Acrylic paint dries fast.
In fact, it starts drying as soon as it leaves the tube and hits the palette. For some artists, this is one of its drawbacks.
Luckily, it’s possible to extend the working time of acrylic paint, so that it remains wet on the palette for days.
You can also make paint malleable on the canvas for longer with the right paint and addition of mediums.
There are many advantages to slowing the drying process. You may feel the urge to make your work appear more blended, creating seamless gradients, which are hardly possible with normal acrylics.
In order to stop acrylic paint from drying, you will need to get some extra supplies. Although I have included an ultra cheap art hack, for those with a limited budget (or for those who just love a good hack).
Choose the right acrylic paint
If your aim is to make acrylic workable for longer, you need to get the right paint for the job.
The first company to create an acrylic paint that dries slowly was Golden. Their ‘Open Acrylics’ are closer to oil in terms of drying time than acrylic.
This paint can stay wet for several days. It is heavy body, so the paint comes out of the tube thick. But of course you can make it more fluid with a medium or water.
It can dry so slowly in fact, that Golden advises that if you are using the impasto technique, you should add an impasto medium to the paint to aid drying, otherwise it won’t dry properly with thick applications.
The dry time really depends on how thickly you apply this paint and whether you thin it with water or add a medium.
Use mediums to extend the working time
There are plenty of mediums that extend the open time of acrylic paint. The medium you choose depends on whether you want to change the consistency of your paint, or change other working properties too.
Adding a medium to acrylic paint will extend their open time for a few hours, but not for as long as if you had used Golden’s Open acrylics. This is positive though if you work in layers. For example, you might want to increase the time the paint is workable for an hour or two. This way the paint remains malleable for a significant amount of time, but you can apply layers over dried paint throughout the course of a session. With the Open acrylics, you would probably have to leave the paint overnight to dry before applying the next layer.
It does exactly as the name says. It increases the working time of paint. It also makes paint more fluid if you are using heavy body paint and more transparent.
Using this won’t be detrimental to the stability of the paint film—it won’t make it brittle like water can. You can use this additive to create glazes and also to paint alla prima (wet-on-wet).
You don’t need to add much to the paint for it to have an effect.
Spray it on the palette to slow the drying of acrylic colours. The medium also reduces viscosity and gives the paint self levelling properties.
Of course, you could just spray your palette with some water, but that won’t delay the drying process by much.
Get a stay wet palette
A stay wet palette is a lidded palette designed to keep your acrylic colours fresh for weeks at a time and reduce paint waste.
It is composed of a lidded tray, with an absorbent layer at the base. To assemble the palette, all you have to do is soak the absorbent base in water, then place one of the disposable paper sheets that comes with it on top.
When you’ve finished painting, close the lid to keep the colours wet until your next painting session. When the paint has dried up, throw the disposable palette sheet away.
The great thing about this palette is that it is large and it comes with 12 disposable palette sheet refills. The seal on the container is airtight, so it can keep acrylics wet for weeks.
Art hack: make your own stay wet palette
It’s possible to make your own stay wet palette, if you have some of these materials lying around the house.
All you need is:
- A shallow tray with a lid that can be kept airtight
- A large sponge that spans the base of the tray
- Wax paper
To assemble, place the sponge at the base of the plastic tub and pour water over it, until the sponge has absorbed all it can. Cut the wax paper to size, then place it over the top of the sponge. That’s it, it’s ready for you to start squeezing your colours on.
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