Learn To Paint With Acrylics

As an artist, you are given the freedom to choose the medium you wish to paint with. Some of the popular choices are oil paints, watercolors, and acrylics–with the latter being the most favorable for beginners. This water-based medium is easy-to-use and quick to clean up, plus it’s also free from harsh chemicals unlike oil painting. 

The beautiful thing about acrylic as a medium is its versatility. As you learn to paint and uncover new techniques and styles, you will discover that you can actually mimic the qualities of oil paint and watercolor. With acrylics, you can experiment and develop a good understanding of the art of painting while staying within a budget. 

If you’re looking to venture into painting with acrylics, this guide will help you get started. Here’s also a comprehensive course to teach how to paint with acrylics.

Materials Needed For Acrylic Painting

To get started, you’ll need to pick up a few materials at the art store. Remember, you’ll want the best quality your budget will allow you to buy, so do prior research on the most notable brands and choose wisely.

Here are the essentials you need to learn to paint with acrylics:

Acrylic paint, of course

There are two types of acrylic paint: students’ quality and artists’ quality. While the former may be cheaper, it’s well worth your money to purchase the kind of paint professionals would opt for. If you were to put these two side by side, you’ll be able to tell the difference right off the bat. Artists’ quality paints are more pigmented and vibrant compared to students’ quality. You’ll also notice that there are more colors in artists’ quality. However, as a beginner in acrylic painting, you can just start with the basics: the primary colors (yellow, red, blue), black, and white. Although this a very limited range of colors, you can experiment and mix these together to create new shades. Pre-made sets are also available if you don’t want to purchase single tubes.

Another thing to consider is the consistency of your paint. The fluid type of acrylic is a great choice for dream-like art. For “heavier” and more textured creations, the heavy-body type is recommended. 

Take note that acrylic paint dries very quickly so proper use and storage is important. Always seal the containers tightly and do not overexpose the paint if you don’t plan on using it.

Different kinds of brushes

No need to purchase a huge set of brushes when you’re just starting out. A good selection would be a large and small round brush, as well as a large and small flat brush. It’s entirely up to you if you prefer more sizes, but the following are already sufficient for a beginner in acrylic painting. As for the material, nylon is your best bet.

A palette

You’ll need a palette you can mix your paint on. While you can use any waterproof, flat surface like a plastic cutting board or even an aluminum pan, there are plastic palettes available in the market that are specially designed for acrylic paint. Some types also have ‘covers’ or lids to avoid the paint from drying. 

A good, but optional material you can also purchase is a palette knife. This will help you mix paint colors properly without having to use your brushes and potentially damaging them. You can also use the knife for special painting techniques.

A surface to paint on

There are a variety of surfaces you can paint acrylics on. In fact, you can paint on anything so long as the surface is stable and not water-absorbent nor greasy/oily. These include canvas, canvas paper, hardboard, wood, and even heavy watercolor paper. If you’re on a budget, the canvas paper is your best choice. 

Should you decide to use a canvas or board, you might also want to consider buying an easel. A simple tabletop kind would do. This will help support and incline your surface at a comfortable angle, making the painting process a lot easier.


Obviously, you don’t have to buy this at the store, but you’ll need water in plastic containers or cups. You can prepare two– one for cleaning brushes and the other for diluting paint. Make it a habit to change the water often to prevent your palettes from getting dirty.

Paper towels

Have some paper towels ready when you “wash” your brushes in between colors and need to pat or wipe off any excess water from your paintbrush. These will also come in handy in the event that you make a mistake or your hands get messy.

Once you’ve gathered your materials, you can start creating your first masterpiece!

Step by step guide in learning to paint with acrylics

Here’s a step-by-step guide in beginning to paint with acrylics.

1. Prepare your painting area.

Before you start your painting, it’s important to find a spot that can accommodate your much-needed space. Look for a room that has good lighting—natural light is best. But if you don’t have tall windows, artificial light with a neutral light scope will do.

Also, look for a spot where you can move around, lay your painting materials, and set up your easel. Then, proceed to prepare your materials, such as putting the canvas onto the easel, placing a rag or paper towel near your palette, having a water spray or cup near you, and placing your brushes onto a cup. All these must be strategically placed where you can reach them easily.

2. Practice with your materials first.

Before beginning to paint, you should familiarize yourself first as to how your materials work. This is especially important if it’s your first time using them. So take the time to understand how each brush differs from others, how quickly the paint dries up, and feel how it applies onto the canvas.

This is also the right time to explore how to dilute the acrylics with water and use the extenders to alter their consistency.

Here are some beginner-friendly exercises you can do:

  • Swatch all colors onto the canvas with your brush and study their opacity and how quickly they dry.
  • Dilute the paint with some water and try swatching them again. Study how much water is necessary to get the colors and opacity you may want.
  • Try painting a gradient of colors to know how colors transition when mixed. You can do two-tone with black and white, red and blue, and so on.

3. Try painting with easy subjects.

This is another practice phase to warm you before painting your first project. Painting with a portrait in mind may be challenging for a newbie. So to keep things safe, you may start with simple subjects before proceeding to more complex ones.

Here are some easy subjects—good enough to warm you up:

  • Simple landscape
  • Pot of plant
  • The seaside
  • Beach hut
  • A bunch of flowers
  • Your bedroom

4. Conceptualize and make a sketch of your painting.

In painting, this is the step where you plan and outline your subject. This is a critical phase because you want to ensure you’re going to end up with the exact picture you envisioned. 

Lots of painters draw a rough sketch on the canvas with a light pencil or charcoal. This is to keep your painting contained in the right places. You may use the rule of thirds to precisely place your subject’s focal point.

5. Begin the acrylic painting.

Now that you have your layout, you may now give it life with your acrylic paint. 

Here are some general rules to follow for acrylic application:

  • Begin with large portions with the mid to light tones and progress to adding darker tones for depth. Then, top it off with the highlights.
  • Also, start with creating bigger shapes then moving on to the smaller details later. This makes it easy to refine the details in your painting.
  • Mix colors onto your palette to avoid the wrong choice of colors. This is to ensure that you get the right color upon application onto the canvas.

6. Let it dry on its own.

Acrylic paints dry up quickly. You can leave your finished painting to dry on its own since they preserve well on their own. If you want your painting to have a longer life, you can top it off with an acrylic-approved varnish. This topper will add a shiny finish to your painting which protects it from dust transfer, scratches, and flaking.

Additional tips to learn to paint with acrylics

Painting as a beginner, you can never have enough tips to learn to paint with acrylics. To help you have a successful attempt in acrylic painting, here are some more information to guide you:

  • Thin down acrylic paint with water—no need to use thinner. You can also use water to wash your used brushes.
  • Don’t mix acrylic paint with oil-based paints—they don’t mix.
  • You can use acrylics with a watercolor. However, you can’t reactivate paint once it’s dry.
  • Find yourself a reference from the Internet. This is the easiest way to find inspiration.
  • Choose synthetic brushes over other softer brushes. Acrylics work better with synthetic and bristle brushes.
  • Work with a thin brush with long bristles in adding the small details.
  • Don’t scrimp on the paint. Use the right amount of paint to avoid thinning out of color in the long run.
  • Develop a quick application process. Acrylics dry fast, so you need to learn to paint quickly before it dries up.
  • Use different application methods in painting. You can use your fingers to blend color smoothly, mix colors, and use foreign objects.
  • Add contrast by using warm and cold shades. Contrasts make your painting more realistic, so use them quite often.
  • Collect different types of brushes. You’ll have a hard time achieving the desired results if you only keep a few brushes.
  •  Clean brushes after use for longer shelf life. Brushes can be pretty expensive, especially if you’ll change often, so take good care of them by cleaning them regularly.
  • Use water mist to extend drying time. Since acrylics dry fast, you can extend their drying time by misting the paint you just applied to your palette.
  • Use your palette when mixing colors. The best place to mix and experiment with color combinations is the palette. This also prevents you from messing up your painting with the wrong colors.
  • Consider the colors that darken once dry. There are specific colors that deepen once they hit the canvas or they dry out. To avoid unintentional color change, you may swatch colors first onto a scrap canvas before using them in your painting.
  • Pause and take a look at your painting. Every once in a while, you should step back and see your painting. This reminds you of your perspective, which also helps you see the minor details that need improvement.

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