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The short answer is “neither is better or worse; they’re just different”.  For a longer more biased answer, along with some tips for beginning acrylic painters, read on. 🙂 

While some artists insist on using traditional oil paints, there have also been many very well-known artists who have worked with acrylics.  If you don’t believe me, “google” it!  Personally, I prefer working with acrylics for several reasons.  

Once upon a time, acrylic paint was used almost exclusively for commercial painting, and because of this it was specifically formulated to have a short drying time and low cost.  Over the years, it has evolved, and now several manufacturers are making fine art quality acrylics in a wide range of pigments and consistencies, with slower drying time than the commercial-use acrylics– and a higher price. 

Since acrylics are still relatively new on the art scene (only 50-60 years), it’s hard to say what acrylic paintings will look like in another 200 years.  But, so far most acrylic fine art paintings seem to endure without the cracking seen in many oil paintings of comparable age, they maintain color as well or even better, and acrylic paints seem to be more versatile than oils.  They come in smooth body, heavy body, extra heavy body.  You can thin them, thicken them, pour them, brush them, embed objects, use texturizers, etc. etc. etc.  And, wet acrylic paint cleans up with soap and water, which means no need for turpentine! 

Many oil painters complain that acrylics dry too fast, but this is one of the qualities I like most.  A thick coat of oil paint can take many weeks to thoroughly dry, while the same work in acrylic is dry within hours or even minutes.  If acrylics dry too fast for you, my initial advice is “paint faster”.  However, there are steps you can take to slow the drying process. 

For starters, you can make your own palette using a shallow plastic container, a damp cloth, and a sheet of wax paper.  Place the damp cloth in the bottom of the container, with the wax paper on top of the cloth, and put your paint on top of the wax paper.  This can keep paint useable for many hours.  And, if the container also has a lid, this can keep acrylic paint useable for days, as long as you keep the cloth damp (only damp, not dripping — too much water on the cloth will make paint runny!).  You can also buy special pallettes for acrylics at most art supply stores. 

To keep paint wet on the canvas surface for “wet on wet” painting techniques, you can add water.  However, this can make paint too thin, cause drips, and it causes the paint to have a matte finish when it dries.  Plus, even with water added, acrylics still dry fast.  An alternative is to use blending mediums, or even a combination of water and blending medium.  Liquitex makes a product called “Slow-Dri Blending Medium” which works well.  It comes in liquid and in gel form, so you can slow drying time and increase transparency without changing the consistency of your paint.  You will still have to work faster than when working with oils, but the drying retardant can buy you some time for “wet on wet” techniques.  

Whether you use oils or acrylics, the key to mastery is practice, practice, practice.  Practice and mastery are what will eventually create great works of art, regardless of the medium chosen.  

For examples of some of my acrylic paintings, visit the art for sale page.  Good luck, and happy painting!

(Originally posted by S.Lynnette on, January 13, 2011 at 10:40 PM EST)

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