Acrylic paints are great for both beginner painters and those who are more experienced. If you’re just starting out there are a few things you should bear in mind to make your experience as easy as possible. Read on for my 7 tips for getting started with acrylics.
I LOVE painting with acrylic paint. It’s such a versatile medium, with gorgeous vibrant colours and a creamy texture. You can paint washes like with watercolours, and you can apply the paint thickly with a palette knife (or old credit card!) like the impasto technique more traditionally associated with oil painting.
But as with any new hobby or creative skill, there’s a lot to learn when you’re getting started with acrylics. If you’re completely new to acrylic painting, I have a few tips that should help you make the most of your painting time.
7 Tips for Getting Started with Acrylics
There are different kinds of acrylics
Acrylic paint isn’t just acrylic paint — there are two main kinds of paint and they are used in different situations.
The two types of paint are:
- Heavy body: This kind of paint is best used when you want to keep some texture and brush strokes in your painting. It often comes in tubes (or in tubs in larger quantities) and has a spreadable texture, like soft butter. It can also be thinned with water (but not too much!). If you want to paint with a palette knife, you would use heavy body paint.
- Soft body or fluid: As the name suggests, this paint has a more fluid texture than heavy body. Fluid acrylics tend to level out on the surface, meaning they don’t hold brush strokes or texture. This type of paint is great for creating watercolour effects and drips in paintings.
You get what you pay for
Sometimes it’s not worth paying more for a more expensive version of a product, but that’s definitely not the case with acrylic paint. The reason for this is that some of the pigments used to colour acrylic paints can be pretty expensive, and so the cheaper a paint is, the less pigment it generally contains.
The more expensive paints have more pigment. This makes the colours more vibrant and generally gives better coverage. This means that you often need to use more of a cheaper paint and less of a more expensive paint to achieve a similar effect, so it can actually be a false economy.
There are three main grades of paints:
- Craft paint: This is the cheapest kind of acrylic paint and is available in a huge range of colours. It’s best to buy the exact colours you want, as it’s difficult to mix craft paints without muddying the colours.
- Student grade: These paints are ideal for experimenting with as a hobbyist. They’re often made by the same brands that make artist grade paints. Although they have less pigment than artist grade, you can still achieve good colour mixes and make great paintings.
- Artist/professional grade: This is the best quality paint with the highest amount of pigment, and consequently the most expensive.
Depending on how much painting you are planning on doing, you can always start with cheaper paints and upgrade your supplies as you go along. You could also buy better quality tubes of the colours you use the most of.
Acrylic paints are great on a lot of surfaces
Acrylic paints can be used on most surfaces. They’re popular for use with paper (watercolour or acrylic paper, ideally), canvas, canvas board, and wood.
Basically, you can paint on any surface that isn’t too shiny or glossy, as the paint doesn’t stick to these types of surfaces properly. (Some acrylic artists paint what is called a “skin” onto glass. They peel this off when it’s dry and use it in another painting.)
Gesso is used to prime (prepared for painting on) surfaces. Gesso is a gritty substance that helps the acrylic paint stick to the surface it’s being painted on to.
Acrylics dry fast…
Acrylic paints dry quickly, and possibly a little more quickly than you would like when you’re just starting out! You will also usually find that acrylic paint will dry faster in a warm room or on a hot summer’s day.
If you’re painting a sky, for example, and need to blend colours together, you need to work fast so that the colours mix before they get too dry. (You can also add a special medium to the paint to slow the drying time, but we’ll talk about that another day!)
The thicker the paint is applied, the slower it will dry, so bear this in mind if you’re applying paint really thickly for textural purposes.
…but you can dry them faster with a hairdryer
If you want to complete a painting in one sitting, without having to wait for the layers to dry in stages, you can actually use a hairdryer to speed things up. Use it on a warm setting rather than hot if you can, and don’t hold it too close.
One thing to be aware of is that drying craft paints with a hair dryer can cause colour shift. This means you can end up with darker colours than you had intended. I haven’t experienced this personally as I’ve never tried drying craft paints, but I’ve heard it can happen so I want you to be aware! If you’re unsure, you might like to do a couple of test swatches with your paints. Let one dry naturally and dry another with a hairdryer and see what happens.
It’s impossible to get acrylic paint out of fabric/brushes when it has dried
As far as I’m aware, when acrylic paint has dried into fabric or paint brushes, it’s not going to come out again. Therefore you need to wear old clothes, or cover your clothes with an apron or something similar for protection when you’re painting.
You should also make sure you wash your brushes as soon as you can after using them. Try not to leave them soaking in a jar of water while you paint, as this can loosen the bristles. Instead, give them a good swish in the water and put them aside, still damp, until you can wash them properly with soapy water.
(Oh and if by any chance you do know of a way to get dried paint out of brushes or clothes, please let us all know in the comments!)
You can paint over mistakes easily
Although it’s not ideal for your clothes and paint brushes that acrylic paint is permanent when it dries, it does mean that mistakes are easy to deal with.
As frustrating as mistakes are, as long as you let the paint dry completely, you can paint over it. (If it’s not entirely dry, it will smudge and streak.) Depending on the quality of your paint and how dark the colour is that you’re trying to cover, you may need to go over it with more than one coat to cover it fully.
It doesn’t even need to slow you down much, particularly if you have your hair dryer handy. Just give it a quick blast with the hair dryer and then paint right over the top. There, it’s like it never happened!