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Even if you have very little painting experience and no artistic talent, acrylic paint is a fun and easy medium to pick up. One of the advantages of acrylic paint is that it takes very little time to learn the basics.
In this article you will learn the absolute basics that you will need to finish your first acrylic painting on canvas.
Necessary supplies for painting with acrylic on canvas
Before you can start, you have to make sure that you have all the correct supplies, because acrylic painting requires more than just some paint. I’ll try to keep it short here, but if you want more in-depth information you can read our article on essential acrylic painting supplies.
- Acrylic paint – Try to go with artist-grade paint instead of student-grade if your budget allows it. These give more vibrant color and don’t fade over time. For more info, read our article on the best acrylic paints.
- Paintbrushes – Brushes can come in all sizes and shapes. Makes sure to have a good variety of different brushes and to include a few round and flat brushes. For more info, read our article on the best acrylic paintbrushes.
- Canvas – You want a canvas that you can paint on right away. So choose one that comes stretched and already has a coating of gesso. for more info, read our article on canvas painting.
- Palette – You will have to mix your paints before applying them on a canvas. A good palette will keep your paints separated and is easy to clean afterwards. For more info, read our article on palettes for acrylic painting.
- Easel – An easel will hold your canvas for you such that you can paint while standing. You can choose from several types, but normally the most basic ones work the best. For more info, read our article on the best art easels.
- Palette knives – Palette knives are great for mixing different colors and moving paints around on your palette. Make sure to buy stainless steel knives because they will last you longer than the plastic ones.
Painting techniques with acrylic
Now with all the necessary supplies to your disposal it’s time to talk about some basic acrylic painting techniques. There are many ways you can use your paintbrushes and sometimes you can even apply the paint directly to the canvas.
Washes are often used in watercolor to give the paper a faint background color. Since acrylic paint is also water-based, you can slightly dilute it to make acrylic washes as well. However, unlike the watercolor version, an acrylic wash is permanent when fully dried.
Be careful not to dilute the paint too much, because it will lose its vibrant color and won’t dry on the canvas properly.
Underpainting is a technique used to judge your composition and find the right values beforehand. Normally a single color is used for the underpainting to emphasize values over colors.
After the underpainting is finished, the real painting is painted right on top of it. So in the end you can’t even notice the underpainting anymore.
If paintbrushes aren’t your thing, you can always pour the paint straight onto the canvas. This is one of the most common methods used to make abstract art.
Obviously this works best if you dilute your acrylic paint a bit or if you use fluid acrylics. While the paint is still wet you can manipulate it by swirling the canvas or using brushes.
Similar to the pouring method, splattering uses very thin acrylic paints to create abstract art. However, rather than pouring large amounts of paint at once, you let small amounts of paint drip from your brush on to the canvas.
You can either hold the brush still or flick it to create different effects. Just make sure to let the paint dry between splatters or else all the colors might start to blend together.
Pointillism uses small dots of paint to create elaborate images and was first popularized in the late 19th century.
This technique is pretty straightforwards but requires a lot of patience and a steady hand to pull off. For the best results, try to use a small and stiff brush for uniform dots.
With the drybrush method you apply the paint directly to your brush without wetting it in water first.
By using a dry brush the hairs of the paint won’t form a perfect tip and your brush strokes will look uneven. This results in a texture that will bring grass, clouds, and other landscape elements to life.
Loading the right amount of paint on your brush can be tricky. So try it out on some scrap paper before you paint on the canvas.
Using a sponge you will be able to create textures that you won’t be able to pull off with a regular brush. You can try to use different sponges to see what effect they will give.
If you work with several layers of paint, you can also blend colors together using the sponge.
The impasto technique uses palette knives to apply a thick layer of paint directly on the canvas.
If you use enough paint you will be able to create a three-dimension effect that looks amazing when done right.
For the best results, either use some heavy body acrylic or try to thicken your acrylics using a gel medium.
Sgraffito comes from the Italian word “to scratch”.
To pull of this technique you first have to paint a base layer. Once this layer if fully dried you apply a second layer on top using a different color.
While the second layer is still wet you can than scratch of parts of the second layer (for example with the back of a brush or a palette knife) to expose the layer underneath.
Scumbling is very similar to the sgraffito technique mentioned above.
However, for scumbling you want both layers to dry first and then use a dry brush to slowly remove the top layer such that the bottom layer can shine through.
This technique is great for creating clouds and smoke.
Easy acrylic painting ideas
Inspiration has always been a bottleneck for artists. You have probably heard of the infamous writers-block. Beginners and professional painters alike have the same problem of not knowing what to work on.
If you are just starting out, it’s best to start with some easy and simple paintings of basic objects right in front of you. Don’t feel like you need to paint everything from your imagination. Even the best artists regularly use references to help them.
Here is a list of easy acrylic painting ideas to get you started:
- Bowl of fruit
- Vase with flowers
- Sunset at the beach
- Mountain landscape
- Palm or pine trees
- Your favorite spot in the park
Frequently Asked Questions
Is acrylic painting easy?
Amongst all the different art mediums I have tried, acrylic paint is definitely one of the easiest to learn. Of course, becoming a true master will take many years, but most people can pick up the basics with just a few hours of practice.
Taking art classes and having someone that can show you in person how it’s done is preferable, but even with the help of some books and videos you can learn most of it at home all by yourself.
How do you dilute acrylic paint?
Acrylic paint is water-based. This means you can dilute it by simple adding in a splash of water. But try not to add too much water because the colors will start to look dull.
How do I thicken acrylic paint?
For some techniques such as Impasto you want to thicken your paint before applying it. This can be done by mixing a gel or paste into the paint. One example is the gel medium by Handy Art, which you can find on Amazon by clicking here.
Which is easier oil or acrylic painting?
Acrylic and oil paints are pretty similar when it comes down to the techniques that are used. So in terms of difficulty they are pretty similar. However, there are 3 main factors that most people look at when deciding between oil and acrylic paint.
First of all, acrylic paint dries within an hour while oils can stay wet for several days. This means that with acrylics you have much less time to mix colors, paint everything, and clean your brushes.
Secondly, acrylic paints are water-based and therefore easy to clean. However, thinners such as turpentine or white spirit are necessary to dilute the paint or clean it from your brushes. These chemicals release toxic fumes which makes oil paint less suitable for people in confined spaces or when children are present.
Lastly, the price of acrylic painting supplies is just much lower than for oil paint.
Is acrylic painting easier than watercolor?
As you probably guessed acrylic painting and watercolor painting are completely different. And among the two watercolor normally considered to be the more difficult one.
The main reason is that the paint is more difficult to control because it is so thin and spreads easily. Moreover, watercolors aren’t very forgiving since you won’t be able to go over a dark color with any colors that is lighter.
This means that mistakes can be impossible to correct and you will have to plan ahead where you want your light and dark colors to go. With acrylics you can simply paint over any mistakes because the paint is more opaque.
Do you need to prime canvas for acrylic paint?
If you buy canvas that isn’t primed already you will have to do it yourself. This can be a pretty tedious process. That’s why I normally recommend people to only buy canvases that are already primed with gesso.
Can acrylic paint be used on wood?
Yes, you can use acrylic paint on wood. But before you start you will have to prepare your piece of wood by sanding it down and applying a primer to make sure the acrylic paint will stick. An example of a primer for wood can be found on amazon by clicking here.