If the colors in your acrylic paintings are not as vibrant as you would like them to be, the reason could be that your paint is absorbing into the canvas, wood, or other support that you are using, which can dull your paint colors. The answer to your problem is simple — before you paint, prepare the support that you plan to paint on with a few coats of gesso (pronounced jes-oh). This gives the surface a tooth (texture) for the paint to bind to, and prevents the paint from soaking into the support. And too, the brands of acrylic paints and mediums that you choose have a lot to do with how the painting will look when finished. In this article I share the primer, paints, and mediums that I like to use when making my acrylic paintings. If this interests you, keep reading.
Gesso: Before I paint with acrylic paints — or even oil paints — I apply a few thin layers of gesso to my canvas or wood panel support. I should point out that I am talking about acrylic gesso here; not traditional rabbit skin gesso. The two are very different, and have different uses.
Traditionally, oil painters would seal their canvas or board with a mixture of rabbit skin glue and chalk or marble dust, followed by a layer of white lead oil paint. They did this because oil paint can cause a canvas to become brittle and eventually fall apart. Some artists still use rabbit skin glue for making this needed separation layer. Though, conservators usually recommend using PVA glue, which is non acidic and is less likely to yellow over time.
Nowadays, most painters simply use acrylic gesso, because it protects the support and has a bit of tooth, which helps the paint to grab onto the surface and form a bond. Acrylic gesso is made with white acrylic polymer and chalk. I use Liquitex brand gesso, which remains brilliantly white, is non-cracking, and covers in one coat. Though, I like to apply two or three coats. I wait for each coat to dry before adding another, and when the last coat is dry I have the option of leaving it with a little texture, or using sandpaper to gently sanding the surface for less texture.
Supports: I like painting on stretched canvas or wood panels, but there are so many different types of supports that acrylic paint can adhere to — canvas, wood, paper, cardboard, and fabric work well. Avoid metal, glass, plastic, and other surfaces that don’t allow air to pass through may cause the paint to chip or peal off over time. Here are some of the supports that I use:
- Blick Premier Cotton Canvas is made by hand to ensure good quality, archival stability, and durability, and is offered at an affordable price. I especially like the 7/8″ depth splinted canvas with minimal staples and no bulky corner folds.
- Ampersand Gessobord is acid-free and non-yellowing supports that have a gesso ground with a lightly sanded surface. I use the 1/8″ flat panels.
- RayMar ArtfixBelgian Linen Panel is a high-quality, professional grade, 1/8″ primed linen panel that resists warping and provides a permanent barrier against deterioration from moisture and mold.
- Medium Density Fibre Board (MDF) is a wood support, created from compressed wooden fibers. It’s affordable, and available in many hardware or craft stores. It comes in a variety of sizes, or large sheets can be cut to whatever size you like. Know, however, that it isn’t primed, so I give both sides two or three coats of white gesso, then let it dry overnight.
Acrylic Paints: I use Grumbacher Acrylics for making quick color studies, and when teaching beginner acrylic painting classes. For more advanced classes, or when making paintings that I plan to hang in my home or sell, I use Liquitex Professional Heavy Body Acrylics. Both brands are great for different purposes. The Grumbacher Acrylics are budget friendly, and the Liquitex Professional Heavy Body Acrylics have a thick, buttery consistency, and a high pigment load, which refers to the pigment in a paint compared to the amount of binder and other ingredients. More pigment tends to cause the color to be more intense, which I like. I also like that Liquitex offers some Cadmium-Free Colors which are certified AP non-toxic. This is what I look for when shopping for acrylic paints:
- Grumbacher Acrylic Mixing Set (Process Magenta, Process Cyan, Process Yellow, Grumbacher Red, and Ultramarine Blue) plus titanium white and raw umber. These paints are perfect for both students and budget conscience artists.
- Liquitex Heavy Body Acrylic Paint is my favorite paint for professional work. It has a smooth and creamy consistency, and produces brilliant, permanent color. If you don’t know what colors to choose, maybe try Liquitex Professional Heavy Body Mixing Set of 4 (Quinacridone Crimson, Yellow Medium Azo, Phthalocyanine Blue, and Titanium White), plus raw umber.
Mediums: Acrylic mediums, when added to acrylic paint, can alter the handling characteristics, appearance, or volume for a variety of effects. For example, you can mix a gloss medium into your acrylic paints, instead of water, to increase the brilliance even more. Liquitex mediums are intermixable, non-yellowing, dry slowly, are non-toxic, and available in different viscosities and sheens. You don’t need to use any mediums, but many artists who use acrylics tend to use one or more. Here are the mediums that I use with acrylic paint, and also the brushes that I use:
- Liquitex White Gesso is used to create an opaque white base coat that prepares your painting surfaces for working in acrylics or oils. And it prevents problems down the line, since paint placed directly on a raw support is more likely to crack and flake.
- Liquitex Gloss Medium & Varnish is an all-purpose fluid painting medium that enhances color intensity and increase transparency. It can also be used act as a non-removable, glossy varnish.
- Liquitex Gel Medium, Gloss is a paint extender that increases the brilliance and transparency of color without changing paint thickness. This makes the paint similar in color depth to oil paint.
- Liquitex Palette Wetting Spray slows drying time of acrylic color when on a palette or canvas. It also improves color blending. To use, just spray and re-spray as needed. If too thick to spray, I add a little water and shake the bottle before trying again.
- Artist Loft Firenze Brushes are durable and affordable. I use a variety of types and sizes. I don’t like to spend a lot of money on brushes used for acrylic painting, because acrylic paints and mediums can ruin brushes quickly.
And no, the above links are not affiliate links. This to say, no one pays me to add links to the products that I share in this website — I just do so because I think links are helpful in leading you to some added information that you might find helpful. Anyway…
You may or may not like what I use, but I encourage you try various acrylic paints, acrylic mediums, supports, and brushes. In doing so, you are likely to discover the ones that you like best — that’s how I found my favorites.