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The Pros and Cons of Using Acrylic and Watercolor Painting

The choice of which type of paint you use can have a very dramatic impact on the final art you are able to create. For many beginning artists, the choice is typically between acrylic and watercolor paint, and although both are water-soluble paints, there are some very definite distinctions between the two. Here’s a closer look at the pros and cons of acrylic and watercolor painting.

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Use of color

As a general rule, when you work with acrylic paints, you work from darker colors to lighter colors. By adding in white paint, for example, you are able to lighten a color or change it slightly. However, with watercolor painting, the process is exactly the opposite: you must build up layers of color while painting. By steadily adding more and more paint to a part of your painting, you can achieve a darker look. This difference in painting style between acrylic and watercolor is due to the fact that acrylic paints are opaque, while watercolor paints are translucent. That being said, it’s possible to use color to great effect, as seen with any Kandinsky watercolor. Although Kandinsky is best known for painting on canvas, his watercolors are just as impressive.

Drying time

Acrylic paint dries very quickly, while watercolor paint takes much longer to dry. And watercolor paint tends to fade much more with drying than acrylic paint, so keep this in mind as you work with color.

Painting surface

When you work with watercolor paints, your only real option is paper, especially watercolor paper in sketchpads that you can buy from art supply stores. This specialty paper is able to absorb the paint much better than regular paper. In contrast, when you work with acrylic paints, you can paint on a much broader array of surfaces - paper, canvas, and even wood.

Ability to cover up mistakes

With acrylic paint, it is much easier to cover up mistakes. By adding in paint, you can make a color much lighter, and you can also change its overall texture on the painting surface. With watercolor paint, you are much more limited in how you can cover up or adjust for mistakes. Thus, even though many people get started with watercolor paints first, and then transition to acrylic or oil paints later, the reality is that many people actually find painting with watercolor more difficult of the two.

Texture and painting effects

It is possible to simulate a watercolor painting with acrylic paints, but it can be close to impossible to simulate an acrylic painting with watercolor paint. That’s especially true since acrylic paints enable certain painting techniques (such as impasto, which is the use of very thick layers). For example, Vincent Van Gogh is famous for his use of impasto painting to create some of the most famous paintings in history - such as “Starry Night.” Trying to re-create this with watercolor would be very difficult.

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At the end of the day, the choice of whether to use acrylic or watercolor paint is up to you. While many of the “master painters” throughout history have chosen acrylic and oil paints to create their art, there is also a very long list of master painters who are known primarily for their watercolor art. After experimenting with both, you will have a much better idea of the pros and cons of each, and which enable the type of effects and details you wish to convey with your art.


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