Courtney Vassar. "Grumbacher Red." Grade 12, Age 17. 2010 American Visions Medal, Painting.

The Mixed Media category of the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards is one of our oldest: it’s been around since the mid-1950s and has made an appearance in our program every year since then. You might be wondering: “What’s so special about that?” Well, we’re glad you asked. It was around the mid-1950s that the company sponsoring this category launched one of the most revolutionary art mediums of the 20th century.

Back then, the Mixed Media category was sponsored by an Ohio-based company called Permanent Pigments. And in 1955, they were about to take a product – previously used only to paint houses – and make it commercially available for the first time. This new type of paint could be fluid and transparent, like watercolor; but it could also be mixed and applied heavily, like oil paint. Unlike oils, which are difficult to clean and take ages to dry, this new paint dried very quickly and could easily be washed or thinned out with water. Permanent Pigment staff decided to market it as liquid texture – or “Liquitex.” Most people today know this product as – drumroll, please – acrylic paint.

Today, we take it for granted that acrylics are widely available in schools, universities and fine art studios, and relatively affordable compared to other types of paint. But the trend didn’t catch on right away. Small disasters befell the earliest Liquitex traveling salesmen. One salesman braving a Midwestern winter in search of art stores opened the trunk of his car only to find that his paint samples had frozen solid. Not to be discouraged, Permanent Pigments founder Henry Levison began advertising the product and developed a series of lectures and workshops demonstrating its use. Eventually, measures were even added to ensure that modern acrylic paints (which are water-based) wouldn’t freeze so easily.

Some of the most well-known artists of the 20th century – Andy Warhol, muralist Thomas Hart Benton, expressionist Robert Motherwell, Op-Art painter Bridget Riley, and of course art teachers and students – have created masterpieces with this medium. Acrylic can also be used on canvas, paper, metal, wood and even plastic, making it a great tool for Mixed Media pieces.

Here are a few tips from our friends at Blick Art Materials on how to use Acrylic Paint!

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