acrylic vs oil (and a tiny little bird)…

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10/01/2011 by Sarah Ritchie

European Robin 9 January 2011

"European Robin", by Sarah Ritchie (birthday present and tutorial exercise)

Yesterday I finished this small painting of a robin (acrylic on canvas, 10″ x 10″). I painted it as a birthday gift for my sister, and used the opportunity to try out a bird painting tutorial by Sherry C. Nelson, from the book “Painting Songbirds“.

I learned an interesting lesson in the process. The book was written as a tutorial in oils, however – as I have never used oils (mostly due to the cost) – I used my usual acrylic paints.

I discovered that I couldn’t push or blend the colours in the subtle ways that the tutorial required. This was – mostly – due to the fact that the acrylic paint dried before I could make the attempt. Consequently, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get my bird looking similar to (or as refined as) Sherry Nelson’s.

I have been doing a fair bit of reading, over the last couple of weeks, about New Zealand artists and their work. Most, so it seems, use oil paints. Their unified comments relate to the ease of use of oils, their ability to move the paint and achieve fine detail. I can now begin to appreciate where they are coming from.

I also read the following in “Color: A course in mastering the art of mixing colours” by Betty Edwards:
I recommend acrylic paints over oils, watercolors, gouache, or poster paints, although any of these can be substituted if you happen to already have them. Acrylics are relatively reliable, widely available, inexpensive, non-toxic, and – unlike oil paints – are mixed with water. Acrylic colors become slightly darker when they dry, but other paint mediums have different problems and are somewhat more difficult to work with.

Two distinct camps of thought. Two sets of artists passionate about their own medium (reminiscent of a “Mac vs PC” argument!). For me, cost dictates my decisions at this stage, though I would certainly like to try using oil paints in the future.

Meanwhile…if I hadn’t said anything, you would likely think this is a fine looking bird. I think one of the secrets of art is to not give away too many secrets!

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