How to Paint With Acrylics: Creative Painting Techniques
Lots of Creative Effects with Acrylic Paint
Acrylic paint is a very versatile medium. If used straight from the tube it handles like oil paint, when diluted with water it’s more similar to watercolor.
New technologies have allowed the development of more sophisticated acrylic paints, and different thicknesses allow to obtain different effects from them (see table below).
In this article you'll find examples of some very creative techniques that you can achieve with acrylic paint. You can often take them further by adding mediums to the paint.
Types of Acrylic Paint
Smooth, thick, and buttery.
Retain brushstrokes or palette knife marks.
Creamy and fluid.
Wide range: stenciling, murals, silk-screening, calligraphy, printmaking, graphic design, sculpture, photo retouching, hard edged painting, watercolor techniques, fabric painting, airbrush, etc.
Very thin, similar to heavy cream.
Spattering, spraying, brushing, pouring, dripping, and staining
Wide range: spattering, painting, drawing, staining, glazing, inking, hand-lettering, spraying, etc.
Use Acrylic Mediums to Add Textures and Effects
Invest some time into investigating and understanding the various medium types and which can work for you and the effects that you are trying to achieve.
By mixing your medium of choice into your base paint, you can make your paint thicker, thinner, shinier, textured and even change how long it takes to dry.
There are so many different acrylic mediums, it's impossible to try them all. See if a friend lets you try one for free.
Which Medium?Click thumbnail to view full-size
Spattering Acrylic Paint
Spattering is a technique for applying splashes or small droplets of paint on your surface. You can use your fingers to spatter the paint from any stiff brush dipped in thin acrylic paint, a painting brush, a toothbrush, or a stencil brush will work.
Lay your painting surface flat, to avoid run-downs. Load the brush with very thin paint and flick the bristles of the brush with your fingertip, or flick your wrist while holding the brush, to let the spatter fly from the brush to the support. You can also hit your brush handle with a stick to generate the splash.
Spattering can add texture to a flat color area, and can also be used to obtain a nice stone or marble effect.
You can use either fluid paint or a thicker paint thinned with water or a medium.
When applying spatters to a small area, mask off the surrounding parts with sheets of paper.
Pouring and Dripping Acrylic Paint
- Pouring paint is an innovative way to use fluid acrylic paint to create art, letting the application take advantage of gravity. You can use fluid acrylic paint, or mix thicker acrylic paint with a pourable acrylic gloss medium to make it fluid.
Pour the paint and tilt the support around to make the paint flow in the desired directions. This will create smooth colorful shapes. If you pour multiple colors, the colors will blend and mix.
You can vary the intervals of the pourings, choosing if you want the previous layer to be dry or still wet.
- Dripping is a variation of pouring. Mix your fluid paint in small containers. A good medium to add to thicker acrylic paint to make it fluid is clear tar gel.
Set your support horizontally, load your palette knife with fluid paint and let the paint drizzle from the knife onto the surface, moving the knife gently around to create a stringy effect.
Let one layer of drizzled acrylic dry before you apply another layer. Layers can be of the same color or different colors.
Texturing the Painting Surface
Dramatic effects can be achieved by creating your own creative textured ground.
Textured effects can be created in many different ways, but acrylic modeling paste is ideal for dramatic texture.
You can use different tools to apply and model the texturing medium: palette knife, stiff brush, comb, rag, bubble wrap, metal objects, and anything else that may serve the purpose.
Let the ground dry before you paint on it.
You may also mix paint into the modeling paste and create a colorful textured ground.
For best results with texturing use a rigid surface, on canvas the dry paste may crack.
A sponge can be a very versatile tool in painting, it can produce a broad range of effects.
Natural sponges have the advantage of being more flexible and produce more interesting patterns than the less expensive synthetic ones. Synthetic sponges are suitable for lying flat and even areas of color.
When painting with a sponge, always wet the sponge with water and then squeeze well; then apply the paint with soft dabbing motions. You can also use a sponge to lift wet paint.
Using Masking Tape in Acrylic Paintings
Masking tape can be a very useful tool for the acrylic painter.
Masking some areas with tape can protect them during splattering or other low-control painting techniques, and can be very helpful when you need to paint straight lines or patterns that would be very challenging to complete free-hand.
Whether you are painting an abstract subject with crisp, hard-edged areas of color, or a representative painting, it is particularly difficult to paint a perfectly straight line or a clean edge, like a horizon line or a windowsill. Apply masking tape, paint the area near it, then remove the tape.
You'll have a pristine unpainted area where the tape was. This can be used also to preserve parts of the ground color from being contaminated by layers of paint.
How to Use Masking Tape
The easier way to proceed is by sticking masking tape over dry paint to define the line, than paint it.
Remove the tape when the paint is still wet, to ensure a sharp edge. Also, make sure you don’t thin the paint too much, or it can seep under the masking tape.
Collage with Acrylics
Acrylic paint is an excellent adhesive and can be used for binding papers, fabrics, sand, and other material to the support; it serves as a main bonding element in collages.
Acrylic gels or texture paste can be used to stick larger objects.
When making a collage, lightweight objects are obviously best, because they are easier to glue in a permanent way. If the object is quite heavy, you may need extra support, like nails or wires.
I love to include paper in my paintings, and I use acrylic soft gel medium as "glue".
Painterly Reuse and Recycle
Almost anything can become an acrylic painting tool.
Credit cards, old combs, sandpaper, pieces of boards, spoons, toothbrushes, bottle caps, kitchen knives, etc. They all can be used to apply paint and create textures.
So before you throw anything away, think how you could use it in your studio.
Painting with Sandpaper, Wire Brushes, Cloth, and Plastic Wrap
Many materials, tools, and techniques can be used to obtain the most creative textures on an acrylic painting, your imagination is the limit for what you can use. Some of the things I like to use are:
- Sandpaper. Once a layer of paint is dry, you can use sandpaper to distress the paint and uncover an earlier layer. If sanding large areas, spray with water and use water-resistant sandpaper, in order to minimize the particles of paint flying around. (Not the best thing to breathe.)
- Wire brushes, pot scrapers, and other abrasive tools, can produce interesting effect both on wet or dry paint layers. Whether you want to create texture, partially reveal a background layer of paint, or produce a distress look, you can really get creative finding a scratchy tool to use.
- Cloth and plastic wrap can be used to produce unique textures in your painting.
- Rub textured cloth on wet paint to create texture.
- Press gauze or stings into wet paint and, after it dries, pull it out.
- Scrunch a piece of plastic wrap in your hands, unfold it loosely and gently tap it down onto wet paint, keeping the wrinkles. Before the paint dries remove the plastic wrap.
Abstracts Make Great Backgrounds
I ended up using this abstract painting as background for a live figure portrait, and loved the combination of painting a model over the abstract texture, letting parts of it to be seen throughout.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
If you start a painting using palette knives, can you walk away after just painting the sky, for example, and come back later to a dried partial painting and pick up where you left off?
Sure! Acrylic dries so much quicker than oil that it's very hard to do wet on wet painting.
In fact, it does not make much difference if you come back to a painted area after 15 minutes or after a week. It's in the nature of acrylic to have several layers that don't mix with each other.Helpful 4
Can tree seal be used in acrylics paintings?
As far as I know, tree seal can be used to water-proof pots, so I would recommend that you try to use it, but wait at least a couple of days for the acrylic to be completely dry before you apply tree seal.
Then you can call it a mixed media painting.Helpful 5
© 2012 Robie Benve