Sunday, June 6, 2010

Weighing in on tensile strength

Professional quality acrylic gel is strong stuff, really. I make paintings using the skins themselves as my support, I stretch them, cut them, mold and manipulate them constantly. I get a lot of questions about the strength and durability of these solid bits of paint. Aside from the aesthetics of these translucent, supple sheets, I am in love with their versatility and malleable character.

I should caution you, however, to remember that acrylics are a thermoplastic, and thus vulnerable to the changes in ambient humidity and temperature. I tend not to work with skins in the high summer here in Ontario. Hot, hazy & humid days wreak havok on the acrylic. There is so much water in the air that the paint dries WAY too slowly, and sometimes full curing is nearly impossible. Physically, the skins become very soft and tacky, like thick plastic wrap...very frustrating if working large. Working with skins in the summer? Air conditioning, air conditioning, air conditioning.

Winter poses it's own set of issues. Transporting paintings from a dry warm environment to (or through) the deep cold causes it the skin to become very hard and brittle. I've damaged too many pieces this way, no matter how careful I've been. The shrinkage that occurs when the plastic cools alone can cause the film to crack. This can be heartbreaking and very frustrating. With some careful planning, and timing all of these issues can be worked around.

A properly prepared film, at room temperature, is a strong and very resilient substance. The real secret to producing a strong film, aside from the issues I've just mentioned, is to use a LOT of gel.

That's all for today! Please let me know if you have any questions about process or technical stuff. I'm always happy to help, and keep adding to the global acrylic knowledge database!


  1. hi Rheni,
    Just got hold of New Acrylics- essential sourcebook and devouring every page!. As you say there is so much acrylic product in the art stores but really not much information.
    Your book is very inspiring. thanks.

  2. Thanks, Eddy! Glad to be useful and inspirational! Yay!

  3. hi Rheni,
    I actually have had your book for a couple of years now and I love it. I was wondering if you have any plans on doing a workshop in ontario in the near future?

  4. Thanks, Tania! I have really cut back on workshops, but if I do any, they will be listed on the Tri-Art website ( under the Acrylic Education tab. Besides me, there are other teachers who work with us who give fantastic workshops! As we are based in Ontario, there is always something going on nearby.


  5. Hello! Books are fabulous! I'm attempting larger free standing 3-D work with skins. Want to keep the translucent quality of the gels. Any suggestions for rigidity besides embedding wire? Thanks. Wendy

  6. Hi Wendy,

    You could work with an armature. I've attached skins to wrought iron, wooden armatures, etc. If you want to keep the clarity, how about using clear acrylic rods or sheets? You can find them online from industrial plastics manufacturers. There are unfortunately not many other transparent supports that I can think of.
    Your work sounds interesting! I'd love to see it.