One of the greatest things about acrylics is that they're very versatile. Many artists use acrylics as their preferred type of paint because of their versatility. Acrylic paints are in fact so versatile that they can be used like other types of paints, including watercolours.
Why not just use watercolours?
If acrylics can be used like watercolours, why do artists not just use them instead of acrylics? There are a few reasons why artists sometimes prefer to use acrylics like watercolours, rather than using watercolours themselves. They tend to be less forgiving, so if you make a mistake, it's a lot harder to go back and correct it. Mistakes done in watercolours can't be covered up that easily. Watercolours by their very nature can become quite muddy very easily and certain colours don't blend well together. When painting with watercolours you run the risk of putting too much water on to the canvas. This can result in the canvas softening and being more likely to tear.
Another good thing about using acrylics like watercolours is that you can layer them. With watercolour paints, you can't really layer them that well. This is because they tend to become muddy very quickly and intermingle; you also run the risk of washing off a pre-existing layer. Rather than there being separate layers, the paint could all mix together and produce something you probably didn't want. Acrylics, on the other hand, can be very easily layered on top of each other, even when diluted.
How to acrylics like watercolours
Acrylics can be used like watercolours because they can be easily diluted with water. When they're diluted, they become transparent just like watercolours. Some colours do need more water than others in order to become transparent, so experiment a bit before you start painting. Once acrylics are in a more diluted form, simply use them as you would use watercolours. If you want the pigment to be thicker and creamier, simply add a painting medium to the mixture. The amount of water and painting medium should not exceed the amount of paint.
Make sure the water you mix acrylic paint with has been filtered or distilled. Ordinary tap water is likely to contain chemicals which can affect the painting's colouring over time. Take care when mixing water with acrylics so you get the dilution exactly right, so it isn't too wet or not diluted enough. Start mixing by adding little bits of water to the paint. Take your time when doing this and once the paint begins to soften, mix the water into it with a brush. Try to take note of how much water you used to dilute the paint.
What paper and paintbrush should I use?
Diluted acrylics can be used on canvas, but many artists prefer to use watercolour paper. This particular type of paper tends to be smoother, stronger and more capable of handling larger amounts of water more easily. As for paintbrushes, you should use one that has soft bristles. One of the most popular choices is sable, which is especially good for diluted acrylics because it's soft and loads paint very well. You could also use any good, synthetic brush that's got light and compact bristles.
Using acrylics like watercolours allows you to gain the benefits of watercolour paints without the hassle of actually using them. It's very especially good for beginners because it allows them to create a watercolour painting by using a type of paint that's much easier to handle and control. Acrylic paint manufacturers often advise against diluting them because the results can't be guaranteed. Many artists therefore see using acrylics like watercolour as experimental. They enjoy seeing what different results can be produced when using acrylics like watercolour.
Joanne Perkins is a Berkshire-based artist with a BA (Hons) in Fine Art and specialises in painting Berkshire landscapes. She is happy to accept all queries and questions. For more information about Joanne, her work and her current projects visit: http://joannesberkshirescenes.com/default.aspx