Last Updated on February 21, 2023
Acrylic painting is a great choice for beginners for a variety of reasons. One, it’s easy on the wallet with acrylic paints quite affordable to start off with. Secondly, it’s a forgiving medium. Made a mistake? Simply wait until it drys and paint over as if it’s a blank canvas.
Acrylic is a plastic polymer, so while we mostly discuss canvas painting, you can use acrylic on almost all surfaces. So, if learning acrylic painting is something that interests you, here are our 12 tips that will help you to get started.
1. Start Simple
It can be tempting to go out and buy the most complete set of colors.
But, as a beginner, it’s best to start with a simple set of 8 to 12 colors. From there, you can mix shades and learn how to create the colors you most desire.
When it comes to brushes, there are two types you should focus on:
- and soft-bristled.
The former is for the thicker acrylic paint and the latter is for adding watercolor effects.
Small and medium-sized brush lengths are also ideal for you for starting with.
2. Keep Your Brushes Wet
If you find yourself lost in your work, it can be easy to forget to keep your brushes wet.
This is vital because acrylic paint that has dried on your brush will be a nightmare to clean and can potentially ruin the quality of your bristles.
The way to work around this issue is to fill a mason jar with water and keep your unused brushes in them while you work.
This will cut down on time spent cleaning your brushes while making sure they’re wet and ready to use when called upon.
After finishing your piece, clean each brush thoroughly.
3. Leave the Details in the Painting for Later
This aspect of acrylic painting follows on from our previous tip.
Beginner painters often get lost in the details and work slowly to make every intimate detail show on the canvas.
However, this is a rookie error as all the while the palette continues to dry.
To avoid remixing the colors, which is a problem in itself, begin your work by focusing on the broader picture.
With your vision in mind, start with your biggest brush and work quickly on generalities, such as the background.
This will allow you to save the details for the end of the piece with fresh acrylic paint ready to go.
4. Be Patient
If you’re happy (or even distressed) about how the composition is coming along, it can be tempting to jump immediately into the next stage.
However, it can be easy to ruin your progress with a simple stroke if you do not leave time for the acrylic to dry.
Although the paint does tend to dry quickly, the various levels of thickness can sometimes make it hard to predict.
During the downtime, you can clean your brushes, explore the color wheel to pick your next step, or if you want, use a heat gun (incredibly handy to help speed up the transition).
5. Add Layers
Once your acrylic paint dries, it’s nigh on impossible to reactivate.
Although there are several items you can purchase to add moisture (water spray can help) it can take some practice to not further damage your work.
Another thing occurs when the paint dries. Sometimes it doesn’t have the color you expect.
Acrylic paint colors have the tendency to darken as they dry. This can leave your bright blue sky looking quite different after 20 minutes.
To counteract this, you can add on a series of lighter blue colors until you complete the image you have in your mind.
The additional benefit of the extra layers is how the piece often bounces off the canvas.
6. Mix, Mix, Mix
Creative bravery is the best way to learn what works and what doesn’t.
The best example of this is the trial and error of mixing acrylic paints.
Indeed, a very common habit for newcomers is to only stick with using colors directly from the tubes, rather than also mixing them to make new colors.
While it’s no cardinal sin, there’s so much to discover about how each color interacts with the other.
This will help broaden your work, adding a layer of richness and unexpected variety that will take your composition to the next level.
7. Take a Break in Between Painting
Whether it’s your very first piece or if you’re a seasoned pro, it can be easy to lose sight of what we are trying to accomplish.
Painters can spend a long period of time working on a specific part of the canvas, ignoring the rest of the composition.
This can lead to imbalanced work that doesn’t tell the right story.
Periodically, you should take a couple of steps away from the work and provide yourself with a proper perspective.
Rather than focusing on a quarter of the painting, you can see how the colors interact on a broader scale.
After all, your finely tuned painting of a boat may look more like an ant from 10 feet back.
8. Drip, Pour and Lift
Beyond simple strokes, there are a number of creative things you can do that will help make your piece even better.
One of them is dripping where you can add clear acrylic medium to your canvas and let it flow down.
Just like dripping, you can also pour the acrylic from above.
This helps to create a realistic effect of rain. Often the pour results in natural puddles towards the base of the canvas.
The third is lifting. This isn’t literal, instead, it’s a term to describe removing paint from the canvas.
Use a wet paper towel or sponge and remove a certain section. This creates a soft background, perfect for clouds and textured patching.
9. Thin Brush for Details
When the bulk of your composition is complete, it’s time to work on the finer details.
Precise details can really bring your piece to life and make it jump off the canvass.
To do so, make use of your smallest brush and bring the bristle together.
You can keep the bristles compact by making sure they are wet so they hold together.
This will give you a fine tip to work with, allowing you to be exact in your painting.
10. Experiment With Shades
There are two parts to this skill that you as a beginner acrylic painter can quickly master.
The first is using warm and cold shades. This will immediately give your work contrast and make it aesthetically fascinating.
Your warm colors will be reds, oranges, and yellows with the cold shade comprising green, purple, and blue colors.
The second part of shading is the use of the same colors.
This can one, save you money, and two, allow you to keep your paint palette nice and clean.
Rather than use lots of colors, instead, try a variety of tones and shades of the same color to give your painting energy.
11. Sticking at Painting as a Beginner
The beauty of acrylic painting is how diverse it can be. No one’s journey will be the same as another.
From brush choices to mixing, there are endless ways to be creative and bring your work to life.
The best way to get better is to stick at it.
Learning how to manipulate the textures and layers can take some time.
Consistent practice, whether it’s on a canvas or in an art journal, will help set you on the right path.
Hi. I’m Dr Valeria Lo Iacono, a lady in her 50s living in the UK. I write about the over-50s and 60s lifestyle including on travel, health, food, and fashion.