Brush Strokes for Acrylic Artists

Updated on June 24, 2018
Tricia Deed profile image

Tricia Deed enjoys and relaxes with her hobby of painting portraits with acrylic paints. Then writes about what she has learned.

Drawing to Be Painted

The artists has prepared their canvas with a drawing in preparation for paints.
The artists has prepared their canvas with a drawing in preparation for paints. | Source

Painting with Acrylics

Many of us have fun taking a brush loaded with paint and start coloring the blank canvas with strokes of color. There comes a time when we want to better our painting style and want knowledge concerning how to move the brush to create special effects to bring the object or objects to life.

Here is a list of some of the more common and popular brush strokes which are used to apply the acrylic paints on any surface. These stroke styles will work on paper, canvas, glass, metal, wood, fabrics, and any other surface under consideration for the painted masterpiece.

Freehand Paint Strokes

The daffodil, stem, and other flowers are painted free hand. No previous drawing has been done.
The daffodil, stem, and other flowers are painted free hand. No previous drawing has been done. | Source

Brush Drawing

No pencil marks are visible with this technique. As indicated in the above drawing, draw any figure using a paint brush coated with paint. Start with a simple design, and brush draw the flower, its leaves, and the stem. For added emphasis layer paints until desired darkness or shading is obtained.

It is worth the time and effort to practice different strokes with different sizes of brushes to create branches, leaves, and flowers. Practice favored strokes then apply it to your final canvas. Brush drawing is a dual concept of drawing details with paint to complete a finished product. Think of it as speed-painting.

Dabbing Technique to Create Pearls in Flowers

Dabs of white paint produce border highlights on flowers and mask
Dabs of white paint produce border highlights on flowers and mask | Source

Dabbing

Dabbing is the tapping action of paint application from the tip of the brush onto the canvas to create a dot or many dots of color. This is an excellent method for learning how to controll small amounts of paint.

The white dabbing of dots around the edges of the flowers act as an outline to help emphasize the edges.

Donna Dewberry Teaches You How to Use a Round Brush

Double Loading

Dip brush in one color of paint and dip again into another color. As you move the brush a double or two color effect will result. This technique adds richness and dimension to flower petals and other foliage or trees. Using a round brush helps add depth and richness to a flower petal or object.

This technique makes for a quick 2 or 3 color variation occurring in one stroke when creating curves. Learning this technique eliminates blending and adding a row of color one at a time. It is also handy to create variations of color such as that which occurs in rolling ocean waves or showing striations of rock on the side of a cliff or rock formation.

Painting Tips & Techniques: Acrylic Dry Brushing Technique

Dry Brushing

Dry brushing creates course and irregular strokes of color. Load your brush with paint, wipe away any excess paint with a paper towel. Place the brush on the canvas and drag it across the canvas allowing the paint to create a broken pattern of paint. This brush technique is great for creating natural textures like wood or grass.

Broad Brush Strokes

Preparing the canvas with a foundation of flat brush painting.
Preparing the canvas with a foundation of flat brush painting. | Source

Flat Wash

A wash is a thin mixture of paint that has been diluted with water. Load a flat brush with a diluted mix of paint and water. Brush the selected surface horizontally in an overlapping sweeping motion. Horizontal strokes are commonly used, however, vertical and diagonal strokes may also be used to assure complete coverage. This helps to build a foundation for other colors as well as to hide any paper or canvas showing their white peek-a-boos.

This flat wash method is an option. Some artists prefer it and some do not. My experience with painting with acrylics has me favoring the flat wash method to help give the next layers of paint a richer depth of color intensity.

I favor portrait painting and I find it helps to flat wash the complexion of the face before applying facial tints and shading. Flat wash reminds me of applying moisture cream to one's face before applying the foundation skin tint. It makes for a smoother application and the makeup remains longer. Flat wash seemingly adds strength and additional longevity to the canvas.

Painting Lesson - How to Glaze with Acrylics

Glazing

A very thin mixture of paint and water which is applied after the painting has dried. I particularly like this technique used over feathers, angels’ wings, and faces to create mist or light. Experiment before applying to final painting to check for color intensity. Acrylic paints are great for this technique.

Do you want your acrylic painting to appear more oil-like? Use a medium glaze and layer as lightly or as darkly to produce the desired effects typical of oil paintings.

Pink Sky

Horizontal shades of pinks grace the sky and the earth below.
Horizontal shades of pinks grace the sky and the earth below. | Source

Grading or Fading

Rather than blending the colors of paint, grading is a matter of creating value gradation to show separation. For instance, a dark blue sky becoming less blue as it nears the horizon. This helps to show the separation between the sky and any land mass. To create gradation or fading dip brush in water and stroke horizontally in the same manner as flat wash. The water will dilute the paint color causing a fading effect.

The above painting is an excellent example of pink hues grading a separation of sky and meadow.

Thick Layers of Paint

Thick paint for background or to create heavy texture such as tree bark.
Thick paint for background or to create heavy texture such as tree bark. | Source

Impasto

Applying heavy amounts of paint to the canvas to create a thick texture or to bring more 3-D dimension to a rock, foliage, or any object which is to stand out from a flat surface.

The amount of pigment in acrylic paints ranges from water color consistency to medium strength and is recognizable by the price of the product. A tube or bottle which has large amounts of pigment will cost more.

I would highly recommend that you purchase a quality high pigment content for creating oil painting look-a-like. Many layers of paint or impasto will need to be done until the desired depth or dimension is created to your liking.

I have used the medium price range and find that six or more layers need to be built to create an object to appear raised rather than flat.

Layering to Create Texture

Layering to create thickness of hair.
Layering to create thickness of hair. | Source

Layering

This technique will allow you to lessen the color by thinning it or to layer upon layer until desired thickness is acquired. This technique is heavily used in painting with acrylics.

Dog "Chester" is wearing many layers of paint, but the lesson learned is a better quality of higher content pigment would have created his coat of hair to be thicker and richer rather than appearing flat in texture.

Under painting a Rainbow of Colors

Under painting an array of colors makes for excellent landscaping, abstracts, and fantasy imaginings for portraits and landscaping.
Under painting an array of colors makes for excellent landscaping, abstracts, and fantasy imaginings for portraits and landscaping. | Source

Underpainting or Blocking In

Colored pencils may be used in your drawing to help with color selections. Another method which is handy as a guideline is to under paint selected colors. Water down your paint to place a light tint. Should you change the color choice the under painting will not be visible.

The advantage of acrylic paints is adding water to thin the colors. Wait a few minutes for the paint to dry. Adding another layer of tint while wet will cause a color change.

Blending Paints While Wet

Stroke paints with wet paint to blend colors.
Stroke paints with wet paint to blend colors. | Source

Wet-on-wet or Blending

Apply a brush of paint next to a wet painted area. Blend the two colors by stroking gently over the areas where the paints meet. The brush strokes will soften the edges producing a smooth surface. One example would be painting green paint next to blue paint to show how ocean water is becoming shallower as it nears the shoreline. Another familiar blending is a sky with sunset colors of pinks and lavenders.

How to Paint without Using Brushews/Acrylic Painting

Experiment with Splatter, Sponging, and Knives

Place paint on an old toothbrush and run your finger along the bristles causing the paint to splatter across the canvas. This is great for creating fields of flowers, rain drops, snow falling, and small pebbles. Other types of brushes may be used; large or small. Finger flicking will also work.

Paint will splatter over your canvas and more. Protect the work area or splatter paint outdoors.

Sponging is another favorite for creating effects. Dampen sponge with a small amount of water, dip into paint, then apply wherever this type of texture is needed.

Knives, sticks, and other types of objects may be used to create assorted effects with paints. Experiment, trial and error, and have fun with articles other than brushes.

Favorite Brush Strokes

Do you enjoying stroking with brushes or stroking with different objects?

See results

Questions & Answers

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