The Look of Enamel
The words enamel or resin usually bring to mind beautiful smooth glossy surfaces. While these terms are often used for a variety of different paint types, in this article I share five easy ways to use acrylic to achieve this visually exciting painting effect.
“… the term “enamel paint” is used to describe oil-based covering products, usually with a significant amount of gloss in them, however recently many latex or water-based paints have adopted the term as well. The term today means “hard surfaced paint” and usually is in reference to paint brands of higher quality, floor coatings of a high gloss finish, or spray paints. Most enamel paints are alkyd resin based….” read Wiki’s full article
Five easy ways to get acrylic to look like enamel or resin
So how do you get that surfboard finish so popular on paintings? You know, that super clear, glossy, smooth top coat. The best results can be obtained using commercial resins. They come in two parts – a resin and hardener. They are, however, very toxic to work with. I prefer to use acrylic non-toxic fine artist alternatives that may not look as perfect, but come very close, and will also last without yellowing or cracking. Here are five ways to do it.
1. Use paints optimal for this effect
Start with a paint that is naturally of a thin consistency. Use the fluid acrylic paints that come in bottles, or the new super thin (but with highly saturated color) High Flow acrylic paints. Thinner consistency paints will produce a smoother application with less visible brushstrokes or texture. The thick acrylic paints that come in tubes and jars will not always hold their color when diluted. These thick paints are great for adding texture, but will take more effort on your part to get them to look smooth. By starting with the Fluid or High Flow paints you still have strong color, but won’t have to work so hard to get it applied smoothly.
2. Customize your paint
Instead of purchasing thinner paints, you can use what paints you already have but customizing them for better results. Instead of diluting with water to thin, add thin mediums to the paint to make a thinner color mixture. Some suggestions of thin mediums are: Golden’s GAC500 or GAC100. Add the GAC100 to the thick paints to thin them. Adding GAC500 to your thin paints such as Fluids or High Flows will make them appear more like enamel. by making them glossier, increasing refraction and increasing leveling capabilities. Additionally add up to 15% retarder to this mixture to slow down drying, enabling even smoother applications.
3. Apply paint smoothly
Position your brush properly for smooth applications: Apply paint or mixtures onto your surface using a soft wide flat brush, spreading thinly by working in small areas at a time. Keep brush positioned at a low angle to your surface for smooth applications, instead of a 90 degree angle or perpendicular to the surface which will do the opposite and create more texture.
4. Layer the Paint
Alternate layers using some layers with paint and others with medium. First apply a thin layer of your choice of a paint color in a thin consistency onto your surface and let dry. Keep any water or medium added to a minimum so you can get a substantial paint application. If using a thicker paint sand smooth after drying. Over this dried paint color layer, brush apply a thin layer of GAC500 (or any thin undiluted gloss acrylic medium). Let dry. Repeat applying another layer of paint color, then another layer of medium. Repeat as many times as you like, waiting until each application or layer is dry before applying the next. By building up in layers alternating between paint color and medium you can achieve a very smooth brushless highly refractive surface. If your layers are holding brush strokes you can lightly sand each layer when dry with waterproof sandpaper. (The waterproof sandpaper is a non-toxic method when used correctly by sanding into a puddle of water. This way sanded particles avoid going airborne. Wipe off the sanded areas while still wet with a soft rag.
5. Pour the paint
Add some paint color to a glossy pouring medium, and apply onto your surface by pouring. This eliminates brushstrokes and easily creates the perfect enamel look. Immediately after pouring, spray the freshly poured layer lightly with alcohol while the medium is still very wet to eliminate bubbles.
My favorite technique to imitate resin (the deeper clear coat finish) is to pour in a deeper layer. To do this, lay the painting flat and very level. Prop it up on containers to get it lifted off the table or floor. It is easier to do this technique with rigid surfaces like panels instead of canvas. If you are using a stretched canvas then you need to prop up the center of the canvas too, to keep the canvas from sinking downward with the heavy weight of the pouring medium while laying flat.
You will need to purchase an acrylic pouring medium. Not all acrylic mediums will pour with good results. I like to use Golden’s GAC800. Pour this medium without diluting it with water onto the painting’s surface. Spread it out evenly with a plasterer’s knife, and then immediately spray lightly with isopropyl alcohol to eliminate any bubbles. This takes a day or two to dry but has a smooth glossy finish.
The GAC800 is the only pourable acrylic that I know of that can be poured in deep layers without crevising or cracking. This means you can pour deeply in one pouring session. One trick I like to pour deeply is to create “walls” around the surface. Take duct tape and place the tape around the outside edges so that some of the tape is on the surface edge and some stands out from the top surface of the painting. Apply a small amount of a thick acrylic gel where the tape and painting meet to keep the pour from leaking out.
While the gel is still wet pour the GAC800 into the pool or well that’s created by the tape. You can get a very thick layer this way. The thicker the pour, the longer you need to keep the painting level and flat while drying – which may take weeks if it’s more than an inch thick. When the GAC800 is used thickly it will appear slightly yellow and cloudy, and is favored by artists that like the “wax” or encaustic appearance.
If you are pouring thickly and don’t like the cloudy look of GAC800 you can use other pourable products but you can’t pour them thickly in one pour, or they might crevice as they dry. Instead pour several thin layers, letting each dry before pouring the next.
Acrylic Illuminations, Book on special acrylic painting techniques, including pouring and other luminous effects.
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