Are Acrylics Scary?

When I decided to switch to acrylics I wasn’t particularly scared, although I wasn’t painting to eat. I was hugely disappointed because acrylics were so transparent in comparison to oils and it immediately caused problems. I’m still dealing with those issues. I’m presently painting a fall scene and I want really bright yellow leaves in the trees. To get the bright yellow leaves I’m going to try painting them first in Titanium White, then with yellow. I’ve used this technique before and had reasonably good luck with it so we will see. One of the problems is that I’m looking at the leaves on my computer monitor so the colour is created using an additive system. Paint is a subtractive colour system so I will never be able to match my monitor. But I’m going to try.

It’s hard to describe acrylics or any paint as ‘scary’ but they do surprise me on occasion. It’s usually the quick drying time that surprises me, often when I’m 45 minutes into a painting session the paint isn’t going on as well as it did when I first started. If I had found a stay-wet pallet that I liked, this might not be a problem, but at the moment I treat this as a time to stop and clean brushes. That’s actually the scary part because to keep my brushes in good order they must be cleaned after every painting session. Brushes need cleaning no matter what the medium but with the short drying time of acrylics it’s very easy to destroy them. Acrylic brushes can be cleaned with hand soap and water. I rarely buy expensive brushes but they can get that way quickly if I let the paint dry on them.

I like acrylic pigments. Actually some are better than equivalent oils. I think this is because acrylic users are more likely to be open to using a ‘new’ pigment and some of the new ones are fantastic. In the art world a ‘new’ pigment is one that was introduced in the last hundred years. The white under-paint that I was talking about earlier is very opaque so whatever colour I want to use goes over it nicely and in this case the rapid drying is an asset.

There have been some concerns about the toxicity of some pigments. It’s true that at times some of the pigments used by artists have been less than safe; lead is an example. It’s a heavy metal that can collect in the body and cause some serious health issues. Household paint is an example since some children scrape the paint off their cribs with their teeth and consume the paint chips. Not good. Lead white is not used today as a result and this is true for artist’s colours also.

Cadmium also has issues but the cadmium used in yellows, reds and oranges is in very small amounts and it’s encapsulated in other non-toxic or less-toxic chemicals so the paint is not considered toxic. The European Union was in the process of banning Calcium artist colours (probably because of environmental concerns) but it appears that they have decided not to. I’m glad of that because Cadmium Yellow and Red are two of the basic colours on my pallet and I definitely do not find them scary.