How to Make Acrylics Look Like Watercolors

In Acrylic Painting by Chris Breier2 Comments

Spattering

There are some subtle spatters at the bottom of this closeup. I used it to imply the texture of the walking path.

A painting can look “fussy” when you become too wrapped up in painting every detail. An alternative is to simplify the subject and to allow the paint to create some of these textures for you.

For instance, you can use spatters to imply the texture of foliage instead of painting it by hand.

There are different methods for creating spatters. You can use an old discarded toothbrush and dip it into some thin paint. The paint has to be thin for it to spatter. You can rub your thumb over the bristles of the toothbrush to make the paint spatter. You’ll want to wear gloves because this will get messy.

Another option is to load up a brush with soft bristles with thin paint and then tap it with your opposite hand.

It’s best to practice making spatters on some scrap paper before trying it on a painting.

Blooms

A bloom is when you apply water to a wash that isn’t quite dry yet. The water disrupts the pigment as it spreads. Many artists work to avoid blooms because they can be distracting if they’re unintentional. On the other hand, it’s possible to use blooms to create interesting shapes and textures in a painting. Here’s an example of a watercolor bloom.

To create a bloom, wait for a wash to dry somewhat. Then you can load up a clean brush with water and apply it to the almost dry wash. Some pigments are more prone to blooms than others. Experiment on some scrap paper until you get the feel for it.

Charging

When a wash is still wet, you can load up a brush with a new color and dip it into the wet paint. This is known as “charging.” The new color will spread throughout the wash in interesting and unpredictable ways.

This takes some courage to do because you don’t have too much control over how the paint will flow. As a last resort, you can try to blot some of the paint from the paper to prevent it from spreading to other areas.

I charged some of the areas of the tree in this painting with touches of orange and purple. Those colors weren’t part of the reference photograph, but it does help to create interest and break up the monotony of the green.

Tilt the Canvas to Affect the Way the Paint Behaves

The colors in this painting were allowed to drip and flow down the canvas. They spread and mix into each other on their own.

I allowed the colors in the sky of this painting drip down behind the tree line.  The water flows down the canvas and carries the pigment with it; gravity does some of the work for you. Allowing the paint to flow freely like this is what makes some watercolors look like they were painted in an effortless manner. The sky was painted first, and then I painted the trees on top of it.

Watercolor painters adjust the angle of the paper to affect the way the paint behaves. The paint will flow down the paper if you paint with the paper at an angle.

Working with the paper on a flat table will allow the colors to spread in every direction instead of towards the bottom of the canvas.

This same principle applies to painting with thin acrylic paint. Play around with placing your canvas at various angles. Most studio easels only allow you to tilt the canvas at a slight angle.

The table top easel that I use will allow you to tilt the canvas at almost any angle, even totally flat. I use it to paint canvases up to 18×24. A quick and simple option is to work on a flat table and prop up your canvas on some wood blocks.

The Advantages of Using Acrylics Like Watercolors

Acrylic Paint is Waterproof When Dry

Since acrylic paint is waterproof when dry you can paint over previous layers without disrupting them. You can apply as many layers as you wish. However, the texture of the painting will change though as you build up the layers. The acrylic paint will begin to plug up the texture of the canvas which will make it smoother.

You Can Combine Watercolor Effects With Acrylic Effects

“Wolf Creek” Acrylic on canvas panel. 16″x20″

You can also incorporate some of the qualities of acrylics, such as impasto, into your paintings. Once the thick layers are dry you can apply more washes of thin acrylics to highlight the textures.

In the “Wolf Creek” painting above, the background consists mostly of thin washes of acrylics. I used the opaque qualities of acrylics to paint the water and most of the foreground details.

The benefit of this approach is that it increases your chances for success. Painting entirely in transparent watercolor techniques is difficult because there’s not a lot of room for error.

You Can Paint Over Mistakes

Incorporating opaque acrylics into your painting will allow you to cover over mistakes and to develop the painting further than you can with watercolor techniques. Of course, you’ll lose some of the watercolor effects, but combining techniques can be an effective way to add interest to your paintings.

Acrylic Paintings Don’t Require Framing

Watercolor paint is water soluble when it’s dry so you have to frame it to protect it from damage. A water droplet that lands on a painting can damage it, so it’s best to display it behind glass.

Acrylic paint is waterproof when it’s dry. You can display an acrylic painting without having to frame it.

This is a great way to save money on art supplies because picture framing is expensive. You also have the option of using floater frames that don’t require matboard. The only limitation is that you’ll have to work within the standard canvas sizes.

It’s Economical to Paint in Thin Layers

Painting in a watercolor style with acrylics will help you to save money on paint. Since the layers of paint are so thin, you won’t go through paint as quickly as you would if you were to use heavy body acrylics.

Your success rate should be higher than painting with watercolors and that means you won’t waste materials.

Comments

  1. I have painted with watercolors in the past, and loved them, and then decided to try acrylics for the first time and I fell in love with my acrylics. But now I want the look of beautiful watercolors in my paintings. I have Golden’s soft-body, slow drying Open Acrylics. I have the colors for landscapes, and colors for lovely flowers. I did a painting yesterday of sunflowers, and the colors are vibrant, and I love looking at the painting.

    1. Author

      Hi Rosie, thanks for sharing your experience with using acrylics like watercolors. I like to hear from artists who are having fun experimenting with new materials and techniques. I find that painting with acrylics in a watercolor style is enjoyable because you have the option of using opaque paint to cover over mistakes.

      I’ve been using Open acrylics for awhile now, there are effects you can achieve with them that are difficult or impossible with fast drying acrylics. I suppose I should review them soon…

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