North Carolina-based painter, Laura E. Pritchett, discusses her transition from oil to acrylics! Acrylics have completely changed the way she creates her artwork while traveling. In the video above, Laura beautifully exhibits how she has expanded her possibilities with the help of acrylics and polymer glazing liquid. I think this video teaches us that art is an evolving process, there’s always an opportunity to pivot your style, techniques, etc.
“If you’ve ever used oil paints, you know they’re rich and creamy, extremely blendable, forgiving to work with, have amazing texture, and pull against the brush like butter. I could go on (clearly I love them for many reasons!), but the medium does have some drawbacks.”Laura Pritchett
In her words:
“Oils can be very messy and take a long time to dry. I have a gift for getting errant dabs of Phthalo Blue on practically every surface within ten feet of me with absolutely no idea how the spread began. Add to this the fact that oil paints can take days to dry to the touch and up to a year to fully cure, and wet oil paints can really impact ones’ environment. For a traveling young family in a thirty-one foot camper, containing oil paints’ potential for mess was tricky.
We also were moving our little home/studio on wheels to a new remote location every few days, which meant the wet oil paintings that were in progress needed to be carefully packed to withstand bouncing around in a trailer over rough terrain without smudging, picking up dust from dirt roads, or tumbling to their demise — a complicated task.
Oils also usually go hand-in-hand with strong smelling, sometimes dangerous mediums and solvents for clean-up. Although I preferred the milder alternatives of walnut oil medium and lavender spike oil brush cleaners, the fumes could still be overwhelming in the tight work and living space when I couldn’t paint outside.
Most importantly though, I found myself constantly wishing I could forego drying times between layers and paint faster without having to rotate my focus on a large number of paintings at a time as I waited for each to be ready for their next step in my process. Our travels brought a flood of beautiful sights and once-in-a-lifetime experiences that I was (and still am!) inspired to paint. I had hoped to be a very productive painter while I traveled, but soon found that oil paints weren’t drying quickly enough to keep up with my desire to make all the work that was piling up in my head.
In addition to the quick drying time, low fumes, and easy water clean up of acrylics, they became even more attractive to me for their ability to support other media like colored pencils. I can even layer them under oil paints if I wish to combine the two, or apply acrylics as a final layer to heighten certain watercolor and drawing techniques that I also enjoy. With acrylics, I can let go of oil painting rules like “fat over lean” which calls for increasing the amount of oil in each layer of paint to help prevent cracking as the work dries. Acrylics allow me to rapidly add areas of glazing or thicker palette-knife textures to my work at my whim with only the rarest need to wait days for the underlying paint to be ready to support them and all without altering their amazing durability.
I also am completely captivated by the vivid colors available in acrylic paints. There are eye-searing fluorescent hues available which I have never seen an equivalent for in oil paint form. In spite of my track record of quieter color palettes, I cannot get enough of these fiery-hot-pinks and neon-yellows and have begun to use them sparingly as my first layer of paint to sketch a visual guide for where I want the areas of my work to express the most energy. I’m enamored by the effect of letting those feisty tones to peak through the final, more subdued layers in bright contrast, like tiny points of light.
My first couple attempts with acrylics after years of oil painting were rocky and again delayed my productivity while I set about conquering them, but with perseverance, I began to lay down my brushstrokes in quicker succession. Unless we happened to be camped in the desert (where drying was immediate!) I found I could still soften edges when desired in a brief moment of wet-on-wet painting and I was soon rewarded with results that were on par with the style I had developed for myself in oils. Still, acrylics were inviting me to continue to experiment and discover what else they could do.
Although I began my acrylic journey with heavy bodied acrylics (which are most like oil paints in thickness and feel on the brush) over time, I’ve found that I prefer working in thinner, often semi-transparent layers. Fluid acrylics serve me well in this method to achieve jewel-like tones where I want them. I also embraced Glazing Liquid, a slow-drying acrylic extender which helps the paint flow like silk, slightly increases workable time on the support, and regulates transparency.
I avoid the use of water in my acrylic painting process except for brush clean-up as it does not provide as strong a final bond on a molecular level as 100% acrylic / polymer mediums do and I want to ensure that my work is given the best chance of lasting for generations to come. I also am pleased with the range of archival and UV resistant varnishes available for acrylic work which create a durable, color-rich final seal and, when applied over an isolation coat, make future cleaning of paintings less daunting and limit the risks of damage.
Heading into another year of acrylic painting, I continue to be challenged in the best ways to grow as an artist while picking up the pace of my process so that it’s at last falling in-step with my flow of ideas. Making art has been my life-long passion and yet after adapting to acrylics, I’m the most excited I’ve ever been to create. The flexibility acrylics have provided in my studio practices and the almost limitless possibilities of enhancing other media is freeing. Freeing is what art should be isn’t it? At least that’s what it is for me.”