Acrylic is a very forgiving medium. By this, I mean that if you goof up you can just paint over it and start again! Can’t do that with watercolor; at least not unless you are very, very skilled with it. I do love the way a talented watercolorist can bring a painting to life with watercolor, but sadly, I find it much harder to work with than acrylics. I am a kind of “create as I go painter”, and with watercolor it seems necessary to minutely plan each step. I am the type of artist who starts with just a general sketch and then details with paint as I go. While I like the way oils look (my mother worked in them) I can’t use them because of the chemicals and the smell. Oils also dry too slowly for a painter like me. I end up with mud every time because I am too impatient to wait days until my canvas is workable again! Pastels and charcoal make fantastic mediums when done by an artist skilled in their use, and they don’t stink but I am such a messy painter that I inevitably end up with as much on me as I do on the canvas or paper!
Acrylics are wonderful for impatient painters like me. Since each layer will dry and be workable in about a half hour, in four or five hours I can add at least four layers of paint without creating mud which every artist dreads. (You know when you’ve accidentally mixed your colors on top of each other and ended up with a dark mess instead of the beautiful color you were aiming for?) I confess that it puzzles me to hear of other artists complaining that acrylics dry too fast to work with since I often have to stop and walk away for that half hour in order to let my painting become dry enough to add another layer of paint.
Acrylics paint is such a chameleon that if I want parts of my work to look like a watercolor, I just thin my acrylic paint to make it more transparent. There are many additions that can be used to alter the properties of Acrylics, but I just use water to thin my paint. If I want an area I am working on to stay wet a little longer, instead of adding a slow-dry medium, I spray the canvas with water or wet it with a brush. I don’t use any of the available mediums that are supposed to slow down the speed in which acrylics dry. I have tried them but I didn’t like working with them.
Acrylics typically dry darker and less shinny than they look when wet. There are mediums you can mix with your paints to give acrylics that shinny appearance typical of an oil painting, but this medium does slightly alter the way in which acrylic paint acts when painting with it. The same effect can be achieved if you simply apply a coat of varnish to the painting when it is done.
The amount of paint an artist applies to the painting also has an effect on how fast an acrylic application will dry. I have noticed that many artists who received their first artistic training in transparent watercolor seem to put a lot less paint on a canvas each time than I do, which might account for their acrylics drying faster than they expect. I find that acrylic loves to be applied nice and thick. The thicker the paint (the more you start out with on the brush each time) the easier it is to push it around on the canvas and the longer it will take to dry.
If you are having trouble with acrylic painting techniques, don’t give up. If you can’t find a class in acrylics by a local expert, there are many wonderful instruction videos and books available. You can also take advantage of your local art groups demonstrations at their general meetings. The two experts in Acrylic painting that I have learned the most from are Jerome Grimmer, an artist who lives in my area part time and gives workshops when he is in Fresno, and Jerry Yarnell, who lives in Oklahoma and publishes instructional videos that can be found on public television stations or bought from the internet.