Nancy’s Painting Blog

Painting Ideas with Acrylic “Skins”

What’s a skin? It’s a separate piece of acrylic without any backing or support.  Any acrylic product when applied to a non-stick surface and left to dry, can be peeled off producing a piece of acrylic with no backing. This piece of acrylic, or “skin” can be used as a collage item in a painting, or as an entire layer of a painting.

What non-stick surfaces will work? Plastic garbage bags, plastic painting drop cloths at home improvement stores that are whitish and cloudy, plexi sheets called HDPE (High Density Polyethylene), Freezer Paper (found in grocery stores – not to be confused with wax paper) and protective plastic binder sheets found in office supply stores.

Which type of acrylic works best? The quick answer is that any acrylic product will make a skin. But to delve a bit deeper, let’s start by thinking of acrylic in two broad categories. There’s paint and binder. Acrylic paint has color, while binders come in 3 basic types: mediums, gels and pastes. So any paint, medium, gel or paste can create a skin, which means a skin can come in any color, opacity/transparency, thickness, sheen, texture or combination.

Some painting ideas with skins:

Make a variety of skins and store them for later use by stacking them together with freezer paper in between so they don’t stick together.

Cut the skins into specific shapes with scissors and glue them onto an acrylic painting using a gel as glue.

Roll them into shapes to add a three-dimensional relief onto the painting surface.

Create large sheets of clear skins, paint something different on each one, then arrange one on top of the other to create different effects (pictured below)

photos from Nancy Reyner’s book, Acrylic Innovation. To purchase the book, click here.

Create large sheets of translucent skins by using matte gels, or thin layers of paste, and adhere over a painting to create the illusion of depth. Optionally you can continue to paint over this skin, or add another skin layer.

21 thoughts on “Painting Ideas with Acrylic “Skins”

  1. Hi, Nancy,
    I plan to try some of these to enhance paintings already in progress and some yet to be born. Love the idea of a 3-D effect and how beautiful it would make in a painting.

  2. How do you transfer the sheet of acrylic to a canvas or other support? Will reg. medium work? I love this idea… I've been trying to take the realistic perfectionist out of myself and think this might be fun.

  3. The sheet of acrylic (or skin) once it's dry can be easily removed from a non-stick support (see my suggestions for non-stick supports in the blog article). If it's not fully dry then it will not release very easily. Wait at least 24 hours to attempt to remove it, allowing more drying time if the atmosphere is cold or wet. You can keep it on that support until you are ready to use it. If you want to reuse the support and save the skin for later use you can just pick it up with your hands, and place it on another non-stick support that's easy for storage, like a garbage bag. These skins on garbage bags can be stacked on top of each other for easy storage for later use. When you want to use it on a canvas or other painting support then just glue it using a thin layer of gloss gel as glue.

  4. Love your books Nancy! I am building up a supply of various skins. I have good luck with parchment paper as a nonstick surface.
    My desire is to cut these skins into various shapes and glue them on to my metal sculptures that have beened primed and coated with acrylic base coat. I am also considering embedding skins into other skins for different effects.

  5. Nancy, I love your book. I am addicted to "Acrylic Innovation". Recently, I have been playing with acrylic skins. I found a glass shelf by a dumpster and cleaned it well with window cleaner followed by methylated spirits. I have also used parchment paper and a pallete. The glass is my favorite substrate because I get the smoothest and glossiest skins. But sometimes it is better to have matt wrinkly ones too.

    I plan to use them on my metal art and also make abstract paintings with them as well. The clear skins with some color sound intriguing especially in layers as you get the affect of floating colors. It is kind of like flying in a commerical jet looking down out the window and seeing 3 or 4 separate layers of clouds beneath you.

  6. Great suggestion! Nancy, where do you find sheets of HDPE? I've checked several hardware stores and can only find polycarbonate.

  7. Hi, try and I might cannot seem to get the skin to stop sticking to the plastic, I have created some beautiful skins only to start removing them and they will not come away. What am I doing wrong? I have been using polyethylene sheets, Liquitex pouring medium and liquitex matt medium and Jo sonja acrylic paints. Please help 🙂

  8. Kristin, HDPE plexi sheets can be found at large size industrial plastic suppliers. It is difficult to find locally in small towns, but can be found in large cities. I found mine at a place in Denver – can't remember it now, but found it on-line.

    Linda, if your skins are sticking and hard to remove then this can mean two things. First, if the skin is not dry enough (sometimes this takes days or a week) it will not remove easily. But probably you are using the wrong plastic. First test the plastic by applying a small amount of acrylic. If it is easily removed it is the correct surface. Not all plastic will be a good removable surface.

    1. Glad you are finding the ideas useful. My new book, Create Perfect Paintings: The Artist’s Guide to Visual Thinking, will be released March 2017. I will post a blog with a preview this fall. Thank you!

  9. I want to create 3-6 mm thick layers of acrylic paint, alternating colors. Then I intend to cut the layers into 1/4 strips and and stand them on their sides. love any advise on how to do this. Thanks, your tips have been really helpful

    1. Those are fairly thin strips. You may need to embed a wire into the strips in between colors if you want them to stand upright in long stems. If you mean to use short strips and lay them on length sides, and don’t need them to be self supporting, then you won’t need the extra support. I guess I need more details to fully understand what you plan to do. But acrylic layers very well, and can be cut into shapes easily.

  10. Hi Nancy

    This is really interesting. Is it possible to carry on painting with acrylic once the skin is stuck on the canvas to enhance the image? Also can you use acrylic inks in the process.

    1. Yes it is! Think of this – acrylic sticks super well to acrylic. So once you use acrylic paint, or skins, you can layer them in any order. So you can paint on canvas, apply a skin using acrylic gel as glue in between, then don’t even need to let it dry but can continue applying more paint, gel, skins, etc with no worries about any issues. You do want to let any acrylic dry for 2 weeks before packing and shipping it. It takes 2 weeks for acrylic to fully cure, and it needs air to dry fully. But any amount of layers will eventually dry.

  11. Hi Nancy
    A few years late to the table, but I love this! I have been looking for a way to dirty-pour and peel using pouring medium and voila – you answer!!
    I spilled glass paint on my glass table once, and it peeled off very nicely and remained quite pliable. Would this be possible with acrylic & gel mediums? Could I line a painting with them then roll them for transport later, or would they crack?
    LOVE you work – many thanks!

    1. Hi Lisa, Glad you like the idea of using acrylic skins. You ask if making skins and peeling them off a surface is possible with acrylic mediums and gels. Yes! That should be clear in the blog article you are commenting on, which does mention that ANY acrylic product will work. Acrylic is flexible, so yes you could roll them and transport and they will not crack. That is if you follow some technical protocol. For example, acrylic should be allowed to air dry for 2 weeks before wrapping and storing, to allow the acrylic to fully cure. And in this 2 week period, acrylic should not be exposed to temperatures below 55 degrees. After fully cure, then it will be fine in any temperature. Hope this helps! Nancy

  12. In that last photo on the blog post the large paint skin looks super clear and smooth with no brush marks in it from the Acrylic Binder used to make the skin. Did you use Acrylic Gel Gloss Medium to do this? Did you brush it on the plastic? I am trying to figure out how to create paint skins that are large, super clear and super smooth. Also, I am trying to figure out how to adhere the large skin to a hard panel without air bubbles. Any advice would be appreciated!

    1. Hi Bethany, There are two ways of getting a smooth surface on your acrylic skin. First, apply your acrylic product (medium, gel, paint, etc) onto a smooth level surface using a material that the acrylic will not stick to, such as a sheet of freezer paper taped to a board or table. You can apply the product in any way, using brush or knife, and not worrying about texture, because once the product has dried and become a skin, if you peel it up you will notice that the side facing the freezer paper is smooth, while the side open to the air will take on the application texture. So this method will give you one smooth side and one textured side. If you want both sides smooth (I’m not sure why you would require this because only one side will be seen while the other is glued down) then I recommend pouring an acrylic medium (not a thick gel but something pourable in fluid form) such as Golden’s GAC800 (my favorite choice for this process, and the one I used in the blog article). Pour it on a very very level surface so it won’t move while drying. Pour it, spray it immediately while wet with a light spray of alcohol before it starts to dry to remove any bubbles, then let dry. Acrylic shrinks down in volume by 30% so if you pour acrylic too thinly it will be too thin to peel up without tearing. When you glue the skin down onto another surface use a spray adhesive, or brush apply a gel. Lay the skin down and smooth it out as best you can with a brayer going from the center outwards to the edge, and repeat again from center moving out to all corners and edges. When the glue dries there will always be some bubbles that remain in the skin. But bubbles in the glued skin can be popped using a push pin or razor blade, then smoothed out with more glue underneath the popped bubble area.
      Nancy

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