Berries in Woven Basket6” x 8” acrylic on gessoed board unframed $175 with free shipping in US and Canada
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WHY I PREFER ACRYLIC POLYMER PAINTS OVER OIL by Paul Wolber
I have been using acrylic paints for over forty years and personally continue to prefer them to oil. The following are some of my thoughts about the reasons for this. As a professor of art and a painter for over 45 years I have used and taught oil painting to hundreds, if not thousands of students. When introducing students to painting I prefer to begin with oils. The reason is simple. Oil paints are easier to use when trying to understand methods of mixing and applying glazes or layering of paint. Students can gain an understanding of the painting process more quickly with oil than with other mediums.
As a beginning student studying painting I learned the traditional Dutch Masters method of applying white lead to canvas to create the ground for oil painting used by Renaissance and Baroque artists such as Michaelangelo and Rembrandt in the classical tradition. To reach the highest level of painterly ability with oil it is necessary to follow the Dutch Masters method of using a white lead ground. The caveat is white lead is a toxic substance. We’ve all heard of problems children have had from contact with lead paint but we now know that many artists from the Classical period of art history had severe physical problems caused by exposure to white lead used in their paint. You can read more about these dangers here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lead_poisoning. Rather than deal with the dangers of white lead, I long ago made the decision to use acrylic polymer as the ground for my paintings. Even when teaching students to use oil paint I don’t teach them to prepare canvas with a white lead ground, rather the canvas is prepared with a 100% acrylic polymer gesso. Most commercially prepared canvas today is made with a polymer gesso ground and in some places white lead is now banned from use because of its toxicity.
Many artists who argue that oil paint is the classical medium of choice superior to others now paint on canvas or board that is prepared with an polymer gesso without realizing that their argument is invalidated by the fact that a painting is only as good as the ground it is painted on. If one paints with oil on a polymer ground the painting takes on at least some of the qualities of the polymer base. The only way to have a true oil painting in the classical tradition is to use a white lead ground with all the toxic hazards that entails and some artists today choose to use this method. The choice then is between a toxic white lead support and a polymer-based ground or some other type of ground.
The final question for me is whether oil paint is a superior medium to use over acrylic polymer paint regardless of the ground. I agree that oil is an easier medium to learn. Whether it will last longer or has superior overall qualities is a matter of opinion and is often based on emotional rather than factual data. Acrylic paints do present a challenge to learn and this is why I have painting students begin with oils. Acrylics have some advantages such as the smoothness of surface, quick drying and coverage abilities, brilliance in some hues that are much more difficult in oil and the avoidance of muddy or dirty paint mixing quality of oil caused by slow drying process of oils. Acrylic paint is more difficult to mix matching colors because they dry darker than when wet and this takes some getting used to. It is however possible to master this medium with time and experience and many professional artists have told me I am able to get more out of acrylic paint than any artist they know.
Acrylic paints can rival or match most or all of what is possible in oil and have some good qualities of their own but using them requires experience, understanding of both mediums and a good understanding of traditional techniques and methods of painting, so they may not be for everyone. My argument is with those who insist that oil is the only true classical medium to use. It’s a bit like arguing that beef is the only true energy food and because I want to stay healthy and live long I try to avoid too much of it. If I were to paint with oil professionally I’d want to use a white lead ground and for those who argue for oil I believe that unless they use white lead as the Dutch Masters did, it is not the true classical medium it is made out to be. The fact that white lead is a poisonous material is a persuasive argument that artists need to adapt. Materials such as titanium have been substituted for lead in white oil paint but that also can be used in acrylic paint. To be consistent I’ve chosen to move to acrylic paint as my medium of choice for what I consider ethical reasons and environmental safety concerns and I’ve been happy with the choice over the years. Today there are many very good artists who use acrylic with a high degree of success and are demonstrating the creative possibilities of this medium.
© Copyright 2010 by Paul Wolber
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