How To Make Acrylic Painting Easy & Less Stressful

Updated on July 19, 2016
NiaG profile image

Nia is a cardiac sonographer, growing artist and writer who enjoys traveling and gaining experiences through living life to the fullest.

For the past couple of years I have dedicated my time to becoming a better artist when using acrylics. Though I have not perfected my skill completely yet, there have been plenty of "aha" moments along the way. As it was for me, it can be quite overwhelming when it comes to learning some of the ropes of painting for plenty of other beginning artists. Lots of unknown facts and tips can cause plenty of frustration making beginners think twice about letting their creativity shine through the strokes of the brush. Here I've put together some of my "aha" moments that have relieved the anxiety I once used to have.

Here is the painting before the base coat is applied. You can see my flower outline is dark. I always outline my designs with sharpie. It helps me to see my lines even when I apply a basecoat.
Here is the painting before the base coat is applied. You can see my flower outline is dark. I always outline my designs with sharpie. It helps me to see my lines even when I apply a basecoat. | Source
Here you can see my outlining is dulled now because of the thin layer of basecoating. Now I can proceed to paint flower.
Here you can see my outlining is dulled now because of the thin layer of basecoating. Now I can proceed to paint flower. | Source

Put A Coat On It

Basecoating your project can be useful. Is it necessary in every case? Well that's up to the artist to decide. I however, have found it a helpful tool in my painting. When applying a lighter shade of the main color you are going to use or using a complimentary color to it, you can create a smoother surface underneath the paint or paints that you have chosen to use for your project. It also helps provide more paint coverage for your artwork, covering up any white surfaces from the canvas. To basecoat simply apply the color you have chosen to use with a little water and brush it on to the canvas. This can be a coat over your whole painting before starting or done section by section on your piece. Or you can do a combo of the two. The paint shouldn’t be too thick as if you were painting with it. It should be just thin enough to give good coverage. I myself, often use a dark titanium white to basecoat my work but whatever color you choose is completely up to you.

This brush would be perfect for the area of the ellipse.
This brush would be perfect for the area of the ellipse. | Source
This brush would be way too large for painting it. Creating a mess thereby creating frustration.
This brush would be way too large for painting it. Creating a mess thereby creating frustration. | Source

Size Does Matter

Selecting the right size of paintbrush can be very important when it comes to painting. If you choose a brush that is too small then it could take forever to paint and also cause an uneveness when covering that area. Choosing one that is too big can force paint outside of the boundaries, creating a mess. Either way can lead to frustration and feeling like you’ll never be the artist you’d like to be. Realizing such a small thing can make things so much easier. To spare yourself from such feelings, simply judge the width of the paintbrush you’re considering to use by placing it over the area you wish to paint and mimic the back and forth swish of brush stroking. You can then tell if the width of the brush will be just right for the area.

Round brush? Which round brush?
Round brush? Which round brush? | Source
The brush on the left is my favorite brush for applying layers of paint. It gives a nice blend. It looked like the one on the right, brand new. If my fave brush goes kaput, I'll have to wait for the one on the right to become like it. Or find one.
The brush on the left is my favorite brush for applying layers of paint. It gives a nice blend. It looked like the one on the right, brand new. If my fave brush goes kaput, I'll have to wait for the one on the right to become like it. Or find one. | Source

Love Thy Bristles

Learning which paintbrushes work for you best means soooo much in the world of painting. This took me a while to catch on to. I often watched YouTube videos of knowledgeable artists who would often share what type of brushes they were using before continuing on with their video. I’d rush to dig through my brushes to find the exact type of brush they used. Only to later feel frustrated and inadequate when I wasn’t achieving the same look the artists were creating. I didn’t understand why but it finally dawned on me after years of practicing art that I had to find the right brushes for me. The right brush for my hand gestures and the right brush for whatever stroke I’m trying to achieve. These artists knew what brushes were the right ones for them to use. So when you see them paint it seems to be done with so much ease.

Just keep in mind that one round brush may not give off the same look as another round brush. Some brushes, especially brand new ones, have bristles that haven’t formed what I like to call their “character” yet. And that character is what helps you achieve the specific strokes that you may be looking for. Whether scratchy, smooth, wide or thin lines are your objective, it all relies majority on your brush not necessarily anything you’re doing wrong. It may also take brushes time and multiple uses for their true character to come out.

Notice the line within the circle is too thick.
Notice the line within the circle is too thick. | Source
Add a little white and "presto chango", it's now a thinner line.
Add a little white and "presto chango", it's now a thinner line. | Source

From White Out to Wipe Out

White paint can be your best friend when it comes to making mistakes. Say you have orange painted in a spot that you decide should be yellow or pink. Attempting to cover the orange up with the color you want to replace it with just might have you pulling your hair out because simply painting over the orange with the new color never seems to do the trick. Unfortunately, the new color seems off because the hue of the orange continues to try and peek through, changing the actual color you were trying to make it. You in turn find yourself applying layers upon layers of paint to cover it up when all you probably needed was just one coat of white to "remove" the orange. Then proceed on with a layer of the replacement color along with a second layer for good coverage. Knowing this tidbit could save you on not only time but also paint.

Along the same note of clearing away errors, mistakes can also be taken care of with the simple use of a cloth or paper towel dampened with water. You don’t have to live with your mistakes. Boo-boos such as paint splatter, paint going outside of lines or painting the wrong color in the wrong spot can be easily removed with some fast removal action. As long as the paint hasn’t had time to completely dry, you have a chance of rubbing out the mistakes. Once you get the idea of about how long you can wait before a mistake has settled in permanently, you’ll be more at ease and a lot less on edge while you paint.

**Side Note** Let’s say you have a spot where you want to add something to your painting but are afraid to mess up your painting if it doesn’t pan out. Go ahead and add it. By spraying a light mist of water over questionable addition, the water will keep the area moist long enough for you to decide if you want keep it or not. If you decide to rid the spot of what you just added, the water you have sprayed will make it easier for the paint to be wiped away with a damp towel and removed as if it were never there.

Don’t Be Afraid of Water

Good ol’ H2O can be useful for more than just wiping away your mistakes. Water can be a help with the flow of your paints. Plenty of times you will hear that water breaks down paint and makes it thin. But if done with some moderation, thinning out your paints can be a huge benefit. Some of the best paints you use can sometimes be a little on the thick and unforgiving side when trying to apply paint to areas on your piece. You may find that adding paint to your canvas goes on fluid at first but winds up dryly fading out as you continue with your stroke. Or when you apply it in layers, the layers can become thick and show paintbrush strokes. But by adding a little water, you can get the fluidity that you need to cover the area you wish to paint. However, keep in mind that there are mediums such as glazing medium that can give your paints the ability to flow more easily without breaking down the paint. But without the aid of such mediums water works just fine. With the constant practice of painting you will find out how much water is just right or too much in achieving the consistency of paint you’re looking for.

Flower petals with one coat of yellow. The petals look very flat.
Flower petals with one coat of yellow. The petals look very flat. | Source
Petals begin to form a dimension when layers of color are added to each one and the different tones are applied.
Petals begin to form a dimension when layers of color are added to each one and the different tones are applied. | Source

Layers, Layers, Layers

I didn’t realize how important layering was until I watched video after video and it became evident how it takes your work to another level. Ever notice how when you paint one layer on something it looks flat? It looks boring doesn’t it? You look at it in disgust and wonder why it looks so plain. But by applying more than one coat of paint things begin to look better. And when you apply multiple shades of the same colors a dimension begins to appear. It’s almost like magic when you can begin to see form come to life just by applying more than one coat.

**Side Note:** Adding layers of paint can make things interesting but if dimension is what you're trying to achieve remember to at least incorporate 3 color tones. A dark tone, a mid-tone and a lighter tone. The lightest tone is used to indicate where your light source hits. The mid-tone is the objects actual color and your darkest or shadow tone is to indicate where the light is not hitting. By adding black, blue or gray to your mid-tone color you can get your shadow tone. By adding white to your mid-tone you can achieve your lighter tone.

Just in case you were curious about how the finished product came out. Here it is. I'm still learning but what I have learned, I try to apply as best I can.
Just in case you were curious about how the finished product came out. Here it is. I'm still learning but what I have learned, I try to apply as best I can. | Source

Keeping it in the Family

When wanting to add a lighter tone of a color to an area, you shouldn’t use another color altogether. You should lighten up the color that you are already using by adding white to it, unless of course it is your intention to use another color. For example, If you have an area where you are using cadmium yellow, you shouldn’t use a lemon yellow in order to add a lighter color of yellow. You can either add the lemon yellow to the cadmium yellow or merely add white to the cadmium yellow. This makes quite a difference in your painting and keeps a better harmony in the look of it. Same goes for mixing other colors together. For example, if you are painting a sky, you may use Grey Blue as your base color and wish to darken it with some dark tones. You would use your base color, Grey Blue, and add grey along with purple and maybe another shade of blue. No matter what you do, you should remember to incorporate your base color in the mix in order to keep a good harmony between the colors in your sky. By using a totally different blue, your results may not yield a good composition.

This was the compliment to the single sunflower up above. They were both made for my friend's parents.
This was the compliment to the single sunflower up above. They were both made for my friend's parents. | Source
I'm keepin' it clean.
I'm keepin' it clean. | Source

Clean Up Your Act

Sometimes you just can't help but reach over an already painted area. Fingers, arms and elbows can often wind up all over your canvas. These body parts can be carrying unseen dirt and heaven forbid paint that you don't even know about. Putting your nice finished painting at risk for some good smearing. By placing down napkins or something clean over areas that have dried thoroughly, you can cut down on stray smudges.

You Be You

Out of all the advice that I’ve given, the most important is to just be yourself as an artist. Don’t let anyone tell you that you have to paint like this or that. You paint how you feel most comfortable. Also, don’t feel inadequate for not being able to paint like someone else. It is up to you to find your niche. Whether they had years of training or are naturally gifted at wielding a brush, remember that we are all different and have different ways of doing things. Just as we also learn how to do different techniques at different speeds. By practicing and trying different things you will be fine and eventually find your own style. There may be plenty of things to learn and lots of frustrations along the way but there will also be lots of moments of triumphs mixed in with a great deal of self-satisfaction.

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    • profile image

      Fatima 

      2 months ago

      What a useful read!

      Im really new to acrylic painting and have been going crazy watching all these tutorials and reading blogposts. What suggestions would you give for mini paintings?

      Also, how do you keep the paints on the palette as well as the canvas wet? Mine dry too quickly before i have time to blend them.

      Also, how do you achieve the same colour twice while mixing? For example if ur painting the ocean and run out of paint, how do you know which colours to mix in what ratios to achieve the exact shade as before?

      Thanks so much!

    • profile image

      frances de bruyn 

      3 months ago

      thanks for this handy editorial i relay needed it

    • NiaG profile imageAUTHOR

      NiaG 

      6 months ago from Louisville, KY

      Thanks Lesley, ronnie76 and Martine! I'm glad you all have been able to benefit from what has also helped me. Feel free to tell everyone else what you've learned on your journey as well if you stop by again!

    • profile image

      Leslie Hansley 

      6 months ago

      I have been painting for three months. I use acrylics. These tips were extreme useful to me as a new artist. I thank you very much.

    • profile image

      ronnie76 

      18 months ago

      thanks

    • profile image

      Martine Andersen 

      18 months ago

      These were some great tips. I usually never layer, but I will probably test it now!

    • NiaG profile imageAUTHOR

      NiaG 

      2 years ago from Louisville, KY

      Thanks Nadine. It's taken me a while to figure things out but I'm trying to make use of what I learn and improve upon it.

    • Nadine May profile image

      Nadine May 

      2 years ago from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

      Lovely post on painting a sunflower and how to work with layers.

    • NiaG profile imageAUTHOR

      NiaG 

      2 years ago from Louisville, KY

      Thanks so much purl3agony! I agree with you about sketching. I've tried and tried to just put paint on the canvas and go but it doesn't work for me. I have to sketch as well as outline the sketch. Once I faced that fact the stress of painting has probably 60% fallen away. Perhaps I'll make that a tip as well. :-) Thanks for dropping by and happy painting!

    • purl3agony profile image

      Donna Herron 

      2 years ago from USA

      These are some great tips and your finished painting is beautiful! For me, having a clear plan or sketch of my project before starting always makes me more confident and less stressed.

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