Intro to Acrylics: The Starving Artist’s Best Friend

acrylics freeWhat exactly is acrylic paint?

A Brief History

Acrylic paint is still a baby compared to oil and watercolor paint.  It was invented in the 1940s for the purpose of painting homes. It was very durable and withstood differing temperatures on the inside and outside of homes. They were also very inexpensive to make and could be sold at affordable prices and in greater quantities. It was not until the 1950s that acrylic paint was marketed as a fine art material for artists.

The Makeup

Acrylic paint is unique in that it uses a binder of acrylic (go figure, huh?). To be more specific it is an acrylic polymer emulsion. To keep it simple for those of us who are not chemists, acrylic is a type of plastic. The liquid, acrylic plastic is mixed with the pigment (color powder). Once it leaves paint tube or bottle, the water in the paint evaporates leaving the colored plastic to harden. This why if you paint with very thick brushstrokes, it will feel like very soft plastic once it is dried. The plasticity of acrylic paint makes it very easy to apply to a myriad of surfaces. It can even act as a sealant of certain materials if you buy the right kind. That being said…

What is the difference between thinner acrylic paint and thicker acrylic paint?

As seen in the diagram in the post “Cheap vs. Expensive Paint”, the pigment and the binder are typically what causes the price range of paints to differ. In the case of acrylic paints, the thinner the paint, the less pigment and acrylic polymer are actually in the bottle. The water and other fillers allow for the liquidy texture and (since water is cheap) the drop in price. The high water content also allows for the paint to dry very quickly since water evaporates quickly.

Thick acrylic paints have a much higher quantity of acrylic polymer. Cheaper, thick paint is usually has a higher acrylic polymer content, but a lower pigment content. Acrylic itself is usually a clear substance so the less pigment, the more transparent the paint will be. This means you may need to paint several layers to cover up a previous color. It takes a lot of pigment to make cheaper paints opaque. This can be an advantage in some circumstances and a disadvantage in others.

(TIP!) Transparent means you can see through it. Opaque means that you cannot see through it.

I know that this is a lot of “lecturing” but it is good to have context on why the paint you buy may be acting a certain way. This also helps us use whatever paints we have laying around to achieve the results we want. This was a very basic overview of what acrylic paints are before one jumps into acrylic painting without a paddle.

Don’t forget to tune in over the next few days to learn how to use different kinds of acrylic paints. The paints we will be using range from liquidy craft paints and the thicker, student grade acrylic paints. Both are very affordable and easy to adjust to.

Happy Reflecting!

How to Critique You Own Work…Gently

I wanted to explain my method of how I critique my own and other artist’s artwork. You will see many critiques in the “A Drawing a Day” category so I wanted to explain my terms and methods. Scores and fails are both great to expand upon when critiquing your own work. Scores are victories showing growth and fails are areas that need more work. This is is because we truly do learn from our failures, but the scores should be highlighted as well to show that we definitely are moving in the right direction. Below are a just a few ways that I have seen and used in my journey of self-criticism.

The Sandwich Method

One method of critique is the “sandwich method” which looks like SCORE – FAIL – SCORE (if anyone has actually coined this method, please let me know!) You sandwich the fails inside the scores in order to release encouragement at the beginning and at the end of a critique.  I have seen this method end up looking something like this:

SCORE – “You did such a great job on your colors in this piece. I can see you really thought a lot about what mood you wanted to portray through the colors. However…

FAIL – “…the proportion in the piece greatly distracts from your intended message. Were you meaning to create the hands much larger than the face? Also I noticed this…and this….and a few things over here…and you should have done this…”

SCORE – “Again, overall I think you did a great job on this drawing. I am looking forward to your next piece!”

Do you see the issue here? There are some people who can do this very well, but more times than not the fails are greatly disproportionate to the scores. This is especially the case when we are critiquing ourselves. It is so easy to see what we did incorrectly instead of seeing what was right about the whole thing.

If you decide to use this method with yourself and others, please be balanced. We don’t want too much meat or sauce with not enough bread. That’s no good.

The Tender Dismemberment Method

One of my favorite college professors, Dr. Robert Don Hughes, called this next approach “Tender Dismemberment”. This is where you always say a genuine positive about the score before bringing up the fail. It can look like this Score/Fail – Score/Fail – Score/Fail.  It is bit easier to remain balanced in quantity with this approach. You have just as many scores as fails so that there is encouragement to continue and the broken pride to spark change. Here is an example,

Score 1 – You used great color in this drawing! You layered the colors so that they are the boldest you could have achieved with this medium.  

Fail 1 – Do you think the boldness of the red takes away from the beautiful green you mixed? If you lessen the boldness of the red just a little bit it may not overpower your green so much. I know you wanted to emphasize the green shirt with the red background which was a good idea, but it just might be a bit too bold. Is it too late to fix that? Is it something we can edit in the computer to see different options?

Score 2 – You did a fabulous job on the shape of the head and the details of the face. You have really grown here and gotten much better from previous attempts.

Fail 2 – What we could work on now is getting your hands into proportion with the head. Let’s take a look at how big your hands are compared to your face. Do you see what happened there? Do you know how to gauge the size for next time?

When describing scores and fails for both scenarios it is good to add details. You will have the 1 to 1 quantity down, but we need to make sure our comments have CONSTRUCTIVE criticism. Saying, “I really liked the face!” is not enough for heartfelt encouragement and saying, “His hands are too big” is not enough to reflect on to figure out how to fix it.

Here are some questions to ask yourself when looking over your own or someone else’s work.

1. What is good or done correctly according to the goal?

2. Why is this good or correct?

3. Was the goal achieved?

4. What seems off or not executed well according to the goal?

5. What can be learned from this fail?

6. How can it be edited now or better executed in the next piece?

As a last remark for tenderly dismembering a piece of art, make sure you only give one fail for every one score.

Finally, keep in mind that there must be a goal with every piece of art you make even if it is “draw a realistic likeness of my cat”. Knowing the goals of the piece will greatly affect how the questions below are answered. If we do not know each others goals it is more difficult to critique affectively. Make it a habit to write out clear goals for your daily drawings and artwork.

Happy Critiquing!

Cheap Paint vs. Expensive Paint

As you walk down the paint aisle at your local craft store, you see brands ranging from $0.99 per bottle to $15.99 per tube! What are the differences in these brands and how can I determine what I NEED for my specific project? I am so glad you asked :).

Let me start off by explaining that when it comes to paint, markers, crayons, pencils, etc. more often than not, you ARE getting what you pay for. Most of the time what you are paying for is the quality of or amount of the specific ingredients present to make the product. Paint is made by grinding different pigments and mixing them with a binder and other fillers. The ratio between these materials are what can affect the pricing. If you have a higher pigment content, your paint will be more expensive since the raw materials required to make such a color are expensive. If you have a lower pigment content, the producer can charge less since it costs them less to make.

What is the pigment and the binder and why are they necessary?

The PIGMENT is the color you are looking for. Blueberries have a natural violet-blue pigment that causes them to look blue. They are a very vibrant blue and so is there juice. Therefore, you can assume that their pigment ratio to rest of the fruit meat is very high. The same is true for paint, crayons, etc. The greater the amount of pigment and the higher quality of the pigment the brighter, bolder, and deeper your colors will be. The quality of the pigment can also determine the longevity of the color lasting over time and not fading. It also affects how much paint you need to make a new color when mixed with another.

The BINDER is what holds in the pigment in a form that allows it to be transferred to a surface. Crayons have a binder of wax. Have you ever bought really cheap crayons that do not color well or seem dried out? That is a result of insufficient pigment and a low quality binder.

Can you still make art with such crayons and the like? Of course! That is what this blog is all about.

Binders, liquids and fillers are how we can determine whether paint is classified as watercolor, acrylic, or oil. Not all binders are created equal, but then again neither are the pigments. All this to emphasize again that the price range between different brands of paint and student/professional grade paints vary as greatly as the number of colors and brands represented.


In addition to the pigment and the binder paints have other liquids and fillers. The amount of liquid can determine how runny or thick paint consistency is. Fillers can vary also and, as stated above as with everything else, they are not created equal. We will not get into all that, though there are a myriad of websites offering information on how there paint is made. Individual brands will also usually have the pigment ratios on their websites.

Looking at the diagram above, it may be easy to interpret one paint as being better than the other. Instead of using the terms cheap paint and expensive paint, it would be better to see them as fulfilling different purposes and generating different results.

Why is pigment so important anyways?

This is greatly dependent on what kind of project you are trying to complete. Pigment allows for easier mixing of colors. There is less of a learning curve when using highly pigmented color because they do not turn muddy or gray out as easily. The key then to mixing the less pigmented paint or “craft paint” would be that you need to mix much more to get the colors you desire, and even if you do mix the general “red+blue=purple”, you may not get the exact result you were imagining. The plus side of the cheaper price of craft paints is that they come in a huge variety of colors so you can just buy the color you want. Since the “thick paints” are more expensive it is important to learn the fine art of mixing in order to save money. With higher quality paints it is possible to achieve the color you want through mixing, but it takes a lot of practice and an intimate knowledge of color theory.

The best way to save money with the expensive paints is to only buy the basics (red, blue, yellow, black, and white) and mix the rest from there. For those just starting out, it may be more efficient and inexpensive for you to start out with the “buy per color” craft paint.