making my own swatch book for acrylic paints

my own "fandex" (paint swatch book) of acrylic paint
my own “fandex” (paint swatch book) of acrylic paint

I spent a good part of this week making my own “fandex” (swatch book) of all my heavy body acrylic paints. I took some blank ATC cards, punched some holes in the corners, and painted a few stripes on them for each paint I have. I just painted the top stripe as color straight out of the tube, and diluted it with a bit of white for three more levels of color.

I used a giant binder/book ring to hold it all together.

I have to say, it was a tedious project, but it’s already been **incredibly** useful. I discovered so much about pigments while I was doing it. I a was also able to get rid of half my paints since they were either duplicates or student-quality from college, so Grace happily added those to her collection of paints. Win win.

(and of course, now I want all the colors I don’t yet have.)

Sometime in the future I’ll do my fluid acrylics, but for now I’m pretty good with making swatches 😉


my own "fandex" (paint swatch book) of acrylic paint
my own “fandex” (paint swatch book) of acrylic paint

In case you are interested in my thoughts on acrylic paint:

I’ve tried a lot of paints in the last 20+ years, and I resisted artist-quality for a long time because of the price. If I could get a giant tube student grade paint at the craft store for a couple of bucks, why would I pay $6-13 for a smaller tube of the same color just because it said “artist grade” on it?

The truth is, the paint quality makes a HUGE difference. Seriously.

If you are interested in painting more than just a few pieces or noodling in an art journal, go ahead and splurge on the best you can afford. The student paints (most of them which the exception of Amsterdam and sometimes Blick) are basically tinted acrylic gels, and the artist grade paints are actually genuine pigments mixed with a higher quality acrylic binder, so the artist grade are rich and creamy and SO vivid. Just dreamy. The student grade paints are like painting with thick hair gel with a little color mixed in- they are kind of slippery and thin. The artist grade color dries brighter, the paint coats in one pass with a fairly minimal amount of paint, and it’s just so much easier to work with. You actually get more for the money as far as how far the paint goes with the artist grade. I wish I hadn’t wasted so much money over the years on the cheap brands, but you live and learn.

And yes, the student bodies are okay for early layers of a painting, but because they are translucent and thin, you can’t “work up” to something interesting because the color just gets muddy as it is layered, no matter how opaque the paint is. And for some reason, that weird muddy cast will figure in to everything you paint on top of it, no matter how opaque and high-quality the paints are in your final layers.  I would recommend using decent paints (thinned down with a clear acrylic gel medium or glazing fluid) for the under layers on canvas. I can see dramatic differences in paintings made with student body under layers vs. professional paint under layers, even though those layers are covered in layers and layers of paint. It’s kind of like the princess and the pea- no matter how many soft mattresses they put over that pea, she still felt it.

However, student body paints are *better* for Gelli Printing and for art journaling because they are thinner and dry quickly and don’t “bulk up” with layers. So if you are doing more art journaling and printing and stenciling, get the student body. But if you want to paint on canvas, I would go with artist-grade.

Over the years, I gradually replaced tubes of my student bodies with an artist-grade heavy body. Most of my paints are Golden Heavy Body and M. Graham. I also have a few Old Holland, Sennelier Extra-Fine, Mameri, and Liquitex Heavy Body mixed in, for variation in color.

I have to give a HUGE recommendation for the Amsterdam line of paints (both their standard level student paints and their Expert line) because I didn’t get rid of barely ANY of those student-grade tubes. Their paints are rich, thick, and really high quality at an insanely affordable cost. And their color range is amazing. If you got a set of Amsterdams to start with, it will serve you well. I will continue to buy them if they introduced more colors.

And I kept a lot of Daler Rowney tubes, as well- both student and professional grade. Chroma A-Z is another good lower-cost range, but their higher-level line actually separated on me, which was interesting. I had to toss all those tubes out.

I don’t know if this is helpful or not, but thought I would share in case anyone out there is interested in acrylics and wanted to know whether it was worth it to get a few tubes of the good stuff or just get an entire set of the student range paints. I would go for the good stuff, and build your collection as you can. You’ll save a lot of time and frustration.

Have a great weekend. <3