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Tips On Painting With Acrylic Paints

Updated on September 1, 2017
Azure11 profile image

Marian (aka Azure11) has been working as a professional artist since 2006 and has sold over 600 paintings in that time.


About Acrylic Paints

Acrylic paints are used by students and professionals alike and there are many good reasons for this. Although oil paints are looked upon as the preferred professional medium, acrylics can offer a greater versatility that enables paintings to be completed more quickly and using a wide variety of techniques. For professionals who need to produce large quantities of work it is almost impossible to do this with oils because of the drying time required.

I have been working as a professional artist, selling paintings using acrylic paints for over 12 years. I find they are the best medium for getting many different results in my paintings.

Acrylic paints are water based and hence can be mixed with water when they are wet. However, once they are dry they are essentially like plastic and are no longer water soluble so need to be worked reasonably quickly.

It is also near impossible to get acrylic paint out of your clothes once it is dry, or out of brushes, so you need to make sure that you clean everything up very quickly.

Acrylic colours are non-toxic and permanent so are suitable for use by everyone and are long lasting.

You can use acrylic paints for a number of techniques from thick impasto painting with palette knives to thin watercolour-style washes and glazes, with everything in between. You can blend the paints, working quickly, and you can paint layers on each other as the layers will dry quickly.

Abstract Acrylic Painting

This result was achieved using texture underneath plus many layers of blues with a transparent dark blue glaze on top. Painting (c) Azure11, 2010
This result was achieved using texture underneath plus many layers of blues with a transparent dark blue glaze on top. Painting (c) Azure11, 2010

Equipment to Start Painting

In order to start painting with acrylics you do not need much equipment. You can start with a limited number of colours - in fact the best option if you do not have any acrylic paints is to buy a starter set which often has about 8 tubes of the standard colours that will be most useful to you.

You do not need a full array of colours to start with and it is good practice to try to mix your own colours as this will stand you in good stead to create colours that you are asked for in future. The way that I learned about colour mixing is through a book I highly recommend. It gives pages of color swatches and tells you exactly which paint colors to use to achieve that color.

You will also need something to paint on, you can choose the traditional stretched canvas or else a canvas board - both are usually suitably primed for oils and acrylics - or you can use acrylic paper (make sure the paper is specifically for acrylics otherwise the absorbtion will not be correct). There are plenty of other things you can paint on but if you are starting out canvas is probably the best option.

You will also need some brushes. You can buy specific acrylic brushes but to be honest if you are just starting out and really just practising then any cheap brushes will do to experiment with. Yes, they sometimes lose hairs but painting takes practice and much as you might want to create your first masterpiece initially it is a good idea to practice using acrylics so that you get a feel for their properties before diving in and using top quality brushes and ruining them!

You will also need a palette - for which you could use disposable plates - and a water container. Also make sure that you have an old cloth to mop up spillages and something to cover the table or floor that you are working on.

You could also have an easel but this is not necessary to start with as you can easily paint on the table or even the floor!

You can use acrylic paints to produce mixed media and collage paintings. use many layers of paint for different effects.
You can use acrylic paints to produce mixed media and collage paintings. use many layers of paint for different effects. | Source

Using Acrylic Paints

Try using acrylics mixed with water of varying consistency. You can also apply the paint neat either using a brush or a palette knife. Just remember that if you want to blend the paint then you need to work very quickly. You can also buy special mediums that enable the acrylic paint to stay wet for longer so that it makes it easier to blend. 

Try painting layers on top of each other when they are dry. This is the real beauty of acrylics, you can apply a layer and then keep painting on top if it is not exactly what you want and you can do that quite quickly. One of the keys to a professional looking painting is to use many layers. Too many beginners just do a painting with one layer and that is one thing that makes it look amateur. So, start off with a watered down version of the painting you are trying to create and then build on this. Also in this way you can see if the colors you have chosen work for your composition.

If you are creating an abstract painting then one thing you can do is to build various layers of thicker paint and then add a glaze on top. You create a glaze by adding water to the paint so that it is very thin and when you apply it (you can use a brush or a sponge) you can still see the color that was originally below it on the painting. This will give you a kind of 2 tone effect on your painting. Using a darker glaze over a light background works really well. You can even rub some of it off when it is nearly dry to let more of the undercoat show.

  Painting is all about experimenting until you achieve the results that you want so don't be afraid to buy some cheap canvases and brushes/sponges so that you can try things out and then you can always throw them away if it doesn't work out!

Blended Acrylic Painting

Working quickly with sufficient paint produced a nicely blended effect. painting (c) Azure11, 2010
Working quickly with sufficient paint produced a nicely blended effect. painting (c) Azure11, 2010


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    • Azure11 profile imageAUTHOR

      Marian L 

      7 months ago from UK

      Thanks Jason, I have to say I was really happy with how the blue one turned out - I must do another similar one soon! Glad you found the article useful.

    • jbosh1972 profile image


      8 months ago from Indianapolis, IN. USA

      The abstract blue painting I pinned to my board “Art I like”. Having that multilayer depth really makes a difference. I really like your simple approach with this tutorial!!

    • jbosh1972 profile image


      8 years ago from Indianapolis, IN. USA

      I started with craft paints and now I also use airbrush paints. I do strange things with acrylics. I paint them on primed steel and seal them with lacquer.

      Also, you can clean up dried acrylics easily with denatured alcohol,rubbing alcohol,household ammonia,acetone,or lacquer thinner. Whichever one you have on hand at the moment

    • Azure11 profile imageAUTHOR

      Marian L 

      8 years ago from UK

      Thanks blairtracy and good luck with your painting!

    • blairtracy profile image

      Tracy B 

      8 years ago from Canada

      Great tips! I have just recently started painting.

    • Azure11 profile imageAUTHOR

      Marian L 

      8 years ago from UK

      Hi Mary, yes it seems that you can use acrylic paint to paint on almost anything. I'll check it out.

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 

      8 years ago from Florida

      I just did a Hub on decorating luggage using Acrylic paint. Thanks for this info


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