Totally common misconception: acrylic skins are not gotten by killing a giant paint monster and skinning it. Acrylic skins are the leftover dried up remains of acrylic paint on a palette after which one has finished one’s masterpiece.
It’s much easier to let the paint dry on the palettes and peel it off later, rather than wash it off, so if you’ve used acrylics at all, maybe you’ve already discovered paint skins. Not only is it extremely satisfying to peel the dried plasticky paint up, you feel like you’re basically saving the earth by reusing your art materials.
For this post, I made a series of regular paint skins and acrylic skins from gel mediums, which are basically clear, and make fantastic window clings or layerable skins.
Materials Needed (see the bottom of the post for more details and resources):
- Acrylic paints
- 4mil drop cloth plastic or freezer paper
- Gel medium
- Canvas boards
- (optional) liquid watercolor paint
Acrylic Skins Technique
You can brush the paint or medium on the plastic, (or pour it, or lay it out with a palette knife, depending on how thick it is.) With pouring medium, you obviously just pour it onto the surface. You can either tint it with some paint first, then pour it out, or pour it straight out and drip paint onto it.
Our favorite thing I discovered was dripping small drops of liquid watercolor into the pourable medium. It looked so pretty! And it spread out in the medium and did cool things!
It takes 12-48 hours to dry completely depending on humidity and thickness of the acrylic. Once it is fully dry, you can peel it up and start collaging.
Rip it or cut it depending on the thickness and what effect you want.
We made one collage using randomly cut up pieces of the skins (see the very top pic), and one super-cool, labor-intensive sunburst collage from cut strips of the skins. This was made up mostly of the straight paint skins, with a few gel skins layered in. Start from the center and layer the strips outward to the edges of the canvas board.
Materials and Resources
This set of Liquitex is great for acrylic skins if you want a bunch of small tubes of pre-mixed colors:
This set of 12 tubes still has a good number of colors, but will let you play with mixing colors! MIXING COLORS IS FUN!
Blick also has some good student grade acrylics here.
I also tried out different craft paints like the pretty colors from Target, and they dried totally matte. I prefer a glossy finish, so I didn’t use much of these.
Related: 25 Acrylic Painting Ideas for Kids
Freezer paper or 4 mil tarp plastic – you’ll need one of these so that the dried acrylic peels off easily. Wax paper doesn’t work, and glass works, but is much harder to peel off of than these two surfaces.
Acrylic Gel Medium
Thinner, or pourable spread the best and dry flatter. Unless you’re looking for thick texture -then use heavy gel medium. Although it’s nice and peely, I’ve found that glue does not work well for this application, nor does Mod Podge. It dries kind of yellow. Ew.
We used Liquitex Pouring Medium, which is lovely and runny and dries flat and crystal clear. Just make sure you have it on a level surface, or it will run down the table, onto your wooden floors, in a big pile of plastic goo and you will be forced to peel it off the floor and you will make a pouty face.
We glued (you can use the same gel medium as a glue) the skins onto canvas boards.
Liquid watercolor paint
If you haven’t found a reason to fall in love with this stuff yet, now’s the time. Drop tiny bits into the poured gel and let it dry. It will spread some and look really cool when it dries in the gel. You can also swirl it around in the gel with a toothpick to make neato designs.
This is the brand I buy and love, and see how you can make the coolest liquid watercolor bubble prints here.
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