It’s only natural to wonder how long your art is going to last. After all, we visit museums and see very old oil paintings all of the time. So, what about acrylic – how long will paintings last? Well, the answer is tricky, because acrylic paints were first developed in 1934 as a way to combine properties of oils and watercolors, so they only started becoming popular in the 1940’s. That said, from analysis of their composition, it is believed that they have the potential to last longer than oils!
In today’s article I’ll talk a little more about the longevity of these lovely synthetic paints and we’ll discuss if your paintings can go ‘bad’, why they crack, and why it looks like acrylics should outlast even oils.
Without further ado, let’s get started!
Do acrylic paintings go bad?
It all depends on how they are taken care of. Like all paintings, you have to factor in what they are painted on, where they were stored, and if they were properly sealed. Theoretically, they should be able to last for centuries, but no one can guarantee that they won’t be stored somewhere they could get mold or too much sunlight – thus going ‘bad’.
The best answer would be to say that due to the synthetic composition of these paints, they could last a few hundred years and maybe even longer.
What lasts longer acrylic or oil?
In all probability, it’s going to be the acrylics. The advantage that acrylics have is their synthetic composition. Oils are primarily linseed and vegetable oil when you break them down. Once they are applied to the canvas, then you get that magical process of hardening into place but on a molecular level, this is a process that just keeps going on.
Oils can yellow faster and while acrylic have their own chemical process going on, with oils it is much more aggressive. After about a century, an oil painting will commonly develop some tiny cracks, whereas much-more flexible acrylic paint is going to be more resistant to this.
Another important factor is water-solubility. Oil is water soluble, so a painting that has seen 3 centuries can easily become defaced if someone trips and spills on a drink on it. With an acrylic painting, that is not going to happen.
Oils are amazing and they are tough and while it’s only speculation until acrylic painting has a few more centuries on it, from the scientific perspective it’s looking like acrylics might actually be able to last twice as long as oils.
We’ll just have to wait and see!
Why is my acrylic painting cracking?
Now that we’re explored the longevity of acrylics, I’m sure some of you out there have asked ‘oh yeah, well why is my acrylic cracking?’. Well, when cracking is occurring with your acrylic paint, it has to do with layers and how fast they dry.
The reason that you are getting cracks is because the top layer of paint is drying appreciably faster than the layer below. As the layer about has a tougher ‘skin’ to it, the drying action of the layer below is pulling at that skin and voilla – it starts to crack.
This continues until that bottom layer is dry, unfortunately, and so you can end up with a lot of cracks. In order to avoid these, you can try adding medium to your paints, using less water, or you can even try some higher-end paints if these strategies don’t seem to be helping.
As far as the water, try to avoid adding anything more than 30% of water into your acrylics. The reasoning behind this is that too much water can affect the binder components of your paint. These binders allow for your paint to stick and when this is weakened then cracking also becomes a very real possibility.
In conclusion: Acrylic paintings are here to stay
Today we’ve taken a closer look at the longevity of acrylic paintings. As you can see, acrylics have the potential to last longer than oil paintings, due to the durability of the synthetics in their composition. While we cannot say for sure, because the medium is still quite young, the science appears to support this conclusion at this time.
If you are seeing some cracking in your acrylics, remember to try and use more water, as this has to do with uneven drying times with your painted layers. For a little more acrylic paint cracking on canvas, be sure to check out this nice 3rd party link. It’s got some useful strategies that can help you get beyond that cracking so that you can enjoy your nice, finished work… for a long, long time!