Great Art Materials: School Blog-Artist Junior Acrylics

Great Art Materials: School Blog-Artist Junior Acrylics

This month’s blog is aimed especially at schools, home educators and all groups who do creative work with young people!

This time I’m looking at Artist Junior Acrylics by Gerstaecker

These acrylic paints are available in a wide colour range including metallics and the colours are all completely intermixable, which means you can make an almost limitless number of colour variations. All dry bright and with a waterproof finish. They come in practical plastic bottles with screw tops and I particularly like the dispenser nozzle which avoids waste as it is easy to put out exactly the right amount of paint…

I used the colour range below, and would suggest the following as a great starter palette for schools:-

White * Primary yellow * Orange * Brilliant Red * Primary Red *

Primary Blue * Ultramarine Blue * May Green * Raw Sienna *

and Black

Introduction…or why all schools should buy acrylics!

Acrylics are a relatively new medium in terms of artists’ materials; they were developed in the 1950’s alongside the new plastics that were coming into production. They are made from resins and pigments and are interestingly similar chemically to the plastic bottles they come in!

They were developed as a fast drying and practical alternative to oil paints, which can take months or even years to dry out completely.

They are in fact a brilliant, cost effective and incredibly useful material for school use, because:-

  • They are safe for use in primary and secondary schools, although obviously very young children should be carefully supervised when using them. (Gerstaecker Artist Junior Acrylic Paint conforms to toy standard EN 71-3 and thus ensures the safety of children during painting, making it particularly suitable for use in school and education.)
  • The fact that they dry so fast is great when working with children and young people-waiting times are much reduced  so there is much less frustration and hanging around, and this also means that work is much less prone to smudging  or other damage.
  • Acrylics can be used on almost any surface apart from waxy or greasy ones. This means that they are perfect for painting directly onto not just paper, but card (even brown packaging card), fabric, wood, metal, and leather. Acrylics are prefect for adding colour to card models, pieces made from both traditional and air-hardening clay (great where schools do not have access to a kiln and therefore glazes) and mod roc models too. They are also perfect for large scale work such as backdrops for school productions, and even for outside pieces.
  • Acrylics are a really high quality medium that allows children to produce excellent work in a range of techniques and approaches including with painting knives, and traditional brush techniques. They are also great for experimenting and can be used with hand-made painting tools, and a range of found and natural materials.
  • Acrylics work really well in combination with Gelli plates for experimental and very safe print making techniques.

Top Tips for Using Acrylics in School:

  • Cover work surfaces with wipeable covers or newspaper.
  • Wear aprons or old shirts to protect clothes.
  • Ideally use acrylics undiluted or with only tiny amounts of water-this gives optimum results and also reduces mess!
  • Have a bowl of soapy water ready and put brushes in as soon as they have finished being used-if left acrylics dry HARD! They will sit happily like this until there’s time to clean them properly-wash thoroughly with washing up liquid and warm water, rinse throughly, reshape bristles and allow to dry with bristles pointing upwards in a pot.
  • Other painting tools like plastic palette knives and silicone blades and wedges can simply be wiped with a paper towel as needed and then be washed in the same soapy water at the end of the painting session.
  • Paper plates are great for avoiding washing up-scrape back any reusable paint and then simply throw away. Clean but mixed colour i.e not the pure colour from the bottle can be stored for ages in an airtight container, like a jar or a plastic tub with a well fitting lid. If you need to save paint for a short time, for example until returning to work after a short break, cover carefully with cling film, but bear in mind this is only a very short term measure.
  • Buy at least double the amount of white paint as any other colour as you will go through it faster, and use black as sparingly as possible to maintain clean fresh colour mixes.

Working with Artist Junior Acrylics:

I began by putting out some colour and getting the feel for how it works…

As you can see above, the paint has a nice creamy thick consistency and is naturally quite glossy. The colours are rich and vibrant, and mix beautifully.* They would be ideal for encouraging young artists to develop their skills in both handling paint and also mixing colour.

With acrylic paint you can mix colour on your palette, but you can also blend colour directly on your work.

In the picture above I am playing with blending two blues, and white, directly on my drawing paper. I’ve used removable making tape to create a fairly clean edge.This is a good technique for testing colours, as it’s quick and easy, and prevents the need for a lot of time wasted trying to fill in areas super accurately.

In the image above, you can see strips of related colours, blended together and with white or black to make them darker or lighter.

The colours really are crisp and vibrant and the paint has a noticeable and attractive sheen….this is a really good exercise to do with young people, as it is great for colour mixing practise.

Above: Textures made with a silicone blade, and I’m adding a smooth glaze of colour using a silicone wedge.

Here a plastic palette knife is used to apply paint in dabs to build up texture as well as colour.

Above: A silicone wedge can be used to add fine lines using a little paint on one of it’s angled edges.

Because these acrylics dry with a waterproof finish you can easily build up layers of colour, texture and complexity. Here, I’m simply using a clean glue spreader to add fine white lines across a dry coloured layer.

Above: here you can see that you can combine both opaque and translucent areas, and overlay colours to create exciting effects.

Using a clay tool or the end of a brush, also allows you to ‘draw designs and details through wet paint to reveal the colour underneath-‘S’grafitto’

The image above, shows my completed experiment sheet which combines all the different techniques discussed. I have to say I was super impressed with the vibrancy of the colour, and quality of finish!

Painting colour on black paper is always a good test of the quality of pigments used. Here I’ve applied colour with a flat brush, quite thinly and with overlaying marks. I really like the luminous effect it made, even on very dark paper as a ground.

Printing with Gelli Plates:

Artist Junior Acrylics are also ideal for printing using Gelli Plates.

These are blocks of clear, totally safe material which is amazingly sensitive to delicate marks and textures….THE ONLY SNAG IS YOU MUST NOT USE ANYTHING POINTED OR SHARP AS THE BLOCK WILL RETAIN THE IMAGE PERMANENTLY!

Above: here you can see an ideal set up for printing with gel plates. The plate is placed onto a sheet of acetate on top of clean newsprint. The workspace is organised with paper cut to size ( can be coloured or white, and really inexpensive thin paper is actually easiest to begin with, as you can see your print when rubbing it down on the paper), a clean roller and also a spray bottle with clean water for cleaning up. Make sure you also have plenty of paper towels to hand.

Ink up your Gelli plate with a thin coat of acrylic using a roller as shown. Dot small blobs of colour on the plate, and allow colours to mix or stay separate, depending on the effect you want.

Above: A selection of things you can used to make your design with:-

  • blades and wedges
  • plastic toys like building blocks
  • hard erasers, which can be carved to make a pattern
  • paper stencils
  • press print pieces mounted on a base of waste card
  • blocks made from waste card and string glued on to create a design
  • corks
  • plastic painting tools
  • cotton buds.
  • DON’T use pencils or anything even slightly sharp!
  • Textured fabric
  • Textured wall paper
  • Leaves and flowers

**The options are endless!

In this picture, you can see that I’ve created a design in the acrylic paint using the white silicone wedge shown. But you can simply add stencils or press in textures to create really exciting effects…

Top tips:

  • Be very organised as the paint dries fast so you need to work quickly!
  • Between prints simply moisten the plate with a little sprayed water and blot with a paper towel….give it a really good wash and return to it’s ‘clam-shell’ case to keep it safe when you’ve finished and it should last you for ages!
  • When you’ve used your roller, roll off excess ink on newsprint or paper towel to prevent it drying hard, and again wish thoroughly when you’ve finished.
  • Bear in mind that the best effects are achieved by building up prints in several layers….it is an experimental process but a very satisfying and inclusive one.

This image  shows subtle pressed-in designs with wavy marks added using the silicone blade pictured.

To transfer the print, simply cover your block with pre-cut paper, and then rub down lightly with your hand or a clean roller, then peel off gently and put to dry for a minute or so ready to add the next layer!

**If you clean your gel plates carefully after each use and return them to the protective package, they will last for ages and give you hundreds of prints!!

Try printing on a range of different types and colours of paper, but remember thin is good at least to begin with as it is easy to see whether you have transferred your image successfully, as with the prints above.

You can also print very successfully on fabric. I use clean white cotton which I iron to remove creases. Place an old blanket or a few sheets of paper underneath as paint comes through fabric more than it does paper.

This is a great development for school use as children can produce many different outcomes, by experimenting with printing on different surfaces.

Remember also that as the paint dries to a waterproof finish you can work into some of your prints to add extra colour or detail, and stitch into fabrics prints to involve and develop a wider range of skills.

Painting on Fabric:

These acrylics also work brilliantly for painting directly on fabric, which allows you to create large scale pieces like hangings, banners  and backdrops.

In the Artist Junior range you can also find a textile medium which can be used to mix roughly 50:50 with the acrylics, and this maintains the softness of the fabric. However, I found it worked really well on fabric with or without the medium, so if it isn’t something where softness is important, it isn’t strictly necessary. Either way colours can be fixed by ironing on the REVERSE of the fabric when you have completed the piece.

In the picture above you can see a good way of setting up- have a design drawn out on paper using a bold pencil or ink for clarity, and lay it under a sheet of fabric as shown. The sheet of acetate under the fabric is important-a sheet of paper underneath will stick.

Place your fabric on top and transfer the design in soft pencil.

When you’ve transferred the design remove the sheet of paper, leaving the fabric on its acetate sheet, ready for painting.

Tape the fabric down and paint with a soft brush. Note I’ve taped my fabric in place all around with masking tape so it doesn’t keep moving.

*Add a little water or textile medium to help the paint flow on the fabric.

In the image above, I experimented with a range of techniques including: smooth colour blends, overlaying colour on a dry layer, adding dots for detail using the end of a brush, and building up a textured feel with layered paint applied in this case with the end of a glue spreader.

The sample above is painted in exactly the same way, but this time working on unbleached calico, which is a cheap but very effective option, although colour clarity and brilliance is reduced.

**Top Tip:

If you want to make a very large banner, hanging or back drop, it works really well to get young people to work in small manageable sections which can be assembled together on a backing sheet of cotton. Simply glue firmly in place with Acrylic Gel Medium, and blend to hide edges with a touch up of acrylic paint.

Artist Junior Acrylics on Card Models:

Above is a simple demonstration piece which I’ve left half unpainted to show young people how the mask was made…

African tribal inspired masks like these work really well made with strong packaging card, which means they can be made very large and then carried by adding a strap on the back-very authentic to traditional African masks which are often almost flat and nearly the size of a man…they aren’t worn over the face but can be carried in dances and ceremonies.

Here you can see how well the Artist Junior Acrylics work on the untreated brown packaging card; allowing for both thick and thin techniques applied with a palette knife or brush.

**Bear in mind that Artist Junior Acrylics work equally well for painting pretty much all kinds of school models and sculptures, including those made from found objects, packaging, traditional and air-hardening clay and also ‘mod roc’ (Plaster bandage) pieces.

My Materials List:

All materials are available from GreatArt UK on the following link:

I also used:

  • White cotton and unbleached calico, sold in metre lengths and available in most fabric and remnant shops and markets.
  • Paper towel, washing up liquid and newsprint for clearing up.
  • Acetate sheets to go under the Gelli plates so they don’t adhere to the work surface (old OHP slides work fine)
  • A range of found and common items for making textures as listed above.
  • Glue spreader (small) for adding narrow marks in acrylic
  • Paper plates for mixing colours and to save washing up-widely available in pound shops/ supermarkets etc…
  • An iron for smoothing fabric…use on top of an old blanket or pad of newsprint.

Hope you enjoyed this Great Art UK, School themed Blog, and that you’ll keep reading and look out for the next one!

© Jo York 2017










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