There are certain caveats you have to know about acrylic paints if you're a beginner artist or an experienced one converting to this painting medium.
Make Acrylic Painting Easier
Acrylic paint has properties that can be advantageous or disadvantageous, depending on the artist. These tips will help you leverage acrylic paint's characteristics and make your foray into acrylic painting that much easier.
So, let's dive in!
1. Use Gesso
The first thing you have to always do when painting with acrylic paints is to apply a layer (or three) of gesso.
Gesso is a definite must-have for artists. It looks like white acrylic paint but is thinner in consistency. It dries hard and creates a stiff surface.
Applying gesso on your canvas gives your paint more "tooth" to adhere to, thereby ensuring an even hold throughout the surface. It also prevents your paint from simply absorbing into your canvas.
If you feel too much texture develops with the gesso, you can also sand it down to something smoother with a fine grit sandpaper.
You'll want to apply gesso even on pre-primed canvas to avoid painting on greasy residues left behind from manufacturing or from all the hands that have touched it.
Apply 2-3 layers of gesso to make your painting surface as even as possible. Remember to let each layer dry a bit before applying the next one.
2. Add Ground Color Immediately After Gesso
Once you've applied your final layer of gesso, immediately paint in your ground color before the gesso dries.
The National Gallery describes the ground as a layer used to prepare a support for painting. The color you choose can affect the chromatic and tonal values of the paint layers applied over it.
According to The Will Kemp Art School, the ground layer makes your paintings look more professional, can speed up your painting time, and gives you a foolproof method of creating a tonal mood in your work.
Painting your ground over a completely dry layer of gesso produces a slightly smooth surface with less grab.
Remember to tone your base depending on what colors you're going to use. For example, use a warm base if you're using a lot of cooler colors and a cool base if you're painting with a lot of warmer colors.
3. Moisten the Back of Your Canvas
Unless you're painting on a canvas board, you'll want to flip your canvas over and wet the back of your canvas.
Dampening the back of your canvas, where there's no paint, lets the water absorb into the fibers. Wetting the back of your canvas keeps the front of the canvas just wet enough to keep acrylic paints workable for longer, lets you blend paints easier, prevents any paint from soaking through the back, and makes the canvas surface taut.
This results in a beautifully clingy and taut canvas surface that practically calls you to paint on it.
To do this, you'll need a good trigger-type spray bottle which gives you the most control over how much water you're spraying. Also, make sure to only fill the bottle with boiled tap water or distilled water to avoid any unsightly hard water marks from forming behind your canvas.
4. Use Two Pots of Water
One great quality of acrylic paint is that it's water-soluble. This is because acrylic paint uses water as a vehicle for its acrylic binder and pigment.
Being water-soluble, acrylic paint can therefore be easily diluted with water. Water lets you thin your acrylic paints and wash them off your brush by simply whirling your brush in a pot of water.
You'll want to have 2 pots of water nearby as you paint. This gives you one pot to clean your brush in and another to wet your brush and thin your paint.
Thinning your paint or wetting your brush with dirty paint water can potentially load it with some of the pigments in that dirty pot. You wouldn't want to ruin an otherwise flawless masterpiece by introducing random bits of pigment into it. So, do yourself a favor and prepare two pots of water before you paint.
A word of warning, though:
Using too much water on your acrylic paints can result in a loss of adhesion. This means that your paint may become too watery and simply flow off your canvas or muddy up your colors when you try to blend them. You can avoid this by using acrylic mediums instead.
5. Keep Your Brushes Out of the Pot
As painters, we want our brushes to keep their shape to let us make consistent brush strokes. This is why it's important to never keep your brushes in a pot of water for too long.
Brush bristles, especially natural hair, can become bent and misshapen when left too long in a pot of water. If you've ever used a misshapen brush before, you'll know just how hard it is to get the results that you want. Additionally, prolonged exposure to water can loosen the glue that binds the brush bristles together, resulting in the brush molting and leaving bristles on your canvas.
You can avoid this by resting your brush on its side after you wash it in your pot. You don't need to completely dip your brush in the pot to wet it. Just dip the brush tip in the water then slide your brush upwards on the inside of the pot to wipe off the excess.
6. Wet Your Palette
One often-mentioned property of acrylic paint is that it dries rather quickly. This can be a boon, for artists who want to work quickly, but a bane to those who want to take their time.
If you feel like your paint dries too quickly on your palette, you can always extend their working time by lightly misting your palette with water.
You can also use a wet palette which extends your working time by keeping your paint moist. You can also close your wet palette and place it somewhere cool to keep your paints workable after you've taken a break or two.
If, however, you don't want to use a wet palette, and you're afraid too much water can ruin your paint's adhesion, you can always mix your paints with an acrylic retarder. This product extends your paint's working time while still keeping its adhesion.
7. Have Acrylic Extender Ready
Sometimes you just can't find the exact shade of color that you need for your masterpiece. In this case, you can always mix acrylic paints to get exactly what you're looking for.
You forgot to record the exact paint proportions you used. Now this perfect color is running out and you're finding it impossible to flawlessly match the previous batch. So what do you do?
The answer: Mix in some acrylic extender.
An acrylic extender looks and acts like colorless paint. Once mixed with normal paint, it functions as a filler and basically lets you create more of that exact color paint without affecting adhesion. This means that you won't have to worry about mixing up a new batch.
Acrylic extenders usually come in the form of acrylic mediums. Acrylic mediums, such as matte medium and gloss medium varnish, not only function as extenders but also lets you tone down or enhance your paint's sheen.
8. Clean Your Brushes Thoroughly After Use
Finally, once you've finished painting for the day, never forget to clean your brushes thoroughly.
Letting paint dry on your brush bristles, especially on natural hair brushes, can potentially damage that brush beyond repair. Acrylic paint dries quickly and forms quite a formidable bond with porous surfaces. You may as well look to replace that $400 red sable brush if you didn't clean it on time.
Don't let a clean-looking brush fool you. Some bits of pigment may still be hiding underneath the outer bristles, waiting to ruin your day the next time you use that brush.
To properly care for your brushes, always wash off excess paint when not in use. Then, before you store them away, rub each one on some soap, making sure to thoroughly – yet gently – get the soap on all the bristles. Rinse with water then gently pat dry with a paper towel or some tissues before letting them rest on their side until your next painting session.