Plastic Paint: Experimenting with Acrylics

This summer I took a leap of faith challenging myself to think of acrylic in new ways. I don’t claim expertise in this arena but through trial and error I’ve learned some interesting things.

The Paint: Acrylic paint is essentially plastic and pigment suspended as a water soluble emulsion. Most acrylic and latex paints are made using a combination of acrylic or vinyl plastics. The ratios vary depending on the cost and intended use of the paint. Acrylics aren’t corrosive overtime like oil paint which allows you to paint more directly on unusual surfaces. (Also see difference between latex & acrylic paint)



Jan 1950- Sam at Bocour Creating First Acrylic

Read about the history on Golden’s website (


Maybe I have some unacknowledged modernist tendencies but the idea of making a painting with no support thrills me. Think of it, a painting made exclusively of paint! How much more medium specific could you be?

Acrylic Skins: An acrylic skin is simply any variety of acrylic paint or medium poured over a repellent surface, cheap thin plastic sheeting has worked best for me. Let it dry and voila you have a skin.

Other Supports: Without going too far into boring detail it turns out acrylic paint will not adhere to certain plastics…like the sheeting seen below. This sheeting is wonderful for making acrylic skins. If you want to work on a transparent surface here is what I’ve found works.

Screen shot 2015-10-05 at 11.50.09 PM#1 – Plexiglas – Plexiglas is made from poured acrylic. Acrylic paint with adhere to this surface beautifully and there are no archival or clarity issues to worry about other than some yellowing over time. You can also build panels and other shapes using acrylic solvents. These solvents are more toxic and require good ventilation. Rather than gluing pieces together the solvent dissolves the acrylic creating a bond more akin to welding then gluing. I’ve discovered the best information on this process from aquarium professionals. Most fish tanks these days are made from plexiglas.

#2 – Vinyl – You can purchase vinyl fabric in any number of colors as well as clear. Acrylic paint bonds well to this surface but evidently causes archival issues over time. Most flexible plastics contain plasticizers to keep the plastic pliable. These can degrade the acrylic paint over time.

“Vinyl materials leach plasticizers and are not typically thought of as being very archival.  These plasticizers also migrate into acrylics and in turn cause them to become sticky/tacky.”

-Excerpt from a response email sent to me by Golden

My experiments: poly-fill with soft gel medium & self leveling gel, printing directly onto the skin, three + acrylic mediums with layered acrylic pain & caran d’ache water soluble crayons on fabric. (left to right)


More Resources & Materials:

HDtarpslef-level  vinyl.jpgpouring-group2ww-m

The best archival resin I’ve found:

by Elizabeth Ayerle



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