Acrylic paints are water-based paints that are preferred by beginners and professionals for their easy setup, quick drying times and pliable nature. They’re made out of colorful pigments that are mixed into acrylic polymer. While it takes time and practice to master the nuances of painting with acrylics, it’s very simple to get together the things that you need and begin experimenting with the artistic process. Here are 10 easy steps to acrylic painting for beginners.
You’ll need quality paint, brushes, a painting surface (like heavy paper or a canvas), an easel to place it on, and as a palette to mix up your paint colors. While you paint, you’ll also need a smock to protect your clothes, paper towels, a cup of water, and soap to clean your brushes.
As you get more sophisticated with your painting technique, you may want to add a few supplies to this list, such as varnish to seal your painting when you finish or various media to achieve different textures. Those are nice but to have, but you definitely don’t need them to get started.
Here’s what you need to know about beginning your acrylic painting journey:
1. Choose your paints. Aim to buy the best paints that you can because they will make a dramatic difference in your finished piece. A typical starter kit will contain a basic set of colors that you can mix to achieve your desired paint colors. Some of these colors—usually standard blue and green—can be highly pigmented, so be sure to use them sparingly to prevent them from overpowering the other colors.
2. Choose your brushes. It’s important to have a variety of paintbrush sizes. Generally, you’ll use larger brushes to paint larger areas and smaller brushes to paint smaller, more detailed areas.
3. Pick a painting surface. You can paint with acrylic paints on a lot of different surfaces. Canvas pads, stretched canvases, linen canvases, Gesso boards or heavy paper are all suitable for acrylic painting. If you decide to go with a canvas, just make sure that it isn’t primed for oil painting. Acrylic paints won’t stick to oily surfaces and will eventually peel off! An easel will hold your painting surface at an angle in front of you, making it easier to paint. Note that acrylics stain fabric once they’ve dried, so consider wearing an old t-shirt or an apron to protect your clothes from the paint.
4. Mix your paints. Using a palette, you can combine your acrylic paints to make any shade that you desire. Ideally, a palette is a flat plastic or waterproof tray with sections to hold the colors that you blend and intend to keep using.
5. Set up your studio. Keep cups or jars of water nearby to clean your brushes after painting. It’s best if you have two—one to clean the brushes and another to dilute the paint and moisten the brushes when you need to. Rags or paper towels are nice to have close by after you rinse your brushes. They also help you fix mistakes and keep your hands clean while you paint.
You’ll want to pay attention to the light in the room that you paint with. Natural light from a window during the day is great, but use a neutral light scope if you must paint when it’s dark.
6. Tint your canvas. Most canvases are primed and ready for paint. You can start painting right away on your white or occasionally black surface. Or you can tint it with a background color that you are planning to use throughout your painting across the entire surface. Pick a color that works well with what you plan to paint. This is a great way to get your creative juices flowing, too.
7. Plan out your painting. Start with something simple to get a feel for how the paints appear—how they layer over each other and what kind of texture you can create on your canvas. Still, life objects, like a vase of flowers, a bowl of fruit, or a simple landscape are simple enough to take on but will still challenge you to learn about the medium in order to progress.
Before you dive right in with the paint, consider your composition—where certain objects will go, like the focal point of your painting. If necessary, lightly sketch out your plan so that you know what goes where.
If you’re needing help in this area, then check out the ‘How to Start a Painting Guide’ in our My Art Adventure eBook. In this guide you will discover 5 recommended steps for generating painting ideas and kicking off your masterpiece.
8. Start painting. Once you’re pleased with your sketch, start by filling out the basic shape of your painting and move on from there. Block out objects from the middle and worry about shadows and details later on. Feel free to evaluate your colors and tweak them as necessary. Use paint sparingly and add on to keep your painting smooth. You can drag out a brushstroke to spread the paint nearby without adding too much texture.
Acrylic paints are water-based, which gives the artist a lot of flexibility while painting. You can thin out acrylic paint with water and clean your brushes with it as you switch colors, but you do not need to wet your brush to begin. Acrylic paints dry quickly, depending on how thick you’ve painted your surface, and they are water-resistant when they dry. Adding water to acrylics can help you achieve a watercolor technique, but unlike with watercolors, you won’t be able to manipulate the paint again once it’s dry. Feel free to mist the paints on your palette with water to keep them moist while you paint.
9. Add the shadows and highlights at the very end of your painting. Making adjustments at this stage help you to guide the direction of your painting and bring it all together.
10. Let it dry! Once it’s dry, you can enjoy your painting. You have the option to seal it with a varnish for additional protection. Otherwise, it’s ready to display. Now that you know what to do, keep having fun and paint something else.
Thanks for reading this article! Now it’s time to put these tips into practice and get to work on that next masterpiece. If you are interested in a one-stop-shop to get all the supplies you need in one go, then check out our set of acrylic paint supplies.