Acrylic medium techniques are indispensible tools for mixed media, but let’s face it—these materials are not the most glamorous. But don’t count them out—gesso, gel medium, crackle paste, interference medium, and others can take artwork to new heights, adding depth, texture, shimmer, and eye-catching layers.
Leave it to our artists to come up with techniques that put mediums in the forefront, adding a special spark to all types of projects. Try the following ideas in your next project, and see how you can make acrylic mediums bask in the spotlight.
1. Gesso is the star of the show in Roxanne Evans Stout’s Art Lesson Volume 7: Gesso, the Final Touch. She says, “Gesso is a white, chalky art medium that can add the feeling of vintage plaster to your art. I’ve discovered that gesso can be much more than a great surface to paint or collage on. It adds a touch of white and an accidental, imperfect quality that can be very appealing.” For one technique on a collage on a small wood panel, she scrapes gesso on select area of the panel with a putty knife, applying it more heavily in some areas than others. If you’ve put on too much, remove some with a wet paper towel. Bonus tip: Practice on scrap paper to get the feel of how much to use. While the gesso is wet, carve into the thicker areas with a carving tool or the end of a paintbrush. Roxanne added text to one panel, and small squares to another. Rub an inkpad directly onto the panels to add a tint or stain, or use spray ink sparingly. Rub the ink with your fingers so it seeps into the recessed areas, adding depth. Remove excess ink with a paper towel.
Make gesso the star of your next collage by scribing into the medium while it’s still wet. (Art and photo by Roxanne Evans Stout)
2. Crackle mediums can produce cool effects on a collage or assemblage, but Tracy Weinzapfel artfully used it to add interest to a plain journal cover. In “Altered Sketchbook” in the July/August 2016 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine, her acrylic medium techniques include layering gesso, crackle paste and acrylic paint for a stunning effect. To start, brush gesso over the entire outside cover of a hardbound sketchbook. Then apply crackle paste (Tracy used DecoArt Media Crackle Paste) over the gesso, and allow it to dry completely. Bonus tip: The thicker the application of crackle paste, the larger the cracks. Brush on acrylic paint (Tracy used DecoArt Media Fluid Acrylics in analogous shades of yellow, gold, and red), and apply a thin layer of another crackle medium (DecoArt Americana Weathered Wood Crackle Medium). This helps simulate the look of old, cracked wood when it’s painted over. Add more color; by adding complementary shades of blues and teals, the reds and golds show through the cracks, allowing the crackle effect to really shine.
Crackle paste adds depth and layers to a journal cover. (Art and photo by Tracy Weinzapfel)
3. Many artists use gesso as a primer for paint, but the medium has other impressive tricks up its sleeve. In her book Stencil Girl: Mixed-Media Techniques for Making and Using Stencils, Mary Beth Shaw shows two easy ways to incorporate gesso in a collage using stencils, producing an interesting layered look. For one technique, apply white gesso over a stencil onto a canvas substrate and allow it to dry. Apply a layer of Silks Acrylic Glaze over the entire surface. Wipe off the excess paint with a paper towel, and use a baby wipe to remove paint from the gessoed areas. The stenciled image will reappear, but will be slightly lighter than the background, making it stand out. For the second technique, apply gesso through a stencil onto a piece of paper. Paint over the stenciled page with watercolor. Cut out the stenciled image on paper and collage it to the canvas piece. Bonus tip: How much paint you remove is a matter of choice; dabbing here and there produces a mottled effect, while completely removing the paint reveals pops of white. Try both methods and mix it up!
Acrylic mediums can work as resists, adding a layered look to collages. (Art by Mary Beth Shaw, photo by Christine Polomsky)
4. Some acrylic medium techniques can provide a whole lot of shimmer for artwork. Jane Davenport discovered this when she experimented with Winsor & Newton’s Iridescent Medium in Art Lessons Volume 8: Tactile & Textured Mediums. Her tips: Blend the medium with acrylic paint to make any shade look metallic. When brushed over dry acrylic paint it has a pearlescent effect, and will add a twinkle to eyes and a shine to lips in a portrait. Used alone, the medium dries clear, but with a pearlescent sheen.
Acrylic medium techniques using iridescent medium result in shimmer effects. (Art and photo by Jane Davenport)
5. Layering mediums with paint can produce beautiful results, and experimentation is key. Some acrylic medium techniques result in absorbing paint and deepening the color, while others act as a resist, lightening shades or providing a see-through effect. Sandra Duran Wilson used light molding paste and semi-gloss and soft gel gloss medium in “The Painter’s Dance” in the March/April 2016 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine. Working on one section of an Ampersand Encausticbord, apply molding paste through a stencil over an acrylic paint layer. When dry, spread a layer of gloss gel over the molding paste. This area of the board now has varying degrees of absorbency, which will be evident when paint is applied. Since the molding paste is more absorbent than the gel, the color values of the paint will vary. Use diluted paint in various shades to build layers of color and create depth. Sandra calls this part of the process an improvisational dance, because some paint is applied, then removed, producing a stunning effect.
Modeling paste and gel medium absorb acrylic paint differently, producing depth and dimension. (Art and photo by Sandra Duran Wilson)
6. Using acrylic medium techniques can produce a dramatic image transfer; Jodi Ohl used gesso and acrylic mediums to create a transfer in her book Abstracts in Acrylic & Ink. Using an Ampersand Claybord as a substrate, brush on an even, medium-thick layer of gesso. Press a black-and-white laser copy image into the wet gesso, gently pressing the image down. Place a sheet of deli paper over the image and burnish, making sure the image is adhered and there are no air bubbles. Let dry. Lift the first layer of paper by gently pulling the back of the sheet. Spray the remainder with water until the image becomes more clear; the paper should be damp. Gently rub the remaining paper fibers off the image, being careful not to take the image off. Seal the transfer with polymer medium. Tie your piece together by mixing matte medium with a small drop of Payne’s Gray acrylic paint and brushing it over the piece.
Create image transfers using gesso, then seal them with polymer medium. (Art by Jodi Ohl, photo by Christine Polomsky)
Note: Starting next week, join me on the Cloth Paper Scissors blog for more great techniques!
Before you grab that jar of gesso, check out these great resources from the North Light Shop that will add even more acrylic medium techniques to your repertoire!
Discover a multitude of acrylic medium techniques in Art Lesson Volume 8: Tactile & Textured Mediums by Jane Davenport.
Learn which mediums work best for a variety of techniques in the video Acrylic Painting Workshop: Mediums Demystified with Nathalie Kalbach.
Discover how to create texture, create layered effects, and more in Alternative Art Surfaces by Darlene Olivia McElroy and Sandra Duran Wilson.
Chris Cozen shares her favorite acrylic medium techniques in the video Acrylic Painting Techniques: Creative Textures.