A Beginners Guide to Acrylic Painting

What kind of artist are you going to be? Do you see yourself painting translucent washes of color on creamy smooth paper, or are you standing at an easel boldly applying juicy globs of paint to a canvas? The chameleon-like nature of acrylic paint allows an artist to do just about anything when it comes to painting styles.

These differing styles use the same tubes of paint, but require different brushes, mediums and paint supports. Decide what to try out first, so you are not overwhelmed with outfitting two different paint boxes.


You will be using the same paint whether you are painting in a watercolor or an oil painting style, so you need not worry if you change technique mid-stream. Always buy the best paint you can afford, start with only the basic and learn to formulate your own hues from those primary colors. It will be less costly when you buy fewer tubes.

Your skill as an artist will grow, as you understand how to create colors from your limited palette. As you expand your knowledge, add colors as the budget allows. Remind friends and relatives that gifts of paints may garner them original works of art in reciprocity.

The watercolorist requires little else. A jar of mastic may be in order for preserving whites, a couple of containers for water, paper towels and a palette.

The student learning to paint in the traditional oil method may need a couple of mediums. Perhaps a thickener if he wishes to build up paint in an impasto fashion and a retardant if the paint dries too quickly. A palette knife is necessary and small tubs for water, a palette and paper toweling.

A palette need not be expensive. Clean Styrofoam meat trays can be used, which are convenient and disposable. Some artists use an old china platter or an enamel butchers tray.

Which Brushes Are Right

Brushes are tools on which you should not skimp. They are very personal, and only with experimenting will you find just the right fit. To begin, you should have a small selection of brushes.

If you will be painting in a manner of the oil painter, you need to get brushes suitable for that technique. Synthetic brushes are perfect for use with acrylics. They need to have some rigidity, but not the stiffness of the bristle brushes. You will need flats and rounds from approximately one inch down to one-quarter inch, and a few smaller rounds for detail work.

Do not go overboard and buy too many. They are not sized like a socket set – one brush can be used for many things.

If you will be painting in the watercolor technique, you will choose the softer watercolor brushes, available in both synthetic and hair fibers.
For watercolor, you will need the same basic shapes as in oil, but since these are far softer, they hold more water. You may also add a fan and a rigger as you progress in your skill.

Whichever style you decide to tackle, it must be stressed that you keep your brushes sparkling clean when using acrylic.

Dry acrylic is not soluble, so when it dries it is permanent. That means if you walk away even for a few minutes, you may end up with a very expensive plant stake instead of a useful paintbrush.

Always leave your brushes in water if you take a break, or clean properly before leaving your studio.

What Kind Of Support

The support is the surface upon which you paint. In the watercolorist’s world, that is paper in various textures and thicknesses. For the oil painter, there are several historic choices, but for the beginning artist we will talk about canvas and canvas board.

Watercolor paper is very thick so that it will not buckle. It must be stretched and temporarily mounted to a hard underlayment.

If the student decides he wants to purchase sheets of paper, he should learn how properly to stretch it before painting.

The alternative is buying pre-mounted blocks of paper. These are easy to use, and may well be suited for the beginner. There are several types of paper with varying textures. The average beginner frequently uses cold press paper, which has a medium texture.

Painting in the traditional oil mode will require a canvas. An artist can purchase pre-mounted canvases in many shapes and styles. They are not cheap. Unlike watercolor paper, if the painting is not a success, it can simply be painted over.

Generally, the student painter will purchase canvas boards. These are inexpensive, available in various sizes, and are easily portable. They are fabricated by adhering canvas to a sheet of heavy cardboard. They are not archival, so they should not be considered for permanence.

Acrylic painting is a real joy and so much less muss and fuss than the traditional oil painting. This medium has been accepted mainstream and is as variable as the artists muse. It is a very good choice for the person learning to paint as it is versatile, economical and readily available.

It is also a great start for a very young artist as it is far less toxic than oil paint and much easier to clean.

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