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Acrylic Washes and Glazes: What, When and How?

21 thoughts on “Acrylic Washes and Glazes: What, When and How?”

  1. I am primarily a watercolor artist and the blending and thinning skills in this medium lend themselves primarily to practice. However, acrylics, because of the many viscosity and medium products, are an entire different story. This article has been long in coming and I think the many watercolor artists who have tried acrylics and leave them on a shelf until they can internalize the process owe you a giant hurrah. Thanks so much for this information. I’m sure you can eventually provide us with additional information as you read additional comments and help us thru the blending jungle. Thanks and regards…Alan

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    • Hi Alan,

      Thanks so much for your comments. I am very happy to hear that the information in my article is helpful, and I look forward to assisting you and others in the future!

      Reply
  2. As always, fabulous info. I’m a loyal Golden artist due to the great support (and very personal) your company offers. Keep up the good work!

    Reply
    • Hi Barry,

      Thank you for you kind comment and compliment about our company, our tech support and our Just Paint publications! We will most definitely keep up the good work!

      Reply
  3. Hi Scott, Thank you for the very informative article. I was wondering if you thought there would be an issue with using airbrush medium as a thinner for heavy body paints, not only in glazes but also as thinning agent for heavy body paints (in place of water).

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    • Hi Wendi,

      You are most welcome! Our Airbrush Medium can be used as a kind of slower drying painting medium, however, this is not its first and foremost intended use. Its main use is to extend and thin regular drying and thicker paints and mediums so they will be more easily sprayable. Having said this, we are aware that many artists seem to be choose to use this product as a slow drying medium. While it can work, it has more limitations than our other slow drying mediums, because we have added a larger amount of retarder to Airbrush Medium, and do not recommend using it by itself or in amounts over about 50%, as it may take too long to dry and may contribute to a tackier surface. For these reasons, it would not be a good idea to use it in place of water or to make very translucent glazes. Water is the best thinner for waterborne acrylics whenever wanting to make washes. If needing a very thin painting medium our High Flow Medium is best. But, it is not slow drying. A better product to use would be our Glazing liquid, if needing a slow drying medium, or perhaps our OPEN mediums, with the other idea to use additives such as our Retarder or OPEN thinner to slow drying.

      Reply
  4. Great article Scott. The acrylic wash and watercolor comparison is very frequent on public forums, and this article does much to answer many misconceptions. I like using Golden Open acrylics for paintings where I use wash and glazing techniques. The reactivating properties allow one to lift the paint in unique ways, and the pigments mingle when laying washes over freshly applied areas. As with ALL mediums, there are learning curves that are individual to that particular product. I have yet to try the Golden Fluid Acrylics, because the Open line is just magic!

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    • Hi Steve,

      Thank you! It is gratifying to hear that my article is helpful in answering many misconceptions. If you are using our OPEN acrylics for both washes and glazes I assume you are using our OPEN Mediums to mix glazes and water to make washes. I am very familiar with the reactivation properties of our OPEN Acrylics and in early testing of the paints, I found the open time of these paints pretty wonderful. I am very familiar with our Fluid Acrylics because I have been using them in my own work since we came out with them in the early 90’s. They are wonderful in the way they can easily be thinned to make washes and also easily blend with our Mediums and thicker Gel Mediums and Pastes to create a large range of mixtures with many different characteristics. For my practice they are perfect. I would encourage you to try them, and keep in mind they will try with the faster typical rate that all regular drying acrylics have. Best of luck with your work!!

      Reply
  5. As usual from Golden … fabulous and generous information on wonderful subjects
    I was delighted to find more options for working with raw canvas. By the 80s Frankenthaler
    had begun availing herself of all the resources of paint and painterliness etc contrasting thickened
    marks standing off the surface and areas of thinner atmospheric colour etc
    I am delighted with the thought of matte medium glazing and the many other ideas and techniques
    you present in this fascinating article.

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    • Hi Crissea,

      Thank you for your kind compliments about my article! I have followed Helen Frankenthaler’s work for a long time, and know the surfaces you speak of. It is certainly possible to use thicker areas of acrylic paints and mediums combined with thin stained canvas areas, as acrylic is such a versatile painting medium. For any works that retain stained canvas as part of the work, it is always best to use a sturdy grade of canvas, especially as the works become larger. Cotton canvas will degrade over time and lose its tensile strength, so heavier weight canvas will last longer. Generally speaking, # 10 grade cotton duck will work fine. Anything thinner or less sturdy in terms of the weave, will be less desirable. It is also best to use well constructed stretchers and to stretch your own canvas, as this allows for more quality control.

      Reply
  6. Scott, love the color samples and incredible variety of wash/glazing information! I used to used acrylics in the 80s but have used oils since 2000 until very recently when I started re-experimenting w/acrylics, esp in re to washes & glazes – so this is extremely helpful! Can you tell me if I can still varnish over a wash? I’d be applying it to an acrylic wash over an absorbent ground (just order the 32 oz Golden container of it) on gesso primed canvas. Thanks so much! 😊

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  7. Hi Scott, I have been away from painting for a while and had started several paintings with an oil wash to fix the charcoal to the canvas. The canvases have been wrapped in stored for at least 20 years. They are in good shape clean. In the meantime, I lost a lung and cannot breathe the fumes of the turpentine, so I switched to acrylic. My question is, can I paint acrylic over a light oil wash. I probably know the answer. Fat Overlene never lean over fat. However, I cannot figure out how to save the paintings since they are half finished with an oil wash the rest of the design is in charcoal. Have you got a solution for me. Do you think it be OK to paint acrylic over a light oil wash?

    Sure would appreciate an email with your opinion. Since I’m stuck home can’t go out and find artist to talk to. I’m just now getting back into my art as I have been quilter for many years. Now I’m ready to paint portraits again, in acrylic.. your work is superb. I guess I just have to hear it from another artist. Maybe I should put on a ventilator and paint with oil. LOL

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  8. Hi Scott. I have a question. I am an amateur painter & tried glazing for the first time. My yellow glaze went on too thick & created dark lines that covered up part of my painting. Is there any way to “fix” this?

    Reply
    • Hi Kimberly,

      Glazes can be tricky and can take some time and practice to understand how they work. Thicker glazes will dry much darker as you have discovered, and then what looked like a pastel like color when wet can become a much darker color. This is why its a good idea to have your glazes pre-mixed as discussed in the article with a swatch on the lid so you can see the final dry color. As for how best to fix your current painting, I think the only way would be to paint over the lines with a lighter color which could be the same glaze with a touch of white added to add some opacity and lighten it up.

      Reply
  9. Hello Susan,

    Yes, we are still checking for questions! Using glazes to change the value and color of certain areas of your painting in order to create a sense of pictorial space or distance can certainly be one method for doing this. And of course you can also just use opaque color as well, but this would mean painting all the various details or areas in similar values and reduced color intensity, and so glazes can be a quicker and perhaps more efficient way to do this. Keep in mind that these are painting technique or “how to paint” issues and we tend not to get into this kind of advice too much. You will have to take some time to experiment and practice with these methods to determine what works best for you. You may find that using both glazes and more opaque applications together and overlapping may be the most logical and useful way to proceed, as each painting will tend to have its own aesthetic or visual “logic”.

    Reply
  10. Hello,

    Thanks for an interesting article. The ability to paint with translucent layers (and to apply many of those in a short time) is one of the things I like most about acrylics.

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard the sink-in/sit-on-top distinction made between washes and glazes so I’ve learnt something today. I would probably have called any thin watery mix a wash, and subsequent layers of that mix I would have called a glaze. I shall now restrict the use of ‘glaze’ to watery mixes on top of synthetic yupo type paper.

    Reply
    • Hi Tina,

      Thank you! I agree that acrylics are wonderful for creating translucent layers and glazes and the faster drying enables faster work and potential for more layers within a shorter period of time. I wanted to make this distinction between Washes and Glazes and keep the terms within the material realm. You are correct in that washes can be layered and one could refer to those translucent washes as glaze like or perhaps even as glazes but then this becomes confused with a glaze made with a medium, which performs differently. So I thought it a good idea to define them in terms of the materials used to create them. Washes are typically only used or at least used best on more absorbent surfaces like paper or raw canvas or an absorbent acrylic ground, and each subsequent wash soaks in to some extend, where as a glaze layer remains very separate and distinct. As for Yupo paper, we have seen poor adhesion of acrylics to this substrate. We know watercolorists use it and it does enable some very cool effects, but should always be under glass unless some kind of reliable topcoat can be applied that adheres to it. Our testing showed poor adhesion with acrylics. And these washes that don’t soak in but layer on top could act more “glaze like”.

      Reply

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