Blending 101: How to Create Beautiful Color Blends with Acrylic Paints and Mediums

The short working time of acrylic paint is both a blessing and a curse: you don’t have to wait ages for your painting to dry, but it also creates a considerable time constraint for blending. There are paints and mediums that extend the “open” time of the paint, like GOLDEN’s line of OPEN acrylic paints and retarder, but the working time still doesn’t compare to oils. In this post, I discuss my favorite mediums, brushes, and techniques for achieving smooth color blends using acrylic paint and minimal effort.


Blending Mediums


Some companies offer blending mediums, but I personally haven’t had much success with these. So which mediums do I recommend for painting soft and seamless color blends?

  • GOLDEN Glazing Liquid is a 100% acrylic medium that increases paint translucency and working time. I would say that the consistency is a little thinner than GOLDEN Fluid Acrylic paints. Like all acrylic mediums, it can be thinned with water or mixed with other mediums to change its properties and consistency (see the note on water below). I prefer the satin finish, but there's also a gloss finish.

  • GOLDEN Airbrush Medium is wonderful for thinning and extending acrylic paints. I obviously use this outside of its original purpose, but I like it because it’s thin enough to spray onto the canvas (I recommend continuous, fine mist spray bottles). This medium is thinner than the Glazing Liquid, and therefore, the resulting paint layer is thinner.

  • GOLDEN High Flow Medium is another amazing medium for thinning and extending acrylic paints. It's a bit "looser" and thinner than the GOLDEN Airbrush Medium.

What about water? Water is ubiquitous and inexpensive, but adding too much water (more than 20-30% of the total mixture) to acrylic paints and mediums can weaken the resulting paint film. Why? Acrylic paint is simply pigment (the color) suspended in a water-based acrylic polymer emulsion. As the paint dries, the acrylic polymers coalesce to form a continuous, durable film of color. When you over-dilute your acrylic paints and mediums with water, the polymers become so diffuse that the polymers cannot properly coalesce, and the film integrity becomes degraded. That means it can be easy to scratch and lift the color. However, if you use the over-diluted paint over an absorbent surface, like GOLDEN Absorbent Ground, then the pigment is deposited into the absorbent surface, and the film integrity is less important.


If you want thin, runny paint that’s ready to use, I highly recommend using GOLDEN High Flow Acrylics and Liquitex Inks. These are perfect for creating thin washes of color!


I’m always eager to experiment with new mediums. What mediums do you like to use in your paintings? Be sure to comment below!


Blending Brushes


Your brushes can work for you or against you—not just the shape and size, but even whether they’re wet or dry. Therefore, choosing the right brush can make the difference between an effortless blend and fighting with your paint.


I’ve developed a technique in which I apply color with one brush (a flat synthetic brush, usually around 1”) and then blend out the color with a separate clean, dry brush. This allows me to pull the color into nothing. For a long time, I painstakingly blended out my color with small (1-2”) brushes. However, bigger brushes can cover more area in a shorter amount of time, and with the short drying time of acrylic paints, faster is better!


Large, flat brushes are great for blending out color with minimal effort, and Liquitex Freestyle brushes are my favorite for this. I currently have four different sizes: a 2" paddle brush, a 3" paddle brush, a 4" paddle brush, and an 8" short handle brush. I choose the brush size based on the amount of area I want to cover: do I want to pull the color over a large canvas (the 8"), or do I want it to stay very local and just finesse the edges (the 2")? Not only does the width of the brush change, but the length of the bristles changes with the brush size. The 8" has the longest bristles (better for loose, swooping strokes) and the 2" has the shortest (better for controlled, choppy strokes). I find the 3" and the 4" to be the most versatile.


For my preferred brushstroke-less blending, I use these brushes dry, as wet brushes dilute the paint and can leave it looking streaky. If I’m switching to a similar color, I wipe off as much color as I can with a paper towel. I have multiples of these brushes so that I don’t have to wait for one to dry to keep painting when I switch to a new color.


Note: After cleaning, I recommend wrapping the wet bristles in a towel and pressing out the water for a faster drying time. You can also “beat the devil” out of the brush, Bob Ross-style.


Sometimes, I like to create cloudy effects in my paintings by swirling a round brush. If you can believe it, my favorite brush for creating this effect is a foundation brush! This brush has dense, short synthetic bristles that easily push color around. I essentially buff the color into the painting, allowing the brush to wander, picking up paint in one place and then putting it down in another, instead of creating a solid block of color.


What are your favorite brushes to use? Tell me all about them in the comments!


Blending Techniques and Tips


Let's put it all together! Here are some ways I like to use my favorite blending mediums and brushes to blend acrylic paint.

  • Mix GOLDEN Glazing Liquid with paint to create a color glaze (GOLDEN Fluid Acrylic paints and Liquitex Soft Body acrylic paints work best). The more paint, the stronger the color will be (and if the paint is opaque, the less transparent the layer will be). Apply the paint to the canvas in the area you would like to cover, knowing that when you blend the paint out with your clean, dry blending brush, the paint will move and cover more area. If the color resists blending at the edges, apply additional medium to the edges to dilute the color. This could mean brushing on pure GOLDEN Glazing Liquid or spraying on GOLDEN Airbrush Medium. Blend outward with the blending brush, wiping the blending brush frequently to keep it cleaner and dryer.

  • Pre-paint a layer of GOLDEN Glazing Liquid over the area you would like to cover. Paint color into the wet medium, and then blend the color into the medium with the blending brush. This “wet-in-wet” painting style is especially useful for blending one wet color into another.

  • Pre-spray a section with GOLDEN Airbrush Medium, then paint the color into the wet medium, similar to the above. For best results, do not fully saturate the area with medium. A light misting should do, and you can add more if the color doesn't move easily with the blending brush.

  • Apply acrylic paint directly to the canvas. Spray a small amount GOLDEN Airbrush Medium at the edges, and use the blending brush to pull the color into the medium. Blend outward to create a soft, gradual edge.

When working with acrylic paint, it’s important to remember that once the paint becomes tacky, it’s time to walk away and let it dry. Additionally, even when the paint feels dry to the touch, the film may not be fully formed. It can take days for a layer of acrylic paint to fully dry! Therefore, patience during the drying process is just as important as working quickly while the paint is wet. Usually, 2-4 hours is sufficient drying time for a thin layer before you can safely add the next, but some color lifting of the previous layer may occur. This may be desirable for helping colors blend together, but if you want to keep your colors separate, wait a couple of days. Painting with many thin layers of color can be time consuming, but it can also create some gorgeous results!


What are your favorite tips that you wish you would have discovered sooner?

 

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