Our story starts with Henry Levison, a color chemist who lived, drank, slept and breathed artist’s colors. Henry ran a company in Cincinnati, Ohio called Permanent Pigments which had been milling artists' oil colors since 1933. He was keenly following the latest technical advances and experimenting with new formulas in the acrylics field. Acrylics were first developed as a solvent-based artists’ color in the early part of the twentieth century and by 1955 Henry had perfected a commercially viable water-borne acrylic. This was the start of a new era and the beginnings of artists’ acrylics as we know it.
This new artists’ color was formulated with an acrylic polymer resin that was emulsified with water. It could go from thick to thin and everywhere in between; it would adhere to just about anything - from canvas to paper to metal to wood to plastic – and it dried quickly for easy re-working, layering, and masking. Most important, it could be thinned and cleaned up with water. Henry tried to come up with a name that would capture the essence of the medium and the fact that it could go from fluid liquidity to heavy texture. He called his new product “liquid texture,” or Liquitex.
The first Liquitex product was an easy to use water-based primer that could be applied to a wide variety of substrates to turn them into a compatible surfaces for oil or acrylic paints. It didn’t contain oil so a sizing coat wasn’t required to prevent it from oxidizing and disintegrating canvas. Henry then scaled up by combining this formula with pigment to create a full range of colors, that he called Liquitex Medium Viscosity.
Henry needed to convince artists that this new medium was not a gimmick, but rather the future of paint. The term “acrylic polymer” was so new to the art world that he decided to use the term “latex acrylic polymer” on his packaging to educate artists, even though the formula contained no true latex. Henry marketed his new paint, understanding that getting artists to try the new medium was key to their success. The first Liquitex advert appeared in American Artist Magazine in February 1957 and word of mouth quickly made sure Liquitex reached the studios of many emerging masters of the time, from David Hockney to Helen Frankenthaler and Andy Warhol.
The character of acrylics made an instant impact. As Kenneth Noland expressed it, "the materiality and actual work process became more present." John Hoyland recalled “I remember reading articles in magazines. They talked about the radiance and fluidity of it… and that it would never yellow. It seemed exciting, in the way people got excited about the use of plastics, aluminum and other industrial materials”. And Helen Frankenthaler, who switched from using oil paints to acrylic emulsions in the early 1960s, said “I changed to acrylics for a number of reasons. Once, I was told that they dry faster, which they do, and that they retain their original colour, which they do. I would say durability and light and the fact that one can use water instead of turpentine: all that makes it easier given the abstract image…. As painting needed less and less drying time, depth, and so forth, the materials came along that made that more obvious”.
Acrylics didn’t gain full acceptance in the artist community until Henry figured out a principle that is still in place today: great information is as important as great materials. He launched a lecture demonstration program in which artists offered workshops and lectures on the use of acrylics to college students and professors. Within a few years, acrylics were being used consistently in colleges and universities across the country. In fact, it’s fair to say that, without Liquitex and the working properties of water-based acrylics, twentieth century art would have been completely different.
1933 - Henry Levison, an American color chemist establishes Permanent Pigments Company, a small, family-owned enterprise that makes artists’ oil paints
1950 - Henry and other founding members create the National Art Materials Trade Association, the first trade organization dedicated to the advancement of artist materials
1955 - Permanent Pigments Company develops the first water-based acrylic gesso called Liquitex ("Liquid Texture")
1956 - we launch our first artist collaboration, working with Garo Antreasian to make Liquitex colors to road-test during a mural commission at Ohio University
1956 - the world’s first commercially available water-based artist acrylic is developed, called Medium Viscosity Artist Color
1963 – the world’s first heavy bodied, water-based acrylic color is developed, called High Viscosity Artist Color, with an oil paint-like consistency. Gel Medium is launched in the same year
1965 – we’re educating. The Liquitex Lecture Demonstration Program begins, delivering the first artist to artist program in colleges and universities in the U.S. We develop tips & techniques literature to accompany the sessions
1967 – the world’s first removable acrylic varnish goes on sale, the forerunner of today’s Soluvar
1970 – we develop and start using the first machine to test paint for lightfastness
1971 - we create the first cadmium replacement colors (renamed cadmium ‘Hues’ in 1980) and Slow-Dri Medium
1980 – Liquitex becomes the first paint to switch to modern laminate tubes. These easy to open tubes (made of seven airtight laminated layers of plastic, metal and paper) replace all metal tubes, which are prone to corrosion and cracking
1984 - Liquitex becomes the first paint to be labeled for ASTM standards, for toxicity, quality and lightfastness
1985 - the Liquitex Studio Arts Advisory Council is created - a group of influential artists and educators who meet once a year to discuss the needs of art students, professional artists, and art educators
1986 – Fabric Medium arrives
1988 – Liquitex inventor Henry Levinson dies in Florida aged 81
1990 – Flow Aid is created
1992 – Liquithick and texture gels are developed
1993 – we launch Basics, the USA’s first high-quality fine art acrylics aimed at beginners and students
1994 – Airbrush Medium launches
1996 – we set a new industry benchmark by unveiling a brand new resin system for all our color and mediums formulations. This moves acrylic technology forward with state of the art color clarity, brilliance, and longevity
1996 – we launch the USA’s first award for artists living with HIV/AIDS, designed to celebrate and support individuals and raise awareness in the wider community
2005 – we celebrate our 50th anniversary with new colors, new packaging and new names - Medium Viscosity and High Viscosity change to Soft Body and Heavy Body
2006 – Pouring Medium, String Gel and Palette Wetting Spray arrive
2008 – ultra-fluid acrylic Inks! are introduced
2010 – we create specialized large-scale brushes for artists working in large formats
2012 - studios around the world can breathe easy as we launch a fine art, low-odor Spray Paint range, made with water-based technology and artists' pigments
2013 - our chemists manage to adapt our acrylic paint to a pen format with the launch of Paint Markers, now known as Acrylic Markers
2017 - we're innovating in the lab as we launch cadmium-free Heavy Body colors, the world's first true performance-matched alternative to cadmium. Our collaborations also go from strength to strength as we kick off a big year of artist residencies in the USA and London
2018 – we're busy! It's the launch of Acrylic Gouache, a new benchmark in artists' gouache, a brand new bottle design for our fluid paints, a fresh new look for all of our ranges, new in-store fixtures, more cadmium-free colors (in Soft Body and Acrylic Gouache) and new literature
2019 - our brand new website launches, alongside newly designed sets