Acrylic paints are a great medium for beginners looking to get into painting. They are simple to use (once you get familiar with the quick drying times) and are much easier to clean up than oil paints.
My painting days started with acrylics. They allowed me to learn all the general painting principles without having to worry about the somewhat tedious rules that come with oil painting, such as having to paint fat over lean.
I recommend anyone looking at getting into painting start with acrylic paints and then consider branching out to oils or watercolors.
The general painting principles are the same across all mediums. The main difference is the techniques used to apply the paint. Once you learn one medium at a competent level, you will find it easier and faster to pick up another medium.
I also note it seems acrylic painting has a bit of a bad stigma in that people believe it is less prestigious than oil painting. This is due to the fact all the masters painted mostly in oils. But do not be fooled by this. Acrylic painting has come a long way and is a fantastic medium. There are many amazing artists who focus solely on acrylic painting.
However, you should be aware that a vast majority of professional painters use oil paints for a reason. I certainly recommend once you have learned the basics of acrylic painting, that you test the waters of oil painting.
So without further ado, here are 7 acrylic painting tips for beginners to get you started. If you have any acrylic painting tips you want to share, please add them to the comment section at the end.
Acrylic Tip 1: Be Decisive With Your Strokes
Unlike oil painting, you only have a limited amount of time that the paint will be wet and responsive on your canvas. Acrylic paint dries extremely fast, so you do not have much time to work with it.
This has an upside though in that you can quickly paint layer on layer.
The key here is to make sure each of your strokes is made with purpose and is decisive. You do not have as much flexibility as you do with oil painting, so each stroke must count.
If you are still struggling with the fast drying time of acrylic paint, then you may want to look into adding a medium to your paint to slow the drying process.
Watch professional artist Colley Whisson in his seascape demonstration below. Notice how his strokes are very calculated.
Acrylic Tip 2: Mixing Your Colors Is More Important Than You Think
Have you ever watched videos of professional artists painting? You will notice they appear to spend more time mixing colors on their palettes than actually painting. This is because color mixing is one of the most defining aspects of painting.
Before you place brush to canvas, be as certain as you can about the color. Use your palette for mixing and experimenting with colors, not your canvas.
Unlike oil paints, you do not have the time to play around with the paint on the canvas as it will dry extremely fast.
Acrylic Tip 3: Acrylic Paint Tends To Darken As It Dries
This is a common issue you will find with most acrylic paints - some colors will tend to darken as they dry.
When mixing your colors, you should allow for a slight darkening. This effect seems to be more apparent in the lighter colors than the colors which are already dark.
Karen Ilari shows the change in value between wet and dry acrylic paint here:
Acrylic Tip 4: Use Artist Quality Materials
Whilst you may be limited by a budget, if you invest in high quality materials you will end up saving money over the long run. They will not deteriorate and your finished artworks will be of a much higher quality. If you are looking at selling your art, then this is a must.
The label to look for is ‘Artist Quality’, not ‘Student Quality’.
Now if you are restricted by a budget, then I would invest first in top quality paint brushes. Then anything left over I would use for artist quality paints and canvas. To save money on paint, I would suggest you learn how to paint with a very limited palette - red, blue, yellow (the primary colors), white and burnt umber.
Acrylic Tip 5: Look After Your Painting Materials
Your paint brushes will deteriorate very fast if you do not clean them properly between sessions.
Now I understand it is impracticable to spend half an hour delicately cleaning each brush after painting, especially if you paint regularly. An alternative would be to place the tips of your brushes in bowl of water, laying as flat as possible without submerging the whole brush. You do not want the bristles to fold.
When you are ready to paint again in the next few days, you can simply take them out of the water, dry them with a rag and you are good to go.
If you are taking a long break from painting, then you should properly clean your paint brushes so there is no excess paint on the bristles which would dry and ruin the brushes.
Acrylic Tip 6: Stain Your Canvas
I find it much easier to paint on a stained canvas than a glaring white canvas. The stain should be a toned color - you do not want a stain which is too strong and vibrant.
In general, I will take some yellow ochre, dull it down by mixing it with some blue and then wash this over the canvas using lots of water. You could also use burnt umber.
The stained canvas will help you judge the values and tones in your painting. It will also make it easier for you to paint your dark values on the canvas (it can be very difficult to hit those really dark values in the painting without already darkening the canvas with a stain).
For increased efficiency, you can stain a bunch of canvas panels (or whatever you paint on) at the same time.
Acrylic Tip 7: Upsize Your Brush
Using large brushes does a few things - it increases your brushwork economy, makes you actually think about your strokes and makes it easier to cover the canvas.
Many beginner artists are of the opinion smaller brushes will lead to a more realistic and delicate painting. However even the great master realism painters generally painted with brushes much larger than you would expect.
Below is one of the few videos I have found of landscape painter Ken Knight. You will see he uses very large brushes for most of the painting.
Have any tips you want to share? Please add them to the comment section below for other artists to benefit.