I was in an art store affixed to a local art school some months ago when a woman walked in asking the store clerk about the difference between oil and acrylic paints. She was signed up for a class at the school in which you could use any medium. Since she was new to painting, she didn’t know what to choose. Being the
busy body helpful person that I am, I considered offering some free advice. But the very complexity of the question put me into a kind of mental paralysis. So I just stood, blank stare, looking like a nosey store mannequin.
Anyone who has used either medium very much knows they are like night and day. I used to play around with acrylics in high school when they were still fairly new as a medium. Back in that era of my artist life, they posed no particular problem since I didn’t know much about paints anyway, my method was “go with the flow.” And to newcomers in the art world, I say take full advantage of the beginner’s mind and beginner’s luck. Nature loves a rookie.
However, after I had spent years and years painting with oil, I took up acrylic paints again because an artist friend was using them to wonderful effect. I got my palette and soon thereafter was ready to pull my hair out for frustration. The big mistake I made was in trying to make them behave like oil paints: to make them do the things that I could so easily do with oil. Well, it don’t work that way.
I gave my whole palette to the friend just to get the paint out of my life. Later, though, I bought more acrylics and began to accept that they have their own virtues. In time I made some paintings that I really loved and one painting of which I am especially proud, Agenor’s Friends (top of the post). All that came later of course.
Ever since that random encounter (I eavesdropped on the clerk’s advice), I have wondered how I would explain the difference in the uses of the two kinds of paint. I have found no particularly satisfying explanation. For one, it really depends a lot on how you approach painting as to which medium you’re likely to find more congenial and someone who has never used either one isn’t like to have an approach yet.
And thus the only advice I know to offer to a beginner is this:
Get one of the kinds of paint. Flipping a coin is a good way to decide. Don’t invest the whole farm. Just buy a beginner’s set. Take a course with somebody who uses that medium. Or find a book. Check out Youtube for demonstration videos. Use whichever one you choose, learn some basics, then after a season give the other one a try.
Know that they are fundamentally different! One dries fast, the other dries slow. But, friends, I cannot impress upon you what a difference that makes!
(This post was inspired by something I saw at another blog. Smile.)