes of Pebeo, Liquitex Basics, or Tim Holt’s {Ranger} distress paints.

Golden fluid acrylics are crazily expensive in India, the heavy bodied Golden paints are cheaper. And even they are expensive, really really expensive. So expensive that you will not want to use them. Yes, they are jewel like and wondrous to behold, but there are plenty of other yummy supplies you can get instead.

I hope this brief guide demystifies acrylics and inspires you to give them a go! If you have any questions, do leave them in the comments and I’ll help you as best as I can!

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14 Comments

  1. Acrylics are my favorite too. They’re so versatile. I used to enjoy using acrylics right from the tubes directly onto the canvas, sometimes using my fingers to spread the colors. Uff…you’ve made me nostalgic now! Will have to look for my colors. 🙂

  2. I too found out that these paints are really expensive here in India. I use basic acrylic colors by Camlin or fevicryl.

    • Camel is a good brand. Their artist grade paints are also quite nice, and they don’t break the bank! 😉

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