Watercolors + Acrylic Paints = The Ultimate Art Mash-Up

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Acrylic and watercolor might seem to live in two completely different universes. After all, the two mediums result in dramatically different looks. Acrylics deliver a flat, opaque, almost plastic-like finish. Watercolors , on the other hand, create a luminous look, full of tonal variations, depending on the amount of water used.

But when these worlds collide, it's nothing short of mind-blowing!

Tempted to cross the divide? You can combine acrylic and watercolor in a number of ways to create some awesome painting effects . Let me show you how.

Ready, Set, Mix!

Set up a palette with several colors of watercolor and a blob of white acrylic. Then, using a palette knife, mix a dab of acrylic into your watercolors. Adjust the amount of watercolor and/or acrylic until you've reached a color you like.

Depending on the amount of each paint type (and water) you use, you can achieve a variety of different textures and finishes. For example:

  • A lot of watercolor with only a touch of acrylic will give you a sort of "fortified watercolor" look — more solid and opaque than regular watercolor, but maintaining the natural variations of color and tone.
  • A large amount of of acrylic with just a little watercolor is more subtle, but you will attain more delicate tones than you would with just straight-up acrylic. Call it a more "painterly" acrylic.

Experiment!

Vary how thoroughly you mix your watercolor-acrylic combo together and see what that looks like on paper. Or explore the effect of adding more or less water.

While white acrylic will work with any color, you can also use a colored acrylic paint for unique results. Mix it up!

Keep in mind: Once the paint is dry, consider it more an acrylic than a watercolor. In other words, it's permanent.

Play with Background-Foreground Effects

Acrylic on Dry Watercolor

Another fun experiment is using watercolor and acrylic in tandem to create dimensional works of art.

Um, what does that mean exactly? For one thing, you could paint a fluid, colorful background in watercolor, let it dry, then use acrylic to paint forms on top.

Here's what I did for the example above with my white acrylic heart on top of a watercolor rainbow. See how it pops?

Acrylic on Wet Watercolor

Painting with acrylic on top of still-wet watercolor will give you a more sheer-looking result. In the above image, I used white acrylic over a still-wet wash of blue watercolor. The colors gently merged, creating a dreamy, semi-transparent look.

Watercolor on Dry Acrylic

The possibilities of painting watercolor on top of dried or mostly dried acrylic are delightful.

Ghostly Images

In the above image, I painted a heart in white acrylic on a sheet of Bristol board. It didn't look like much, until I added a watercolor wash on top. 

If the acrylic is completely dry, it will show through the watercolor unevenly, giving you a mysterious-looking image. If you do this when the acrylic is still slightly wet, you'll end up with a ghostly fuzz around the edges. Intriguing either way.

An Antique Look

Painting over a larger area of acrylic with watercolor can create an antique-like effect. This is a great technique to use for architectural elements in a painting, or any time you want to give an object a patina-style finish.

I used white watercolor to paint over my acrylic, above, but you can use any color combination. A mint green acrylic topped with a copper watercolor would be a great way to paint the Statue of Liberty!

Acrylic: The Watercolor Fixer

One last thing: Did you know that you can use acrylics to cover up mistakes in watercolor paintings? Think of white acrylic as watercolor Wite-Out. It really works!

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Watercolors + Acrylic Paints = The Ultimate Art Mash-Up