A Crisis of Medium Choice

colour study of llyn brianne in acrylics

I’m having somewhat of a crisis of medium choice at the moment.

Having worked exclusively with oil paints since the beginning of the year, I’ve found myself increasingly frustrated with them.

I never thought I’d say that because while I was painting in acrylics, I said to myself “when I get the studio space, I’ll move to oils and it will all be good”. But over the last week I’ve started painting two new scenes on large canvases and with both of them I felt like working with oils was holding me back.

Maybe I’m trying to do too much too soon? Maybe I’m not giving them the patience needed? Maybe my technique just sucks and I’ve got a whole lot more to learn about working with oils?

But then I look at the success of the works I created with acrylics and I feel I want to continue with the medium from there. Back in early 2019, just before my hiatus, I’d just started using various drying retarders with my acrylics, and I was really pleased with the results. I look at the cloud work in some of those pieces and feel it’s probably better than what I’m doing at the moment.

There’s so much to consider with oils:

  • Sizing (sealing) of the canvas to prevent seepage of oil into the canvas causing decay at a later date
  • Choosing the right ground (primer) to apply with the aim of avoiding sink-in
  • Considering the ‘fat over lean’ rule in order to avoid cracking in future
  • Concerning myself about using too much linseed oil as a medium – worrying that at some point it will turn my works yellow
  • The lack of vibrancy in the pigments – my acrylic colour chart is much more vibrant than my oil chart
  • Concerns about the archival quality of titanium white and zinc white
  • The drying time – from 6 months to a year

Now if I was getting superior results with oils compared to acrylics, then maybe all this would be worth it, but to be honest, I’m struggling to see it. It feels like I’m getting the same results with oils that I was with acrylics, but just with more added hassle.

So, I returned to acrylics by doing a little colour study on oil paper yesterday. I really enjoyed it and was pleased with the result. After working with oils for a while, experiencing the fast drying time of acrylics came as quite a shock. Now, I didn’t mix in any slow drying medium to the paint I squeezed onto the palette, and I also didn’t use my spray bottle with a mix of water and fluid retarder. The studio was quite hot as we’ve been enjoying a run of warm summer-like conditions recently, so that’s got to be taken into account too. So considering those factors, the ‘open’ time of the paint could have been better.

The short open time of acrylics was the only downside – something I reckon I can overcome with technique and slow drying mediums.

My next step is to paint full size in acrylics. To paint this scene at the size I’ve been trying to paint with oils. Taking the same time and care that I have with oils, it will be interesting to see the final result. I hope this will give me some clarity on my medium of choice.

Published by Chris

Landscape artist Chris Richards lives on the edge of the Brecon Beacons in the village of Ystradgynlais. Chris works mainly in oils, but also dabbles with acrylics, ink pens, watercolours, and soft pastels.

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