Which one is more expensive? Which one dries faster? Which one allows me to correct mistakes? Which one is more versatile?
In this article we will answer all these questions by discussing these two popular artistic mediums.
First, allow us to introduce the opponents:
These two media require palettes, brushes, and a special paper to work with them but both produce very different painting results, mainly due to the type of pigment in their composition.
Watercolor is created by pigment suspended in water. It is a translucent medium, that is, individual colors are visible from each other.
When painting with watercolor, we start working from lighter to darker colors, bearing in mind that the following layers will complement the previous ones while leaving the areas that we want to be bright or pure white unpainted.
By contrast, acrylic is made of pigment suspended in a polymer emulsion, which makes it an opaque medium and allows us to "repaint", or cover up one color with another.
We can start by painting the shaded areas of our work and add lighter tones adjacent to them and layer highlights over darker colors as needed.
Ring ring, the bell is ringing and we are ready to get to know the superpowers and weaknesses of both. Here we go:
- Yields more: When starting with watercolor, we must make a considerable investment to purchase a good quality set of watercolors. On the bright side, although they may seem very small, watercolor pans or tubes are quite cost-effective because you need a small proportion of pigment to paint.
To know more about the essential elements to start painting with watercolor, visit our blog article 12 Must Have Watercolor Supplies for Beginners
- Fluidity: by using the "wet on wet" method, we can freely paint over puddles of water or color and allow the paint to flow or intermingle, creating surprising and expressive effects.
- Leftover paint can be reused: a useful tip is to never discard any of the remaining watercolor from our palette when we have finished our work. If we are going to work on the same color palette, we can reactivate the watercolor by adding a few drops of water, making them last much longer.
Tip 1: a ceramic palette divided in many sections is a great tool that allows us to work with a wide range of colors that we can save and reuse later. When we need to work with a new color, we can simply clean one or two sections and conserve the rest.
Tip 2: When you are done painting, don't forget to always cover your palette to prevent dust particles from getting into your next paint job.
Photo by Elena Mozhvilo
- Mistakes are difficult to fix: if we use a dark tone over a wrong area or accidentally paint a particular part of the work that we needed to be absolute white, it will be impossible to remove the dark color with a light tone or to try to recover the natural white color of the paper.
- Very delicate pigment: watercolor is very sensitive when it comes to withstanding even a drop of water. For this reason, watercolors are the least resistant option in relation to other paints.
- Slow drying: to paint over a previous layer, we must wait until that layer is completely dry. The drying time between coats will depend on the amount of water that we applied and the quality and thickness of the paper. This can range from 15 minutes to 24 hours.
- Expensive paper: those who have tried a good watercolor paper and a low quality one can confirm that the quality of the paper greatly affects the quality of the final work. While the watercolor pigment makes it a fine technique in terms of the cost effectiveness of the painting, we must still invest in a good watercolor paper if we want our final work to have an optimal finish and durability.
To learn more about what type of paper is best for each project, visit our blog article How to choose the best paper for your coloring projects
- Mistakes can be corrected: being an opaque pigment, acrylic gives us the ability to apply light colors over darker colors, which gives us more freedom when planning the lighting, adding final highlights and correcting mistakes.
- Versatile: we can paint on a wide variety of surfaces in addition to paper such as: wood, walls, canvas or leather.
- Physical textures: with acrylic we can create both visual and tactile textures. This medium gives us the possibility to obtain impasto effects by applying larger amounts of paint using a spatula, sponges or other elements. We can also thicken the acrylic by mixing it with a thickening agent such as modeling paste, gels, powders, etc. The possibilities are endless.
Photo by Anna Kolosyuk
- It dries quickly: This can be seen as an advantage or as a disadvantage, depending on our personal taste when painting.
On the downside, one might say that because it dries so fast, there is not much time to blend different colors together on the canvas or to spread the paint. It is possible to counteract this by mixing the paint with a slow drying medium or by mixing it with water.
Alternatively, the fast drying property could be an advantage because it reduces our waiting time between painting a new layer. We could also scan the work half an hour after we have finished it without being afraid of staining our scanner with fresh paint since the acrylic will already be completely dry.
- It damages the brushes: any brushes that we use to paint with acrylics will not have the same durability as the brushes that we use to paint with watercolors. The medium deteriorates them quickly, which is why we recommend looking for an intermediate quality (i.e., not too expensive) brand of synthetic brushes.
Tip: do not use watercolor brushes to paint with acrylics because despite washing them well after use, it is likely that some pigment will remain between the bristles and they will not be suitable for painting with watercolor again.
- It requires a lot of paint: when working with acrylics, we have to put a lot of paint on our palette and if we buy small bottles and paint often, we will have to visit the store several times a week.
Tip: create your personal color palette by selecting 5 or 6 colors that you feel comfortable working with and invest in larger paint tubes of those colors. Buying larger tubes instead of smaller ones in many different shades will save you money.
These are the main advantages and disadvantages of these contending giants of artistic materials. What other strengths and weaknesses would you add to the list? Have you tried painting with both yet? Have you tried combining them in the same artwork? Let us know which one you prefer for expressing yourself and your creativity!
*The designs featured in the images are from the Zodiac Signs poster collection.
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