Acrylic Paint is made of pigment suspended in an acrylic polymer emulsion. They are faster drying than oils, and are more easily manipulated with the use of a wide variety of mediums available for acrylic painting technique. Acrylics were first developed in the mid 1930s and boasted a mixture of qualities also possessed by either watercolour or oils. Many artists enjoy using acrylic colour because although they dilute in water they dry waterproof, and they are faster drying than oils, yet colours can be just as intense.
At Jackson's Art Supplies, we offer acrylic paint ranges across the the whole price spectrum, so you can buy the very finest brands with the highest pigment saturation, as well as the inexpensive value paints that are better suited to beginners and those on a budget.
Professional Colour Ranges - Liquitex Artist Soft Body Acrylic Colour
Those who favour working in acrylics are often attracted by the myriad ways the paint can be manipulated with the use of mediums. Acrylic mediums and gels are made using the same acrylic resin binders that manufacturers use in making paint, to which various other materials including marble dust, stone and mica are added in order to alter the consistency and behaviour of the medium which in turn will manipulate the paint when the medium is mixed with it. Jackson’s Artist Acrylic range includes a number of gels and mediums which are described below, and we also sell acrylic mediums by Golden, Liquitex, AV, Daler Rowney, Winsor & Newton, Lascaux and Ara. Acrylic painters really are spoilt for choice at Jackson’s Art Supplies!
Acrylic Gel Medium
Acrylic gel medium is available in Daler Rowney (known as ‘Impasto Gel Medium’), Jackson’s, Golden (known as ‘Heavy Gel’ and is available gloss, matt or semi-gloss), and AV. Jackson’s Acrylic Gel Medium is made from acrylic polymer emulsion, and is of a heavier viscosity that the Jackson’s Artist Acrylic. By adding this medium to your colour you will extend the colour, increase its transparency, and slow the drying time a little. Gel medium is particularly good for heavy impasto techniques. Golden also do a ‘Regular Gel’ in gloss, matte or semi-gloss, and this is of a similar consistency to Golden Heavy Body Acrylic but still may be thicker than some other acrylic colour ranges. (Please note that brands can be mixed).
Acrylic Flow/Fluid Medium
These mediums will thin heavy body acrylic colour, but are usually of a similar consistency to fluid colour. They extend the colour and increase the transparency. It is worth checking each individual brand with regard to how they affect the drying time – AV’s does not alter the drying time because it is made using the same acrylic emulsion as the paint itself. Jackson’s and Golden also do their own versions of this product.
Jackson’s, AV and Golden all offer retarders as part of their acrylic medium ranges. These slow the drying time right down, and also extend the colour and increase its transparency. It is advised not to mix more retarder than 10% of the colour you are mixing with as this will weaken the bonds between the acrylic polymer particles in the paint too much and cause instability in the dry acrylic paint film.
There are so many other mediums and gels to explore, so if you are interested in really making unique paintings then it is worth having a look. There are mediums to make paint appeared cracked and aged, mediums to make paint stringy, sandy, gritty, pearlescent, pasty…there are gels to alter consistency, reduce brush marks, increase brush marks, increase gloss and decrease gloss. Experiment where you can, you might even want to mix mediums and see what other possibilities there are.
Acrylic varnishes offer a protective coating to a finished painting, keeping it safe from dust and surface damage (scratches etc). Some varnishes also have UV light resistors which will prevent colour fade. We recommend applying an isolation coat over your painting prior to varnishing - a soft gloss gel medium would be ideal for this. This will allow for the varnish to be removed in future, if necessary, with no damage risk to the painting itself. Always ensure that you varnish work in a dust and dirt free environment, and remove any dust or dirt from the surface of your work prior to varnishing.
Spray vs Paint
Acrylic Varnishes are available in an aerosol can as well as in a bottle. There’s a good argument on both sides regarding which is easier to apply. With sprays make sure you start spraying on something other than your finished artwork (the work surface beside perhaps) in order to gauge how much pressure you need to push the nozzle with to get the right amount of varnish coming out. Then continuously move the spray over the finished work making sure you give the whole surface as even a layer as possible. Always stop spraying if you stop moving, to avoid an uneven application. A few thin layers is always better than 1 thick layer as it will allow for the varnish to dry properly and be more solid and stable in the long run. Read the label of the varnish to find out the drying time you need to allow between layers. A good tip is to turn your work 90 degrees each time to apply and new layer of varnish as this will help to achieve a more even application. Sprays can be particularly useful when varnishing a delicate work where applying varnish with a brush could damage the surface. It is also good for impasto work where varnish might gather in between undulations in the surface if applied by brush.
Brushing varnish on can also be a little tricky. First give the varnish a very good stir (but not shake as you do not want air bubbles for form), check the consistency; if it is too thick then thin it down with a little water or an acrylic thinner. Use a relatively stiff haired varnish brush (usually hog hair with split ends) and work on a flat surface where possible. Only load the bottom third of the brush as if you load the brush with more varnish than this it will be very difficult to apply it evenly. As with spray varnish, more layers is preferable to one thick layer, so it is good to try and practice applying the varnish thin and evenly. When applying a varnish with added matting agents (satin, semi-gloss or matt varnish) it is a good idea to only use it on the final layer of varnish in order to maintain the appearance of the colour depth and brilliance in your work.
With any varnish application, it is much easier to clean up when the tools are still wet as you can do this with soap and water. Dried acrylic varnish requires washing with ammonia.
MSA (Mineral Spirit Acrylic) varnish is a more permanent layer than regular acrylic varnish and needs to be cleaned/thinned with solvents, although it is still acrylic based.
Acrylic Painting Tools
Acrylic (and oil) painting brushes traditionally have a longer handle to allow the painter to achieve more movement when painting, which can create more expressive marks. Natural and synthetic hair brushes are available in a range of softnesses - stiffer, thicker hair such as hog or da Vinci Impasto is ideal for more gestural, impasto painting, but the softness of sable hair or Jackson's Procryl is more suitable for thin applications of colour such as glazes and washes.
Oil and Acrylic brushes usually come in filbert, long flat, short flat (or brights) and round shapes. Watercolour brushes are available in more specialised shapes and can also be used with acrylic colour, but these have shorter handles and some watercolour brushes have softer hair than a conventional acrylic brush.
Palette knives are really useful for mixing colour on to a palette, as brushes get very loaded with paint easily and it can be difficult to get the paint back on the palette! Much easier to use the smooth metal of a palette knife to move the colour around. Cheaper palette knives tend to be a lot thinner but this can be to an artist’s advantage when using a palette knife as a painting tool, as it allows for a little more spring. The more expensive palette knives such as the excellent Jackson’s palette knives are made of an incredibly sturdy carbon steel blade, and could almost be used as a paint scraper. A paint scraper is a tool with a slighter sharper blade, which is effective in taken dried layers of paint off a painting support or palette.
Acrylic Based Primer
There are 2 main types of acrylic primer – regular acrylic primer and gesso. Both are made up of acrylic resins mixed with pigment, they are cheaper than artist acrylic colour because they contain opacifiers to ensure that they provide good coverage. Acrylic Gesso replicates the qualities of traditional gesso, a mixture of French chalk or whiting and rabbit skin glue, and is absorbent with a slightly heavier tooth than acrylic primer – the more layers you apply the more absorbent. Because of this a few coats is required if you are going to apply oil colour to it, as there is a rick of the oil sinking down to the fibres of the canvas support and causing damage. You can also choose to prime your canvas with a black gesso primer by System 3 if you prefer to work on black (this will have a dramatically different effect on your transparent colours). Acrylic clear primer allows you to work on the natural colour of the canvas without having the absorbency of the raw fabric.
Primer dries smoother and is not absorbent, but a few coats with light sanding in between will make a good solid surface on which to paint. The white colour of regular gesso or primer helps colours to maintain their luminosity. All white gessos and primers can be tinted by adding acrylic colour and mixing. Acrylic primer, unlike oil primer, does not cause natural fibres to rot over time so can be used without the use of glue size. Many oil painters today use acrylic primer instead of rabbit skin glue size as it does not require heating, and its whiteness means you need fewer coats of white lead oil primer to achieve a bright white, glossy surface.
Gessos and Primers should be applied to surfaces as thinly and evenly as possible - more thin layers creates a superior surface on which to work than fewer thick coats. We recommend the use of a wide, relatively springy soft hog hair flat brush. Sanding the primer/gesso surface between coats with fine sand or glass paper will create a super-smooth surface.
Before you shop for canvas, you need to consider what’s available. There are a lot of choices to be made so think about what it is you are using the canvas for, where will you be painting, what will be practical and what will help you achieve the results you are looking for.
Acrylic colour can be painted on to all sorts of surfaces, from canvas to sanded metal, and below you can browse through the traditional fine art surfaces we offer for acrylic painting. Canvas Panels and boards are made by gluing primed cotton on to a rigid board, so that you get the texture of a cotton surface, but not the 'spring' you would get from painting on to stretched canvas. Our ready made stretched canvases take away time consuming stretching and priming processes, and are available in a range of weights, grains and sizes. If you prefer to make your own canvas we also have all the materials you need to make your own, including our very easy to use stretcher bars, available in 6 depths, 2 of which are made of aluminium re-enforced wood for maximum durability and strength.
Finally, canvas sheets pads and boards are a mixture of specially prepared acrylic painting papers and primed cotton sheets that are relatively lightweight and excellent for taking outdoors, travelling, or for experimenting with techniques.
What is stretched canvas? Pre-prepared supports for artists who want to paint straight away
Conventionally, canvases are tightly stretched on to a frame, which creates a spring in the fabric when pressure is applied, i.e. when a paint brush applies paint to it. It is generally considered that the more tightly stretched a canvas, the more enjoyable it is to paint on, as the tension in the surface has an element of vibrancy. The tightness of a canvas must be the same across the whole frame so that the grain of the fabric is square to the edges, with no skewing. Readymade or pre stretched canvases most commonly have a universally primed canvas stretched on to a wooden frame with bevelled edges (so that the edge of the frame does not leave an imprint when the canvas is painted on). This means that the canvas is coated with a white acrylic primer, which sufficiently coats the fabric for both oil and acrylic painting. Most ready-made canvases are triple primed (coated 3 times), and some have even more layers of primer. Lots of thin layers of primer is preferable to one thick layer as it is a more stable priming, which is less susceptible to cracking over time, and will be much more likely to be even across the whole surface. Canvas is fixed to the frame with either tacks on the sides, or staples on the back, or both. Ready made canvases are available in a range of depths, and if this is of importance to you it is vital to check the dimensions. Standard depth canvases are generally considered to look more traditional and are easier to frame, whereas deeper canvases tend to be associated with contemporary or more modern art techniques, although the trends are always changing. This choice is one of pure aesthetic; a standard depth canvas does not perform better or worse than a deep edge or chunky canvas, although thin bars may need to be reinforced with the use of a cross bar for larger sized canvases. Daler Rowney have a range of canvases ideal for landscape painting, due to their long thin dimensions (but of course they are not exclusive to painting landscapes, just as good for abstract or figurative painting too!). Bella Arti, our ‘professional’ grade pre-stretched canvases are made to gallery standard and are also available in extra fine grain linen, medium grain linen, clear primed linen (an extra coat of acrylic medium is required for oil painting) as well as deep edge cotton. Again, all these choices give you the artist the opportunity to select the right surface for the idea you have in mind for your work. Our own brand Jackson’s canvases are available in deep and standard depth cotton universal primed canvas, and we also do canvases by Winsor and Newton, Daler Rowney, Loxley and Pebeo. Take advantage of extra discount by looking out for the permanent special bulk buy art canvas offers we have for canvases by Winsor & Newton, Jackson’s Art Supplies and Bella Arti (trade discounts also available for wholesale customers), as well as occasional limited time period canvas sales we hold; surprisingly cheap canvases of exceptional value and quality for all artists - from beginner to professional.
In addition to readymade canvases, we at Jackson’s Art Supplies offer a variety of other canvas supports. Canvas panels are sheets of compressed card on to which universally primed cotton canvas has been glued. These are ideal for quick sketches, but can also be easily framed as finished paintings, and we sell ranges by both Winsor and Newton and Jackson’s. Artist’s canvas boards by Bella Arti are made of acrylic primed cotton duck glued on to MDF with shear edges – slightly sturdier and heavier, and a great rigid support with the grain of a canvas. Daler Board, an entirely unique product range by Daler Rowney, is an affordable and rigid oil primed support ideal for taking out of doors.
Perfect for experimentation and easy to cut to size are the wide range of canvas pads that we sell. Belle Arti and Fredrix offer canvas pads made of sheets of universally acrylic primed canvas, glue bound on one edge, so that you can paint on sheets while they are still in the pad, or you can fix to a board with glue or masking tape for more stability. Oil and acrylic blocks by Clairefontaine and Hahnemuhle as well as pads from the Daler Rowney System 3 and Georgian ranges are made of specially treated papers designed for use with either oil or acrylic paint (please note the acrylic papers are not suitable for use with oils) and all varieties have a fine art linen effect texture. Oil/acrylic blocks are glued on all 4 sides and sheets need to be sliced with a palette knife after the work is complete and dry – this prevents any warping in the sheet during the drying process. Pads are only glue bound on one side, and in all cases, can be presented to gallery standard by reinforcing on to a backing board and framing. Conversely they are also a cheaper option for those buying art supplies for a school or art society that need to be creative within a budget.
Can’t Find What You’re Looking For?
If you can’t find the right length, width, depth, canvas grain or priming all wrapped up in one desirable canvas, then you might want to consider ordering one of our bespoke canvases using the ‘Bespoke Canvas Builder’. You may have been commissioned to paint a portrait or landscape that requires very specific dimensions. We are able to construct canvases using our professional grade aluminium reinforced bars from NB Frames as well as our traditional wooden stretcher frames, with a wide variety of different French and Italian cottons and linens.
Do It Yourself
Many artists would prefer to make their own canvases to their own specifications, and we sell all the tools and accessories an artist would require to make their own canvas. But before you start, time to make some decisions…
What stretchers bars should I use?
First you need to decide your canvas depth i.e. how far it sticks out from the wall. If you’d prefer to have a thinner canvas, but your work is going to be over a metre long or wide, remember to order cross bars to reinforce the structure. Deep edge canvases do not really need cross bars (and aluminium reinforced bars certainly don’t!) but they can be useful for carrying purposes (remember however that they can also add to the weight of the canvas). All the art stretcher bars are already mitre cut at the ends for assembly and have slots for centre bars as well as bevelled edges, but the assembly of the aluminium bars differs from that of the professional wooden stretcher bars so be sure to read the information on their appropriate pages before purchasing.
Cotton duck or Linen?
Cotton duck is a lot cheaper because it is made of shorter threads that have been woven together. The result is that it is weaker than linen (yet still sufficiently durable with the right treatment), and the grain looks different. Cotton tends to be lighter in colour. It is available off the roll primed and unprimed, in a range of grains and weights, and we recommend a heavier weight canvas for larger paintings. The rest of the decision making process is down to you and your aesthetic preferences. Our linens are available in grains ranging from extra fine to rough, as well as varying weights. The French linens have a slightly more irregular grain due to the differing manufacturing process, but this can add a character that may be desirable to how you want your work to appear. To make your own canvas as quickly as possible, purchase a ready primed canvas and you can start painting as soon as it is fixed to the frame – however the downside is that it is much more difficult to get good tension in the fabric in comparison to stretching untreated canvas, and then sizing and priming it. Ultimately the decision is likely to depend on how much time you have and how important the tension in the canvas is to you. If you make canvases regularly you may wish to consider purchasing one of our 10-metre linen rolls to keep you in good supply.
How to Stretch
Canvas pliers are vital for achieving a good amount of tension when stretching your canvas. Place your canvas frame in the middle of your piece of canvas and make sure you have enough canvas to wrap around to the back of the frame. Use the pliers to grab enough of the material between the teeth of the pliers, and then use the ridge on the underside of the pliers to gain leverage over the edge of the frame and stretch around to the back of the frame. Always stretch canvas from the middle of the bars moving outwards, and always insert staples opposite the ones you have just put in. A staple gun is the easiest to use and small tacks is the traditional method. Finished pictures or artwork that have been made on un-stretched canvas can be fixed to a frame once dry, and do not need as much tension when being stapled – just make sure they are fixed square to the frame and that you do not lose too much of the image when wrapping the work around to the back.
Staples and Tacks
Tacks can be gently hammered in the edge of the canvas frame before a staple secures the canvas to the back – this does help a little with achieving a good amount of tension, and also adds a traditional look to the finished support. The pressure that a staple gun provides makes it easy to punch in staples to secure the canvas to the back of the canvas frame. Remember to leave enough room at the corners to fold your canvas neatly before punching in the final staples.
Your canvas is now ready to use, but you may wish to prime it in order to create a less absorbent surface that it white and therefore enhances the luminosity of your colours.
A wide range of different acrylic painters have produced instructional films that cover a range of subject matter from flower painting to urban landscape. Our DVDs from APV Films and Town House Films are a great way of getting new painting technique ideas all in the comfort of your living room!
Jackson’s Art Supplies has an extensive range of book titles – hundreds in fact! – and these cover every subject matter and angle imaginable – from how to make work to how to sell it. Browse our titles to find the right book for your needs.
To view our Acrylic Painting Playlist of videos on youtube, please visit