Why Does My Acrylic Paint Look Chalky?

Why Does My Acrylic Paint Look ChalkyEvery now and again it happens. A jar of your favorite acrylic starts to look a bit… off. If you are wondering ‘why does my acrylic paint look chalky?’ then I have some good news and some bad news. The bad news is that your acrylic paint is likely drying out or otherwise going bad. The good news is that you might be able to save it with a little water or possibly by reconstituting it in a clear acrylic medium. This might not work, but it’s worth a shot for saving your paint.

Today I’ll tell you how to recognize when acrylic has gone bad, as well as how you can try to save it if it’s not too far gone, and finally, what to do if it’s not the paint but the paintings that look a little chalky.

Let’s take a closer look at what happens when good paint goes bad!

What does bad acrylic paint look like?What does bad acrylic paint look like

It all depends on what is happening with the acrylic. Your acrylic paint is 45% -55% water, and when that starts evaporating then your paint starts getting a little more pasty and chalky lumps of what’s left start appearing on the surface. If you catch it fast, you can usually add water, and then spend a few minutes mixing it nice and smooth again – no problem.

There is another kind of ‘bad’ that your acrylic can go to, however, and the way that you want to determine if it’s occurring is to take a whiff of your acrylic. If your acrylic paint smells awful, like a moldy roll, then there is nothing that you can do. Somehow excess moisture got in and was able to get past the defense of trace formaldehyde and ammonia in your paints and now it’s basically ‘gone sour’.

That said, let’s get back to the too-dry acrylic, because that’s still something that you might be able to fix and we’ll address this more in the next section.

How do you fix chalky acrylic paint?

How do you fix chalky acrylic paintIf your acrylic paint has gone all lumpy, then mixing in water can often revive it quite effectively… but you are going to need to be very careful with the amount of water that you use. Remember, acrylic paint is about 45% to 55% percent water when it’s brand new, so when you are reviving it you need be sure that you add very small amounts of water, followed by vigorous mixing, and then a very small amount of water again to repeat the process until your paint starts looking like paint again.

Now, sometimes you find out that your paint has completely dried out and you’ve basically got a jar of colorful little rocks. I should warn you at this point that you might well not be able to save them, but there is something that you can try.

Get a clear acrylic from your local art supply or order some online. Also, get a mortar and pestle. The mortar and pestle will let you reduce your acrylic rocks to powder and you’ll want to stir them slowly into your clear acrylic.

With a little luck, this will save the day, but be prepared – it doesn’t always work. I’m just letting you know how to do it because sometimes you’ll get lucky and you can save your favorite paint without having to wait for a replacement tube or jar.

Why do my paintings look chalky?Why do my paintings look chalky

If your paintings are looking chalky, then it’s usually one of two reasons. The first is if you mean that it looks ‘powdery’, and if that’s the case, then you need to add a little water in your acrylic because it might be drying up a bit.

The second thing that can make your painting look a little ‘chalky’ is a poor color progression on edges. You have to make color changes gradual in your compositions, otherwise they are going to stick out a little bit and distract the viewer. That’s okay if that’s the effect that you are going for, but if not then you want to make sure that the colors on and around your edges gradually fade into each other. If you use a color that is too warm or too cool, then it makes the transition look a little ‘spooky’ and unnatural, leaving you with that ‘chalky’ effect.

For a little practice with things like gradual fading, check out this 3rd party link and you can get some more information on how to practice and master fading colors in and out.  Learning how to gradually blend colors together like this is very useful, so it’s definitely something that you’ll want to practice if you haven’t learned how to do it yet.

Some closing words

Today we’ve explored what makes acrylic paint look chalky, as well as what you can do when it happens. More often than not, when your acrylic paint looks chalky in the jar then it’s a sign that it’s drying out. Add water a little bit at a time and mix well and you should be okay. For super-dry acrylic, a clear acrylic base might do for reconstitution of the powdered paint, but that’s going to be hit or miss.

Still, that technique will give you a fighting chance at saving your favorite paint if you can’t replace it just yet, so if the water doesn’t work, be sure to give the clear acrylic a try. Good luck with your paints and I wish you the best!