Product Profiles: Can acrylic paint be made in-studio?

Ask the Expert: "I've read a lot about artistsmaking their own oil paint, but what aboutacrylics? Can I use acrylic mediums and drypigments to make my own colors?"

A: It's possible to make a basic homemadeacrylic paint, but it can be difficult to make highquality acrylic colors in-studio. Acrylic formulasare more complicated than oils or temperas, andwithout special proprietary ingredients andlaboratory formulation, homemade colors maynot be as stable as factory-prepared paints.Because homemade acrylic paint can have arelatively short shelf life, we recommend using itup fairly soon after preparation.

Laboratory formulation is especially importantwith acrylics because performance andpermanence can be affected by ingredientproportions, and it's not always apparent to thenaked eye when something's wrong. Also,certain pigments like genuine Viridian aren'tcompatible with the dispersion base, so notevery pigment will yield a usable acrylic paint.

Some of the special additives necessary toproduce high quality acrylics are glycols,surfactants and antimicrobials. Glycols act aswetting agents for pigments and also remain inthe dry film for a short time after water has evaporated, allowing for gradual curing to astrong film. Without glycols, the drying rate ofthe paint might not be optimal, and stiff, heavyapplications might split or crack.

A simple paint can be made using a glass mullerand palette knife to disperse pigment in themedium. (Make sure to wear gloves and aparticle filter mask when handling pigments.)

The best Utrecht-brand acrylic product formaking acrylics in-studio is Acrylic Sizing. Thisproduct may appear to have a thin consistency,but it's a very strong polymer dispersion that willproduce a tough, durable film. Gloss Mediumcan also be used. Artists making their ownacrylics can use Retarder Gel as a source ofpropylene glycol, adding a small amount to thedispersion vehicle before introducing pigment.

When making acrylics, it's necessary to add drypowder gradually to the vehicle and make apaste before mulling to avoid dry clumps. (Thisis unlike the process of making oil paint, whichinvolves gradually adding vehicle to drypigment.) The pigment can be pre-moistenedwith a combination of distilled water andRetarder Gel (this also cuts down on airbornedust).

Too much solid material added to the acrylicvehicle can lead to a crumbly, weak paint thatlacks adhesive power. To be on the safe side,homemade acrylics can be left looser and morefluid than tube colors to avoid adding too muchpigment. One simple test for film strengthinvolves applying a sample of color to flexiblemylar. Wait for the paint to dry, then flex thesample to reveal any splitting, cracking orpeeling.

Manufactured acrylic paints also containantimicrobials, additives which supress moldgrowth and prevent spoilage. The ones used inmanufacturing are specifically made for acrylicpaints, but there are consumer-grade substitutesthat might work. Household Lysol spray can beused to retard mold growth in containers. Sprayan even coating on the paint surface beforesealing jars. The active ingredient (orthophenylphenol) is commonly used in latex house paint,so it should be safe to use in homemadeacrylics.

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