Sunday, January 23, 2011

Painting: Oil vs Acrylic or How I Learned to Love Acrylics

"Sunday Afternoon"
18x24 oil on canvas
Tabetha Landt Hastings
When I started painting 15-ish years ago, I started with oils. Well... that's not entirely true. I did one painting with acrylics and didn't like how quickly they dried, so I moved on to oils.  I realize now that that was a good move for someone who can't draw well. Oil painting is closer to sculpting - to me -  than drawing. Something about forming the shapes with the paint as opposed to coloring in what I've drawn. I don't draw on the canvas. I've seen artists who do, and it seems pretty cut and dry: sketch something out onto canvas, put the colors you want where you want. The problem is that I don't draw. Not well anyway. People find that hard to believe, since I paint pretty decent portraits, but it's the truth. Oil painting is more about building up the layers and forming the shapes with the paint until it looks the way I want. (I have a feeling I'd make a pretty good sculptor and in fact can't wait to get my hands in some clay).  The trouble is, oil takes forever to dry, so oil paintings can take a long time to complete. Especially if you like to lay the paint on thick like I do. My oil paintings can take anywhere from several weeks to finish, to several years. Several years because sometimes in waiting for the paint to dry I lose momentum and move on to something else.

"The Element of Surprise"
12x12 acrylic on Masonite
Tabetha Landt Hastings
I picked up acrylics as a way to make money. For years people have been suggesting I teach, but I just couldn't figure out how to teach oil painting. Adding to the problem was the fact that I've never taken a painting class - how on earth does one teach an art?! So I decided to explore acrylics thinking they would be easier to teach.
It was strange adjusting to the acrylic paint. Fast dry time wasn't the only issue; the colors weren't always the same as they were in the oils, and it just felt different applying them to the canvas. But once I got past those issues, I was hooked.  I could now whip out an entire painting in a matter of hours. Hours! Not weeks, months or years. Don't get me wrong - most of my acrylic paintings are not done in just a few hours. But the possibility exists, and that is exciting! And somehow it's changed the way I paint - at least while I'm painting with the acrylics. It's become more about applying color and less about forming shapes and 'sculpting' with the paint.
Somehow I feel more brave when I paint with acrylics. I feel less hesitant, and I experiment more. I feel less "precious" about my work. Which is not to say I don't value it; it's just to say that I let go of it easier knowing that there is so much more to come. And oh yeah - the clean up is SO much easier!!

I'd be curious to know other artists' experience. Which to you prefer, and why?

1 comment:

  1. nice article, using great equipment to measure the thickness of your paint will produce you with good information about your stuffs.