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How to Achieve Special Effects with Acrylic Mediums and Additives

An acrylic medium is a substance that is added to paint to change one or more of its properties. Essentially, Acrylic mediums and additives are liquids or gels that you mix into your acrylic paint. They can help you create different effects, textures, and finishes by making the paint thinner, thicker, glossy, matte, slow-drying, textured, and more. Just another tool you can consider adding to your painting and art supply toolbox!

I’ll talk about the most common acrylic mediums one by one. I’ll quickly note that Mediums are incredibly versatile, and a lot of them can serve multiple purposes and you’ll notice that really quickly as I talk about them.

The acrylic mediums and additives we talk about today are the following:

  • Gloss Medium
  • Matte Medium
  • Glazing Medium (also called Acrylic Glazing Fluid)
  • Gel Medium
  • Modeling Paste (also called Molding Paste)
  • Texture Gels 
  • Retarder
  • Flow Improver (also called Flow Aid)

Mediums are fun to experiment with as a painter and they can help you get unique effects in your artwork. These are optional, but I share them with you in case you’ve been scratching your head wondering how to get a certain effect in your art!

Episode Transcript

Hello, I’m Lauren Kristine and I’m the host of the Self Taught Artist Podcast. Thanks for joining me for this episode. I hope you enjoyed last week’s double episode. But I must say I was quite surprised. I thought episode number 12 on elevating the buyer experience was going to be more popular than the 13th episode on packaging and shipping art. I could not have been more wrong. I guess I am not the only person who has challenges with shipping art. Do you have more shipping questions? If you send me a message on Instagram with what exactly you want to know, I’d be happy to do a follow up episode and go more in depth on shipping and packaging art. If you skipped episode number 12, go back and listen to it on the finishing touches and elevating the buyer experience. I talked about the stickers I use, my thank you card strategies, and other cheap ways to make receiving art really fun for your buyers. Plus, I talk about why I don’t mat my art on paper. It’s a good conversation that goes hand in hand with the shipping episode.

This week’s topic of Acrylic Mediums is for all of my Acrylic Painters out there. You all know by now that acrylic painting is where my heart truly lies. So I’ve been looking forward to doing this episode for a while. I really had no clue about all the different acrylic mediums when I started painting, and even as I was an intermediate painter, so I really wish that I had discovered them earlier. If you’re scratching your head wondering what I’m even talking about, don’t worry. That was me, too. I thought medium meant what kind of art supplies or paint or art materials I was using. And yes, that is the meaning of artistic medium, what supplies you use, but we are talking about acrylic mediums today, which is completely different.

An acrylic medium is a substance that is added to paint to change one or more of its properties. Acrylic additives are very similar. The difference is that mediums contain acrylic binders, but additives do not. So you have to follow the label on additives and use them in the correct proportions, the way the instructions describe. Most acrylic mediums, however, can be added to the paint in any quantity until you’ve achieved your desired effect. Because they have the acrylic binders included in there. Essentially, acrylic mediums and additives are liquids or gels that you mix into your acrylic paint. They can help you create different effects, different textures, or finishes by making the paint thinner, thicker, glossy, matte, slow drying, textured, and even more. Mediums and additives are bought in addition to paints. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know just one more art supply to buy. But wait and take a listen to see if any of them sound useful to you and your style of painting. They are not required. And I don’t own them all. But I do have quite a few of them. So I can talk about my personal experiences with most.

If you’ve been wondering how a certain artist achieves a certain effect in their painting, and you just can’t figure out how they do it. Perhaps you’ve even tried it yourself and it just hasn’t worked out how it works out for them, I’m going to bet that that artist is using a medium to achieve that effect. They’re really cool to experiment with and you can do some things with mediums that you could never do with just plain acrylic paint. I’m going to talk about the most common acrylic mediums now one by one.

I’ll quickly note that mediums are so versatile. A lot of them can actually serve multiple purposes. And you’ll notice that really quickly as I talk about them, but typically, a medium has one best purpose. And so you should probably buy the mediums that you want based on what seems to be their primary purpose. And then just enjoy the added benefits of the other things that they can do as well.

First, let’s talk about gloss medium and matte medium. Gloss medium is useful if you want to increase the natural sheen and luminosity of acrylic paint. Gloss Medium will also make paint thinner and more transparent, which is useful if you want to paint in thin but beautiful glazes. Essentially, gloss medium makes paint glossy and more transparent.

On the other hand, is matte medium, and that’s what you use if you’re going for a subtle, minimal non-reflective finish on your paints. You can also mix gloss medium and matte medium together in equal parts to achieve a semi gloss or satin finish. Most acrylic paint is already naturally slightly glossy, so matte medium is used to tone it down. However, matte medium is a secret weapon when it comes to collage. If you’re a mixed media artist, or you want to try collage techniques and your art, matte medium is a great way to go. It adheres really nicely to different materials from paper to canvas to tissue paper to glitter and sequins and more. Supposedly matte medium sticks better, so that’s why it’s recommended over gloss medium for collage purposes. I think it’s trickier on a chemical level to get glossy things to stick to each other. So if you work in collage or with lots of layers, I’d say using matte medium is possibly slightly better than gloss medium. However, I have also used gloss medium to do collage and it worked out just fine. And I even looked on the Liquitex website and they list collage as an intended purpose for gloss medium, one of the many intended purposes.

All right, so now let’s talk about the things that both matte medium and gloss medium will do. Essentially, they’re the same thing with different sheens. Both gloss and matte medium will lower the viscosity of heavy body paints and give increased flow. Both of them will extend your color further without impacting acrylic stability. If you’re looking for a way to get more miles out of one tube of paint, you can try gloss or matte medium for this. You can add in as much medium as you like into your acrylic paint color to create the viscosity and transparency you want. But do remember the more medium you add, the thinner and more transparent your color will become. Both gloss and matte medium can be thinned by diluting with up to 25% water if you want to have more flow that achieves it for you. However, I actually think the next medium is even better for this purpose. And that medium is called glazing medium.

Glazing medium is something that makes acrylic paint more transparent and facilitates subtle glazing techniques. If you use glazing technique in your painting already, and you use a lot of water to get the paint thinner and more transparent, well I urge you to look into glazing medium instead. When you use lots of water to thin down your paints, the paints properties and the pigments get really diluted, which can cause uneven coverage and even cause issues with the paint adhering and sticking to your substrate. Glazing medium is used in the same way as an oil painter uses linseed oil and turpentine. That means you’re going to get slow drying color glazes you get thinning of the paint for better brush ability. You get the ability to do pre glazing before paint application. Or you can do really smooth wet in wet blending.

Glazing liquid can be blended with paints in any desired amount. Adding small amounts, let’s say approximately 25% to paints will increase brushability. But if you go in the extreme, and you add one part paint to 10 parts glazing liquid, it’s going to produce a really transparent glaze with a long open time. Glazing liquid has an open time of 30 to 45 minutes depending on the environment and the conditions wherever you live and it dries with excellent film clarity. This means that glazing fluid makes your paint stay wet and workable for longer. So you can keep working it or blending it as needed, but it also dries really nice and transparent. It is super important that this product be used for thin layer applications only. If you try to put really thick layers of the glazing liquid in excess of 1/16 of an inch, then it will not dry properly and it’s going to remain tacky for a really long time. You don’t want that.

Next, let’s talk about mediums that add texture to your work. Have you ever seen a painter that leaves visible brushstrokes in their art and their paint has this really cool 3D texture even when it’s dry? Well, I’m going to guess they use either gel medium or modeling paste to achieve that. It takes a little more than heavy body paint to get really distinct brushstrokes and visible texture on your painting. But we’re going to talk about both gel medium and modeling paste one by one.

First, to talk about gel medium. Gel medium is a white paste-like gel that will thicken your paint so that it retains brushstrokes, which is great for impasto techniques, and getting more texture and brushstrokes in your work. Gel medium also enhances the adhesive properties of the paint, which makes it work well for collage as well. Gel mediums are available in different finishes like gloss and matte, and also different thicknesses. There’s heavy, super heavy, regular and more depending on how much texture and how much you want to build that paint up off of the canvas.

Now, let’s introduce modeling paste. Modeling paste is also sometimes called molding paste depending on the brand, so don’t be confused. That means the same thing, modeling paste or molding paste. I’ll use them interchangeably. This is like gel medium, but it can be thicker and harder. If you love painting with three dimensional effects or building up a relief that you can then sculpt sand down or carve once it’s dry, well then modeling paste is perfect for you!

Unlike gels, pastes are opaque white because they contain marble dust or other fillers in there that create a white or clay tone finish with a variety of textures and properties. The modeling paste that I have is white, and so it does change the color of your acrylic paints. That’s the big differentiator between modeling paste and gel medium. Gel medium dries clear and modeling paste dries white.

Modeling paste can also be used to create foundations for painting, either to create texture over a smoother surface or to smooth out a textured surface. The absorbent qualities of modeling paste make it suitable as a ground for nearly every painting and drawing media. It can be over painted with acrylic paints, oil paints, watercolors, graphite, or dry pastels.

In general, I’d say it’s recommended to use modeling paste on rigid supports if you want to build it up, as it can get pretty heavy. I’d say the wood painting boards are really great for this. If you want a lot of texture or you’re going to be carving into thick applications of modeling paste, it’s just nice to have a really firm substrate that you know is going to be able to hold it up.

Also, if you love working with painting knives, then you can try modeling paste or heavy gel to boost that texture without wasting paint. Because I know that sometimes when you want to get that thick texture you can go through your paint really quickly. So just mix that right in with the modeling paste or heavy gel are super heavy gel and you’re going to get texture in no time. I will add, if cracks appear, then allow them to dry and then fill in with another thin layer of modeling paste.

Alright, moving right along. There are so many different types of additives and mediums. Next we’re talking about texture gels. These are mediums that you use to achieve certain textures, such as sand, stucco, or glass beads. They are pretty different and fun to experiment with, from what I hear. Depending on the type of art, they might be a good fit for you. I’ve never actually used them because up until this point, they just haven’t made sense for the type of art that I like to make. But I’ll add here that, of course, you can also make your own texture if you want to mix in some sand or sawdust or whatever you want to your paint to add that texture yourself. DIY texture gels!

The last medium we’re going to talk about is called Flow Aid or Flow Medium. This changes the consistency of your acrylic pigment, while making it easier to adhere to Canvas or a substrate. If you’re looking to try acrylic staining or acrylic pouring, which has been very popular the last couple of years, especially on YouTube, then flow medium will make it easier to achieve that aesthetic. Flow aid is another additive that you have to use really carefully. It thins acrylic paint for use with wash techniques and painting over large areas. And flow improver works by breaking the surface tension of the water inside the paint, which thins the paint without reducing color strength or compromising the finish. I have never actually used flow aid either. So I will leave it to you to decide if it’s a good fit for you or not. I don’t do any acrylic paint pouring and I never have. So I’ve never invested in this additive. I do have acrylic glazing medium, which I use to thin paint and it does some of the similar things that flow aid will do.

That is a pretty good rundown of the basics on acrylic mediums. I do want to add one overarching note about all the mediums that I talked about today: that is, that the ones that are mediums contain binders that maintain paints adhesion and durability, and their archival quality. In fact, with all of these including additives, they will all result in an archival quality piece of work as long as you follow the instructions.

I personally like to buy nicer brand mediums. I just don’t think that it’s a place to save money and be cheap. Even the best brands of professional grade acrylic mediums are typically cheaper than the professional grade of paint. So it can be a great way to get more mileage out of your expensive paints by mixing in some mediums. I highly recommend the Liquitex brand of mediums and the Golden mediums. I think that those two brands are interchangeable when it comes to their mediums, so I will buy whatever is cheaper. I have both Liquitex and Golden mediums and additives, and I love them both. If you’re in the United States, I would recommend shopping at Dick Blick or Jerry’s Artarama for mediums. They will typically have better prices than craft stores. But if you have a coupon at Michaels, that works too. I have also bought them at Michaels on sale. I’m sure you have picked up by now that I am quite the bargain hunter. And I’m always searching to get the best deal that I can.

Mediums are really fun to experiment with. And they can help you get unique effects in your work. Again, these are optional, but I share them with you in case you’ve been scratching your head, wondering how to get a certain effect in your work but you didn’t know how. That was me a while back. I really wanted to try impasto techniques and doing some 3D flowers on canvases. And I got so frustrated thinking that I was doing something wrong with the paint, because I saw that other artists did it and I just wondered why I couldn’t do it with the same acrylic paint. But then I had this major “aha!” moment where I discovered mediums actually on the aisle at Michaels. And I said “what is this?” So I looked it up and started doing some research. It was pretty hard to wade through all the information. So I think I ultimately just ended up buying one or two and experimenting. And ever since then, I’ve used it as another little secret weapon in my toolbox of art supplies that I can use when I want to mix things up, do something different, or even just extend my paint and make it last longer.

Do you have another medium that you really enjoy using? I’d love to hear about it over on Instagram – You can find me at LaurenKristineArt. Or if you have other questions about mediums I could do a follow up episode in the future. So I’d love to get your questions and bots. If you have a minute and you’re listening on Apple Podcasts, it would mean the world to me if you would just take a minute to leave a quick five star rating and a review for this podcast. It really helps me to reach other self taught artists out there. I hope you have a wonderful week full of artistic creation and I can’t wait to see what you make next. You can find me and my work on Instagram at LaurenKristineArt or on my website at WWW.Lauren I’ll link those in the show notes. Until next time, my friends! Happy Creating!

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