Top Ten Acrylic Painting Techniques

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Acrylic paint is so versatile and there are hundreds of techniques to learn.

Some tips are those that a watercolorist may use. Others derive from the oil painter’s bag of tricks.

That diversity is what draws so many artists to add acrylic paint to their tabouret.


In this technique, you allow the layer of paint to dry before painting over it. This is suited for transparent colors, or colors that have been watered down sufficiently for an opaque color to become transparent. This allows for subtle gradations of color or color changes.


Acrylic is great for building up the thickness of paint, as it dries so quickly. Paint should be built up only approximately ¼-inch at a time to allow the paint layers to dry properly. A thickening agent can be added to the paint so it goes on in a substantial layer easily.


This is more commonly known as scraping. It is the opposite of the impasto technique, but is often used in combination with it. There are two basic theories in this technique. Scraping away to expose earlier paint layers, and scraping to build up paint adjacent to the scrape.

In the first sample, an underpainting is completed, and allowed to dry. Then paint is applied in a heavier fashion. While this layer is still pliable, it is scraped away, exposing the underpainting. An example of this may be the veins of a leaf.

In the second sample, paint is applied and immediately scraped to cause thicker and thinner areas. An example of that could be heavily textured bark on a close-up view of a tree.


Adding enough water to the paint allows it to be poured directly on the painting surface. Positioning the support at different angles will allow the paint to travel in different directions. Have multiple containers of paint ready if the paint is to be mixed while it is still free flowing on the support.


Prepare paint in a liquid form. Using a toothbrush, dip the bristles into the paint, shake off excess and tap against a brush handle towards the painting surface. A fingernail, knife blade or old credit card can also be scraped against the bristles. This random splatter is fairly small and confined. If space is available, splattering with a paintbrush is also possible. Care should be taken that the surrounding area is protected from overspray.

Wet In Wet

This technique is pretty much just what it says. You are applying and blending paints directly on the painting surface.

If you are working with your acrylic in the oil painting method, this allows you to blend colors to achieve soft edges, or a gentle gradation of color. You do not have a lot of time to do this, as acrylic paints dry quite rapidly. If additional drying time is needed, extenders can be added to the paint so that it stays moist for a longer time.

Using this as a watercolor technique, wet the paper with clean water. Then apply colors to the surface and let them blend with the water and with each other. Adding more paint and more water may be necessary to achieve the desired effect. Use a spray bottle to wet easily a large area uniformly.


This also is called dry-brush. The brush is not loaded with paint, and the small amount of color coming off the brush catches on the texture of the paint surface. Therefore, it is most effective when working with canvas, or as a top layer in a painting composed of a number of layers where texture has developed.


Thin paint with water to ink-like consistency and use much the same as watercolor pigment. Using acrylic paint as a watercolor medium has a few limitations. Unlike watercolor, when acrylic paint dries, it is not removable. In watercolor, there are some colors that can be lightened significantly and others almost completely. Acrylic paint is not water-soluble after it dries, so thought should be given to color placement. However, it can be painted over with additional layers.


Some paintings or subjects in a painting have a color mood. For example, the general coloration of a winter landscape would have a blue cast. Underpainting the area in shades of blue will give a subtle blue tint to the finished painting, even though other paints may have mostly obliterated the blue. This can be done with flesh colors or any other areas of local color where intensity would benefit with the use of underpainting.


Additives such as sand or other inorganic material can enhance the texture of the paint. Make sure that the material selected will not act adversely with the paint. Bits of iron shavings would be a very poor choice as rust could bleed into the paint. Organic material like straw would decompose. No one wants a stinky painting in his or her portfolio. That includes both quality and aroma!

One of the wonderful things about painting is that it is a never-ending quest. There are always new tips and tricks to try. Trying new products and techniques is part of the lifelong learning of the artist. In that respect, we are all forever art students.

One thought on “Top Ten Acrylic Painting Techniques

  1. Thank you so much for explaining the most important acrylic techniques. Some of them I didn’t know. Could I ask you if “blending” with acrylics is also a technique? I use it very often and the results are great. The paintings look very similar to pastels.
    happy painting!

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