My Guide To Painting With Acrylics


Acrylics are a great medium for artists. They are versatile, come in a variety of types and are easy to cleanup unlike oil paints. I have been practising with acrylics since college. It was the one medium I loved using while I was studying Fine Art.

It’s only in the last few years that I’ve begun using professional and heavy body acrylics. This is because I now tend to paint more impasto, which involves painting with a new set of ‘rules’. I have made a post about my experiences with impasto painting, and also share some advice. You can check that out here.

Painting with acrylics have taught me so much in the last few years. I’ve picked up new skills, habits and tips, which I always abide with to ensure that I am painting for effectively.

Since I’ve been painting with soft body acrylics for much longer, I feel like I have a breadth of knowledge that would push beginners in the right direction to get started. So here they are…

Work fast, think less

I am a huge advocate for painting intuitively and painting what feels right instead of overthinking the next step. Whilst I appreciate this is key for photo-realistic paintings, I believe that it’s key for the way I paint. I’d like to think I’m a more abstract painter. My latest paintings reflect expressionism, and I love that style. I wrote a blog post about painting intuitively; you can read that here.

When I think less and just ‘go for it’, the results are more creative, raw and more effective. It’s a true expression of the way you’re thinking and feeling. With regards to painting, acrylics dry out quickly - much more than oil paint, so you can’t hang around thinking about your next step for too long anyway.

I find that this approach eases you up a bit, and disables feelings of tightness, which may hold you back. In most cases, it does! What also helps is painting on a large scale. Everyone goes on about painting from small to big, and I’ve done that, but it’s definitely the hard way around. It keeps you tight and less creative. If you start the opposite way around, you gain the confidence to paint on any canvas size.

Unfortunately for me, painting from small to big has meant that I’ve had to muster the courage to paint bigger, on the other hand, my skills and attention to detail have allowed me to execute perfect paintings the larger I go – because I’m so used to painting perfectly in such a small canvas size. So go big and don’t overthink. It kills the fun of painting!

Avoid too much blending

Every time I’ve over-blended a painting, I never like the way it looks. Over-blending tends to cause muddiness, introducing unwanted browns and greys to your painting. Adding small strokes of different coloured paints gives your painting more character and depth. Frequently clean your brush (with a rag or water) to remove the pigments of paint which may be backlogged in the fibres. I always keep a rag at hand, as well as a pot for dirty water and pot for clean water.

Use a palette knife for texture

A palette knife is the best way to introduce some beautiful textures to your paintings. It’s perfect for finishing off a painting. Try painting just with a palette knife, and experiment with the textures you can make. I always use a palette knife in the second half of my impasto paintings. It’s the perfect tool to create interesting paint thicknesses and details. The more attention you give your brush strokes, the more interesting your painting will become overall.

Mix your colours

Mix from your primary colours. You can produce an abundant amount of colours from the 3 primary colours. Once you’re comfortable with mixing those colours, you will know what colours you can make, which will give you the confidence to purchase other colours from the collection. Series B, C and D (secondary and tertiary colours) tend to be more expensive as they are a mix of multiple colours.

I always have Cadmium Yellow, Cadmium Red, Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Umber on my palette. Sometimes I may swap the blues and reds for a crimson or Prussian blue to change it up a bit. I try not to use black. My version of black is he traditional blend of ultramarine/Prussian blue and burnt umber. Which leads me nicely into my next tip.

Avoid using black and white until the end

I love using white, because it normally signifies the ending ceremony of a painting. I love mixing whites with tinges of other colours to add tiny highlights to the painting. When you paint without white and black, you’ve only got medium/ dark tones basing the painting. Therefore, you have the option to make the painting darker or lighter based on your objective.

Introducing black and whites early on, can distort that and introduce muddy greys to your painting. This tip is particularly handy when your painting expressionism and impressionism. Painting without black gives your dark areas more depth, and context. Painting your white at the end, is like the cherry on top, highlighting those key areas of reflection etc. Practice, and you’ll see

Have a reference!

This is a tip that I learnt I the last two years and has elevated my paintings to the next level. Sometimes, it’s hard to paint from imagination. Your brain doesn’t always remember the small details – the details which make a painting look like what it supposed to. Painting from a photo give your subject some context. How colours interact with one another, reflections etc. It’s hard to come up with those ideas in your head.

Even when you’re painting abstract, ensure you have a photo of what you’re painting. Base your ideas off that photo. Allow the photo to anchor the subject of the painting.

Above all, have fun and experiment. Experiment on canvas board, stretched canvas, and thick paper, and see what works for you. Try different techniques with palette knives and paint brushes and try not to overthink the process. Just dive straight in.

There’s nothing to fear. There’s a reason why people say painting is therapeutic. Let that be the case for you. This can be the case for you.

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