Interpreting the Old Masters with acrylics

Ask most artists where they get their inspiration from and it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect the answers to include nature, life experiences, family, friends and animals. Award-winning painter Iain Andrews goes back in time, approximately five hundred years, to the works of the Old Masters.

“My paintings begin as a dialogue with an image from art history – a painting by an Old Master that may then be rearranged or used as a starting point from which to playfully but reverently deviate,” he explains. This respect for the immense talents of the Old Masters, while using their works as a starting point for something new and original, underpins Andrews’ paintings, which are steeped in art history, tradition and mythology – as seen in The Temptation of St Anthony (after Flaubert). However, his medium of choice is anything but traditional: Andrews now uses Winsor & Newton Artists’ Acrylic (now called Professional Acrylic) and the change gave his painting a new perspective.

Iain Andrews, The Temptation of St Anthony
Iain Andrews, The Temptation of St Anthony (After Flaubert),
acrylic on canvas


Widespread recognition

Since leaving art school in 1998, Andrews has been nominated for the Northern Art Prize, awarded the Marmite Painting Prize in 2011 and had a solo exhibition at Warrington Museum and Gallery in 2012. He was one of 12 emerging artists featured in the BBC Television series School of Saatchi. Andrews’ themes are also based on fairy tales, with narratives of transformation, oral greed, deprivation and eucatastrophe.

New location, new medium

Oil colour was an ideal medium for Andrews’ vivid paintings, but when he decided to base his studio in the same location as his family’s home, for practical reasons he began to paint with acrylic.

“In my experience, once you impose constrictions and boundaries your practice has to adapt and change in order to negotiate these limitations,” he says. “The decision to move to acrylic forced me to find new ways of working. Painting with acrylics introduced a spontaneity and urgency to the images, as I was able to work much faster and over-paint areas within days rather than waiting weeks for paint to dry.”

Iain Andrews, The Patterns of Faerie Tales
Iain Andrews, The Patterns of Faerie Tales,
ink on card


Mixing it up

“The usefulness of acrylic here is that I can mix it up quite thickly, a bit like whipped cream, with lots of Winsor & Newton glazing and texture mediums, making it pool and produce raised areas and thick impasto streaks,” Andrews, who also works as an art psychotherapist, says. “Once the paint has dried, usually within three or four days, I work over these with washes.

“People will often confuse my paintings for oils, since I use a lot of varnish over the top of the paint, and I’m happy with this confusion and often try to exploit it. The benefits of Artists’ Acrylic Colour is the intensity of the colour, which is important as I don’t want the colour to dilute when I mix it with various mediums. The range also carries a wide spectrum of colours that helpfully don’t shift once they are dry.”

Always looking for creative possibilities

“Working with acrylics has offered me another novelty: from time to time, I have found that it’s possible to peel off layers of the paint, once it is dry, from the surface of my palette, and sometimes these are like unexpected gifts that can be used somewhere in the images.”

When painting, Andrews does not work with a specific colour palette, as he tries to disrupt habits whenever he notices them forming. Any palette used becomes specific to each painting, but he is frequently drawn to Potter’s Pink and Cerulean Blue, often using it for the sky.

“It’s a bit softer than phthalocyanine, and I often use it as the base and then put a wash over it,” he says. His work requires the use of many acrylic mediums and varnishes, including Glazing Medium, Flow Improver and Slow Drying Medium.

Andrews’ brush choice is equally varied, ranging from calligraphy brushes and sign painters’ brushes to house painting brushes, rollers and palette knives. Another technique involves sanding down areas of paint to get a smooth surface, something that acrylic’s quicker drying time lends itself well to.


Iain Andrews, Tiepolo's Stepmother
Iain Andrews, Tiepolo’s Stepmother,
acrylic on canvas


Attracted by opposites

“My recent work is concerned with the struggle to capture the relationship between the spiritual and the sensual, apparent opposites that are expressed through the conflict of high narrative themes and sensuous painterly marks,” Andrews says. “It’s vital that pictures are not sedatives, but are capable of evoking sensation and awakening feelings. I want my works to be sensuously addictive, worldly and material, yet also to have a sense of contemplative silence akin to a religious icon.”

*Lead image: Iain Andrews, St Soutine, 2011, acrylic on canvas, 40 x 40 cm, courtesy the artist