Got 5 Minutes? Here’s Everything You Need to Know About Acrylics to Begin Your First Painting

You could begin painting your first ever acrylic painting without knowing anything of course, like I did. You may even prefer to go that route and, if that’s the case, then all power to you. In hindsight however, these are the three main tips for beginners that would have made my painting sessions go more smoothly, had I known them.

Beginner Acrylic Painting

  1. The viscosity of the paint straight out of the tube is probably not what you want to work with, unless you want your painting to be very structural (that is, thick and textured and holding of the brush strokes). When I was a complete noob, I couldn’t work out why I couldn’t get good coverage – the paint was so thick it would drag across the canvas only covering the raised parts of the weave leaving the recessed parts un-painted unless I really scrubbed with the brush. It seemed like I must have been doing something wrong, I just couldn’t work out what. How hard can it be? Paint comes out of tube, paint goes on canvas, right? I also couldn’t achieve a uniform, level coverage without brushstrokes and ridges, again because the paint was so thick.

    The solution? There are many but the simplest thing to do is dilute your acrylics with water – but by no more than 30% or it won’t bind effectively to your substrate. If you need it even thinner than this mix your acrylic with airbrush medium. You’ll probably notice in art supply shops that acrylic can come in a “fluid” variety. This is paint that has been pre-thinned for you. Some artists suggest you buy one of each of your colours in heavy-bodied and fluid form but it’s a lot more economical to just thin your own paints.

  2. Acrylic dries fast! If I wanted to blend and blend and blend till my heart’s content I would paint in oils. As it is I still have to take measures to prevent my acrylic drying before I’m ready. I mix in a little bit of acrylic glaze with my paints and put a dollop on top to prevent them skinning over. I use a wet palette, which is just a damp sponge with palette paper on top. This then sits in a plastic container with a lid that I close between sessions. I’m also careful to not work the paint on the canvas for too long or bad, horrible things happen (I’m not always successful in this endeavour). If you do need a bit more time once the paint is on the canvas you can spray it with a mister and continue working. This will obviously change the consistency of the paint though. Finally, this may go without saying but don’t have your palette sitting in direct sunlight on a hot day.

  3. You might not know this yet but brush choice is intimidating! If you don’t think about it too much and just grab a bunch you will survive the crippling analysis paralysis. I advocate this in the beginning. Eventually however you will begin to wonder and ask questions like “why do some brushes have long handles and others short, or “what’s a hog hair or bristle brush”, and then my friend, it’s the rabbit hole for you.

    The good news is that because acrylics can be used like watercolours or oils (or as themselves) you can use any of the vast array of brushes you see in the art store! You won’t know what type of brushes you need until you work out how you like to paint anyway so I’d recommend buying a set of soft bristled brushes and a set of stiff bristled brushes – just touch them to work out which is which. If I’d had a set of stiff bristled brushes around from the start I would have worked out that they were what I should be using a lot sooner. Don’t worry too much at this stage about anything else, just have a play.

Now get cracking! Any other burning questions? Just pop in a comment below.

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