Added April 26, 2022
For some time, our recommendation for artists using oils over acrylic has been to work over harder, matte acrylic surfaces and avoid working on softer gels and gloss products. Our intention was to optimize the level of adhesion that would be achieved on a toothier surface as well as avoid the potential for future cracking as the oil paints become more brittle. While we have not seen adhesion problems of oils on any type of acrylic, recent testing has shown the potential for cracking in certain instances and conditions when applying artist oils over all of the many brands of glossy acrylics we have tested. While we have not received notice from artists of this phenomenon, we are able to repeat this specific type of cracking in our Lab.
Please visit https://justpaint.org/revising-our-recommendations-for-using-oils-over-acrylics/ for an overview of our testing, results and updated recommendations for applying oil colors over acrylics.
There are many options for acrylic painting grounds. While Gesso is the most commonly used ground, almost any GOLDEN acrylic paint, medium, gel or paste can be used alone or in just about any combination to create a large range of unique surfaces for painting. Brush application can be time consuming as Gesso or other grounds need to be forced into the canvas weave to cover properly. A scrape and spread application using a metal blade tool makes this job much easier.
The Basic Idea:
This article focuses on the idea of mixtures of acrylic paint and medium, thinly scraped onto raw cotton duck canvas, as a fast way to get an even field of color and a thin acrylic layer. Metal blade tools work best for this, such as the ones pictured above. Drywall Tape knives work very well and are easily found at hardware stores. Putty knives are also good, along with large palette knives. In a pinch, a piece of 1″ x 2″ wood could work, but the clean hard edge of a metal blade is best. Use larger tools for larger sized canvases. Drywall knives are most often about 10 inches wide and this makes application faster and easier for larger canvases. While we are focusing on acrylic painting here, we have seen that two or three scraped on layers of either a gloss or semi-gloss medium will block oil from getting into the canvas, so oil painters out there could also use this method. For a relatively ‘clear gesso’ we recommend using our Fluid Matte Medium. Most people prefer a matte surface under oils for the tooth and absorbency. Although some artists continue to question the adhesion of oils on a glossy acrylic surface, our testing continues to show good adhesion.
Some tools that can work for this method:
Wide Drywall Tape Knife, Putty Knife, Palette Knife, Straight Edge Wallcovering Tool, Squeegee
The technique mirrors and expands on the method we show in our Creating a Smooth Surface using Molding Paste video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NP3br4sx7Uo.
The main difference is that we are using translucent glaze-like mixtures of Medium or Gel Medium and acrylic paint in place of Molding Paste, to create a translucent mixture that is forced into the weave of the canvas and allows the undertone of the color to show itself. And, the main goal here is not to create a perfectly smooth surface, but to get a solid color field down as quickly as possible. The canvas texture will still be seen and felt when painting. But, with multiple layers, you can get a very nice smooth surface as well. Glaze mixtures like this with a lot of fluid Mediums or thicker Gel Medium are much more forgiving in the way they can create more uniform color fields when applied in this manner. To get the most even color field you will need to make just one single pass with the blade tool as a second pass will immediately create a darker and more color dense area. These variations, of course, can be used for their own aesthetic effect, if desired. It is possible to apply this method of scraping to small pieces of canvas, as it will reduce the amount of warping compared to brush application, but with the shrinkage of the acrylic paint as it dries you will still see some curling of the canvas. It is possible to even out the warping with stretching or gluing.
Here are two articles that have related and pertinent information:
Acrylic Washes and Glazes: What, When and How?: https://justpaint.org/washes-and-glazes-what-when-and-how/
Glazing with Acrylics, Oils and Watercolors: https://justpaint.org/glazing-with-acrylics-oils-and-watercolors/
While there is a large range of possibilities, a good place to start is with an approximate 10:1 ratio of medium to paint. Add more paint to increase the color density and opacity and more medium to increase translucency. It can be helpful to make the mixtures beforehand and store in air-tight plastic containers with lids. Label with a swatch of the mixture on the lid. This is an important part of the process as any acrylic mixture that contains mostly medium of any kind will appear lighter when wet but dry darker. Just about any of our Mediums or Gels could work for this application. Gel Mediums such as Soft Gels and Regular Gels work very well as both have consistencies that are easy to apply with a blade tool, but even Heavy Gels will apply nicely. Thinner Mediums such as GAC 100, Fluid Matte Medium, Matte Medium and even our Color Pouring Mediums, can also be used for this technique. Experimentation, as always, will teach you what works best for you.
This method works best with a rigid surface under the canvas and there are multiple options for doing this: Canvas adhered to a panel using our Gel Mediums is one option. Working off the stretcher with canvas stapled to a “painting board” is another. Placing a rigid panel under a stretched canvas is yet another possibility but this may have some technical issues with getting the panel to fit precisely under the whole visible canvas area.
In some of the images shown here, we have stapled raw cotton duck canvas to 1/2” plywood or particle board panels that have a piece of finely textured indoor/outdoor carpet attached. The carpet offers a little bit of “give” and allows the color ground mixture to apply evenly due to the even texture of the carpet material. Make sure to use finely textured indoor outdoor carpet, and stretch as tightly as possible as you staple it to the plywood, placing staples fairly close together.
For the method using canvas stapled to a temporary board, you can leave the ground prepared canvas on this board and paint your picture. Then, when fully dry, crop and measure the painting and have a stretcher built to those dimensions. You can then remove the painting from the temporary board and stretch it up. The flexible nature of acrylic paints and mediums makes this completely possible, as long as you do it at a comfortable room temperature so the acrylic films are flexible enough. Acrylics are thermo plastic and more flexible at warmer temperatures but less flexible and potentially brittle at cold temperatures.
Variations on a Theme:
• One Layer Application:
A single scraped on layer of a glaze mixture to create a thin color field that will retain the canvas texture and visually show the canvas through the translucent color. Brown colored glazes applied this way can make cotton duck look a bit like linen. Or just go for the wonderful clean and bright undertones of the organic pigments like Phthalo Greens, Blues, Quinacridones and others.
• Multiple Layer Application:
You can play with optical color mixing with multiple layers of different colors and also begin building up a surface that can fill in the canvas weave to make a smoother painting surface. Try Gloss, Semi-Gloss and Matte Gels for this to see the differences in surface and how paint will handle differently.
- Adding Titanium White for More Opacity and Tinted Color:
14 thoughts on “Blade Applied Translucent Acrylic Grounds”
Thankyou for your sustaining out reach in these challenging times up in Canada… art appreciation and art making are very very consoling and generative practices…thank you for remembering how goes the beating of all our hearts…and the Art in Heart……the Heart in Art… you have kept us nourished and hopeful for many co-creative years.Thankyou ,Thankyou!
You are most welcome! We certainly agree that art appreciation and art making are essential and important parts of human life. Thank you for this comment and compliment. We truly appreciate hearing from you. Keep making art, be safe and be well.
This was great and perfectly timed as I had already been trying to get a glaze on calico on a board but not getting the smooth finish that I was wanting. I was wondering whether dying the fabric then successive layers of medium would give me the smooth effect but I’m going to try this first as it’s quicker. thanks!
How nice to hear that this article was perfectly time for you! While we can comment on these techniques and materials used over acrylic colored surfaces on cotton duck canvas, it becomes more difficult when we are talking about using unknown kinds of dyes on other kinds of fabrics. Dyes can be water sensitive and perhaps ammonia sensitive, so you would have to test over these surfaces and alternative colorants. It is possible but the materials you are using are in an experimental and alternative category, so harder to comment effectively. We assume these pieces are meant to be displayed as fine art and are not functional in nature. Feel free to send us an email with further questions at Help@goldenpaints.com
Quick question: What medium did you use in the photo of the larger scale application (4″ x 5″) of a turquoise glaze mixture showing darker areas from multiple passes with the metal blade?
Thank You! That larger scraped on color ground was a mixture of Fluid Acrylic and Soft Gel ( Semi-Gloss ). I happen to like our Soft Gels a lot and use them in a lot of my mixtures. As with anything, the more you play and experiment, the more you learn and the easier it becomes to make these choices within your own practice.
You are most welcome Benjamin, and if you have any other questions, remember you can call us or email us at Help@goldenpaints.com
Could you do this same technique but just with the gesso? Or would I need to thin it down first?
Thanks a bunch,
You could apply our Gesso with a blade tool. And you do not necessarily need to thin it down. It can be a good way to apply it! It gets that first layer well forced into the fibers. I think it will not work well on a panel, and brush application for panels would be better.
You can use this method with gesso, particularly with thicker products. I use knives to apply gesso to heavy watercolor paper, for example. Gesso is designed to be opaque, so you will not get the translucent effects that Scott is referencing.
You can most definitely blade apply our Gesso, other thicker products, and more opaque products as well. In this article I am highlighting the particular color and surface effects possible with more translucent mixtures of Medium, Gel Mediums and Paints. While the overall method can work with just about any paint or medium consistency, very thin mixtures will tend to stain and soak in to canvas or paper quickly and so may be less effective in getting an even application.
Great article as always. Perhaps you can help me. I teach mixed media and acrylic painting to adults at our local Art Center. Having used Golden products almost exclusively for 30 years now, they are my go-to for materials lists in my classes and workshops. I had a student show up with a product from your competitor called Clear Gesso. It has a fairly aggressive tooth, similar to your pastel ground, but dries to a clarity similar to thinned matte medium. It has worked well over surfaces such as stone, wood, and ceramic tile; where the natural look of the substrate is desirable. I’m wondering if I’m just completely overlooking a similar product Golden may already have, or is there any combination your product wizards could suggest to mix our own. Thank you for maintaining such an informative website and newsletter.
Thanks for your comments and compliments!
When anyone asks us if we have a “clear gesso” which by definition is a kind of oxymoron, we typically suggest using our Fluid Matte Medium. But I would question the use of this or of any acrylic product called “Clear Gesso” over most non porous surfaces such as glazed ceramic, or perhaps a type of stone that might have a lot of quartz or silica in it, as adhesion may not be good. Here are some pertinent links for you:
Fluid Mediums: http://www.goldenpaints.com/products/medium-gels-pastes/fluid-mediums
Matte Mediums: http://www.goldenpaints.com/technicalinfo_mattemed
Preparing a Painting Support: http://www.goldenpaints.com/technicalinfo_prepsupp
Blocking Support Induced Discoloration: https://justpaint.org/blocking-support-induced-discoloration/