Getting familiar with acrylic retarder

I’ve been playing around with acrylic retarder to get a sense of how it works and how long it actually keeps the acrylic paint open and workable. I’d like to figure out a way to use it in a wet-in-wet style, with visible and loose brush strokes. Most of the demos I’ve found have been about smooth blending, so it’s fun to be experimenting with my own take on it.

testing acrylic retarder painted sphere in raw umber and cadmium yellow light
A basic sphere using raw umber and cadmium yellow light to get a sense of how the acrylic retarder handles

This little panel is illustration board covered in Liquitex Basics gesso, which has a light tooth to it and is fairly absorbent surface. I put an isolation coat (Soft Gel Gloss + water) on the left half before painting, to test out whether that kept the paint wet longer.

It didn’t really make a difference — perhaps it needed multiple isolation coats or a mix that was less diluted with water. For using their Glazing Liquid (which contains retarder), Golden recommends sealing the surface with a gloss base. So that advice likely translates to this situation as well.

Based on the small amount of testing with the retarder, I have a list of things I want to try:

  • use lots of paint! stop being cheap with it. thicker paint stays wet longer.
  • put down blobs of paint and add one part retarder to 6 parts fresh paint
  • coat the canvas with a non-absorbent layer (such as a gloss medium or gel, not gesso)
  • use a stay wet palette (on its way)
  • put down a base layer of glazing liquid when ready to paint
  • test out the difference between adding glazing liquid to the paint (1:1 ratio) vs. retarder (1:6)

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