Materials – Supports
First decide if you will be using the acrylic paints as water colors, as oil paints, or a mixed media. Acrylic can be used on, and will stick to most anything that’s not oily. If you plan on using acrylics as a water media, paper, or the new watercolor canvas will be your best support and no preparation is needed. If you will be acrylics in a manner similar to oil paints, you can choose canvas or linen, either stretched or on board. Mixed Media could go either way, only making sure that the support will be strong enough to hold any materials and additives you intend to apply.
We’ll focus on using acrylics in a manner similar to oil paints. I most often use professionally stretched canvas since I scrub the paint into the canvas. The professionally stretched canvases are tighter than I can do at home. Linen’s wonderful, but find it stretches too much when I get scrubbing unless I’m using it adhered to a board background. Canvas on board is a favorite, too.
Prepared canvas and linen support are available from a wide range of art supply stores and on the Internet. There are also some terrific small manufacturers of prepared supports. Check out what’s available at http://www.paintonthis.com/ and http://www.dailypaintingpanels.blogspot.com/. These panels come in a variety of sizes and are well suited for small, daily work, while larger, braced canvases may be better for larger studio work.
Once you have decided on your support, you may need to prepare it. If it has at least two coats of acrylic gesso, you may not need to do anything else. However it if has only one coat, or you can see through the canvas when you hold it up to a window, you may want to add another coat or two of acrylic gesso before you begin. This will thoroughly seal the canvas and prepare the surface for the paint.
Start with prepared acrylic gesso, thinned with a little water. It should be about the consistence of a cream soup. The gesso mix should be thin enough to spread easily without dripping. You can apply the paint using a house painting brush. Let the canvas dry completely between coats, and put the second coat on going in the opposite direction. If you are doing very fine work you can sand between each coat, but this is a person preference. I usually order and prepare a number of canvases at a time so there’s always one prepared when I’m ready to paint.
Once the canvas is prepared, you can begin to paint. Some artists like to work on white canvas and others prefer to tone the canvas first. Some us the complementary color of the expected painting, which sets up an immediate vibration. Some like to start with a middle value, and work both to the lights and the darks. My final preparation is to paint the canvas a warm dark, usually purplish. It’s so non-threatening to work on a dark background, and I love to see the painting coming into the light.