So, you would like to start getting more creative. You do a quick search online and find out that acrylic paint is one of the best media for beginners.
You decide you’re going to give it a try and paint with acrylics. The only thing that is left to do is learn basic techniques, get the necessary equipment, and get to work.
If this sounds like you, then you’re in the right place. I created this article to give anyone getting started with acrylic paint, the tools s/he needs to get started.
Before I start talking about acrylic painting, I’m gonna answer a few questions you might have, to help put your mind at ease about using acrylics painting, and why you should trust my advice etc.
Who am I?
I’m many things. I’m an artist, a teacher, a web developer, and a business owner and a lot more.
I’ll spare you all the details and just focus on the part of me that makes me qualified to give you acrylic painting advice.
From 2014 – 2018, I owned and operated a franchise-like company that ran painting events at local bars and restaurants. You might have heard of this company. It started off as Paint Nite and later became Yaymaker.com.
Below is an image to show you a glimpse of what a paint nite event looks like.
During my time operating this company, one of my duties was to teach/run the events myself.
I ran close to 500 events and taught beginner’s acrylic techniques to more than 10K students. I also created over 200 paintings for Yaymaker. To date, these paintings have been used as painting samples at over 7000 Yaymaker events worldwide, and have sold over 200K tickets.
Below are a few of the paintings I have created for Yaymaker.
In addition to running all of these events and creating all of the paintings, I maintained one of the highest teacher ratings in the country.
I’m not trying to brag ( okay, maybe a little 😉 ), I’m just trying to show you that when it comes to teaching beginners how to paint with acrylics, I really can help.
Why paint with acrylics?
The fast-drying time of acrylic paint is the feature that makes it the most suitable for beginner artists.
Unlike its oil and watercolor counterparts, a layer of acrylic paint (depending on its thickness) can dry in under 5 mins.
This lightning-fast drying time makes it an extremely forgiving medium for new artists to work with. If you make a mistake (bad tree, bad cloud, etc), just wait 5-15mins for the area to dry and simply paint over it.
The fast drying time also means that you can complete gorgeous paintings in no time.
Bob Ross is an American icon who became famous for teaching new artists how to paint beautiful landscapes. In his show Beauty is Everywhere (currently on Netflix), he often created stunning landscape paintings in under 30 mins.
How to paint with acrylics
Now, that I have put your mind at ease with answers to your possible questions, let’s jump into the main event: How to paint with acrylics?
Step 1: Learn the fundamentals of art.
Before you learn how to paint with acrylics, it’s essential that you understand some fundamentals of art.
The three important fundamentals of art I recommend learning/knowing about are:
- The Elements of art
- The principles of design
- Color theory (bonus)
The elements of art
I describe the elements of art as the building blocks of any piece of artwork. Every artwork you have ever seen contains one or more of the 7 elements of art below:
This article is not about the elements of art, so I won’t go into further details. But here are some resources you can read to learn more about the elements of art.
- What Are the Seven Elements of Art? – Definition & Examples
- How the Elements of Art Shape Creativity
- The 7 Elements of Art and Why Knowing Them Is Important
The principles of design
If the elements of art are the building blocks of any work of art, the principles of design help artists figure out how to arrange the building blocks to create masterpieces.
While there seems to be a consensus on what the elements of art (there are 7 of them) are, the line gets blurry when it comes to the principles of design.
Some experts list six principles of design. Some think there are only seven. Others believe there are as many as eight.
Moreover, the names of each of the principles tend to vary depending on who you ask. As a result, I created my own list of 7 principles of design.
I created a pdf that you can download here in case you need it. In the pdf, I explain in my own words what each one of the 7 principles of design is, and what it means to me.
Finally, below are some additional (hopefully) useful articles about the principles of design to help expand your knowledge.
Color theory is a bonus. Once you understand the elements of art and the principles of design, you can start creating beautiful works of art.
In fact, artists who draw, or those who only paint in black and white may never need to learn anything about color theory.
However, this is an article about ‘how to paint with acrylics’, so it’s important to talk about colors. Lucky for you, I recently wrote an article about how to create your own color palette.
This article will give you a basic understanding of color theory, as well as help you create a color palette if you ever need it.
Step 2: Get your acrylic painting materials
You ever see that guy (or girl) at the golf course or the tennis court who has all the latest gear and equipment, yet s/he is the worst golfer or tennis player out there?
Don’t be the guy (or girl).
When it comes to the equipment you will need to get you started, keep it to a minimum.
When I ran the Yaymaker events we often only used two types of brushes to create beautiful landscape paintings.
Get your paintbrushes
To get you started, 5-10 paintbrushes will be more than enough to get the job done.
Below are some of the brushes that I recommend to start.
1-2 Flat Brush(es)
Artists typically use the flat brush to cover large areas or create lines that are meant to be straight(ish).
I’m recommending that you get two because as a beginner it might be challenging to use a larger flat brush (see pic 2) to create smaller lines.
If you would like to challenge yourself, however, buy one brush and practice until you can make thin lines with a larger flat brush.
1-2 Round Brush(es)
As you might expect, round brushes are used to create rounded shapes/edges. You can use round brushes to create objects like moons (I love those), tires, or anything else that is rounded.
I’m also recommending that you get two rounded brushes so you can easily create bigger and smaller objects. Again, if you would like to challenge yourself, by only one of these.
1 Liner Brush
Artists use the liner brush for minute details such as the tapered end of most tree branches.
1 Fan Brush
The fan brush is a bonus. It isn’t necessary, but it can help create unique textures that are hard to create using other brushes. These textures include tree leaves, grass, bushes, etc.
Get your paints
There are many dozen different hues of acrylic paint available on the market.
Once you get comfortable painting with acrylics and you’re ready to experiment with more colors, go to your neighborhood craft store, and go crazy.
Until then, you’ll be able to create beautiful works of art using only the primary colors.
Most of the 200+ paintings I created for Yaymaker, I created them using 5 main colors:
- Mars Black
- Phthalo Blue
- Bright Red
- Chrome Yellow
- Titanium White
These five colors will be enough to get you started on your journey to paint with acrylics.
Finish your set up
Paintbrushes and paints are the two most important things you need to paint with acrylics. The other essential tool you need to paint is your painting surface.
This painting surface could be a canvas, a wood board, or even watercolor paper.
You’ll also need something to help dry your paintbrushes each time you clean them. This could be a towel, an old rag, or a piece of paper towel.
Finally, you’ll need a small container with some water. The water will help you clean your paintbrushes in between two different colors, but it will also help you blend colors.
A simple set up for a painting session could look something like the picture below. Pistachios are a MUST (They’re good for you 😉 ).
Step 3: Learn Fundamental Acrylic Techniques
During the short time I have been alive, I have been fortunate to learn to play basketball, golf, tennis, soccer, & volleyball. I’m good to great at all these sports.
I’ve also been fortunate enough to learn to paint, learn to code, learn to teach. I’d say I’m decent to really good at each of these disciplines.
One thing I have learned by practicing so many different sports and activities is that every discipline has fundamentals. Mastering any discipline requires learning & mastering that discipline’s fundamentals.
Below are what I’d like to call fundamental acrylic techniques. If you can master them (they are not as easy as they seem), you’ll be on your way to creating masterpieces in no time.
The Basic/Ultimate Stroke
I call this the basic/ultimate stroke because this stroke is THE ULTIMATE weapon in painting.
If you want to be good at art, you have to practice and master the basic stroke. Once you master it, you’ll be able to create beautiful trees with razor-thin branches, realistic clouds, and more.
How to create the basic stroke
I created the illustration above a few months ago, to show my students the difference between a good basic stroke and a ‘not-so-good’ one.
The drawing was inspired by a video I saw on youtube by a guy name Wei. The video talks about how to draw better lines.
The artist in the video explains that to make a better line, you have to think of the pencil as an airplane landing on a tarmac.
As your painting tool descends onto the painting surface, always ensure that it lands, and/or leaves the painting surface softly.
A gentle stroke will help you create the thinnest lines, it’ll help you blend better, and it’ll help you be a much better artist.
I created this illustration to expand on that metaphor and show how most novice artists create brush strokes (or pencil strokes) as opposed to how experienced artists do it.
Though Wei explained the metaphor to teach drawing, the metaphor also applies to painting. That is why I used a paintbrush in my illustration.
If you can master the basic/ultimate stroke, all the other techniques you learn will be easier for you to master as well. This includes the other two fundamental techniques we are about to learn, stippling/dabbing and blending.
At my events, I always taught my students that stippling/dabbing were just fancy words for “stabbing the canvas repeatedly” with the paintbrush.
I would always follow this up by telling them that it wasn’t a hard stab like you were trying to kill someone, just a light stab like you were trying to just hurt them a little.
This metaphor would always get a laugh. It was done on purpose. Human memory improve when the events are attached to emotion (anger, sadness, laughter, etc).
Don’t believe me? Think about dabbing right now, and try not to think about stabbing. I’ll wait… 😉
Of course, stippling/dabbing isn’t really stabbing. The technique involves lightly tapping (stabbing ;)) the canvas repeatedly to create textures such as grass in the distance, tree leaves, flowers, bushes, etc.
But by teaching my students using that analogy, I would cement an idea in their mind they could remember for a long time, and they would get a laugh (always a bonus)
Blending, along with the basic brushstroke, are the holy grail of becoming a good/decent artist.
Good blending can take a painting from an amateur looking piece of “abstract” art, into a beautiful sunset/sunrise.
Great blending can turn random white bubbles into beautiful clouds.
What is blending
In short, blending is ‘color mixing’. In the example below, you can see the difference between the beautiful sunset and its under-blended counterpart.
In the sunset painting, the colors are well-mixed (blended) together, which creates smooth transitions between colors and gives the impression of a sunset.
In the ‘abstract’ painting, the colors are not mixed. There are no transitions between colors. This gives the impression of an ununified work of art with beautiful colors (maybe).
Different types of blending in acrylics
I have identified three main ways of blending in acrylics. Check out the image below each kind of blending to have a visual reference for what each type of blending looks like.
- Side-side (Flat) blending
This is the way of blending that most novice artists are familiar with. It is used to blend skies, bodies of water, walls, or other flat surfaces.
I call it flat blending because the line to be blended is flat.
- Circular blending
Artists use circular blending to blend a moon into a sky for example, in the case of cloudy skies.
- Up and down (Jigsaw) blending
You can use up-and-down blending if you wanted to blend grass into a glowing sky, or an uneven river bank.
I have read some artists talk about wet on dry blending, however, I don’t consider that technique to be true blending.
Wet on dry blending involves gradually thinning a paint enough to make it look like two colors are blended. Though it can technically be considered blending, this technique is closer to overlaying a color on top of another.
How to blend
There are two important requirements you must meet in order to be able to blend.
- The two colors to be blended MUST be wet. If either one of the colors is dry, the blending will be unsuccessful.
- Your blending tool (paintbrush, paper towel, sponge, finger) MUST be free of paint at ALL TIMES. Your blending tool could be wet or dry, but it must be paint-free. If your blending tool has any paint on it while you’re attempting to blend, you’ll simply add paint to the painting surface, instead of blending two colors.
I have tried several different analogies to help my students understand the concept of blending.
The analogy that has most successfully helped my students understand the concept of blending is the following.
Look at the picture below. Imagine that the line that separates the dark & light grays is a line you drew with a pencil. In order to blend, think about your blending tool as an eraser (don’t forget the two requirements above) and simply erase the line.
Erasing the line will smooth out the transition between the two colors. That’s BLENDING.
If you ever struggle trying to determine if your blending is good enough, you can always ask yourself this question: Is there a distinct line that separates two colors on my canvas.
If the answer is yes, your colors are not blended enough.
How to practice blending
Blending is the most important, yet most difficult fundamental technique to learn and master.
As a result, I decided to share with you all a great way to practice your blending technique.
To practice your blending, all you will need is a painting surface such a canvas, watercolor paper, or a table ( anything you have permission to paint on 😉 ).
The exercise is simple in theory, but much harder to achieve.
All you’ll need to do is to create 3 different levels of blending for each type of blending:
- A soft, medium, & full blending for the side-to-side blending.
- A soft, medium, & full blending for the circular blending.
- A soft, medium, & full blending for the up-and-down blending.
A soft blending refers to two colors that are lightly mixed. Medium blending results from two colors moderately mixed. Full blending happens when two colors are almost completely mixed.
To be economical for this exercise, you can use only black and white. Refer to the picture below to see what your painting surface should look like once you are done with the exercise.
The kind of blending you will struggle with the most will probably be soft blending.
Most new artists either can’t blend, or blend so much that everything they paint looks too similar.
Mastering the ability to create varying degrees of blending will take your painting skills to the next level.
There you have it, your easy 3-step beginner guide to help you get started with acrylics.
I hope you liked it. If you did, don’t forget to share it on your favorite social media channel(s). This will help me create more content like this.
If you have any feedback or question, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below or contact me.