How to Paint with Acrylics

Acrylics have a wide range of possibilities, so this question - how to paint with acrylics - needs some trimming. What is it you want to do, or learn?

  • For learning to mix colors, start with this list of basic colors
  • For learning to work with light, start with painting your subject in black and white
  • Click here for info on making brushstrokes. Only, for acrylics you take synthetic brushes - and when you read "turpentine", think "water".
  • For realistic results, try out an underpainting technique - take acrylic paints with the same pigments as in oil paint. Try the better brands for that (Winsor and Newton, or Golden Historic.)

Acrylic paints don't always hide very good. If you paint them thin, they can be semi-transparant, and that makes color layering important. Check out this page on the effects of underlying paint colors. It's written for interior painting, but it also applies to canvas painting.

Acrylic painting - layer by layer

Acrylic painting is very suitable for doing layers, because it dries so fast. Layers have the great advantage that you don't have to paint everything at once: painting the light, AND the right colors. A one-color background layer provides a unifying basis to your colors, too.

  • If light is important: first paint your picture in black and white, or dark brown and white.
  • First do a background and add figures later
  • A one-color underpainting or imprimature gives a solid unifying basis to the colors in your painting.

Check here for:

How to paint with acrylics on canvas and board

You can work with acrylics on any regular ready-prepared canvas or painting board, as long as it doesn't state that it was primed specifically for oil paints. If you stretch your own canvases or make your own panels, use 'gesso' for priming, without any additions.

How to paint with acrylics on paper

You can work with acrylics on paper without having to prime it first, but it is wise to stretch the paper. Especially if you want to use lots of water for making the colors lighter. But if you use pure, undiluted acrylic paint on a fairly thick piece of paper, you can do without the stretching. If you want to stretch the paper afterwards, there are to methods:

How to paint with acrylics - picking colors

Basically, there are two kinds of colors: the modern pure, strong, chemical rainbow colors, and oldfashioned earth colors. The rainbow-colors can be used pure, but really they're meant as 'raw ingredients' to mix your own colors. The oldfashioned earth colors are much more natural browns and greens. Only having earth colors might seem dull. But they do give your painting a natural basis. Click here for more on colors and pigments. Cheap acrylic paints have cheap pigments too, and together with the plastic appearance of the acrylic binder, cheap acrylic colors can look hopelessly artificial. You can prevent this effect by doing some careful color mixing.

How to paint with acrylics- using mediums

Mediums can add extra lustre and effects to your acrylic paintings - but I recommend to first learn something about form (drawing), light and darkness, and painting colors. Unless of course you have a clear picture in your mind about what it is you want to achieve.

On the other hand: you don't have to paint everything. Acrylics are great for doing collage. You can use pictures from magazines or print stuff out on the computer, and glue them on the painting with acyrlic binder, and paint over it again. Realistic painting never has been so easy. If you use a thick, transparant acrylic painting medium, you can use all kinds of materials and mount them on your painting. All you need is a keen eye for colors, light-and-darkness, materials and styling.

Some people already have the skills it takes, but others might need some excercise. Realistic painting can be good for that. In doing this kind of stuff, don't worry about the artistic value of your results. Just enjoy painting - results will come along with that.

Related pages:

Color theory

Oil Painting Techniques

  • Oil Painting tips
  • Acrylic Painting

    Watercolor painting

    Color Schemes

    Interior Painting techniques

    Interior Painting Ideas


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