A Workshop in Using Acrylics as Watercolour

A couple of weeks ago, I packed up my van and said goodbye to my kids and husband for a weekend and went to my first painting workshop in twelve years. I would love to take more art workshops, but it's rare that our region holds a workshop that fits my painting direction, and it's also hard to leave my family. I am thankful for the many successful self-taught artists who give me hope that I too can learn what I need to know on my own. It just takes longer that way.

That said, I learned a LOT during this weekend workshop with artist Sharon Lynn Williams. The technique covered during the workshop was using fluid acrylics like watercolour, and since I've never been able to paint with acrylics, this was intriguing. I was shocked that there are really very few differences in how Williams uses her acrylics to how I use watercolour.


In addition to learning this new medium, we were given a course in colour theory, and this was what really educated me. Making colour decisions used to be entirely accidental, I knew there were warm colours and cool colours, complementary colours and tertiary colours, but I didn't make many conscious decisions about how they figured into my paintings. I used the colours I liked, I added blue to make shadows and brown to make greys and sometimes it was a struggle. How do you paint two grey objects side by side without them blending in to each other? Over the last year or two I have been seeing more decisiveness in my colour choices, learning to make choices about colour temperature to add interest to my paintings, but it still feels very rudimentary.

During the class there were a lot of moments where I could see that Williams was articulating many things that I had learned through trial and error (lots of error!), and expanding on them. As much as I enjoyed using acrylic paint in a watercolour way, that was the easy part! It was the colour theory that I really needed, and hadn't known it until then.

I shared my painting table with another local artist, Payge Fortier, and she and I are very different in our painting styles. She is an acrylic painter, and has such a strong sense of design, and so on her side of the table, she painted like an acrylic painter, and I painted like a watercolour artist, and it was a good pairing for us as we worked out our problems with our paintings and learned something new. We both had something to contribute and gave each other guidance.

This was such a good weekend! I was high on the excitement of having won my first painting award, and anticipating hours and hours of interruption-free painting time. What's not to like? I would like to continue to experiment with fluid acrylics, though whether or not it will replace watercolour remains to be seen. I'm not going to force it. But the colour theory side will improve my paintings for the rest of my life, so it was a weekend well spent.