What Are Gels?
Gels are thickened acrylic emulsion (acrylic binder), and the very same
"stuff" acrylic paint is made of. Simply stated, gels are
acrylic without pigment.
Gels are designed
for use with acrylic paint to change the paints characteristics.
They may also be used alone to provide a transparent layer or to provide
texture. There are no limits to gel uses.
Gels come in different surfaces: gloss, semi-gloss and matte (see
below). Gloss Gels dry to a clear, almost glass-like luminosity. They
have no matting agents added, and do not change the quality or color
of paint to which they are added. The Semi-Gloss & Matte Gels have
matting agents added, reducing luminosity. The matte version of Gels
does not have the luminosity of the gloss or semi-gloss gels. Matte
Gels are stiffer and appear a bit "cloudy" or satin-like because
of the addition of matting agents. Matte Gels will affect the color
of the paint. Other Gels like Fine Pumice Gel have
solids in them and dry to an opaque finish, not the clear, glass-like
luminosity of Regular Gel (Gloss).
Regular Gel (Gloss)
Regular Gel (Semi-Gloss)
Regular Gel (Matte)
Gels come in a variety of consistencies - Soft, Regular, Heavy,
Extra Heavy, High Solid, Pumice and Tar versions. These varieties
allow for self-leveling (Self-Leveling Clear Gel) or high peak thickness
(Extra Heavy Gel or High Solid Gel) with many options in between.
High Solid Gel
Extra Heavy Gel
Fine Pumice Gel
The basic gel, often
called Regular Gel, is the same consistency as GOLDEN Heavy Body Acrylics.
Regular Gels are used for regulating transparency without changing the
consistency or viscosity of the paint, and as extenders. (See More Bang
for Your Buck)
Gels can be applied as thin washes over thick glazes, or as gritty gels
over thin washes. Paint directly over gels using them as unique grounds
or put gels over color or add them to each other. Get the idea? Almost
anything will work!
- Dont use
too much water. Adding water to a thick stiff gel will not make it
a soft gel. Purchase the viscosity of gel you require.
- If gels with
grits are used, make sure there is enough acrylic binder in each application
of gel so that each layer allows for strong adhesion.
- Do not overwork
acrylic gels. When they start to get tacky, stop pushing them around
- this may cause crazing.
The examples below
are only a few ideas of how gels can dramatically change the appearance
of the ubiquitous pear. These funky pears are only "a drop in the
bucket" of the hundreds of variations on a gel and pear theme.
think of glazes as thin transparent layers used by the old masters.
Gels enable a painter to create thick transparent glazes that
are luscious with a rich luminosity and depth. If you want to
try to duplicate my gorgeous Thick Glazed Pear painting, follow
these simple instructions. First paint an underpainting using
three colors (Hansa Yellow Opaque, Turquois Phthalo & Quinacridone
Crimson). For this image the underpainting of the pear is Hansa
Yellow Opaque. Keep the values light, because you are going to
glaze over it. Mix your glaze colors using a larger proportion
of a thick or heavy gloss gel to pigment. (10 parts gel to 1 part
pigment) Go ahead, be extravagant with the gel. Apply this mixture
(I used Heavy Gel Gloss mixed with Quinacridone/Nickel Azo Gold) very thickly
with a palette knife, covering the pear. For the background I
used a glaze of Turquois Phthalo and for the foreground, Quinacridone
Crimson. The painting appears very opaque while it is wet. As
the gel dries and clears, the entire painting will brighten and
the rich glazing quality will become apparent.
in a Wet Ground
is a simple way to experiment with using gels as grounds. For the
Pear in a Wet Ground, I used Soft Gel Gloss that has a creamy, spreadable
consistency. Using a palette knife, I applied the soft gel over
an underpainting (similar to the first pear). While the gel was
still wet I used a soft synthetic watercolor brush loaded with wet
color. As I moved the wet paint into and through the wet gel, I
created deep juicy brush strokes. I never added enough paint to
opacify the gel, so I was left with mostly transparent glazes. It
is nearly impossible to work with detail in this way, but it is
guaranteed to loosen up your painting style. An added advantage
of using gels in this manner is that it will keep your paint wet
longer. However, thick applications of acrylic take a longer time
For the highly
textured paint strokes in the Highly Textured Pears, I added Heavy
Gel Matte (a very stiff gel) to all the paint. I used a palette
knife to add the mixtures to the painting, then used a stiff bristle
brush to create more texture while pushing the paint around. A great
advantage to acrylic is the quick drying time. Imagine waiting for
this thick painting to dry if it was in oil!
Pear & Land
the right is another way to use the Heavy Gel Matte. Begin with
an underpainting. The paint should not be too dark in value, because
you will be glazing over it with another color. When your underpainting
is dry, use a palette knife to spread the Heavy Gel Matte over
the entire surface. Now, while it is wet, draw or incise the deep
texture lines with the point of your palette knife. Let this layer
dry. Mix a glaze of 10 percent color and 90 percent Polymer Medium
or Acrylic Glazing Liquid. You want this thin glaze to "puddle
in the ditches", or settle out in the crevices that you have
created with the gel.
of this technique is the landscape pictured to the right. The difference
is that we used Soft Gel Matte. The incised lines do not have
the hard edges of the Heavy Gel Matte.
More Bang For
If these "looks" using acrylic gels are not your cup of tea,
saving money may be. Using gels as an extender can save you money.
For the Highly Textured
Pears, I mixed about two-thirds of the thick Heavy Gel Matte to one-third
pure paint. I still got incredible color strength, vibrancy and opacity,
even though I had taken my pigment load down to only one-third.
Compare the price
of paint to gels - you will notice Gel is much less expensive than paint!
If you want to check this out, and save money, try this:
Use only professional
grade acrylic paint. Student grade paint already contains extenders,
and generally has fillers to lower the cost. For example, put down a
nice thick swatch of full strength paint. Next mix two-thirds Regular
Gloss Gel to one-third paint. Lay it down next to the original swatch.
When the two swatches dry, they should appear to be very close in color.
You have extended your paint and you have not changed the consistency
or the gloss. If you used a matte gel, or a thicker, stiffer gel, these
characteristics would change.