Acrylic Painting for Beginners: Getting Started in 10 Easy Steps

Updated on April 15, 2018
Robie Benve profile image

Robie is an artist who believes in the power of positive thinking. She loves sharing art tips and bringing people joy through her paintings.

The Things I Wish I Knew

When you start in a new medium you have a lot of questions.

In this article I try to answer the main questions that someone starting painting with acrylics might have.

The answers include tips I wish someone would have given me when I first started painting. It would have saved me so much frustration, some time, and some money too.

Acrylic Painting Tips and Supply List for Beginners. How to Get from Clueless with Potential to Happy Artist
Acrylic Painting Tips and Supply List for Beginners. How to Get from Clueless with Potential to Happy Artist

1. What Paint?

What Kind of Acrylic Paint Should I Buy?

Acrylics come in different size containers, different thickness, and of course different brands.

The good news is that they are all mixable. You can find student quality or artist quality, the latter is more expensive and gives higher performance in terms of color and final results. Get the best paint that you can afford. I advise buying paint of well-known brands, such as Golden, Liquitex, or Utrecht, just to mention a few.

I especially like using heavy body acrylics for their buttery consistence, somehow similar to oil paint.

Each brand develops slightly different hues, so you can buy the colors you like/need from different makers.

Tip: Get the best you can buy

Buy acrylic paint from well known brands, and look for artist quality, not student quality.

By selecting professional-grade acrylics you'll get paint with more pigment for your investment and a greater ability to alter your paint characteristics using gels and mediums.

Some of the tubes of acrylic paint that I use on a regular basis.
Some of the tubes of acrylic paint that I use on a regular basis. | Source

2. What Colors?

What Paint Colors Do I Need?

To get started, you don’t need to buy a lot of colors. With a little practice you can mix any color you need starting from a few.

To save some money, you can opt to purchase an acrylic paint set of the basic colors, that usually contains cadmium yellow, naphthol crimson, pthalo green, ultramarine blue and titanium white. With some trial and error, you can learn how to mix all the color you need from such a small palette.

I like to add Burnt Umber, which is a nice dark, and mixed with Ultramarine Blue gives a beautiful, chromatic black.

Get also a color wheel, great tool to help you mixing colors.

If you find that you mix the same color over and over, then you can add that color tube to the initial set.

Example of Limited Palette From Trusted Brands

From Left: Cadmium Yellow Medium, Naphtol Red, Phthalo Green, Blue Shade, Ultramarine Blue, and Titanium White.
From Left: Cadmium Yellow Medium, Naphtol Red, Phthalo Green, Blue Shade, Ultramarine Blue, and Titanium White. | Source

3. Paint Brushes

Which Brushes Do I Need?

Paint brushes come in many types and sizes, and can be very cheap or quite expensive.

Synthetic brushes, usually cheaper than natural ones, are great for acrylics.

The best sizes and shapes depend on your painting style; however, you can start with three or four sizes of filbert brushes – flat, with rounded point - which can be used to obtain different kinds of brushstrokes.

You can learn more about basic brushstroke types here.

To start, I suggest synthetic sable filberts, approximately 1”, ½”, and ¼”, and a thin detail brush.

Be willing to be a beginner every single morning.

— Meister Johann Eckhart

Beware of very cheap brushes. Their bristles are not as flexible, and your brushstrokes will suffer of that. They also tend to shed on your painting and after few uses the bristles spread out instead of keeping the shape, making it very difficult to paint with.

To keep your brushes in good condition make sure you clean them thoroughly with soapy water after each painting session, rinsing well, and laying them flat to dry. Never let acrylic paint dry on brushes, it can irremediably ruin your brushes.

For more detailed advice, you may want to read my guide to choosing the best paint brushes.

It's ok if you don't like the outcome. This is probably the first of my acrylic paintings that I actually liked. "Peonies". All rights reserved.
It's ok if you don't like the outcome. This is probably the first of my acrylic paintings that I actually liked. "Peonies". All rights reserved. | Source

4. Supports

On What Can I Paint?

With acrylics you can paint on a vast array of supports, as long as the paint sticks after dry - test if not sure.

The typical art supports are stretched canvas, canvas boards, wood panels and paper. If you buy pre-made canvas, double check that it’s primed for acrylic painting. Oil primed will not work.

Also, you can not paint with acrylics on top on oil paint.

Examples of supports on which you can paint. All of these you can buy from an art or craft store, and they are already primed and ready to use.
Examples of supports on which you can paint. All of these you can buy from an art or craft store, and they are already primed and ready to use. | Source

How About You?

Do you like color mixing, or would you rather have a tube of the right color you need?

See results

5. Palette

Where Should I Mix Colors?

You’ll need a palette on which you mix your paint.

This can be made of wood, plastic or paper. Non-porous surfaces are highly preferable.

Disposable paper palettes are a good solution for easy clean-up. A grey or neutral color palette helps with accurate color mixing, but white is fine. A smooth paper plate can be used as disposable palette.

Since acrylic paint dries fast, only squeeze out small amounts at a time, and keep the paint moist spraying water with a spray bottle.

6. Easel

Do I Need to Prop My Canvas Up?

You should paint with the support facing you, pretty much perpendicular to your line of sight, not horizontal.

This helps with perspective and proportions, and reduces spills and dust deposits. Tabletop easels are a great option. If you like to stand up, you may opt for a standing easel.

7. Water

Do I Need Water to Paint with Acrylics?

Acrylic paint is water-based, and it’s important to have plenty of water handy at all times.

Use the water to rinse the brushes and to thin the paint. A small about of water also keeps paint from drying too fast.

Change the water often, or have two containers: a clean one for diluting paint, and one for rinsing the brushes.

Change the water often or have two containers: a cleaner one to use to wet the brushes while painting, and one for rinsing paint off the  brushes.
Change the water often or have two containers: a cleaner one to use to wet the brushes while painting, and one for rinsing paint off the brushes. | Source

Start a painting with fresh ideas, and then let the painting replace your ideas with its ideas.

— Darby Bannard

8. Cleaning Brushes

How Do I Take Care of my Brushes?

Don't let acrylic paint dry on brushes.

Rinse them well in between colors and blot excess water on a paper towel or an old rag. Keep paper towels handy also to remove mistakes on the canvas while they are still wet.

For more on the topic of cleaning brushes, palette, and dry paint on clothes, read How to Clean Up Acrylic Paints.

9. Medium

Do I Need to Buy Acrylic Medium?

To improve the paint performance, different kinds of acrylic mediums are available.

I suggest you start getting familiar with the acrylic paint before you buy any mediums, because it depends on what you feel you’d like to improve.

Some of the mediums are for increasing the drying time, for making the paint glossy, for making it thick, or improve the flow. You can improve the flow simply adding water to the paint, this reduces a little the color intensity.

A fun way to get familiar with acrylics and discover what medium you may enjoy using, is to experiment with Creative Painting Techniques.

Some types of acrylic medium that I own. A few were a gift and I haven't experimented with them yet. Buy only the kinds that you need, different artists like different effects and techniques.
Some types of acrylic medium that I own. A few were a gift and I haven't experimented with them yet. Buy only the kinds that you need, different artists like different effects and techniques. | Source

10. Outfit

How Should I Dress for Painting with Acrylics?

Wear comfortable clothes that you are not afraid of staining, or protect more precious ones with an apron. Acrylic paint is pretty hard to wash off.

If acrylic paint gets on your clothes, you need to wash the stain immediately, while it’s still wet, with soapy water, rub well, and rinse thoroughly.


Golden Tip: Avoid Very Cheap Paints and Tools

My biggest problem as a beginner was that I did not understand how using low quality supplies makes the painting process much more difficult, to the point of frustration.

I bought cheap supplies thinking of saving money, but on hind-sight I wish I had invested some extra money at the beginning.


Happy painting! :)

Most Importantly: Enjoy What You Do!

Pick a subject that intrigues you and start painting. It's OK to have fun, experiment, and mess around. Do what works for you to get familiar with acrylic paint, how to handle it, the differences between colors, your brushes, etc.  Happy Painting
Pick a subject that intrigues you and start painting. It's OK to have fun, experiment, and mess around. Do what works for you to get familiar with acrylic paint, how to handle it, the differences between colors, your brushes, etc. Happy Painting

© 2012 Robie Benve

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    • profile image

      Tanya 3 months ago

      Nice painting.

    • Robie Benve profile image
      Author

      Robie Benve 5 months ago from Ohio

      Hi Debbie, thanks for your kind words. For critique, I recommend joining a local group of painters, see if you find one near you. Often they have critique sessions, and paintings with others gives you the opportunity to ask for advice in any case. As far as website, there is the Daily PaintWorks site that has an ongoing critique session in their painting challenge page. Check it out. www(dot)dailypaintworks(dot)com/challenge/the-critique-me-challenge/14

      Happy painting!

    • profile image

      Debbie 5 months ago

      Loved your advice - absolutely sound and makes sense to a beginner (like me). I have a couple of pictures that I have done and have no formal art training and just wondered if you know of a website who can look at your work and critique it. My work are absolute beginner's work and I suppose I just need reassurance to continue painting - I love it and I know there is no right or wrong way but........

    • profile image

      Protiva. 6 months ago

      Oh! nice the paintings by acrylic colours! And have a holiday with them.

    • Robie Benve profile image
      Author

      Robie Benve 14 months ago from Ohio

      Hi Dale, it may seem like we forget sometimes, but painting is like riding a bike: skills comes back as soon as you try again. Get those brushes out in between grandchildren time, and start doodling. You'll see. :) Happy painting!

    • profile image

      Dale Wilkinson 14 months ago

      I was asked why I don't paint, did I forget how. I think I did. Love those grand kids. Time to start.

    • Majka Wroblewska profile image

      Majka Wroblewska 3 years ago from Luton, UK

      Thank you for the helpful piece of advice. Apart from the technical obstacles to overcome, one might find themselves just burnt and stuggling to produce a unique piece of art, therefore personally I like to get inspired with other people's work that's been based on famous painter's paintings http://www.bimago.com/paintings/stylizations-inspi...

    • Robie Benve profile image
      Author

      Robie Benve 3 years ago from Ohio

      Great tip ItayaLightbourne! In my studio I have linoleum floors and I thought the acrylic paint would peel off easily, but it does not. I learned that you can't prevent accidents, like a brush taking flight with no warning, a canvas falling face down, the water jar tipping over, so many chances for stained floors!

      I don't mind my studio floor to be stained, but a floor covering is a very wise way to go. Thanks!

    • ItayaLightbourne profile image

      Itaya Lightbourne 3 years ago from Topeka, KS

      Also, make sure you put down protective covering for the floor or area on which you are painting. As you said, acrylic paint is pretty challenging to clean up once it is dried. :)

    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 5 years ago from Arizona

      Just going through your art hubs..Always something new to learn..

    • Robie Benve profile image
      Author

      Robie Benve 5 years ago from Ohio

      Hi MelChi, thanks for reading, and it's an honor for me to be of help. Happy painting! :)

    • MelChi profile image

      Melanie Chisnall 5 years ago from Cape Town, South Africa

      Great advice, thanks! I'm just getting back into painting since I last painted at school 10 years ago. This was a great read to get me back into the mind frame of painting. Thanks for sharing :)

    • Robie Benve profile image
      Author

      Robie Benve 5 years ago from Ohio

      Hi hollyshort, welcome to hubpages!

      Georgina suggestion to prop up a drawing board with books would work. I also have a table-top easel that is very inexpensive, I think I paid about $9 for it, and serves the purpose well for small-medium canvases.

      If you are handy, you can make your own easel with few pieces of wood and simple hardware. You can find dyi easel instructions on the web. Good luck and happy painting! :)

    • Georgina_writes profile image

      Georgina_writes 5 years ago from Dartmoor

      I rest my drawing board on a pile of books placed on the table - it gives enough of an angle to work with, but I'll bet Robie has a few tricks too.

    • profile image

      hollyshort 5 years ago

      I can't afford a painting easel at this point in time. What would be a good replacement?

    • Robie Benve profile image
      Author

      Robie Benve 6 years ago from Ohio

      @ gamelover, Thank you much! :)

      @ MelissaMelvin, that's a very good point, having fun is the soul of acrylic painting, I can't imagine having fun being all worried about preserving your clothes! Writing would be a much cleaner option then. lol

      Thanks for commenting!

    • MelissaMelvin profile image

      MelissaMelvin 6 years ago from Prattville, AL

      Great tips Robie! Especially the clothes. If you don't plan to get your clothes messy then you may should think up another career or hobby. Hmmm...like writing

    • gamelover profile image

      Meskens Geert 6 years ago from Belgium

      good work

    • Robie Benve profile image
      Author

      Robie Benve 6 years ago from Ohio

      Hi Georgina, I see from your hubs it would have been quite an achievement to tempt you away from your pastels, so I'm very happy with the almost! :) Thank you for reading and your feedback. Ciao! :)

    • Georgina_writes profile image

      Georgina_writes 6 years ago from Dartmoor

      I really enjoyed your step by step article. It almost tempted me away from my pastels......almost! Rating up.

    • Robie Benve profile image
      Author

      Robie Benve 6 years ago from Ohio

      How wonderful Longhunter, it's always exciting trying something new! I'm glad reading my hub gave you some extra motivation to try acrylics. Have fun and happy painting!

    • profile image

      Longhunter 6 years ago

      Robie, I've been drawing in pencil and color pencil as well as painting in watercolors commercially for 35 years but never tried acrylic paints. After reading your hub, I'm going to try to illustrate my new children book using acrylics.

      Excellent hub, Robie.

    • Robie Benve profile image
      Author

      Robie Benve 6 years ago from Ohio

      Hey Rachel, you made my day! I hope it's just the start of a wonderful long lasting passion for painting. Enjoy! :)

    • profile image

      Rachel 6 years ago

      Thanks, i am just now getting into painting and this was very helpful!

    • Robie Benve profile image
      Author

      Robie Benve 6 years ago from Ohio

      Thanks RTalloni for stopping by and leaving a positive comment, I'm really happy you liked the hub! :)

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 6 years ago from the short journey

      Nice guideline to hold on to for my grandchildren--thanks!

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