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My Experiences Plein Air Painting With Interactive

Everyone now knows that the old typecast world of fast drying acrylics is changing into something else.

There is great interest at the moment in Plein Air Painting because it showcases any difficulties that could come up with the newer slower blending processes which are being discussed, and if you can paint comfortably outdoors, studio work is going to be easy to deal with.

Everyone will want to try out both Atelier Interactive and Golden Open to judge their reactions for themselves.

As far as we know Golden Open is a special purpose acrylic paint that dries very slowly. This should make it well suited to Plein Air painting (see the Golden website for more detailed information).

Atelier Interactive is not a niche product like Open, it is a general purpose professional artists acrylic paint. It can be used straight form the tube for normal fast drying acrylic techniques or if you use a water sparyer can be kept wet and workable for much longer than a normal acrylic, even in plein air conditions.

This report will be of great topical interest because we have been doing field trials outdoors with Interactive since 2005 while Golden Open is currently making its first appearance. Our trials identify three distinct types of climate zones, and to work successfully you need to identify the climate type where you live, or where you intend to go on painting trips.

The three recognisable climate zones we have worked in are:


  1. Normal Zone. 40-70% Humidity, Comfortable Ambient Temperature - Applies to most of the populated parts of Australia during most of the year. Airconditioned studios are also considered “normal”. This is the easiest zone to work in because it is easy to keep your painting wet, and it is also easy to dry it out when you want to. To reduce frequency of spraying add one part retarder to two parts water in your spray bottle.
  2. Dry Zone. less than 40% Humidity, often with hot working conditions - includes many popular places where Plein Air artists like to travel during the dry Australian winter. Controlling your painting is quite easy: Use one part retarder to two parts water in your spray bottle.
  3. Wet Tropical Zone. Humidity above 80%, Comfortable Ambient Temperature - where we live is obviously easy for working slowly, because water hardly evaporates at all in high humidity. The water spray can still be useful, but DO NOT ADD ANY RETARDER. If you don’t have air conditioning or heating to speed up the drying process it is best to put paintings aside when they are too wet to work on as one does with oil paintings. You can always overpaint the next day.
    The curing time is also extended and uncured paintings are tacky, and we have found that this worries artists who are not used to it. If you want to go on painting you can do so, and you can also still use the water spray but without the retarder addition. Tacky paintings will dry out eventually and if you can place them in direct sunlight or any source of warmth they will cure quite quickly. The tacky stage does the painting no harm.


The drying time of Atelier Interactive is determined by the evaporation rate of water, which governs the drying of all water based paints.

What is different is that while conventional artists acrylics dry in the same way as acrylic house paints, forming an acrylic skin very rapidly as water evaporates, after which they can only be over painted, Atelier Interactive becomes tacky, and when the missing water is replaced, the paint remains workable as long as the artist maintains the moisture balance which is easily done with a water atomiser.

Anyone who can control a water spray can now paint wet in wet for as long as they like, yet by withholding the water spray they can dry a layer of paint quickly if they want to overpaint in the next stage.

This is a huge advantage because since the mid 1960’s artists have had to choose between fast drying Acrylics, with very little blending time, or slow drying oils with more than enough blending time, but needing a time lapse before overpainting could be continued.

Since the introduction of Atelier Interactive in 2005, artists have been able to control the drying time of their acrylic paint for both fast and slow purposes. In studio conditions taking control of your painting is easy but painting outdoors is more demanding and needs more preparation and planning. It can however still be done comfortably as we have proven with our plein air painting experiences detailed below.

There are (7) Comments, Comments are now closed for this discussion?
  1. comment_1_6168

    Jim Cobb commented on Septembre 8, 2008, at 2:28 pm.

    Alice Springs Area, Central Australian Winter 2007 - Dry Zone less than 40% Humidity

    These sketches were done on water colour paper in full sunlight, it was too cold to work in the shade, and there was quite a strong breeze. It consumed a great deal of water spray and I was also using thick slow medium.

    After ten days of working in this very dry environment our group of artists found the paint was doing its job, but some housekeeping ideas were forming as a result of the working conditions.

    I was painting horizontally, using a folding card table as suggested by a friend. This offers freedom of movement in a standing position, and is more comfortable than sitting on a folding stool in front of an easel.

    I was using a flat piece of white melamine as a palette. With air currents and direct sunlight it needed to be sprayed a lot to keep the paint fresh.

    IDEA: Retarder is a water retention aid. Possibly it could be used as an additive in the water spray. We had no retarder with us so this had to wait until the next trial expedition.

    (NOTE: Artists in the group using Absolute Matte would have preferred it to have dried a little more slowly, and we also experimented with Archival Oils using fast drying mediums and were able to get sketches dry in one day as planned).

  2. comment_2_6168

    Jim Cobb commented on Septembre 8, 2008, at 2:43 pm.

    South Coast of NSW 2006

    It was Autumn as you can see by the flowering flame trees.

  3. comment_3_6168

    Jim Cobb commented on Septembre 8, 2008, at 3:07 pm.

    Cooee Bay Near Rockhampton on the Tropic of Capricorn - Normal Zone. 40-70% Humidity

    We attended a ten day seminar with 35 acrylic artists, most of whom painted indoors, and it was interesting to note that although most of them were using Atelier Interactive the majority continued to use mainly fast drying techniques. It is fortunate that Interactive is able to accommodate both fast and slow techniques because it allows experienced artists to stay in their comfort zone and gradually experiment with slower blending. Anyone who has used oils previously has an advantage in understanding the blending possibilities.

    My wife and I split off from the group to continue our outdoor experiments, this time with an addition of one part of retarder to two parts of water in the water spray. This reduced spraying to a minimum in this normal humidity climate (40-70%).

    By using an ice cube tray as a paint storage unit with easy access, the need to spray the flat mixing palette was almost eliminated. Left over paint in the ice cube tray keeps fresh “forever” when wrapped in plastic and there is no need to store it in the refrigerator.

    As a result of these changes outdoor painting with Interactive has become more comfortable with some advantages over sketching in oils. The oil sketch shown here and the acrylic one of the same subject look similar but Interactive had two advantages that we noticed.

    1. An oil sketch naturally has to be done wet in wet, and any over painting must be done on a later occasion. The advantage with Interactive wet blending is that it is easily interrupted if it is sunny outdoors by drying your painting out in direct sunlight if you want to overpaint. A good combination technique (fast plus slow) is to rough in the underpainting with paint thinned with water, dry it off, and finish with slow overpainting using the spray to maintain blending.

    2. The other advantage is that even fast drying oils are tacky when you have finished sketching. Interactive sketches can be dried off in the sun for easy transportation.

    Some more housekeeping discoveries – Gesso and Paper

    Paper is very transportable when you are on an outdoor painting trip and because it packs flat and takes up little space it has become our standard sketching surface.

    To use Interactive or Absolute Matte on water colour paper you need to go through the usual pre dampening procedures and then work wet in wet. Gessoed paper is easier and more direct to work on, so we now carry a large pot of Gesso ready to make up a well primed surface whenever we want one. A Gessoed surface is more straight forward to work on with Interactive or Absolute Matte and it is a necessity when using oils.

  4. comment_4_6168

    Jim Cobb commented on Septembre 8, 2008, at 3:27 pm.

    Chillagoe North Queensland – June 2008 Dry Zone Less than 30% Humidity

    We continue our outdoor trials, this time in very dry conditions. At the same time we are with a seminar of 27 art teachers, who are gathered there for a few days to paint. They are interested in school paints, but naturally they are working at their own level with artists paints and had agreed to trial Atelier Interactive.

    The members of this group of spirited and experimentally minded art teachers enjoyed using Atelier Interactive and we were given permission to show these examples of the two projects that they did. One was indoors using collage related exercises and the other was painting outdoors.

    The outdoor project was done on assembled small canvas panels on a hot day, using as subject the abandoned smelter of the old copper mine. “Homemade” earth colours were mixed up by everyone, using yellowish to reddish clays found in the locality. (Recipe: if the earth is dry it can be crumbled through a sieve to remove the oversized particles, leaving a gritty sandy distribution of coloured particles which can then be made into a wet slurry by mixing approximately one part of Atelier binder to two parts of water and adding it gradually to the clay until the slurry is formed. When this is used for underpainting it dries very quickly in the direct sunlight, and when over painted with washes of paint the granulated surface attracts deposits of the pigment used in the overpainting stage in interesting ways.)

    The pigments available to Aboriginal artists were limited - black, white, yellow ochre, red ochre and Indian red. The under painting done here with the real earth slurry colours sets the colour key and you can see how interesting the results are, often like old faded photographs emphasising the disused and abandoned feeling of the old smelter.

    This project was devised by Mandy Martin and I think homemade earth colours will get used again – I for one would like to try it!

    The Teachers reaction to their first use of Interactive was very positive. One can see that in both projects they used it with confidence and produced excellent results.

    We continue our own rather conventional landscapes testing Interactive in Chillagoe’s 30% humidity

    Housekeeping Notes:

    We are now organised with the card table, ice cube trays to protect the paint from wind and sun, and the retarder addition to the water bottle. We found that in these very dry conditions you do have to spray more often than in the mid range humidity zone like Cooee Bay, but adding more retarder to the water does not help. Retarder is a water retention aid not a replacement for water in the paint, therefore the ratio of 1 part retarder to 2 parts water is the best combination for the water spray.

    In the two hour drive from where we live at Julatten in the wet tropical belt, we left 83% humidity to arrive in Chillagoe at less than 30%. Forthcoming trials planned at Mt Isa and in Central Australia will confirm our knowledge of hostile dry working conditions!

  5. comment_5_6168

    Jim Cobb commented on Septembre 8, 2008, at 3:45 pm.


    Our outdoor experiments have shown:

    Equipment is critical - Water sprayer, Retarder (depending on climate), Ice cube tray palette. Card Table to work on.

    The dry zone is a little harder to work in

    Interactive is a little easier to use than oils because it is possible to work fast, yet have extended blending when required

    Sketching can be rough and messy and it is worth noting that Interactive is very easy to over paint later in the studio, and Unlocking Formula can also be useful for minor adjustments because it will dissolve the paint for more wet blending when it no longer responds to water

    As the inventor of Interactive I realise that my opinion can hardly be considered un-biased but based on these experiences I can say with confidence that Interactive is an excellent paint for plein air painting. I find it to be easy and enjoyable to use, even in hot dry conditions and as such I honestly don’t see the need to buy a specially formulated, very slow drying acrylic just for plein air painting.

    I am very interested to hear about other artists plein air painting experiences, do you have any tips of your own that you can share with rest of us, or if you are having some difficulties post your questions and I will see if I can help.

    A note on mediums.
    The best way to start out with Interactive is to simply use the water spray to extend wet blending and withhold the spray for faster techniques. You may, with time, choose certain mediums that suit your way of working but you should not regard them as necessary.

  6. comment_6_6168

    Jim Cobb commented on Novembre 3, 2008, at 12:03 pm.

    Apart from the discomforts of being outdoors plein air painting with Interactive has turned out to be quite easy to do.

    My own most important discovery was at Coee Bay where I did both Interactive and Archival Oil sketches and realised that oil painting, which has to be wet on wet over a three hour session is not as easy to control as Atelier Interactive which can be done in two or three layers dried off very quickly in the sun between each wet operation, while the wet painting process itself can be kept going quite easily whenever you want to keep going that way.

    The palette from one location to another was more difficult to control than the painting process, and we found that a flat palette, sprayed occasionally was workable as long as there was no wind or direct sunlight. The cavity palettes already mentioned are handy when the wind is blowing.

    Other contributors to Paint Talk have worked various other palette strategies that suit them and posted interesting work and comments for which I thank you all

    “I also made a nice discovery in palettes. I bought a "John Pike" palette, which is a basic white-plastic palette with a tight fitting lid. By spraying my colors with the fine water spray and placing a flat wet sponge in the box I am able to keep my Interactives workable for weeks! Acrylic painters probably have figured this out already, by I find it's great for an oil painter who is still getting used to the fast drying time of acrylics on the palette!”

    Kathhy Hodges

    It is amazing how different the working conditions are in different places once you are working outside and everyone who posted was pleased with how the paint behaves which is a big deal for me as its inventor, because as I watch what everyone is doing and saying I can see that Interactive is really opening up the acrylic repertoire as I had hoped it would, and I am hoping that there are artists out there doing figure painting too which should have a soft less mechanical look when we begin to see some of their work.

    To see the other plein air painting posts on Paint Talk visit these links.

    I want to thank all of you who are helping to make the new connection between paint and artist which has to be made when there is a genuinely new paint around and I am thrilled with the work that is being done and posted on the website.

  7. comment_7_6168

    Sandy Walsh commented on Novembre 3, 2008, at 5:49 pm.

    Hello, Yes a lidded palette with deep trays is excellent for long term use of colours.I have students using these,and we make sure they are well sprayed before closing them and placing in a plastic cover.Most of the paint has remained workable even after a holiday period.I will give the retarder in the spray a go as well.
    Sandy Walsh