ARTIST'S ACRYLIC PAINT
Rowney introduced Cryla Colour into the UK in 1963. That was the first time British artists could experiment with the new medium, artist's acrylic paints. Or so we are told, but not so!
In fact another company called Spectrum had come along to the art college where I was a student a couple of years earlier. Spectrum provided tubs of the basic acrylic medium rather than finished paint in tubes. They intended to supply schools with the medium to be mixed with powder-colour paints.
They had also seen another potential market for acrylics and wanted to find out if British artists would also use the system. And they asked our art college to see if a small group of six elite students could try using the stuff, free of charge, to see how it worked.
Free paint? Of course we jumped at the chance.
MORE GOOD THINGS
We loved it! We found all sorts of benefits.
Firstly, the free medium came in big gallon sized tins. We bought real powdered pigment from artists suppliers in London and mixed them together. We chose earth colours made from ground up rock because they were not toxic. That also meant that they were much cheaper. We made our own paint, just like the old masters. Then we experimented with other ingredients.
A second surprising benefit came when we mixed it with sand, or flour, or chalk to extend the range of possibilities. It enabled us to make great big thick textured paintings when we painted onto hardboard or home-made sacking canvases.
Thirdly, we found that the medium was very sticky, and without pigment it dried clear, so we used it as a glue to make collages.
The fourth major factor, after ‘almost free', ‘thick’ and 'sticky', was that the medium mixed with water. Oil paints are thinned with turps or white spirit, which smells and takes ages to dry. Acrylic medium dried very much quicker and didn't stink. My paint was no longer a toxic hazard for our baby either.
WHAT IS WRONG WITH THAT?
So we had a supply of free, sticky, safe paint. What else? The quick drying property of acrylic paint was quite significant. We are told that oil paint will take seven years to dry fully. That means that when an artist paints in oils they can return to a section of the artwork over and over again as the picture progresses. They can wipe off, or rework 'wet into wet'.
Again with quicker drying water-colour, if the artist wants to rework an area then they can wet the painted surface with water to re-activate the under-colour. But not so with acrylic. You couldn't do that. A couple of my fellow students with oil or water-colour expertise, reputation, and loyalty, abandoned the experiment.
See previous blog post about this.
HOW THE REST OF US USED IT.
The remaining few of us soldiered on. We found that as soon as the paint was dry you could over-paint without the under-colour being affected. This allowed stable new creative effects previously unknown.
The introduction of thick troweled-on texture achieved by mixing in very cheap Fullers Earth powder, Poly-filler, or even just sand, as an extender made even more exciting painterly effects possible. And the thick paint was stable, it didn't get all wrinkly as it dried slowly. Whereas top wrinkles with wet paint underneath pose a real danger in thick oil paint.
'Multiple 'glazes' of thin almost transparent washes of paint over quick-drying previous paint was a wonderful surprise.
'Scumble' where dryish colour is lightly scrubbed over textured dry paint was a easy every-day option and not a difficult trick. We experimented with scumble and discovered that dry scrubbed on dark brown paint followed by wipe-off left an interesting warm and aged effect.
Successive applications of different colours using small lino-cut rubber rollers made a new previously unknown surface.
Glueing torn paper from magazines, or material offcuts, added new elements quickly.
And you could combine any or all of these effects in your artwork. You could do this very very much cheaper than you could using previous methods.
Eureka and Hooray!
So I have continued to be an acrylic fan for the last 50 plus years. The product is now commonplace in artist’s material shops and online. Many versions are on the shelves and the system has little or no detractors.
I was lucky indeed to be in the right place at the right time.