Acrylic Painting Tips and Techniques – Beginner to Advanced Painters
|June 10, 2011||Posted by Jacob Devies under Acrylic Painting|
Acrylic or polymer paints are the most important innovation in artistic materials since Jan van Eyck invented oil paints. Attributes such as their quick-drying and non-toxic properties have made acrylic paints the preferred medium, replacing oil paints in many studios. Acrylic paints are made of emulsions of pigments, water, and clear, non-yellowing resins – they dry quickly, without changing color, and do not harden with time.
Developed in the mid-twentieth century, our knowledge of their ultimate value in fine arts painting is somewhat limited because we don’t have the conclusive evidence regarding permanence which can only be documented over time. However, after five decades of use, they have lived up to their technical expectations and no technical faults have developed in works created with acrylics. Restoration efforts, however, in the coming centuries may be difficult because an effective way of varnishing acrylics paintings with a removable clear film has yet to be developed.
Acrylic paints are the chameleons – straight from the tube, acrylics can look like oils; thinned with water, they are used like traditional watercolors. Painting in the twentieth century and into this new millennium consist of a wide variety of schools and techniques from experimental to traditional – making acrylics a versatile paint for multiple uses.
Improve Your Acrylic Painting with Terry Harrison
Tube Color: When thinned with water, paint will dry to a semi-gloss finish, depending on the amount of thinning and the absorbency of the ground. For uniformity of the finish, use a medium for mixing instead – available in matte or gloss finishes. For special effects imitating the effect of oil colors, such a the impasto technique, the use of gel medium is recommended.
Watercolor: Thin paint with water and use watercolor painting techniques such as wet-on-wet. A close approximation of watercolor but acrylics cannot match the brilliance of watercolor pigments.
Gouache & Casein: Closely matched by using straight tube colors.
Tempera: Use diluted colors on panels primed with real gesso.
Painting with Acrylics
Arnold Lowrey presents a lively, inspirational introduction to acrylics which illustrates the versatility and beauty of this wonderful medium. Acrylic paint is easy to use, it dries quickly and many different effects can be created from washes and glazes to exciting textural finishes. It is an ideal medium for anyone starting to paint, but it also offers challenges to the more experienced artist because of its quick drying properties and versatility. Watercolor and oil painting techniques can be used, either on their own, or combined to create paintings full of depth, mood and atmosphere, and there is the added benefit that the paints are water-soluble.
Using over 100 step-by-step photographs in a sequence of simple demonstrations, Arnold shows how to paint landscapes, seascapes and buildings, and he also illustrates how to change daylight into night and sunlight into mist using transparent glazing effects. With his help you can create sparkling pictures full of life, atmosphere and depth.
Although one of the safest of painting media, acrylic and polymer paints should always be used in well-ventilated areas. Acrylic paints dry through the evaporation of water which carries some of the polymers with it. Ever noticed that peculiar odor that acrylic paints omit while they’re drying? That’s polymer that has evaporated into the air with the water – work in well-ventilated areas only.
Overthinning is a term that many painters associate with oils but it’s also possible to overthin your acrylic paints by using too much water.
The water thins the acrylic color by diluting the acrylic binder but if too much water is used there will be insufficient binder remaining to bind the pigment. You know that you’ve use to much water if specks of pigment appear to be “floating” in your diluted paint. The paint will coat unevenly, lack a vibrant color, and its dull finish will be susceptible to scuffing and damage when dry.
The solution is simple – use acrylic medium, available in matte, gloss, and specialty types, when mixing your acrylic paints. Medium is specially designed to dilute the pigment but ensure that the pigment and binder are held together.
Keeping Watercolors and Acrylics Moist While Painting
- Place a dampened paper towel over your palette and use this area for undiluted paints, straight from the tube or jar.
- Re-moisten the paper towel and you paints with a mist of water.
- Taking a break? Place a dampened paper towel over your palette.
Canvas is a support or painting ground for oil and acrylic painting made of flax or cotton. Linen is the favored type of canvas – made from flax it is strong and durable, Cotton duck, while less expensive, is more absorbent and less receptive to size such as gesso. The canvas is stretched on a stretcher bar frame and primed with sizing or gesso in preparation of painting.
Beginner painters often question whether it is necessary to prime canvas before painting. If you paint directly on it with oil paint, the oil will eventually destroy the fibers of the fabric and the painting will deteriorate. When you prepare the canvas with hide glue or gesso the fabric is insulated from the paint. Additionally, the whiteness of the canvas means that it will reflect as much light as possible. By applying several layers of gesso, and sanding between applications, will produce a smooth surface for detailed or high-realism work.
Brush Techniques for Acrylic Painting
Learn how to use brush stroke techniques to paint with acrylics in this video art lesson.
Choosing Acrylic Brushes
The most important factor in brush selection for acrylic painting is what type of painting you plan to do:
- Sable: Use for watercolor techniques or any work with thin, diluted paint.
- Hog Hair: Use for “oil techniques” when you’ll be using thicker paint and want your brushstrokes to be apparent.
- Synthetics: These are the most popular types of brushes for acrylic painting – mainly because they are less expensive than natural-hair brushes. Buy an assortment of styles and sizes.
Try some of these simple tips to prolong the life of your brushes.
White Paint Brushes
Mark one good brush (e.g., with white tape) for use with white paint only. You will always have clean, white strokes. Never use this brush for any other color.
Washing Brushes Used for Acrylic Painting
Dip brush in alcohol after removing any excess paint with a rag. Dip and swish around in mild soap and water. Dip for a few minutes into white vinegar. Wash thoroughly in water. Shape with fingers when wet-dry and store upright in a glass or similar container.
Drying Brushes Quickly
Clean, dry brushes are needed for a number of techniques such as color blending, glazing and other wet-painting techniques. This quick drying tip works regardless of the medium you’re using.
Clean the color out of the brush with several rinsings in turpentine or mineral spirits – or water if you’re using a watermedia.
Dip brush into a container of acetone, rinse well and wipe with a cloth. Acetone removes all traces of turps and dries almost instantly. Caution should be taken when using acetone in your studio – the vapors are highly flammable.
This tip will give you a relatively clean and, more importantly, a dry brush so that you can continue painting. It does not substitute for a thorough cleaning. Wash your brushes thoroughly after your painting session.
Acrylic Secrets: 300 Tips and Techniques for Painting the Easy Way
Aimed at all painters, from beginners to the more experienced, this book is packed with expert advice on all aspects of acrylic painting. Discover how to set up a studio space and use household materials to save money. Beginners can follow processes step-by-step, while more experienced artists can dip in and out for help with specific problems. “Try it” and “fix it” panels placed throughout the book suggest ways of practicing and developing new skills, and avoiding or correcting common painting errors. Includes ten projects designed to help readers practice the skills they’ve learned.
Learn how to:
- Achieve clarity, contrast, and depth by determining color characteristics
- Create subtle and dramatic effects by mixing acrylics with various media and additives
- Pick the right paints, brushes, and equipment to suit your project
- Shop for cheap alternative products that still perform at high quality
- Choose a proper subject and make that subject look their best
Using Polymer Mediums & Acrylics
Two types of polymer mediums are available: regular and matte. The regular or gloss type is identical to the vehicle used in acrylic colors. It is added to the color to maintain strength and uniform gloss when the paint is thinned with water.
The matte type is used to produce a duller finish and is best used as a final protective coating when a reduced gloss effect is desired. Mixing your paint with the matte type and using for underpainting can result in spotty areas on the surface of your painting. This spottiness cannot be evened out by either a gloss or matte medium overpainting.
Storing Leftover Paint
If you have a quantity of paint on your palette after a painting session, you’re probably reluctant to trash any remaining paint – art materials are just too expensive. This quick and simple remedy is also great if you’re afraid of matching a color you’ve mixed in your next session.
- Cover the palette with plastic wrap and in the freezer. Watercolors, acrylics, and oils will keep indefinitely.
- Simply thaw for about 1/2 hour to an hour before your next painting session.
Preventing Mold in Paint Jars
Prevent mold from forming in jars of watercolor and acrylic paints by:
- Mold is caused by bacteria activity – the most common cause is pouring unused paint back into the jar.
- The culprit is bacteria in the water you’ve used. Switch to distilled water or boil tap water before use to kill bacteria.
- A few drops of denatured alcohol added to the to the paint jar will help prevent bacterial activity.
- Jars should be tightly sealed when not in use.
Acrylic Landscape Painting: Tools & Techniques with Hugh Greer
Get a great start in acrylic landscape painting with award winning artist Hugh Greer. The beginning level acrylic painting lessons in instructional video, Acrylic Landscape Painting: Tools and Techniques, will get you excited to take your acrylic painting to the next level! Learn Hugh Greer’s acrylic painting style and the techniques and tools he uses in his landscape painting.
Hugh Greer demonstrates the flexibility of acrylics as both an opaque and a transparent medium. He covers a variety of tools, presents a versatile money-saving limited palette, simple color mixing tips, creating lively blacks and demonstrates several basic landscape images that will get you off to an enthusiastic start. This is the first of three acrylic painting videos with Hugh Greer. Also see the intermediate level acrylic painting DVD, Landscape Studies in Acrylic, and the advanced acrylic painting video Create Mood & Atmosphere with Color & Value. Hugh Greer’s book, Acrylic Landscape Painting Techniques is an excellent companion to the videos.
Acrylic Painting Tip: The No-Risk Method for Testing Your Ideas Mid-Painting
In this video, Hugh Greer demonstrates a simple way to test out new ideas mid-painting, without the risk of ruining what you’ve painted so far. And guess what – all it takes is a clear piece of plastic Mylar.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. Can I mix oil paint and acrylic paint together?
Q. Can I paint oil paints over acrylic paints?
A. Yes, but not the other way round.
Q. What can I do if I forget to wash my brushes after use and they get hard?
A. It may be possible to clean hardened brushes using a brush cleaner but this can damage your brushes. So make it a habit to wash them with soap and water when you finish.
Q. Can I use a palette knife with acrylic paints?
A. Yes, in the same way as with oil paints.
Q. Can I mix one brand of acrylic paints paints with another?
A. Yes, but it is better to stick to one brand as shades can differ between brands.
Q. Is it possible to slow the drying process ?
A. Yes, there is an acrylic retarder you can purchase which will slow down the drying process.
Q. Can I use acrylic paints as watercolors?
A. Yes, just use extra water in the same way as you would when mixing watercolors.
Q. When dry, can acrylic paint be removed?
A. The quick answer is no, but you can paint over it
Q. What can I paint acrylic paint on?
A. This is where acrylic paint shines! You can use stretched canvas, canvas boards, paper, copper, glass, leather, parchment, marble and slate. Just about any surface that is grease and dust free.
Acrylic Painting Books
Acrylic Paint School: A Practical Guide to Painting with Acrylic by Hazel Harrison
A step-by-step introduction to painting with acrylic, Acrylic School is a complete at-home course. 300 color photos.
Acrylic Painter’s Book of Styles & Techniques by Rachel R. Ward
The works and techniques of seven master artists show the different methods for using acrylics to portray everything from still lifes to outdoor scenes to expressive abstracts.
Acrylic Painting Techniques: How to Master the Medium of Our Age by Stephen Quiller
Explores the full range of what painters can achieve with these durable, inexpensive, easy-to-use, fast-drying paints. Advice on the most up-to-date materials, various paints and mediums, brushes, palettes, and painting surfaces.
Acrylics, Learn to Paint Series by Parramon’s Editorial Team
Instructions on tools, color mixing, and the many different techniques to achieve both stylized and realistic effects with acrylics with specific examples of finished work including a seascape, a landscape, and a nude.
Creative Acrylic Painting Techniques, Creative Techniques Series by Eaglemoss Editors
Step-by-step instructions which illustrate basic and advanced techniques of acrylic painting. Additional tips and techniques are demonstrated in the paintings of various artists.
Introduction to Acrylics by Dorling Kindersley Staff
Fundamental techniques are shown through twelve projects that explore the methods of the great masters. Each painting is broken down in step-by-step color photos that show every stage of its creation.
Painting Acrylics, First Steps Series by Vicki Lord
Introduces acrylics with simple and effective features, like “Composition Dos and Don’ts.”
How to Paint with Acrylic Paint: Sunset Painting Tips
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