Many acrylic artists use the same supports that oil painters use.
Typically, a painter uses either canvas or wooden panels. Acrylic painters who paint in watercolor technique use watercolor paper.
A great thing about acrylic paints is that it can be used on almost any surface.
You’ve a world of options to use for your painting support when you paint with acrylics. Consider alternative support options to inspire you when you’re not feeling a creative spark. Perhaps a new painting surface will lead you in a new artistic direction.
Acrylics can be watered down and used just like watercolor paints. The big difference is that acrylics are permanent and cannot be removed once they have dried. Use any paper that you would typically use for watercolors, and you should prepare the paper in the same manner.
Canvas supports are probably the first thing you think of when planning a new painting. Canvas is a traditional support that the public expects, and it is available in an infinite variety of shapes, sizes and prices. You can purchase canvas supports ready-to-paint, or you can build your own stretched canvases.
Pre-Made Canvas Supports
If you’re a hobby painter who does occasional paint flinging, or if you are all thumbs when it comes to wielding hand tools, pre-made canvas supports are perfect. They come either primed or unprimed and are available in standard sizes. Standard size availability makes it simple to run down to the craft shop for a ready-made frame to complete your masterpiece.
Primed canvas saves you preparation time and the additional cost of gesso. Just grab a brush and start painting. Unprimed canvas allows you to control the amount of texture with which you begin your painting, and you can use a variety of techniques to prepare your support.
Both primed and unprimed canvases are available in synthetic materials, cotton and linen fabrics. Fiber content may not seem important to you now, but experiment with different fibers to see which works best with your style and technique.
There are different weights of fabric available with an infinite variety of sizes, and the depths of the stretchers vary a great deal. With so many options, canvas prices fluctuate widely. It’s important to compare prices and quality to find the best deal for your needs.
Build Your Own Canvases
Pre-stretched canvas is convenient. It’s a practical alternative for the casual painter. However, if you’re on a tight budget and have some basic woodworking skills, making your own stretched canvas will save you money. However, this does cut into your painting time, so you need to decide if the cost of savings are worth your efforts.
If you decide to go for it and build your own stretched canvases, you only need a few supplies and a little skill with hand tools. Start out building small canvases. You have less chance to mess them up. If you do wind up with a disaster or two, you haven’t wasted much material.
Once you’ve created some useable canvases, it’s time to prepare them for painting. You’ll use several coats of acrylic gesso to prepare your support. Acrylic gesso is created by combining chalk with an acrylic polymer. This produces a porous surface that will absorb and grab the paint. It gives better adhesion than painting directly on the cotton fabric.
The number of gesso applications you use depends on several factors. You should consider the amount of texture visible from the cloth fibers and the amount of texture the gesso creates. If you want a very smooth surface, you can sand the gesso between applications. You can also add pigment to your gesso so you aren’t starting with a stark, white canvas.
Alternative Canvas-Covered Supports
There are also canvas boards and Canvas Pads, which are primed and ready for painting. These two alternatives are inexpensive for a beginning artist and are useful for plein air painting and traveling.
Canvas board is created by gluing canvas to cardboard. It is primed, ready to paint, and it’s available in numerous standard sizes. It does tend to buckle over time, so smaller sizes are preferable. Canvas board should be framed to prevent warping.
Canvas pads are primed sheets of cloth that are cut to size and made into a notepad. The painted sheets can be mounted on a wooden panel and framed. Staple canvas to a wooden surface for painting so the sheet doesn’t curl as you are painting.
Historically, wooden panels are the oldest supports used by artists. Today, you can purchase a variety of wooden supports, or you can create your own wooden panels. Commercial wooden panels may be built from hardwood, plywood or Masonite. Check your art supply store or craft shop. There are round, oval and rectangular shapes in various prices and qualities.
With a pre-gessoed panel, you’re ready to start painting immediately. These 1/8-inch Masonite panels are archival and available individually and in multi-packs.
Build Your Own Panels
Creating your own hardwood panels is really quite easy. It’s certainly easier than stretching your own canvas, and the savings are substantial.
Furniture grade plywood and Masonite are both used for supports. These sheets are available in 1/8-inch and ¼-inch thicknesses. Home improvement stores carry tempered and untempered Masonite, and many stores carry the more costly furniture grade plywood. If you have a power saw, a ruler and a straight edge, you can cut the panels yourself. If you have power-saw phobia, most home improvement stores will cut it to your custom size for a small fee.
Large panels can warp, so they should be braced to eliminate possible distortion. Smaller panels can be sealed on the back to ensure they won’t buckle from fluctuations in humidity.
These panels should be gessoed before using, as oil used to create tempered wood can leach into your painting and untempered wood may be too absorbent. Use three coats of gesso to give your wooden panel a pure, white surface. Sand between coats, or leave unsanded to give extra texture to the support surface.
Natural Maple Panels
Laminated panels are composed of furniture grade maple veneer that is laminated to a hardwood core. This product is superior to solid hardwood, as it is less likely to crack or warp.
Uncradled and cradled styles are available in many rectangular sizes, and round panels are also available. These panels are available in different thicknesses, and they all are provided with a keyhole slot for hanging. These panels don’t require any mounting, so using a maple panel saves the cost buying a frame.
One of the joys of acrylics is the ability to paint on just about any surface. The longevity of your masterpiece may be questionable when using non-standard supports, so if you expect your work to be seen in all its glory a century from now, stick to the traditional supports. However, if you’re an experimental artist who finds unusual supports too enticing, you’ll find an unlimited number of surfaces just awaiting your creative touch.
Fiber artists can use acrylics for painting fabrics. This can be done as a watercolor technique, in which the paint absorbs into the cloth fibers. The acrylic can also be used as textural paint that builds up on the surface of the fabric.
Silks and polyester fabrics are often used for custom apparel and accessories, and they are painted with a watercolor technique. Since there is no build up of paint, the fabric remains supple.
Other fabrics can be used, and many techniques such as screen-printing and block printing create fascinating results. Painting with a brush is also popular, although the fabric should be stretched on a flat surface to prevent wrinkles as you paint.
Painting on metal requires a bit of knowledge of how metal reacts with moisture and humidity. Acrylic paint will adhere to most surfaces. However, time, moisture and the stability of the surface may affect its long-term adhesion ability. Outdoor exposure will degrade paint more rapidly, and a support that flexes can result in the paint popping off the surface.
Sheet metal rusts, so the surface needs to start out rust-free and primed with a rust inhibitor to prevent rust from forming and leaching into your painted surface.
Aluminum forms an oxide layer on its surface when exposed to oxygen, so it should be primed with gesso before painting.
Decorative copper objects can be painted directly. If you are using a thin sheet of copper, it should be glued to a rigid board to prevent it from flexing. Clean the copper surface with denatured alcohol before painting to remove any oils that handling the piece may have left.
Marble And Slate
Many craftspeople use slate and marble to create unique and attractive plaques. They also use acrylic paints to decorate marble home accessories.
After cleaning you support, use denatured alcohol to remove traces of oil, and prime the surface with gesso before painting to ensure good adhesion.
Use acrylic paint to embellish leather products. Since acrylic is a polymer, it retains its flexibility when dry. However, heavy layers of paint should not be used. Treat the acrylic paint like watercolor and use water as a medium. This allows the paint to absorb into the porous leather and dye the surface.
Glass, Porcelain And Pottery
Acrylic paints can be used for glass and pottery if the items will not be exposed to wear, moisture or extremes of temperature. Basically, glass items painted with acrylics are for decorative purposes only. An embellished knick-knack or a painted tile that sits quietly on a shelf and is only dusted occasionally should last indefinitely. If an object is used and cleaned, alternative heat-set paints are more appropriate.
Almost everything is fair game for Acrylic Paints. Some surfaces may require preparation, some non-archival materials will retain the paint for a long while, and some supports are just for impromptu fun.
Not every project you create is intended to last for future generations, so consider your intended audience and the lifespan of your support when deciding what you will use to showcase your latest effort. One of the great things about acrylic paint is its versatility and ability to adapt to almost any situation.
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Watercolor – Where to Start
Watercolor Paint Brands
Watercolor Paint Brushes
Watercolor Basic Painting Techniques
Advanced Watercolor Painting Techniques
Watercolor Painting Accessories
Watercolor Painting Tips and Tricks
Acrylics – Where to Start
Acrylic Paint Brands
Acrylic Painting Support (This Article)
Acrylic Paint Brushes
Acrylic Painting Techniques
Acrylic Painting Accessories
Acrylic Painting Tips and Tricks
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