265: Why Paint With Acrylics?

Closeup showing Zinc White texture

SOME have asked if I’m abandoning oils in favor of acrylics. The answer is I continue to use both depending on what traits I need. Generally I use acrylics for my large abstracts and oils for my landscapes.

It may not be evident in the photos but my abstracts have passages of extremely thick paint. I tried such thickness with oils and found the paint dried with an excessive and aesthetically unpleasant crinkling–and in many cases the paint isn’t even dry all the way through and won’t be for years. By adding a variety of additives to acrylics I can get the paint as thick as I want–to the point of becoming sculptural.

One reality of oil paints is that, given enough time, all oil paintings crack. That is not true with acrylics. In thinner applications I can deal with future cracking in oils because it will be decades if not centuries before any cracks appear.

Generally oil on canvas will crack in 100 years and oil on linen will crack in 150 years. Linen on a reinforced panel is the best option for oils. Oil paintings that use Zinc White, one of my favorite whites, are especially prone to cracking (read article here). If you look at the paintings of skies by the impressionists you will see patches of white riddled with cracks. If they had used Lead White, a white with a more robust paint film, there would be less cracking. The techniques of Maxfield Parrish if painted today could have been done in acrylics–which would have spared them from the cracking that tragically mar his work.

Acrylics will not crack under any circumstances so I can use a canvas substrate (which I like for its light weight), I can use the paint as thick as I want, and I can use Zinc White which I love for its temperature neutrality, semi-translucency, and creamy consistency. I can also add substances such as sand, chalk, and crushed plaster-of-paris to the thick paint to create exotic textures. In oils the paint film might not be strong enough nor able to be reinforced with layers of subsequent mediums.

So are there any drawbacks with acrylics? When I’m painting a landscape I prefer a longer drying time. I also prefer texture that will not diminish as it dries (acrylics tend to flatten as the water evaporates from the paint film). Unlike oils, acrylics can be sanded only with great difficulty. Abstract oils can be sanded to create amazing textures. If a flexible sandable medium could be added to acrylic paint it would be the perfect medium for abstracts.

These are highly personal observations. Let me know how you exploit the contrast of acrylics and oils.

Brad Teare –January 2016

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Updated: 26th September 2023
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