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  • Writer's pictureMichael Skalka

Adventures in Painting

In a previous Syntax of Color essay, I encouraged readers to branch out and try other media to expand your skills and capabilities. Perhaps this type of exercise allows one to learn new techniques and methods of making artworks. In an effort to lead by example, I got out a set of acrylics and attempted to complete a studio painting.

Interestingly, despite being able to instruct others how to work with a variety of media, I fell back into a number of my oil painting habits. I put out way too much paint. It skinned over and dried before I could use it. I put out too many colors at once. Again, the occasionally used colors for adjusting the hue or lightness/darkness of the color I desired was thwarted by yet more dried up paint.

I don’t paint using acrylics enough to invest in a stay-wet palette or mist sprayer that would have addressed my premature drying issues. So, I finally modified my technique and only worked on one color area at a time and limited my palette to what I needed immediately (like within 1 or two minutes).

I further complicated matters because I tried to paint in a style that I don’t normally employ. I painted using bright colors, many straight from the tube in order to exploit the chroma of the pigments. The intent of the painting was to be hyper-colorful. I did little blending and made most of my marks sharp with hard edged. In the end, it was colorful but I thought it fell short of my intention and goals. Overall, it just didn’t pass the “sniff test” for me.

At the end of the second day of being frustrated, wait! I mean painting, I started my cleanup process. Earlier in the day I noticed that a few tubes of titanium white I had in the box were hardened to a taffy-like quality that rendered them unusable. I dug around for another tube in the box of acrylics I had at hand and squeezed out a small blob of titanium white on my palette. Fortunately, I used an extremely small amount of it because upon cleaning up my brushes in a container of water, as I was working on them, my fingers and other brushes used that session became coated with white that DID NOT wash off with water. I went back to look at the tube and low and behold, at some point in the past, I accidentally put a tube of titanium white oil paint in with the acrylics. The brand was the same as the others and the tube markings were very similar.

I found the spots on the painting where I had mixed some chromium oxide green acrylic paint with the white oil color and removed it. No harm done. But I did learn a valuable lesson about managing and organizing my collection of paints.

So, I inadvertently did the very thing I have cautioned artists for decades NOT to do – mix oil paints with acrylic paints. I was initially perplexed as to why I did not notice any problem with trying to blend the acrylic dispersion paint with oil paint. I concluded that the oil paint had sufficient viscosity so that it did not react hydrophobically with the water in the acrylic paint that was very thick. It was just two gooey, viscous materials sharing the same space together. Had the acrylic paint been thinned to a milk-like consistency, I believe I would have seen the oil paint exhibiting resistance to being mixed.

However, again I strongly advise against mixing acrylics and oils. There is nothing to be gained by doing this. In fact, more is to be lost. The oil paint won’t cross-link properly and soon enough something is likely to manifest itself that will not be good.

In conclusion, I was not pleased with my foray into acrylic painting this week. I still like acrylics for work where I want to use the paints and dozens of amazing mediums, pastes and gels to achieve some incredible effects. For now, I will stick to oils for studio and plein air landscapes that I am currently doing and save acrylics for other projects that exploit the ability to create thick passages of textured paint and where I can incorporate paper or collage elements into the design.

Thank you for continuing to read my Syntax essays and I wish you all a safe, prosperous and creative new year.

Syntax of Color

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Jan 08, 2022


I have written you in the past regarding panel prep and such.

I don't know if I mentioned at the time that I work primarily in acrylics rather than oils (having tried both and determined I prefer the former - at least for now). I have gone digging deep and wide for tips and tricks for working with acrylics. And I've learned you need not invest in a Sta-Wet palette in order to keep those acrylics from drying.

I re-use plastic restaurant take-out bins (though tupperware or any other container would work, really) - I wet a paper towel or two and place them on the bottom of the container. Then cover that with a single layer of kitchen…

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