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GO TO YOUR ROOM ! I borrowed this phrase from the recently deceased Canadian painter Robert Genn who believed that there is only so much we can learn about how to paint from the many fine instructors and resources available today. The true learning comes from going off on our own and doing it - Go to your room!

I have had the good fortune to take instruction from outstanding artists in Canada and the USA. I am now focusing on my own development ( Going to MY room!) and sharing what I have learned and continue to learn. I created this blog primarily for those attending my workshops to keep in touch and to further share as we grow together. If others are interested in following that would be great.

Enjoy the journey.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

PLEIN AIR USING ACRYLICS - A FEW EXAMPLES

Painting plein air using acrylics poses different challenges than working plein air in oils. Most of it has to do with the fast drying time of acrylics. There are a number of ways to manage or delay the drying time and there are the new slow drying acrylics (Golden Open) that some artists seem happy with. The acrylic plein air painters that I have worked with use the fast drying time to their advantage and have developed systems to manage it. I have worked with Golden Open enough to know I much prefer the "regular" acrylics.

What most acrylic plein air painters have in common:


  • They do not work with a limited palette - as most oil plein air painters do and recommend. Most use a full palette of warm and cools and a good selection of convenience colours - those that are useful right out of the tube. It is difficult return to a mixed colour - because of the fast drying time and the fact that acrylics dry darker - so many keep a variety of colours that are part way along the mixing chain that they can just grab and use with confidence. I mix a lot of my own colours ( eg. common colours used for skys) and have them in convenient squeeze bottles. 
  • They use paint with a variety of viscosity- because acrylics dry through evaporation paints with high water content stay active longer
  • most use a  Sta Wet pallete and learn to control the water content of the paint
  • many add a retarder to the paints
  • all have a handy sprayer to keep the paint moist
  • most use a good umbrella system that keeps the sun off the paint and palette


Two example of acrylic plein air painters that work in the hot southern US:



  • Kathleen Elsey - took a workshop in Taos NM. She uses the large Shade Buddy umbrella and 12x16 Sta Wet palette. She squeezes out her paints then squeezes a retarder onto each pile of paint - in the heat it slowly softens to cover the paint. Too much retarder makes it " slippery" to work with (similar to the feeling I get working with Golden Open)  but the right amount is not noticed. She is a Fauvist painter - lots of colours - but that is not the reason she puts out the selection she does - its how one works with acrylics in a dry and hot environment. 
Kathleen using a 12x16 StaWet on a Soltek easel and Shade Buddy umbrella

Each pile of colour has a retarder added at the beginning 


  • Marcia Burtt in southern California uses a fishing tackle box with multiple "compartments" filled with paint - probably more than 20 colours. There is a lot of paint and she keeps it moist  and just draws from the tackle box as needed. Like me she does not put out her palette -  but picks up colours  as needed. She is one of the few acrylic painters invited into the big plein air competitions in the US.  Marcia has released a new DVD working with acrylic plein air. 
Marcia at the Laguna Beach Paint out 2007

Fishing tackle box - opens up with two layers of paint

There are of course many other great acrylic plein air painters - each with their own systems. I use the two examples because they work in the "heat" successfully - demonstrating that the fast drying issue can be managed and used to advantage.

My guess is that there are more really good acrylic painters that also known for their acrylic plein air in British Columbia than any region of Canada or the US: Robert Genn, Mike Svob, Brent Heighton, Marilyn Timms,  Mark Hobson - and many more. Each gives great workshops.

Next blog - working though some plein air acrylic examples. 

1 comment:

  1. Hello Brian. Thankyou for this and all the other posts on your blog. Practical and helpful advice always very generously given. Your time and effort is very much appreciated.

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