Everything You Need to Know to Start Acrylic Painting, Down to the Last Bristle!

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People who've never used acrylic paint before think it's a tough medium to master. It's anything but. In fact, it's one of the more accessible methods of painting for beginners. Supplies are minimal and the method is easy when you break it down. 

Let me tell you how to get started! 

Assemble Your Materials 

 
You don't need much — but you do want to have it all handy before you uncap those tubes of paint.

Paint

In general, you'll find two different types of acrylic paint: fluid, which is thinner and will drip out of the tube; and heavy body or high viscosity, which has the texture and thickness of soft butter.

If you want to create dreamy landscapes, try out the fluid kind. If you want textured, Van-Gogh-esque creations, go with the heavy-body style.

In terms of colors, it's good to start out basic with tubes of red, blue, yellow, black and white. You can mix any other colors you need with these, from skin tones to the hues in nature scenes .

Brushes

Acrylic brushes are typically longer and sturdier than watercolor brushes, as they are often pressed harder into the work surface. 

To get started, you just need one large and one small round brush, and maybe one large and one small flat brush. That's it!

A Palette

You need a nonstick surface to mix different colors of paint. You can use palette paper, a professional palette or even a porcelain plate. 

A Palette Knife

A palette knife is an inexpensive and invaluable tool for working with acrylic. It will help you mix paint colors in the most efficient way. You can also use the knife to apply acrylic to a surface, for a particularly painterly effect. 

You could, technically, mix colors with your brush. But you may find that paint gets embedded in the brush and ultimately doesn't mix properly. Plus, the vigorous mixing motion can damage bristles. 

A Work Surface

If your end goal is to paint on canvas, canvas paper is a great, inexpensive place to start. Board, wood and bristol board are all good choices, too. 

If you're working on board or canvas, you may find it helpful to set your surface upon an easel, but that's not strictly necessary if you're just starting out.

Water 

Have a cup of water at the ready for cleaning your brush and watering down the paint if needed. If you're using a drinking cup, designate it as a paint-only cup.

Scrap Paper

This is fantastic to have on hand to wipe away excess paint from your brush or test out paint quality. It can be as simple as a sheet of blank printer paper. 

Assemble Your Work Station

Once everything's gathered, take time to prep your work area. Then you'll be able to truly focus on the painting, with no distractions or interruptions

Set Up Your Palette

Regardless of what you want to paint, it can be helpful to have a dab of each primary color plus black and white.

Position each color with plenty of "white space" around it, so you have room to mix and the paint can spread without getting crowded. 

Treat Your Surface

If you're painting on canvas, you'll want to treat your surface before you get started. A coat of gesso will dry quickly and keep your painting archival. Not all surfaces require treating, so check the manufacturer's suggestions. 

Mix Colors

Mix the colors you'd like to use with your palette knife.

Get Painting! 

Adjust the consistency of your paint using a small amount of water on the brush. You can begin to paint free-form, try out a simple method like a monochromatic painting or try a self-portrait as a warmup.

Experiment

From here, you can take your art into your own hands. Try different styles, or different media, including painting with your palette knife!

Acrylic Paint Tips

A few more important things to know. 

Keep Those Colors Covered

Acrylic paint cannot be "revived" once it dries, so if you need to take a break, seal your paint in an airtight container to keep it wet. For a short break, you could simply cover the palette with plastic wrap; for a longer break, you could put the entire palette in an airtight storage container, or use your palette knife to transfer individual colors to airtight containers. 

Let Your Painting Dry Completely 

There's no bigger bummer than creating a masterpiece and then accidentally mashing your thumb into wet paint — and it's easier to make this mistake than you'd think!

Enjoy — That's the Whole Point

You might not be creating masterpieces from the get-go, but with practice, you'll begin to develop skills and confidence. Enjoy the ride.

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Everything You Need to Know to Start Acrylic Painting, Down to the Last Bristle!