Today we’re diving deeper into the world of acrylic paints. We’re going to talk about three things:
1. What makes a good quality acrylic paint
2. The paint brands I love and why
3. How to save money on paints as an artist Connect with me: Instagram: @laurenkristineart https://www.laurenkristineart.com/
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Welcome back to the Self Taught Artist Podcast. I’m Lauren Kristine, your host. As we talked about in the last episode, I think acrylic paints are the best paints for beginners, and the most fun to paint with. Today, I thought it would be fun to do a deep dive into acrylic paints, we’re going to talk about:
1. What makes a good quality acrylic paint
2. What brands I love and why
3. How to save money on your paints.
First, I want to start with a story about my biggest painting regret. Well, I guess I have two biggest painting regrets. The first being that I didn’t start sooner! I did some painting in high school and then gave it up in favor of my academics. I really wish I had kept at it. Even if just a little bit on the side. I can’t imagine how good I would be today if I had all of that practice.
My other biggest regret is that I spent so long painting with craft paint. You know, those little round bottles from the craft store, you’ve probably seen them. I had a set of 24 that I used back in graduate school as my creative outlet. Later, I purchased another set that I used in early 2020 as I was diving back into painting more seriously. I used that set of craft paints for way too long. And all it did was leave me wondering why my paintings weren’t turning out the way I wanted them to. They turned out muddy and flat. I was so frustrated and I thought it was all because of some skill that I lacked. But I later figured out, nope, it was my paint that was holding me back. I just didn’t know any better because I hadn’t yet been exposed to the full range of acrylic paints on the market. I simply used what I knew about nothing wrong with that. But I wish that I knew that there were way better paints out there.
Thankfully, in March, I purchased a set of Liquitex Basics with a Michaels coupon and it completely changed everything for me. What a step up those paints were. It was so eye opening, and it led me down a path of paint exploration that I’ve been on ever since. Today, I want to share my findings, in hopes that it will help you on your artistic journey.
First, I should mention that better paint does help a lot. You can achieve a wider range of techniques, the pigments and the colors will be better, making the colors pop off the canvas a bit more. But buying the best paint in the world is not going to make you a better painter. The only thing that can make you a better painter is practice. Yes, you need good enough paint as a beginner or intermediate painter, but you do not need the best. I don’t want you to leave today’s episode and think you need to go out and buy hundreds of dollars of paint because that is absolutely not the case. I break down the world of paint into three categories: There’s craft paint (that’s the low end), student grade paint (middle grade paint) in the middle, and high end paint.
There’s a huge difference between craft paint and the best student grade paint. So if you’re currently working with craft paint, I hope that you’ll consider investing in a set of student grade paints and see the difference that it can make in your art. Today we’ll talk a little bit about the characteristics of paint why each brand is a little different, and simply answer the question “what makes a good acrylic paint?”
Well, let’s talk about the characteristics of acrylic paint one by one. First, and most important is pigment load. This refers to the amount of pigment in the paint relative to the binder and fillers and other additives in the paint. I clearly learned about pigment load the hard way with the craft paint I started out using craft paint is the lowest grade acrylic paint due to its low pigment load. So this means that those craft paint bottles are mostly just water and fillers. The pigments don’t mix together that well because there simply isn’t a very high amount of pigment in there to begin with. The paint dried in a darker color than it was wet, and the colors faded quite a bit more than I expected in the craft paint. And this is because if an acrylic paint uses too many fillers, this will make the color appear dull. Student Grade paints have a higher pigment load and high end paints have the most concentrated pigment load. In my research, I found that many of the best student grade paints actually use the same exact pigments as the high end lines, but in a lesser quantity.
The next characteristic of a good acrylic paint, and I just hinted at it – it’s what kind of pigments are inside. Pigments of all kinds exists nowadays there are both modern and organic types of pigments. This means that some pigments are now created in a lab, and some are literally foraged from the earth. You may have noticed that the price of a tube of paint can vary based on what the color is inside. The price for a color of paint is determined by how rare the pigment is, or how difficult it is to produce it. Cadmium Red is a notoriously expensive paint because Cadmium is extremely rare, and it’s actually toxic. However, Cadmium is very light fast and it creates opaque properties in the paint, which is very desirable. Some paints are even created using a combination of pigments, but my tip is to find paints with the fewest possible number of pigments mixed in. This really helps you later with mixing and color purity. Once you have experienced painting with different colors and types of paint, you will better understand the working properties of many different pigments. And you’ll find which ones work best for you and your art practice. I have some colors that I go back to time and time again. And then I have others that for whatever reason, just aren’t my thing. And that’s okay. You’ll find those go to colors for you with more practice.
The next characteristic of acrylic paint that we’ll talk about is viscosity. There are lots of different kinds of paint with surprisingly huge variety in their viscosities. Heavy Body acrylic paint is very thick, and it’s stiffer than normal acrylic paint. It actually feels a lot like oil paint feels straight from the tube. Heavy Body acrylic lends itself to painting techniques where paint is thickly laid on the canvas, such as impasto techniques, or times when you want visible brushstrokes. The thick and stiff consistency means that brush or palette knife strokes will hold their shape and texture on your canvas even after it dries. Medium Body paint has a lower viscosity. And I think most student grade paints fall into this category. It’s a good all around consistency for most things. I find myself reaching for a Medium Body paint the most. However, I should mention there’s also fluid acrylics and high flow acrylics, and acrylic inks that all have a runny consistency. Depending on your style, you may need one type of paint, specifically due to its viscosity characteristics. But for most general painting and exploration, I think medium body is a good solid choice.
Next, let’s talk about drying time. Open Acrylics are those that have been specially formulated to have a longer open working time, meaning the paint stays wet for longer and is slow drying. Sometimes I paint in a reductionist fashion. So for those paintings, I make sure to use open paints on some layers, or use a Slow Dry Medium (or Retarder) to make my paint dry slower. Slow drying time will be very important for some artists depending on the techniques that they like to use.
The last characteristic I’ll talk about is binder contents. These are the dryers, fillers, extenders, pacifiers, stabilizers, and modifiers that all affect the physical properties of the paint. Stabilizers can level out drying time and thickness of the paint, which can give you consistent brush ability across colors. and even open working times. Again, this is one of those things that for some people, it will be important. And for others it won’t. It just depends on you, and your type of art style.
So with all those characteristics in mind, what are my favorite brands of paint? Well, if money was unlimited, I would use all Golden Acrylics. They are high end paints with extremely high pigment load, I absolutely adore the Golden Heavy Body paint line. The big downside is that they’re extremely expensive. I also find that I have a mental barrier when I use my Golden Paints: I get so worried and fixated on the cost of the paint that I’m using. And this fear develops that I’m wasting paint. That fear of making a mistake and wasting paint really holds me back in a big way. So I have to be really careful not to slip into that mindset.
My most used brand of paint is Liquitex Basics. I love their color range, it comes in so many colors, and I really find their pigment load to be pretty good. The consistency is medium bodied, and it works really well for a lot of different techniques. Plus, these Liquitex Basics paints are not so expensive that I worry about wasting paint. This frees up my mental space to be able to explore and experiment which I love doing in my art. These Liquitex basic paints are quite affordable, and I love that they use the same high quality pigments as the Liquitex high end paints. I really feel like I’m getting a great value out of my Liquitex Basics.
I also have quite a few bottles of Lukas Paint, which is a European brand of paint that I’ve really enjoyed using recently. I bought these on a whim when I placed a paint order at Jerry’s Artarama and I have been really impressed. I love these paints because they are a thicker bodied paint and have a really lovely texture to them. They’re much more buttery than the Liquitex Basics are, and some of their colors are unique. For example, I have fallen in love with their Indigo color. It’s this deep blue, that is a great dark color to use on your palette. That’s much less intimidating and dark than a pure black. The one downside with Lukas paints that I found is that they tend to dry faster than Liquitex Basics do. So I just have to keep that in mind. And if I want to paint that has a longer open time, I don’t use Lukas paints. But if I don’t care that I find myself reaching for the LuKas paints all the time. Lukas paints are an excellent value for the price. And frankly, I’m surprised that more artists haven’t heard of them yet. I think they’re a brand to watch here in the US as they’re definitely on the rise.
Last but not least in this episode, I really want to touch on a few different ways that you could save money on your acrylic paints. I know it’s hard to make things work on an artist’s budget, but here are just a few things that I do to save money.
First, I use cheaper paints and underlayers and then I’ll layer my good stuff on top. This is an easy way to cut down on my usage of Golden Paints. I plan out my composition using student grade paints, and I work out all the kinks. Then, I’ll typically apply the high end Golden Artist Colors paint on top. The viewer only sees those premium colors on top, so they’ll never know the difference. The subtlety of these differences is just not visible to the majority of people. I’d venture to guess that even a high end professional artist would have a hard time differentiating between the best student grade paint and professional paint once it’s dried on the canvas.
If that’s not the way you like to work, my second tip is to plan your paintings in advance with sketchbooks so you don’t use more paint than you have to. You can swatch out your color palette in advance and see how all of your different colors look next to each other. You can look at the shapes in your sketchbook and make sure you have a clear idea of what you want to do before your brush even touches the canvas. This is a big one for me. I mean, if I had $1 for every time I change the background color and a painting, well, I guess I’d be sitting on a beach in Fiji right now. I repaint my background colors frequently throughout the course of a painting. So, color swatching and planning is something I should probably do more of.
My last tip for today, number three, is to buy a really high end Titanium white paint, such as the Golden Artist Colors Heavy Body titanium white, white is the color that you will use the most as a painter. White is critical for mixing and having a good opaque white is really key. I think you’re going to get a ton of mileage from one tube of Golden titanium white, and it’s going to elevate all of the other colors that you mix with it. I mentioned Titanium White, also, because it happens to be a very cheap pigment. So it’s a relatively inexpensive tube of paint to buy. Even though it’s a professional grade paint. For context, a Golden Heavy Body Titanium White two ounce tube will set you back $7.41 at Jerry’s Artarama today, I just looked it up. And in contrast, a very, very expensive pigments such as a two ounce Cadmium Red is $16.23. So you can really get some good bang for your buck. By using some of these good value Golden brand paints, such as Titanium White, that’s the one to start with. Because it’s going to be your most used paint, I can say that with confidence for practically any painter, white is going to be your most used paint. Once you get an idea of what colors and pigments you like the most. You can see how much those costs in a Golden brand paint and potentially work those into your painting kit as well.
So the very last thing I’ll say on this episode is to remember first and foremost, that buying the very best paint in the world will not make you a better painter. Only practice can make you a better painter. So all this being said, my recommendation to beginner and intermediate painters out there is to buy some solid middle grade student paints and use those. I’ve seen tons of professional painters use these student grade paints because of their good value and quality. acrylic paints have really come a very, very long way in the last few years. And I am so impressed by the brands that I listed today in this episode is my favorites, most notably the Liquitex Basics and Lukas paints.
That’s a wrap for today’s episode on acrylic paints. I’m very curious, what is your favorite acrylic paint brand? Or type? Let me know your thoughts and feedback on this episode. You can find me at LaurenKristineArt on Instagram, and LaurenKristineArt.com. Remember, Kristine is spelled with a K. I’ll also include the links to both my Instagram and my website in the show notes today. Don’t forget, hit the subscribe button so you never miss an episode. And please leave me a rating and a review. Wherever you’re listening to this podcast. I would so appreciate it. Until next time
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