Acrylic paints have become quite popular thanks to their quick drying time, vibrant colors, and versatility. With this painting medium, you can unleash your creativity and produce a wide range of vibrant, bold, and textured strokes as well as fine intricate details.
All these great qualities make acrylic paints a joy to work with as an expert painter, and especially if you're a complete beginner.
Starting With Acrylic Paint
If you're a complete beginner to acrylic painting, then this article is for you. Find out how easy it is to get into the hobby of painting with acrylic paints and start on your path to creating your own visual masterpieces.
So, let's dive right in!
1. What Should I Know About Acrylic Paints?
Acrylic paints are the amazing result of decades-worth of advancements. The first acrylic paints were invented in the 1930s but only caught on to the mainstream art scene in the 1950s. These early iterations were already quick-drying but lacked the vibrant colors of their oil counterparts.
Today's acrylic paints consist of much the same things that made up their predecessors. Natural or synthetic pigments are combined with an acrylic binder to form an emulsion that (usually) uses water as its vehicle. This results in a vibrant painting medium that's also water-soluble and fast-drying.
2. What Materials and Supplies Do I Need?
If you've searched for acrylic painting materials online, you may have noticed the plethora of painting supplies from many different brands.
You'll probably be asking yourself something like:
"What supplies should I get?"
"Which brand should I go with?"
Well, when it comes to painting supplies, you can start learning with just the basics, these consist of the following:
- Acrylic paints: Of course, you're going to need some acrylic paints. While you may think cheaper (low-quality) acrylic paints are fine for beginners, you're actually doing yourself – and your talents – a disservice. High-quality acrylic paints are now more affordable and are simply superior in every way, letting you better translate the image in your imagination onto the canvas.
- Canvas: You'll need a canvas to paint on, preferably pre-stretched. For practicing techniques, you can also try canvas boards or canvas pads. To ensure an even surface and perfect paint adhesion, you'll need to cover your canvas surface with 2 to 3 coats of gesso.
- Paintbrushes: A good set of synthetic paintbrushes can get you a long way into your acrylic painting journey before you'll need to replace them. Synthetic paint brushes can perform just as well as expensive natural brushes, as long as they're high-quality and you take care of them (more on this later).
- Palette: A palette is where you put in the paints you'll be using. You can also mix colors on your palette before applying them to the canvas. It's always a good idea to arrange your colors the same way for every project, like placing them from coldest to warmest.
- Water and Soap: You'll need something to clean your brushes with, especially after a project. You'll need two pots of water and some soap to do just that. We'll discuss brush care later on in this post.
3. Where Should I Paint?
As with any hobby, acrylic painting requires enough space for you to paint. Since you'll likely be spending several hours at a time singly focused on your painting, you may want to choose a place where you're comfortable, not cramped.
When setting up your workspace, look for a well-lit spot, preferably by natural light. This not only helps you better see what you're working on, but it also avoids unsightly shadows that can distract you and cause mistakes. Additionally, a well-lit space will also make a good spot to take photos of your art piece, like when you want to post it on social media.
You may also want your workspace to be well-ventilated, where air flows freely in and out. While water-based acrylic paints are non-toxic and DON'T give off noxious fumes, good ventilation helps it dry faster. This can be crucial for techniques such as layering and overpainting, where you want to reduce the waiting time between layers or if you simply want to finish your work quicker and transport it without smudging the paints.
4. How do I Prepare the Canvas?
Before you start your painting, it's essential to always prepare the surface you'll be painting on.
As mentioned earlier, when painting on canvas, you'll need to apply two or three layers of gesso to its surface. While canvas is made of cloth and is porous, it tends to absorb grease and oils from the hands of people touching its surface. This residue can interfere with paint adhesion, giving spots where the paint just seems to slide off instead of sticking. Gesso acts as a primer for your paints, giving the surface more "tooth" for your paints to cling to.
Additionally, layers of gesso are going to give you a near perfectly even painting surface, so you don't have to be afraid of any canvas fibers sticking out in some areas.
We've mentioned this in another article, but if you're looking for a certain mood in your painting, the best time to add a ground to your canvas is right before the last layer of gesso dries. For a more detailed discussion of this step, as well as a few more useful tips, feel free to check out: 8 Things to Always Do When Using Acrylic Paint.
5. What are Some Basic Techniques?
Acrylic paint's unique properties let you use various techniques to achieve awesome effects.
Some acrylic paint techniques to learn include the following:
- Brush Techniques - Brush techniques let you create different effects with just your brush. These include dry brushing, cross-hatching, dabbing, and double loading. For a more detailed discussion on these techniques, check out: 7 Brush Techniques for Acrylic Painting.
- Layering and Texturing - Combining acrylic paints with various mediums or gels and texture pastes can let you achieve truly unique visual and even 3D effects. These include impasto, glazing, and fluid techniques.
6. How do I Begin My Painting?
Now that you've got an idea of some cool acrylic painting techniques, it's time to try them out on canvas and eventually add them to your repertoire.
As earlier mentioned, it's best to start by underpainting your preferred ground color over the last layer of gesso while it's still drying. This gives you a toned surface that still retains the "toothiness" of the gesso.
Once the ground dries, you can now sketch in the major shapes of your subject.
When painting in the shapes, you'll want to paint in layers, remembering to paint in the layers closest to the background first then gradually painting in the layers until you get to the foreground and details. This not only gives your painting a sense of depth but also helps you avoid mistakes down the line.
And on that note…
7. How Do I Correct My Mistakes?
Everyone makes mistakes or, as the late great Bob Ross liked to put it, happy little accidents.
So, what do you do when you make a mistake when acrylic painting? Well, there are a few ways to deal with it without having to redo your entire painting.
First, if your paint hasn't dried yet, you can always try and scrape it off using your palette knife. Just make sure to be careful and not damage or tear your canvas.
Acrylic paint is also quite forgiving when it comes to mistakes as it tends to dry fast. This means that, when you need to correct a mistake, just wait for the paint to be completely dry, paint over it with some white paint, then carry on with what you were trying to achieve in the first place.
Lastly, you can always take a page from good old Bob Ross and turn that mistake into a happy little accident. Instead of correcting a mistake, look for ways to adapt, learn, and discover new creative directions to take your painting. Remember that such unplanned moments are opportunities to make serendipitous elements contribute to the overall beauty of your work.
8. How do I Finish My Painting?
Once you've finished painting your piece, take a step back and maybe take a few minutes away from it to replenish your artistic focus. When you return to your "finished" work, you may find certain spots that require some final touches like details and highlights.
Once you're finally satisfied with your work, you can let it completely dry then seal it with varnish to protect it from dust and damage.
Congratulations! You now have a truly finished piece.
9. How can I Care for My Brushes and Tools?
Acrylic paints tend to dry quickly whether they're on your canvas, palette, brushes, or tools. Leaving your brushes and tools caked in dried acrylic paint can make them hard to clean or worse, require replacement. This is why you should always wash and clean your brushes and tools with soap and water when you no longer need them.
For more tips on caring for paintbrushes, you can read: How to Make Your Paintbrushes Last Longer
A lot of joy can be had through the hobby of acrylic painting. Starting to paint with acrylics doesn't need to be difficult.
Just follow this guide and you'll be on your way to painting your own masterpiece.