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Painting Processes: Definition & Techniques

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  • 0:04 Oil & Acrylic
  • 1:38 Painting Preparation
  • 3:39 Materials & Techniques
  • 5:18 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Stephanie Przybylek

Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.

Have you ever painted a picture? What kind of materials did you use? Painting is an art that includes many tools and techniques. In this lesson, explore processes related to oil and acrylic painting.

Oil & Acrylic

Many artists work in the medium of painting. In this lesson, we're going to explore painting processes for two popular types of paint: oils and acrylics. You can buy both in tubes of different sizes. Acrylic paints also come in jars and bottles.

Before we get to processes, let's cover some definitions. Oil paint has been around since the fifteenth century. Famous artists like Leonardo da Vinci used it. Oil paint consists of ground powdered pigment suspended in an oil binder. The oil is often a substance like linseed oil, which dries slowly when exposed to air. Oil paints aren't soluble in water, so they require a solvent like turpentine or mineral spirits to thin them or clean brushes after use. Oil paints have rich colors and artists can work in the wet paint for a long time before it dries.

Acrylic paint is a newer medium that became available in the 1950s. Acrylic paint uses dry powdered pigments that are similar to oil paint, but suspends them in a polymer emulsion. In other words, acrylics are a form of plastic. They dry quickly and are water soluble when wet. Artist Andy Warhol used acrylic paint for his bright, pop-culture inspired images. Today, acrylic paints come in vivid colors that darken a bit as they dry.

These two paint types are different and can't be used together. But some materials used with them are prepared in similar ways, and their techniques are related. Now let's look at painting methods and processes in a bit more detail.

Painting Preparation

To create a painting, many artists begin with preliminary drawings or sketches. This step allows them to work out composition, or how elements will be organized in the painting. Sketches can also help determine how large the painting might be. When size and composition have been established, the artist is ready to prepare materials for painting.

For oils and acrylics, the painting process begins by choosing a support. A support is the structure or substance on which the painting is done. Common supports include paper, wood panels, and canvas. When using canvas, several steps are needed to prepare it for painting.

Many canvases are stretched, which means the fabric is held in tension on a frame made of four wood stretcher bars. You can make stretchers, buy stretcher bars and assemble them, or buy canvas that's already secured to a stretcher. The canvas is stretched by pulling it around the frame until the surface is taut. Then it's tacked or stapled to hold it in place.

After stretching, the canvas needs to be primed. Priming means applying a substance to the surface to prepare it for painting. This step is important because it allows you to regulate the surface texture of your support, controls the absorbency of the paint into the support, and allows your painting to last longer. However, you can get interesting effects by using an unprimed canvas, especially if you want paint to soak into the canvas for a very saturated effect. But most artists don't use the canvas support in this way.

A good primer choice is gesso. Historically, gesso for oil painting was made by combining animal skin glue, white pigment, and chalk, and applying it to canvas and allowing it to dry. Today, some artists who work in oils use this traditional method, but most modern gesso is acrylic, containing emulsion, chalk, pigment, and other helpful substances. Gesso protects the cloth backing and creates a stronger, more durable painting surface.

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