Sunday, November 8, 2015

Acrylic Painting Techniques for Beginners

The Basics

Acrylic paints are my preferred choice. The majority of colors are rated non-toxic and they are easily cleaned up with soap and water. I usually use diluted liquid hand soap or diluted laundry detergent.

Acrylic paint that comes in bottles tends to be thinner than the ones that come in tubes, but they still have some thickness. Different mediums can also be added to thin them or to thicken them and to add texture. The texture and consistency of the paint used can affect how they apply and blend.

You can give acrylic paint more of a transparent look, a sparkly effect, a shiny look, and more, by using different mediums; then all of the colors can become more versatile.

There are also mediums to make the paint suitable for painting on fabric. This may give it a longer life with repeated washing, but my experience has been that the acrylic paint that has ended up on my clothing has had a pretty good life time of staying set in the fabric, even with repeated washing.

Choosing your surface.
Acrylics adhere better when they have some tooth to grab hold of. So most porous surfaces work great, such a paper, canvas, wood, slate, and others.

If the surface is too smooth, sanding may help, as well as sealing the surface with an acrylic sealer. If wood hasn't already been sealed, then applying a wood sealer is a good idea. Wood is normally more porous and it can soak up more of the paint and the color, if it hasn't already been sealed.

Starting a Painting

I usually start my painting with a drawing, or else a painted blended background. Sometimes I may draw the drawing on graph paper first, this gives you the freedom of easily erasing mistakes. Once the preliminary drawing is ready, I transfer that image over onto my canvas. This gives me a cleaner canvas to work with, than regular pencil marks.

When I make my drawing on canvas, I usually use watercolor pencils. The colors get blended right in to the wet paint. This can actually be used as a blending technique. Place part of your wet paint brush on the colored pencil lines to enhance the color in that area.

I like using watercolor pencils, by themselves, and also to outline letters, sketch with, etc.

Using various colors of watercolor pencils for a base drawing helps me to see the final product more easily. I use the various colors to draw in different shapes, then the outline colors are already there.

Any remaining watercolor pencil marks can easily be wiped off of most surfaces with a damp paper towel after the painting has dried.


Blending can make your painting look more realistic and shapely.

A nice blending technique for acrylic paint is applying two different colors/shades side by side on the brush at the same time. With a clean brush, go back and forth over the touching areas of color, while they are still wet, and blend. For a more gradual blend, go further into each color as you work your brush back and forth. It can also be helpful to use a blending type medium to help the paint flow better.

Here are some examples of various blending techniques. These were all done on smooth cardboard.

The first example was simply brushed on the cardboard with the paint side by side on the brush (as shown in the above photo.)

In the second example, I brushed on the lighter color, then brushed on the second color while both colors were still wet. Being on the cardboard, the paint was drying quickly, and it started to lift up the layer of previous paint as I brushed back across the surface. The paint should work better if you were painting on canvas.

In the third example, I applied Floating medium to the cardboard first, and then applied the lighter color and then the darker color. It made the colors more translucent and also easily covered a wider area.

Another blending technique is to base coat the surface first, let that dry, and then add shadings and highlights. If I want a more thorough blending affect, I re-wet the dried first coat with a second coat of that color, and then blend in my new color(s). Base coating first and letting that dry, gives a more solid look to the blending that is added. Some colors of acrylic paint are more opaque or more transparent than others. The step here will depend on the look you are wanting to achieve. For a more textured look, you may not need the extra layer of a background color.

You can also apply blending medium next to the paint on the brush. This is helpful if you're wanting to apply blending along an edge, of just one color over top the other. Experiment and see what works best for you.

Also, to get a good working of paint in your brush, go back and forth on the palette with your brush a few times, adding more paint as needed.

I've learned from other artists before me.

Two of my favorite artists for getting started was Donna Dewberry and Priscilla Hauser. They both offer great ideas for blending, and yet they are somewhat different.

I like that Priscilla also uses a realistic touch to her paintings. She seems to begin most of her designs with a base coat and then goes back in to add shading and highlights, etc.

In this book, Priscilla also provides pages of illustrations that you can copy for personal use.

Donna Dewberry's approach uses more blending right from the start. She normally starts out with a couple of colors right on the brush, from the beginning. She usually keeps painting while the first layers are still wet.

This technique can be more fun and creative. It does help to have some practice in before tackling anything on a complex or larger scale.

Watercolor Look

Acrylic paints dry pretty quickly, especially compared to oils. Extenders for acrylics can be added to increase workable time. Floating medium and glazes can also be used to give the acrylic painting more of a watercolor look. Some people also use water. If it is a short term painting that you're just playing around with, water is fine. For a more long term painting, then it's better to use a medium that will help with the longevity. Acrylic paint bought in bottles is usually thinner, and is a better choice for thinning, if you want more of a watercolor look.

For watercolor affects, you can mix the medium with the paint, or paint the medium on the surface first, and then apply the acrylic paint on top of the medium while both are still wet. Try both methods to see which one gives you the desired look that you want.

Floating medium can be placed directly on the surface, and or mixed with the paint, or placed on a side of the brush.

Placing paint on one corner of the brush and floating medium, a glaze, or varnish, on the other side, provides a nice blending technique, that fades into clear.

If you use the Floating Medium, make sure that the blended area has dried completely and even let it set for a day or so after that, if you before varnishing your finished painting.

Adding Visual Texture like Lines, Circles, etc.

This rubber tool provides several options for spacing between the lines it will make.

I tried using a comb before, but the end teeth were longer than the teeth in between, so the middle teeth did not reach the canvas.

But you can still check around the house for other objects that will give you different textures and looks when you drag them through wet paint.

Bubble Wrap can be used to create abstract circular patterns,

Torn paper and or Painter's Tape can be used to partially cover an area or to create a rough or smooth edge.

Sponges can be used to create textures, bushes, blotchy clouds, and more.

Old tooth brushes can be used to create splatters.


Read and experiment; come up with your own ideas.

The direction in which you hold the brush can create a different look.

Try various ones; such as:

- hold the brush perpendicular, using only the edge of the brush as you make the stroke - different shaped brushes will make different strokes

- turn and/or twist the brush as you make the stroke

- push the brush down to spread the bristles out at the beginning of the stroke and then lift the brush slightly as you finish the stroke.

These are just some to get you started. Which ones can you think of? Have fun, experiment, play.

Choosing the brush type.

Fan brushes are great for painting pine trees.

The fan brush is popular for painting pine trees. Start at the top of the tree, dabbing from side to side as you increase the amount of the brush that touches the canvas, as you go down the tree.

The fan brush comes in different sizes.

Fan brushes can be used for more than painting pine trees. You can twist and turn them for swirly effects.

Since they have a rounded brush edge, they are also great for painting clouds, the ends of flowing dresses, and more.

The size and shape of the brush makes a difference.

Different shapes and sizes of paint brushes will render different affects. Rounded edge brushes give a more rounded edge and can be great in painting billowy clouds for instance. The straight edge brush comes in handy for the straighter lines that you want, the edge of a table for instance.

An assortment in sizes as well as style is a good foundation to paint a variety of affects.

The first recommendation for acrylic paints I saw was for synthetic brushes. I've also read that for soft affects that soft hair brushes, such as sable and camel hair are good.

A tip for helping your brushes last longer is to wet them first, then squeeze the excess off with a paper towel before dipping them into the paint. And always clean them afterwords with a cool soapy water mixture until the cool rinsing water is clear. Keeping brushes clean gives them a longer life.

Painting Knives

Provides a different look - use them for mixing, scraping, and more.

With thicker paint, as in the tubes, one can also use painting knives for an impasto look; a laying down of the paint thickly. Do allow for extra drying time for this technique.

They can also be used for scraping edges or lines through wet paint already on the surface.

If you have ever watched Bob Ross, he often demonstrates the technique of placing a roll of paint along the edge of the knife tool, and then sweeping it down on the canvas to paint the side of a barn or a quick background for where waterfalls will be.

Another great use for painting knives is for mixing colors of paint together; they can work like little spoons.

This set has wood handles and a metal painting applicator.

Painting knives for acrylics also come in an assortment of plastic options, which also has some different applicator styles, including ones that provide scraping parallel lines through the paint for texture.

The plastic set that I have also has a round ball on one of the ends. Round balls of various sizes are also great painter tools. You can easily paint in dots for eyes, polka dots, pointillism, and more. These are known as a stylus. You can use this link to find some at Amazon, by searching for stylus in their Arts, Crafts, and Sewing category.

See how the colors on the Gemstone Mosaic really stand out on the bag below? Well yes the colors are bright, but I also used varnish to help achieve the effect.

I coated all of the gemstones with a glossy varnish, and coated the black background with a matte varnish, which helped the gemstones to really stand out and shine. Here it is printed on posters.

The varnish type affects the final look of your painting.

Not only does the varnish give you a desired shine or matte look, it also unifies the painting, and provides protection for your finished artwork.

Varnishes range from matte to super glossy. They are made for interior, exterior, and also for a combination of the two. If the artwork is going to be placed outdoors and/or will be in a high humidity area, then select the exterior or combination option.

Acrylic paintings behind glass should be matted first so that the paint doesn't touch the glass. The acrylic paint can stick to the glass over time, so you want to allow the air space in between the two surfaces to protect your design.

DecoArt Varnish is my preferred choice of varnishes. It dries clear and flexible, is non-toxic; and also if I'm working on a piece that isn't to be framed, the edges still lay flat.

I used to make floor cloths from durable artist canvas. I found that some varnishes made the edges curl as it dried. This brand allowed the edges to remain flat.

Cheryl Paton