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Acrylic Painting with Structures: Tips & Techniques

What does painting with structures mean?

Structural painting or painting with structures is usually referred to as the creative interplay of acrylic paints and relief-like surfaces produced by various aids on the image carrier. The aids are mostly structure pastes of different consistencies. It is a very versatile technique that is used in both figurative and abstract painting. Here you will learn what you need, how to use the technique and what to look for.

What do you need for structure painting?

When painting with structures, there are many possibilities. Also, many possibilities to experiment with new materials. You should first decide whether you want to make the structure paste yourself or ready to buy. On the structure paste itself, the pros and cons of buying and self-mixing and a manual for self-production will be discussed later. Personally, I prefer to mix my paste myself.

For the variant with the finished paste you need:

  • Structure paste
  • a picture carrier
  • Acrylics
  • something to admix to achieve different consistencies (eg sand)

For the variant with self-mixed structure paste you need:

  • acrylic binder
  • Marble flour, sand or chalk, depending on what effect you want to achieve
  • Acrylics

What you need to know about structure pastes

What is meant by texture paste, also known as modeling paste, and how is it used?

Structure paste is a white, viscous, water-based putty that dries firmly on the image carrier to form hard, relief-like structures. It gives the picture additional depth and three-dimensionality. They can also be used to top over old pictures that you no longer like and to re-create a flat surface for new work.

Pre-mixed structured pastes come in various forms: transparent and opaque, smooth and grainy, viscous and thin, and matt and shiny.

Acrylic paints can be added to the structure pastes or applied later when they are dried, glazed or opaque. When adding, you should note that most structural pastes change the acyl colors: the opaque act like a blended white, the transparent “watering” the color strength a little, but are recommended for this technique in any case more likely. If one mixes acrylic paint into the structure paste, the result is a very viscous consistency similar to oil paints.

Whatever structure paste you use, in larger places it is advisable to work with a spatula. For smaller or fine work, on the other hand, a paint knife is suitable. Once the paste has dried, the spots can then be painted and a work of art created.

Ways of working to success

If texture paste is applied to create a relief, it is suitable to apply the paste in layers. Of course, you can apply only one layer for an ordinary structure. This can then be patterned and blended with the background. Those who want to work in their works mountains, ditches or other things that have high edges, should work in layers. Applying in layers helps the paste to dry better. It should be noted that additional layers should always be applied only when the underlying is completely dried and cured. The drying time of a layer is between 6 and 72 hours. The drying time has not only the composition of the paste but also the temperature and humidity, how the thickness of the job influence. But this time is worth it, because once the structural paste has dried, it is waterproof and, in addition to acrylic paints, can also be painted with oil and watercolor pencils for artists without damaging the finished structure.

Suitable underground

Those who like to paint know that there are many different types of surfaces. But not all are equally suitable for working with structure paste. Although a paint block or a stretched stretcher can always be used with a thin layer, these are not suitable for a thicker layer. Here we recommend more stable surfaces. Here are substrates made of wood, thicker cardboard or chipboard is recommended. The surface should be stable so that it is not pushed in at the end. A dented substrate not only has an effect on the appearance of the work but can also cause unsightly cracks in the paint, which has an effect on the longevity of the work. Especially if you want to present your pictures in different exhibitions,


For the application of the paint different artist tools, such as spatula, cloth, fork, sponges or fingers can be used.

With a paint knife, which is large enough to work in a larger area, you can also work in finer places. Sometimes it is useful to have different knives to always have the right one at hand. But even with a sheet of paper, which is placed over the paste, another layer can be painted on, creating effects. Effects can be incorporated by pressing with the painting knife on the applied and not yet dry paste with one. This removes part of the paste and creates interesting and unpredictable structures. A good imagination can help to make interesting work out of this.

You can use the palette for acrylic paint for your convenience in painting. 

Further effects can be worked out when applying the paint. If the brush is only lightly pressed, the structured elevations can be painted. To paint valleys and elevations, the brush should be pressed with a little more force. Which way you prefer the most, you will find out while experimenting. As a result, one develops a feeling, which kind works better in the end.

Craft acrylic paintings using structural engineering

The structural technique is a special type of primer. These aids such as sand or plaster are incorporated into the base layer, whereby structural effects are achieved. You should think about the structuring beforehand, as this later influences the picture and can only be changed with difficulty.
If the layers are painted with diluted acrylic paint and then wiped off with a sponge or cloth, color residues remain on the structure. Through this work, the picture gains in-depth. Subsequently, various painting techniques can be used to paint motifs. However, it can also be played with the structuring itself and colors, whereby one can be inspired by the structure in order to obtain a unique work in the end. As underground are, by the intensive use of water, chipboard.
Acrylic paints have the advantage that they can be used in many ways and very diluted, but can also be used as a paste or cream. Acrylic paints can be applied with hands, sponges, brushes, knives or spatulas. There are no limits to the imagination. Another advantage of acrylic paints is that their texture does not cause any cracks in the paint.

Create effects without structure paste

If you want to experiment a bit more, you can also use materials such as crepe paper, newspaper or kitchen towels instead of finished pastes. The paper is torn to pieces, crumpled and placed on the ground. Then the work can be painted, which fixes the surface on the picture. If you prefer to use a different method of working, you can also work with fabric remnants that are performed with a wire and applied to the substrate. But that is a different way of working and just mentioned by the way.

Structure pastes quickly at hand

Those who like to design their own works and do not want to use purchased pastes can also make them themselves. The advantage of purchased pastes lies in the fact that they are quick to hand and the application is known. Also, they are less complicated in the application. But a disadvantage is the price. Because especially with larger works, it can be expensive.
Therefore, it is advisable for larger works or a more frequent application to produce structure pastes. The consistency itself can be determined. The disadvantage is that different materials are needed. Because in addition to a dispersion binder and a proportion of fillers is needed. These two parts are stirred together with a whisk to a firmer batter. The difference between the purchased texture paste is that the self-made paste is dull and does not look synthetic. When applied, however, results in a greater cracking, but this does not affect the durability. Experimenting artists also use their own paste to consciously create unconscious cracks in their works and to play with them. This creates structural images, which are based only on the unique way of playing with homemade structure paste. It is also playing with the filler because it can come to different materials used. In addition to various types of sand, flour and chalk, slate and marble floor and also dried coffee grounds can be used. However, the fillers can be modified by using papers, grass or hemp and a whole new game of art develops.
If you produce the structure paste yourself, you should use a mixing ratio of one-third of the dispersion binder to two-thirds of the filler. If the paste is too liquid afterward, an additional filler is added. If, on the other hand, it is too strong, further dispersion binder can be stirred in after the preparation of the filler. Disperse binder should always be used undiluted, because, after application of paint, the mass may otherwise soften when the paint dries.
Homemade structure paste is used almost in the same way as purchased. After applying the paste to the factory, the paint is worked into it. The painting technique can be chosen freely. It can be played with the paint job in which the paint is diluted, continue with his work. Because the color flows into the structures, where it collects. Thus, depths can be emphasized in the work. Glazes can also be used to calm down strong contrasts and to obtain a harmonious overall impression. Another mode of operation is the dry-brush technique, in which the color is applied in a circular manner with a bristle brush.

Step by step: Instructions for painting with structures

As there can not really be any guidance for painting with structures because it is a very free and intuitive technique, here I simply describe my own approach:

  • Prime canvas
  • Apply the first structural layer and allow to dry
  • work with acrylic paints in the resulting bumps

When the paste has dried, the primer is applied. Here, even beginners can already produce great works, in which they experiment with structure pastes, substrates and colors. After the primer, the concrete or abstract motif follows. If you want to create an abstract image, it is only right now that the game starts with background and color. Different painting techniques can be used and imagination can be given time and space. If you are satisfied with the picture and you want to leave it that way, a protective acrylic finish can be applied at the end to support the durability of the colors.

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