A Brief History of Acrylics

December 8, 2016

Though they are one of the of the most popular products on our shelves, acrylic paints have had a short history.

Relative to other beloved painting media like oil and watercolour, both of which have been around for centuries, acrylics have only been in popular use since the mid-20th century.

Two of today’s most popular artist acrylic brands, Golden Artist Colors Inc. and Liquitex, were pioneers in the creation of acrylic paints and mediums. After acrylic resin dispersion was invented in the 1930s in Germany, it was adapted by artist Leonard Bocour and Sam Golden (who went on to be a founder of Golden Artist Colors Inc.) in the creation of the first acrylic paint – a solution of spirit-based paint by the brand name “Magna”.

The development of acrylic evolved quickly from this point. Sam Golden invented a waterborne acrylic paint called “Aquatec,” taking a step closer to the acrylics we know and love today.

In 1955, Henry Levison invented the first water-based acrylic gesso, naming it Liquitex (short for liquid texture.)

Acrylics helped open up a whole new world for artists.

They could be used to create both watercolour-like thin effects and thick, impasto techniques, and could bind to almost any surface. Their faster drying time and bright colours made them ideal for emerging visual art movements like Pop Art.

TIP: Thin your acrylics with mediums to preserve their integrity. Though acrylics are a water-based paint, thinning them with water will weaken the binder.

Acrylic paints come in a variety of viscosities.

Over the years, acrylics became more versatile as further methods for mark-making in this luscious and vibrant paint were explored. Soft body, a more fluid-consistency paint, was the first available acrylic paint. It was followed by many iterations such as heavy body acrylics, fluid acrylics, and pigmented acrylic inks, plus acrylic spray paints and markers. Their versatility make them ideal for mixed media painting and collage, and with the advent of drying retarders and lines like GOLDEN’s OPEN Acrylics offering a slower drying time, their use in plein air painting has blossomed.

Acrylics have become a staple in the art world. In their relatively short history, the possibilities of this versatile medium with professional grades offering high pigment loads, multitude of viscosities, and dozens of acrylic mediums, the ways an artist can employ acrylics have become endless. Watch our acrylic videos here, or register for an acrylic Visiting Artist Demonstration at your local Opus for inspiration and techniques from BC artists on how they use acrylics in their work.