Acrylic Painting for Beginners: Getting Started in 10 Easy Steps
Things I Wish I Knew as a Beginner in Acrylic Painting
When you start with 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. I hope you find this useful!
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 a 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.
- I especially like using heavy body acrylics for their buttery consistency, which is 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. 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.
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 select colors.
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, which is a great tool to help you mix colors.
- If you find that you mix the same color over and over, you can add that color tube to the initial set.
3. Paint Brushes
Which Brushes Do I Need?
Paint brushes come in many types and sizes. They can be very cheap or quite expensive. Synthetic brushes, usually cheaper than natural ones, are great for acrylics.
The best sizes and shapes are going to depend on your painting style. However, you can start with three or four sizes of filbert brushes—flat with a rounded point— which can be used to obtain different kinds of brushstrokes. Learn about basic brushstroke types so you are equipped to paint!
- To start, I suggest synthetic sable filberts, approximately 1”, ½”, and ¼”, and a thin detail brush.
Beware of very cheap brushes. Their bristles are not as flexible, and your brushstrokes will suffer from that. They also tend to shed on your painting. After a few uses, the bristles spread out instead of keeping their shape, making it very difficult to paint.
- I recently bought a and I was a little worried that they would be cheap quality, but I ended up loving the set. It has a great assortment of brushes and it's a surprisingly good quality for the price. brush set from D'Artesan Shoppe
- To keep your brushes in good condition, make sure you clean them thoroughly with soapy water after each painting session, rinsing them 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.
Be willing to be a beginner every single morning.— Meister Johann Eckhart
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 you're 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 of oil paint.
How About You?
Do you like color mixing, or would you rather have a tube of the right color you need?
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 a disposable palette.
Since acrylic paint dries quickly, only squeeze out small amounts at a time. Keep the paint moist spraying water on it with a spray bottle.
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 while also reducing spills and dust deposits. Tabletop easels are a great option. If you like to stand up, you may opt for a standing easel.
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.
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 to remove mistakes on the canvas while they are still wet.
Learn how to clean brushes, palettes, and dry paint on clothes to prepare for any mishaps.
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.
Here is what some mediums are for:
- Increasing the drying time
- Making the paint glossy
- Making the paint thick
- Improving the flow.
You can improve the flow by simply adding water to the paint, but this reduces a little of the color intensity.
A fun way to get familiar with acrylics and discover what medium you may enjoy is to experiment with creative painting techniques.
How Should I Dress for Painting With Acrylics?
Wear comfortable clothes that you are not afraid of staining. Otherwise, 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. Use soapy water, rub the paint well, and rinse the clothing item thoroughly.
Avoid 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 in hindsight, I wish I had invested some extra money at the beginning.
Happy painting! :)
Most Importantly: Enjoy What You Do!
Questions & Answers
Do I paint directly on the canvas without putting anything on it?
With acrylics, you can paint on pretty much every surface, as long as it's not oily. You can paint on canvas with no prep work or sealer, but I would not recommend it. The raw canvas absorbs a lot of the paint, making your job very hard. The best option is to buy canvas that has already been base-coated with gesso. You can also buy some gesso and coat any canvas or board that you want to paint on. In this case, follow the directions on the container.
For best results, apply two or three layers; diluting the first coat with water, and lightly sanding between coats.Helpful 29
Do I need to coat the canvas with white paint before I begin? If the canvas is coated with gesso, does that change its color?
A canvas coated with gesso is usually very white. However, there is also clear gesso, and that will show the canvas original color. You may even find black gesso, some artists like to start from a black canvas. The bottom line is that you need some kind of gesso on the canvas, and then it is your choice if you want to apply an extra coat of paint, white or any other color, before you start your masterpiece. I usually apply a thin coat of a bright color to unify the painting and get rid of all the white.Helpful 11
What kind of medium should I use for better painting with acrylic colors?
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.
Here is what some mediums are for:
Increasing the drying time
Making the paint glossy
Making the paint thick
Improving the flow.
You can improve the flow by simply adding water to the paint, though this reduces a little of the color intensity.
A fun way to get familiar with acrylics and discover what medium you may enjoy is to experiment with creative painting techniques.Helpful 21
If something used after painting with acrylics for glow and smoothness?
I like to apply varnish after the paint is completely dry. Varnish makes the surface homogeneous and creates an even look, which could be shiny or glossy, depending on the kind you use.
Glossy varnish gives some kind of a glow and smoothness to the painting.Helpful 20
What kind of paper should you use for acrylic paints?
You can paint with acrylics on any kind of paper. However, thicker and less absorbent paper seems to work best. Multimedia paper, for example, works nicely for acrylic paint. Canvas paper is also great.Helpful 19
© 2012 Robie Benve