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Painting Tips for artists how to use use acrylic paint with confidence

Updated on January 26, 2011
"Life" credit: Acrylic by
"Life" credit: Acrylic by

Tips for working with acrylic paint

This is a collection of tips gathered from many sources and my own ideas.


For a mixing palette, paint one side of some glass with white paint. This is easily cleaned, gives a more true color comparison than an off-white or wooden palette and does not absorve moisture.

Despite not absorbing moisture, the paint will still dry quickly on glass, so you can make a stay-wet palette as follows:

  1. Find a flat baking tray or similar flat plastic container.
  2. Layer the bottom with newspaper and wet it.
  3. Put some oven-bake grease-proof paper on top of that, and your paint blobs go on that.
  4. If the plastic container also has a lid, then you can further extend storage time by using the lid.


  1. As long as the support is not oily or contaminated with wax, then acrylics will stick to most surfaces even if they are flexible. But very smooth surfaces should be keyed with a fine sandpaper. ( See my article on sanding ).
  2. High quality household primer/undercoat makes an ideal preparation over canvas, wood, MDF and other absorbant surfaces. Apply two or three thin layers. Find an undercoat with exceptional adhesive qualities.
  3. Investigate the many mediums that you can now get for acrylic paint. Some bulk up the paint and make it textured for impasto, some give a transparent effect, and some are for glazing. Although you can use water for making a glaze, it can weaken the binding while a proper thinner retains the binding properties. You can get an antiquing medium, and a retarder to slow the drying time. A fluid-medium will make it act more like stain, and a fabric medium allows it to be more flexible after painting on something like a T-shirt.. You can use a medium to get a crackled or a marble finish.
  4. All paint is basically glue with pigment suspended in it. So bear in mind that because acrylic binder is a particularly efficient glue, then you can embed other items like foil, paper, cloth, ribbon right into the paint.


  • Wash the cap after removal. Wipe the threads after squeezing. Put a very tiny amount of wax crayon on the threads to prevent the top sticking on.
  • Cut the flat end off an old toothpaste tube, clean it out, and fill with a mixed color. Fold, crimp and glue the open end.
  • A builder might be able to supply some offcuts of aluminum flashing (not the type with bitumen). If you can get some, then you can make your own tubes. Roll it around a stick, crimp one end, fill with paint, crimp the other. Then cut a corner off to squeeze the paint out. Fold over after and crimp again (with pliers).
  • The stay-wet palette described above will keep it for a few days but the paint will eventually absorb too much water.
  • Cling-wrap over the paint inside the stay-wet palette will extend the workable time of the paint.
  • A used fabric-softener spray bottle with a fine-mist option is useful. Mist your palette and canvas, and even in some cases the back of the support to allow wet-in-wet painting. Too mush misting will cause runs.


  • Artist quality paints might be cheaper in the long run if you also use a medium because the pigment is more powerful and will go further. It is also more vibrant.
  • Get a jam-jar with a lid, fill with water and drill holes in the lid to suspend your brush without letting the bristles touch the bottom. Use two identical brushes and alternate between the suspension and painting so the paint never gets a chance to dry hard on the brush. Alternatively, put four thick rubber bands criss-crossed over the opening around the sides and under the bottom. Make sure it's stable, then you can squeeze the brushes between the bands to hold them in place.
  • Use the highest quality brushes that you can find.
  • Paint the edges of a canvas support as well as the face and then you may be able to hang it without a frame. This works more often with abstracts.
  • You can get a scraper from a hardware shop which uses a disposable stiff blade. This is great for cleaning off the glass palette after the paint has dried.
  • Use a canvas drop-sheet on the floor, but also suspend one behind the easel.
  • Lighting comes in various color-temperatures. Ask for a globe/bulb or tube that simulates natural daylight. Fluorescent lights disperse well and you have less shadow.
  • Put a white reflector underneath, and perpendicular to your near-vertical canvas. This will reflect overhead light upwards to fill in any shadow caused by your hand and brush.
  • Acrylics dry darker then they appear when wet, so keep some blotting paper as a test before applying to the canvas. You can accelerate the dry-time with a hair-dryer. Then compare the dry result to what you really desire.
  • Some pigments are very powerful. In most cases, add tiny amounts of darks into a light bulk not the other way around.
  • In general, the biggest brush you can use will give better results. For example, a sweeping under-painting of a background color is more likely to look better with one huge brush stroke than many small ones. Be prepared to choose each brush for the particular job within each area and stage of the painting.
  • You can paint oils over the top of a thin coat of acrylic. The acrylic binder makes a good flexible base for the oil - as long as it is not too thick. The oil layer on oil should be applied fat over lean which means thicker layers on top of the thinner layers not the other way around. For intricate areas, you can use oils, while the rest is acrylic. (Mixed media).


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    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 5 years ago from Arizona

      I love reading about what other artists do with paints and techniques. This is very informative and interesting. Thanks for the article.

    • Manna in the wild profile image

      Manna in the wild 7 years ago from Australia

      You may be on to something there Frank. Thanks for your thoughts.

    • profile image

      frank beifus 7 years ago

      i would agree , ive worked as a comircal painter for over 25 years. i have seen the water based products improve.i still wouldn't use kills or zincer because i see how crappy it preforms on a surface its recommended for,never minde on one its not. yes,i have used 100% acrylic exterior paint as a primer and it seems to work fine .its ment to stand the test of time out in the elaments and it has flexibilty.i think its the people who produce geso that do not want you or i to know this .

    • elayne001 profile image

      Elayne 7 years ago from Rocky Mountains

      Very good tips. I plan to adopt a few of them in my painting.

    • Manna in the wild profile image

      Manna in the wild 7 years ago from Australia

      So sorry - this comment was left in limbo for 6 months! Unfortunately I have not heard of this problem with kilz and zincer primers. I always use a good quality acrylic house paint primer. It provides a flexible quality foundation.

    • profile image

      frank beifus 8 years ago

      i have been led to belive that primers like kilz and zincer primers will rot canvis over time? have you herd this befor?


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