Mixed Media: Combining Watercolor and Acrylic in Painting

Acrylic and watercolor might seem as if they orbit in different artistic solar systems. Each is suited to very different styles of painting.Acrylic is a medium that dries with a flat, opaque, almost plastic-like consistency, whereas watercolor is fluid and creates natural tonal variations based on the amount of water added. But magic can happen when you combine these very different types of paint.

MIXING ACRYLIC WITH WATERCOLOR

By mixing acrylic with watercolor, you can create paint with very unique qualities of color and opacity, that can be adjusted based on the ratio of the paint types and water. All you have to do is set up a palette with several colors of watercolor, and using a palette knife, mix them with a dab of acrylic.

Adjust the ratio of watercolor to acrylic until you’ve reached a color that pleases you. Depending on the ratio of colors, you can achieve different textures and finishes with your paint. For example:

  • A lot of watercolor with just a touch of acrylic will give you a sort of “fortified watercolor” look–more solid and opaque than regular watercolor, but maintaining the natural variations of color and tone as it is painted across the paper.
  • More acrylic with a touch of watercolor is more subtle, but you will attain more delicate tones than you would with just straight-out acrylic. It’s almost like you make a more “painterly” acrylic.

You can experiment even more with mixing acrylic and watercolor, testing how it might look to paint with a semi-mixed color combination, or testing the outcome when you dilute the paint with more or less water.

NOTES:

  • While white acrylic will work with any color, you can also use a colored acrylic paint for unique results.
  • Once dry, consider this paint permanent–unlike watercolor, you won’t be able to revive it on your palette by adding more water, so be sure to mix enough of each color.

WATERCOLOR BACKGROUND, ACRYLIC FOREGROUND

Watercolor and acrylic can be used in tandem to create dimensional works of art. You can create a fluid, colorful background in watercolor, and then use opaque acrylic to paint forms that pop on top of the watercolor. From simple icons such as a heart painted in white acrylic atop a watercolor rainbow (pictured below), to more complicated scenes with characters painted in acrylic over a beautiful backdrop, this is an easy way to get a less “flat” effect by combining media.

ACRYLIC ON TOP OF WET WATERCOLOR

By painting with acrylic on top of still-wet watercolor, you can attain some very pretty, sheer-looking results. For instance, on the above image, white acrylic paint is applied over a still-wet wash of blue watercolor paint. Because the watercolor is still quite wet, the color is gently combined with the white acrylic paint, giving it a semi-transparent look, less flat than simply painting white clouds atop a dried watercolor surface, which would dry opaque.

ANTIQUE LOOK

If you paint a larger area with acrylic paint, you can create a sort of antique look by painting over it with watercolor paint. This method is especially helpful when creating architectural elements in a painting, but can be used whenever you want to give an object a patina-style finish. While white is used in the above example, you can employ any sort of color combination–for instance, it might be well suited to creating an area of mint green acrylic and covering it with copper watercolor, or vice versa, to create an image such as the Statue of Liberty.

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