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12 Brush Strokes for Acrylic Artists

Tricia Deed enjoys and relaxes with her hobby of painting portraits and landscapes with acrylic paints.

Artist using acrylic paints in her landscaping.

Artist using acrylic paints in her landscaping.

12 Brush Techniques for Acrylic Painting

Many of us have fun loading a brush with paint and covering white spaces with a variety of colors. As we advance with our brushstroke techniques, we wish to better our application style by incorporating additional information. This will allow us to create interesting or intense special arrangements or effects.

Here is a list of brushstrokes to use with acrylic paints. These stroke styles will work on paper, canvas, glass, metal, wood, fabrics, and any other surface under consideration for the painted masterpiece.

  1. Brush Drawing
  2. Dabbing
  3. Double Loading
  4. Dry Brushing
  5. Flat Wash
  6. Broad Brush Strokes
  7. Glazing
  8. Grading or Fading
  9. Impasto
  10. Layering
  11. Underpainting or Blending
  12. Splatter, Sponging, and Knives

1. Brush Drawing

No pencil marks are visible with this approach. Draw any figure handling a paintbrush coated with pigment. Open with a simple design, and brush paint the flower outline, its petals, leaves, and stem. Keep layering tints until you achieve the desired thickness, color, or shading.

It is worth the time and effort to do different strokes with different sizes of brushes to build branches, petals, leaves, and its stalk. Practice favored strokes that you intend to use on your canvas. Brush drawing is a dual means of drawing details with color for a polished product. Think of it as speed painting.

2. 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 control small amounts of paint.

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

3. Double Loading

Dip your brush into one color of paint, then dip again into another color. Move the brush, causing a dual or two-color effect. This technique adds richness and dimension to flower petals and other foliage. Use a round brush to add depth and richness to flower petals or other objects.

This technique makes for a striking two- or three-color variation occurring in one stroke when creating curves. This technique eliminates blending or adding a row of color one at a time. It is impressive in creating variations of color that occur in rolling ocean waves, showing striations of rock on the side of a cliff or rock formations.

4. 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.

Preparing the canvas with a foundation of flat brush painting.

Preparing the canvas with a foundation of flat brush painting.

5. Flat Wash

Make a wash (a watery mixture of paint), mixing a selected tint with water to desired thinness. Load a flat brush with this wash brushing the selected surface with an overlapping sweeping motion. Use horizontal, vertical, and diagonal strokes to assure complete coverage. This helps to build a foundation for other colors and to hide any paper or canvas showing their white peek-a-boos.

This flat wash method is an option. Some artists prefer it, while others do not. My experience with painting with acrylics has me favoring the flat wash method to help give any layer of paint a stronger depth of 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 adds strength and longevity to the canvas.

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6. Glazing

A very thin mixture of paint and water 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 the 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.

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

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

7. 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 landmass. 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 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.

8. Impasto

Apply large amounts of paint to the canvas, creating a dense texture or a 3-D dimension to rocks, foliage, or any object which needs to stand out from a flat surface.

The percentage of pigment in acrylic paints ranges from watercolor consistency to medium strength. The pigment content dictates the cost of the product. A tube or bottle containing more color is higher in price.

I recommend that you buy a high-quality color content for producing oil painting look-a-likes. It costs less than layering many coats of cheap pigment, resulting in unsatisfactory results.

I have used the medium price range, and after six or more applications, the thickness does not meet my expectations for finished results.

9. Layering

This technique allows you to intensify or diminish the hue.

Layer with the same tint forming thicker coverage plus a change in texture.

Use a translucent tint to allow the first markings to peek from under the light coating.

Repeat layering to gain a specific tint intensity.

Layering a series of wet tints will mix the colors or erase the first tint.

Apply paint, dry completely, then apply another choice to rearrange or change color choice.

I have found that layering acrylics is an ongoing technique. It is freedom to create expected and surprising hue results.

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.

10. Underpainting or Blocking In

Colored pencils may be used in your drawing to help with color selections. Another method that is handy as a guideline is to underpaint selected colors. Water down your paint to place a light tint. Should you change the color choice the underpainting 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.

11. Wet on Wet or Blending

Apply a brush of paint next to a wet painted area. Blend the two colors by stroking over the areas where the paints meet. The brush strokes will soften the edges, producing a fluid surface.

One example includes painting green paint next to blue paint to show how ocean water is becoming shallow as it nears the shoreline. Another familiar blending is a sky streaking with sunset colors of pinks and lavenders.

12. 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 remarkable for creating fields of flowers, raindrops, snow falling, and pebbles. We may use alternative types of small or large brushes to produce assorted sizes of splashes. No brush? Use your fingers to flick the paint.

Paint will splatter over your artwork and surrounding space. Protect the work arena or splatter paint outdoors.

Sponging is another choice for creating effects. Dampen the sponge with a limited quantity of water, dip into paint, then apply to gain textured results.

Knives, sticks, and diverse types of objects produce assorted effects with paints. Experiment, trial and error, and have fun with articles other than toothbrushes.

Acrylic Painting Techniques