Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Acrylics and alkyds

Constable, Chain Pier from artrenewal.org
I have to begin tonight with a correction. I mistakenly said that linseed oil used as a food was called rapeseed oil. Rapeseed oil is canola oil. I was wrong and several readers set me straight in my e-mail. My apologies.

I was asked in the comments about the permanence of alkyds and acrylics.
  • Alkyds are made by treating drying oils, such as linseed or soybean with an acid. There are two ways of introducing alkyd into your painting. The first and most common is the use of an alkyd medium. Liquin and Galkyd are the best known alkyd mediums. I use Liquin . Graham also makes a walnut oil based alkyd. The Graham is the most glossy followed by the Galkyd with the Liquin having a more satin finish. They give a faster drying time and help prevent drying in. That is when the darks in a painting lose their gloss and look matte compared to other parts of the picture.The second means of introducing alkyd into a painting is the use alkyd paints. There are now several on the market. The only one I have used is Griffin alkyd made by Winsor Newton. I have used their alkyd white for periods of time and added a few colors of theirs to my ordinary palette. Regular oil paint and alkyds are compatible and can be used together. Alkyd makes a tougher paint film that ordinary oil and it has a flexible :"rubberyness" that is very durable. It lacks some of the "jewel like" look of oil paint. Some people find the vapors from the evaporating alkyd mediums irritating to their sinuses.
  • Acrylics, formerly called polymer colors, are a plastic based paint that has become very common with "modern" artists and are less commonly used by traditional painters. The drawback of these paints is their rapid drying time. While that might seem an advantage, the longer open time of oils allows greater manipulation of the paint, such as blending, before it dries. I don't like working with them. They have been around since the late sixties and while they seem to be permanent, I suspect they are probably less so than oils.They are still well within the boundaries of archival and if you like using them I wouldn't worry about that. They look a a little different than oil on canvas and I feel they have a slightly plasticy look to them. They often seem to lack the glow of an oil painting. There are many brands of acrylic that are more student grade than professional. They are often marketed to students and amateurs. Almost none of the paintings in the galleries I show in are acrylic. I think the buyers prefer to hear oil rather than acrylic. In the "modern" art world this seems to be reversed and there are more acrylic paintings. Acrylics do not require noxious solvents though, and that is the major reason for their popularity I think.


Lefteris C said...

"Acrylics do not require noxious solvents though, and that is the major reason for their popularity I think."

Yes, as an amateur painter, that's the reason I choose acrylics. It can be irritating to work in a small place with solvents like turpentine. Although the color differences when dry are irritating, and wet-on-wet is practically not an option.

mariandioguardi.com said...

Oh boy! I get to give my little lecture on acrylics here.
Often I have students want to tell me how much better acrylics are because of an easier clean up - water clean up. OK, what they don't realize is that because they can pour their dirty paint water down the drain- and they do- they are still pouring down all the heavy metals and paint contaminants into the environment.

With oils - dirty solvents get collected, turned in to the hazardous waste dump and taken care of in "approved" ways. So there are reasons for artists to use Acrylics (see comment above) but please do not pour your water down the drain! It's still hazardous. Same for water colors.

Philip Koch said...

Every once in a long while I'll see an acrylic painter who manages to get huge passages with intricate gradations of color, and lots of drawing in there too (think skies). How they do it I have no idea. Maybe they've figured out how to use those drying retarding agents they sell. Still, I think for 99% of artists, one is just better off using oil pigments. Once one learns how to handle them they're like a beautiful thoroughbred horse- they will take you wherever you need to go.

willek said...

After my training as a pharmacist (back in the late fifties, it was a broad scientific education) I have come to believe that as far as chemicals are concerned, simpler is best. To me, mixing oils and drying agents and media is like mixing medicines, the adverse possibilities go up by powers of magnitude.

Bill said...

The fast drying time of acrylic is something you can use to advantage, like if you are interested in layering effects. You can experiment with many different techniques in a short period of time. However, not all that experience translates well to oils, because with acrylic it's safer to suspend a smaller amount of pigment in a larger amount of medium than would be advisable for oils. I think acrylic's versatility is in the wide range of mediums, effects, and textures available, where with oils, it's usually best to be restrained in the use of medium. Even so, I just like oil paints better.

Thomas Jefferson Kitts said...


Some facts...

An alkyd oil paint, and alkyd resins purposed for paint mediums, are created by processing an organic oil with form of acid AND an alcohol. Not just an acid. The various ways to do this are considered trade secrets by bulk manufacturers so we artists are not allowed to know much about them. The process produce a partially pre-polymerized oil which 'dries' more quickly than a related unmodified oil does, although the film does dry in a similar manner, which is why we can use both intermixed. It is true that an alkyd-based paint film is considered to be more durable than a linseed, walnut, or poppyseed oil equivalent, but that was determined using accelerated aging tests, and not via an actual real-world time frame.

It is important to note that manufacturers of artist's oil paint do not make their own alkyd resins, but buy them in bulk instead. Alkyd resins are produced by major chemical companies at the rate of 200,000 tons per year, out of many different oils. Some even out of what would be a non-drying oil such as castor – and our artistic use of them is minuscule as compared to other industrial applications.

Gamblin prefers to use a soy-based alkyd for its product line, ostensively because it yellows less than other naturally drying oils, and M. Gramham uses what he believes is (or once was) a sunflower seed oil as the alkyd source. (Arthur doesn't know anymore because his source won't disclose what they start with anymore.) M. Graham's Walnut/Alkyd oil is actually a mixture of this unidentified alkyd resin WITH an walnut oil – which partially explains the different working properties it has over other alkyd mediums. (I don't know the proportions of WO t the alkyd, but I do like to paint with his mixture myself, and the walnut oil explains the increased gloss over other alkyd mediums.)

I know all of this because I know both Robert, the founder of Gamblin, and Arthur, the owner of M.Graham, and quite simply, I asked and they told me. Both companies are quite forthcoming about their products, and set an example for others by their free disclosures.

In both cases, alkyd adds a lot to the oil painter's toolboxes, and both kind of paints and mediums may be used interchangeably.

One other note: W&N's Liquin™, which you say you use, contains additional things beyond a a simple alkyd. What they are, W&N won't disclose, which, IMHO, makes their secret sauce somewhat suspect for long-term durability. I like the handling properties Liquin can impart to the oil paint, but eschew it for their secrecy. The ASTM committee would like to know what is this sauce as well.

And finally, the plasticky" look of acrylics, as compared to oils, is derived from the difference in refractivity between the two films. Organic (drying) oils have a higher refractive index and thus permit more light pass through them. That is what makes an oil film appear more clear than an acrylic. (Assuming that both paints have been handled in a similar manner.)

I'm not championing one media over another, just explaining the difference.

As always, a fine blog to read every day. And good paintings to look at.

Thank myou,

Thomas Jefferson Kitts

Mike Thompson said...

What got me interested in acrylics was seeing the traveling exhibit of the Lord of the Rings properties in Indianapolis a few years back. Included was a large collection of the original design artwork and scene layout paintings - mostly done in thin acrylics painted in a watercolor style on multimedia board. Since then I have dabbled in acrylics some and used them from watercolor thin to more or less oil paint substitutes.

I've painted precise still lifes, plein air paintings in dry early October in Yosemite, and copied photographs in my studio at home in the winter. They performed as well as my expertise at the time, which is at the wannabe serious amateur (or maybe seriously deluded amateur). I have Golden fluid acrylics, Golden tube arcrylics (heavy gel), and Golden Open acrylics. They are different than oils, even the Open acrylics, so whatever you make of them, you need to knock out a few paintings to get the hang of them first.

I agree that ''serious'' art is still the place where oil owns the market and that is why I do my serious work in oils. But, I am not in this to make money, unlike some of you who are slaves to the market, and I like to hang oils, watercolors, pastels, and other types of art in my art collection jungle. Over the years I have also bought and hung oils, watercolors, acrylics, and even the dreaded prints. As always, it is the piece that I want, not the medium. All I ask is it lasts long enough for me to enjoy it in this life.

Oh, one more use for acrylics I hadn't foreseen but makes sense in hindsight - when you need to match that weird wall paint from the previous owners to fix a ding in the wall, just whip out your acrylics and mix up a dollop of seasick avocado to save the day.

Woodward Simons said...

Stape, some acrylic companies have sent me trial supplies of their latest products. I've "played" with Chroma's Interactive Acrylics, Golden Open's slow drying acrylics and Windsor Newton's new Artist Acrylics.

My favorite is the new WN acrylics - they dry just as fast as normal acrylics, but their advantage is that they don't darken when dry. They use a modified, transparent binder which allows light to pass through the pigment, so the dry passages look more like oils.

Open acrylics dry as slowly as oils, but they have that opague, plastic look about them.

Since I'm from a watermedia background, I do enjoy the element of fast drying - lets me layer and glaze pretty quickly. A gallery once mistakenly sold one of my acrylics on canvas for an oil painting.

Sharon Weaver said...

I loved painting with acrylic till I switched to oils a few years ago. Now I would never go back. I like to be very precise with color and the acrylic paint would dry darker. I see from the comment above that some manufacturers have eliminated that but the colors seem flat and lifeless to me now after the oils.

Jo-Ann Sanborn said...

I've used acrylic happily for almost 40 years,amd love the ability to scrub, layer and glaze. and my clients don't seem to mind at all. My work is sometimes compared to pastels. Only time will tell if acrylics will hold up as well as oils, but none of my older paintings have shown any sign of fadeing, cracking or crazing as I've seen in older oils. Still, there's plenty of good information here for me, despite my choice of medium.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I have found that to be a big problem. That and the color change in drying.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Marian; The contrarian
That is an excellent point. I never thought about that!

Stapleton Kearns said...

I think that every painter should know oil paint and then decide whether acrylic is right for them.

Stapleton Kearns said...

good point, but it is a metaphor.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I would encourage acrylic painters to familiarize themselves with oils rather than only being exposed to those.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Great contribution! Thanks

Stapleton Kearns said...

I am enslaved to the market. I am comfortable there though.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I think I will have to try those. I like the sound of that.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Sharon; It is nice to have that quick drying when traveling though!

Stapleton Kearns said...

I wouldn't worry about that. I expect the acrylics are permanent enough for the real world!