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Acrylic Basics for Beginners!

If you're at all like me, you might need these tips to help reduce the frustration of learning to use this medium!


You might be asking yourself, what are acrylics exactly? And that's a great question to ask! I found it important to know the composition of this paint, to really be able to tackle its challenges and quirks! Acrylic paint is made up of pigment and a polymer emulsion. (Think plastic molecules floating in a liquid.) The polymer emulsion is the paint's binder and when dried, results in a smooth and durable finish.The trick is acrylics dry really fast! It can make color mixing more difficult and of course, painting!

However you can do a few different things to work around it:

  • Use additives like Acrylic Flow Release or Wetting Agent (this helps with the surface tension of the water in the paint's emulsion) and Fluid Retarder (slows your paints drying time), both of which you can purchase at any art supply store. Each has its own properties and proper dilution - be sure to read your bottles!

  • Add some water with your brush to aid in the flow of the paint but not too much! You can use up to about 30% water to paint.

  • Keep a fine misting spray bottle handy to mist your palette and painting surface to keep them moist and workable.

The key thing to understand here is, if you use too much water or any additive in the paint, it will not cure properly! This could result in the paint never fully drying and always remaining in a tacky state. Or it does dry but is prone to cracking and flaking off - something you definitely do not want!

Just like with watercolors, there are different grades of acrylic paint. Professional grade paints are more expensive, contain more pigment, can be easier to blend and give better coverage. Student grade are less costly but also contain less pigment and can be harder to blend. Personally I have been using student grade because I'm still learning and getting comfortable with this medium! Cheap craft paints are also an option but are more transparent due to containing less pigment.

Types of Acrylic Paint:

  • Heavy Body (designed for thicker applications, shows texture and brush work)

  • Fluid or Soft Body (has a creamier consistency and flows more than heavy)

  • High Flow (these paint flow like inks straight out of the bottle! The color remains as intense and saturated as the Heavy and soft body types)

  • Interactive or Open Acrylics (this is something I had never heard of before until doing some research. These paints dry slower and are therefore more workable than the others without needing to use any additional additives.)

Mediums can be added to the paint give it more texture, body, iridescent finish, fluidity etc. They also contain a binder so they can be used in any amount and will not affect the ability of the paint to cure. Different manufacturers have varying options but if you follow the link, you can read about some of what Liquitex has to offer. There are plenty of options to play with, it just takes a little bit of research!

Some Types of Mediums Available:

  • Heavy Gel (Adds texture and structure to your painting)

  • Modeling Paste (Adds texture and structure to your painting)

  • Sand Gel (Adds texture)

  • Fabric medium (incorporates acrylic polymer for ultimate flexibility and adhesion. Enhances workability of acrylic paint on fabric.)

  • Glazing Liquid (Adds transparency)


Now on to some tips for painting!

  1. Always have 2 water cups! One for cleaning your brush and the other for diluting your paints.

  2. Colors will dry down darker than they appear out of the tube! This is especially true with cheaper craft paints.

  3. Acrylics dry fast! Work large areas of your painting first and then the details.

  4. Don't forget your mister! But be mindful of how much water you use! I've found the fast drying nature of the paint to be the most frustrating part - I'm currently trying Liquitex Slow-Dri Fluid Retarder additive to help with this!

  5. Use synthetic brushes. The bristles shouldn't be too soft or too stiff. Remember! Always clean your brushes! You can use a mild soap or a brush cleaner like The Masters Brush Cleaner And Preserver Soap. Just make sure they are totally dry before storing them upright in a cup or in a brush roll.

  6. Staining or toning the surface of your canvas with a wash before starting a painting can be a helpful practice! It gives you a middle ground to work your values from and build better darks.

  7. Pick up an Oil & Acrylic Pad from your local art supply store! It's a pad of sheets textured like canvas - they can be great place for practicing if you aren't ready to start with real canvas yet.

If you have any questions regarding materials or anything else, drop a comment below or feel free to contact me directly either through here or my instagram! I'd love to hear from you!

**I have no association or affiliation with the companies/products listed above and receive no monetary gain from their mention here. Just throwing in my two cents on what has worked for me! There are plenty of options in the world to choose from, find the right fit for you and your budget!


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