21 Acrylic Painting Tips for Beginners
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If you’re a newbie to acrylic painting, we’ve got some tips that will help you shorten the learning curve. Our artists have pooled their collective experience to share some of their tried-and-true tricks for better acrylic painting. They were once beginners, too, so they understand the struggle when starting out. In this article, you’ll find suggestions, techniques, and explanations that are guaranteed to make you more comfortable at the easel and have you painting acrylic masterpieces in no time!
To get you started, we’ve listed some tips that have been used in a video of an Arteza artist creating a stunning landscape. You can see these tips in action by watching the video and paint along to make your own landscape painting.
- Find a reference. The internet is full of images that you can use as a reference for cool things to paint. Using photo references is also a great way to practice painting landscapes and urban scenes before venturing out to paint in public. Since the reference doesn’t move, you can hone your painting skills easily.
- Use synthetic brushes. Acrylic paint is a medium-bodied paint that will adhere much better on synthetic, bristle brushes than on softer brushes. They are easy to find, as brushes made especially for acrylic painting are clearly labeled in art supply stores.
- Use wide strokes. You’ll cover more areas and be able to create more textures by using wide strokes as opposed to thin ones. For example, you can use wider strokes for painting a background, to fill in the sky, for water, and to add mountains. Save the thinner strokes for small areas and for placing details.
- Paint densely. Don’t skimp on the paint. It’s okay to use large amounts of it and apply it thickly. You may think using less paint or thinned paint will save you money in the long run, but all it does is weaken the piece you’re working on and forces you to create more layers, which can muddy the paint.
- Work with a palette knife to add some texture. It’s fun to switch things up by using a palette knife instead of a brush. Palette knives can add different textures to your artwork by either scraping paint away or adding thick layers.
- Use a thin brush with long bristles for small details. The best brush to use for the smallest details in your painting is a long, thin-bristle brush, also known as a liner brush. Using a thin brush enables you to emphasize the edges of things. You can also add details with a small flat brush.
- Work relatively fast. Acrylic paint is known for its fast drying time, so it’s important to develop a quick painting habit. Once acrylic paint is dry, it’s impossible to reactivate. There are extenders you can purchase that will add moisture to the paint and help extend the drying time.
- Use warm and cold shades to add contrasts. Contrast is the best way to make your paintings visually interesting and to add a realistic look. You can do this by using warm colours (reds, yellows, oranges) next to cool shades (blues, purples, greens).
- Make your painting bright and lively. Don’t be afraid to use bright colours. It’s amazing how dynamic a painting becomes when highlights in white and areas of bold or unexpected colour are added.
- Use different techniques. Acrylic is a versatile paint that adapts well to different techniques. You can even paint with your finger to blend and mix the colours smoothly. Experiment and play with the paint—mix new shades, use non-traditional tools, use unpredictable surfaces. These are the things that will make your painting look more diverse and help you develop your unique style.
- Paint over mistakes when the piece is dry. If you’ve made a mistake, no worries. You won’t have to wait long for the paint to dry to easily paint over any stray marks or unwanted colours.
Here are some more tips we think will be helpful for you to use in your landscape painting or in your future artworks.
12. Keep a variety of brushes on hand. You never know which brush you’ll be using next, so it’s advisable to have brushes in multiple sizes nearby. You can start out with the basics—small, medium, large—and add more sizes and shapes later on, ranging from small to large.
13. Take care of your brushes. Brushes are an important investment in your painting practice. If you want them to last, you’ll need to make sure you clean them well after each use to keep them from becoming dry, rigid, and useless.
14. Use a mist of water to extend drying time. An easy way to avoid having your paint dry too quickly is to mist the paint after you’ve applied it to the palette. Plastic spray bottles work great for this and can be purchased inexpensively.
15. Use thinned paint for undercoatings. The beauty of acrylic paint is that it can be thinned with water to resemble watercolour paint. By doing this, you can quickly add an undercoat of paint to your surface. This is called “toning” the canvas. Underpaintings can enhance your painting as well as act as a way to get you started without the fear of facing a blank or white canvas.
16. What is gesso and why does it make a difference? Acrylic artists commonly use canvas coated in gesso. A white paint mixture, gesso, prevents the paint from absorbing into the canvas and stiffens the fabric to allow the paint to lay on the surface. It also adds a slight texture or “tooth” that holds the paint while allowing it to be pushed around as the artist works. Many artists will add an additional layer of gesso before painting to add more texture to their work.
17. Use your palette for colour mixing. To avoid muddying your colours on the canvas or placing a shade you don’t want, always mix your colours on a palette. A palette is also a place for experimenting with colour combinations.
18. Some acrylics darken as they dry. You might be surprised to find that the bright colour on your palette dried somewhat darker. A good idea is to create swatches of your colours to see which ones dry darker. Just paint a small square of paint on a scrap canvas or piece of paper and wait for it to dry. This will help you anticipate how the colour will actually look and you can mix accordingly.
19. Step away from your painting periodically. It’s easy to lose perspective of what you’re painting. That’s why you should step back and take a look at the overall work often. By taking just a few steps back, you’ll immediately see how the colours are working together if angles need adjusting, or your objects are in scale.
20. Practice blending. The quick-drying nature of acrylics can make blending a challenge. But, by practicing blending your colours together, you’ll get the hang of it.
21. Have two water jars handy. To keep the paint you apply to the canvas as pure as possible, keep two jars of water nearby. Use one just for cleaning your brushes and one to dip your brush in when thinning the paint. This is a good way to recycle household jars and save on the cost of purchasing special brush-cleaning basins.
Now you have some tips and tricks to take you from beginner to artist to experienced painter. The more you paint, the more you’ll learn, and the better you’ll get. We hope these techniques will give you the confidence to keep going. If you get stuck you can refer back to this blog or check out one of the many blogs on acrylic painting we provide on our website and YouTube channel. We’d love to hear how it’s going, so leave us a comment in the section below.
Until next time, happy painting!
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