One of the best things about acrylic is how easily you can customize your work. If you can think of it, acrylic will most likely stick to it. Wood, board, masonry, metal, paper, glass, plastic - you can customize all sorts of surfaces to create a range of results. So, what are the best ways to create a bespoke surface for acrylic paint? The Liquitex range gives all sorts of options. Here’s an overview.
How to prep surfaces before customizing
Some materials naturally offer more ‘grip’ for the paint to hold onto. Others – super smooth, non-porous surfaces like metal – offer less. Prepping a surface with a gesso or medium helps the color adhere and stay in place for the long term. Prepping also seals it, to keep color pure. Without sealing, some impurities (water/color) can leach through into your work causing discoloration over time.
What is a ground?
Your ground is the first base layer you paint onto the virgin surface. It’s also the term for the material used. Artists traditionally use a gesso, but you can use a range of different mediums as a ground – from fluid mediums to modeling pastes and texture mediums. We talk about a good ground adding ‘teeth’/’tooth.’
When looking at customizing your surfaces, first decide what you want to create. Then make sure your support and ground are appropriate for it. Your choice has a large effect on how the paint handles, how it dries and its long-term stability. For example, paint dries fastest on textured, absorbent surfaces. If you’re planning to do something heavy or 3D, you’ll need to lock the acrylic in with a super strong ground. Laying down a base can also shift the values of the paint you apply on top. This gives you the chance to customize, adding texture or color. A smooth white base under an opaque color will add brightness, while a deep textured black base will give dimension.
How can I prepare my surfaces using Liquitex products?
For custom grounds, the most obvious route is to use color. The color and tone of your base can affect the chromatic and tonal appearance of your paint, so choose strategically. Our professional Gesso range has a range of popular colors: titanium white, black or gray. These contain a blend of pigments to give a neutral opaque base which instantly eliminates your surface color and allows you to build. Deeper colors will give depth and white is the classic backdrop for colors to express their natural character. If you want a bespoke color, simply make your own. Select your acrylic color and mix with acrylic gesso or medium to create the effect you want. Professional Soft Body and Heavy Body Acrylics and Basics color are the optimum consistencies. Our Clear Gesso is also great for when you’d like your surface to show through, but it needs additional tooth.
Add texture with professional mediums
Texture is another way of customizing your surface. Peaks, swirls and knife marks. Liquitex Professional Super Heavy Gesso adds instant 3D texture and is an ideal way of creating sculptural shape. It also acts as the perfect ground if you want to support weight: once dry it will hold modeling pastes and heavy mixed media onto your surface. You can paint on top, tint it with color or mix with Liquitex gesso to get a more fluid consistency. Alternatively, mix one of our texture mediums/pastes into gesso to create different textural effects. Liquitex Modeling Paste makes a great, absorbent ground for pastel, charcoal and graphite drawings - try 3 parts gesso to 1 part Modeling Paste. You can get a less absorbent surface with less tooth by diluting Liquitex gesso with Liquitex Matte Medium.
Liquitex Professional Natural Sand is also an ideal way to customize your surface. Natural sand particles add structure and texture, drying to a matte, 'beach sand' finish with an opaque/semi-opaque appearance. Use on its own, mixed with color or overpainted once dry. It’s the perfect base for acrylics, pastels and graphite. Professional Ceramic Stucco contains tiny hollow ceramic spheres to add a structured, undulating texture to your support. Completely buildable, it dries to a light gray matte stucco finish and is a useful base for staining, color washes and glazes. Or try Professional Glass Beads. Glass microspheres add a reflective, undulating finish for a bubble-like effect.
Lustre, sparkle and metallic highlights are another way to customize surfaces. Add a dash of Professional Iridescent Medium to your gesso, then overpaint with a transparent color and see the result. Try Professional Gold or Silver Medium in the same way. All Liquitex products are 100% compatible and will work together so get experimenting. The possibilities are infinite. Find our full surface prep guide here.