18 Acrylic Painting Techniques and Tips For Beginners

Painting has been proven to be one of the most popular forms of art. While some of the oldest methods date back to thousands of years, acrylic painting is a relatively a recent innovation that originated within the last century.

When it was first discovered in the early 1900s, artists of all genres quickly adopted this new, fast-drying medium that showed versatility and potential beyond other paints. Not only is it durable, but it has an immediacy in its finish that other types cannot offer. As such, employing different acrylic painting techniques has resulted in some of the most well-known and desirable works of art in the market.

So now that you’ve got your acrylic paint, your canvas, and paint brushes; you’re all set and inspired to paint. But the question now is how do you exactly get started?

Whether you’re looking to understand more about acrylic painting as a medium or want to perfect your proficiency, we have compiled 18 of the most important acrylic painting techniques and tips to help you get started.

Acrylic Painting Techniques

Characterised by bright colours, quality lines, and sharp brushstrokes; acrylic painting is one of the most desirable medium of painting due to its ability to be used on a variety of surfaces and mixed with other media.

The following are some of the most prominent techniques used to create a structurally rich painting that has both hard and soft-textured elements.

1) Drybrush


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Relatively easy to execute, this technique involves using a brush that has not been dipped in water; you simply apply the paint straight out of its tube to a canvas. This creates a strong stroke of colour on the canvas, with scratchy and uneven movements; because no water is used to soften the edges. However, dry-brushing can give you a purposeful textured effect. Just make sure that your brush is as dry as possible and loaded with paint for the optimal effect.

2) Stippling


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This common drawing method is the creation of a collection of tiny dots, often used in landscape painting.

To execute this technique, a mass of tiny dots are to be constructed by the artist in varying degrees of shading based on the closeness and boldness of the assemblage of dots, as well as utilising different colors to establish real dimension.

3) Splattering


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It doesn’t get more fun than this! Splattering is a lively, unpredictable technique that relies on the applied energy of the artist to achieve its aesthetic.

To execute this technique, use a fairly wet brush, dip the bristles in paint, and direct your tool in the direction of the canvas. You can flick or splatter paint onto your canvas for an uneven splatter effect. If needed, you can use a stencil to control where the paint lands.

This technique is perfect for creating an abstract landscape, starry night, or for just adding texture to a piece.

4) Washing


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One of the most impressive qualities of acrylic paint is its ability to modify its consistency; it can be applied in thick layers, or be applied lightly to create a thin, translucent hue.

If you water it down enough, you can elicit a softness that resembles water-colour! Except unlike water-colour, the acrylic paint will set permanently.

To execute the technique, dilute your paint with a sufficient amount of water to create a translucent wash. Try mixing the wash and dry brush techniques; you’ll end up with a beautiful piece featuring plenty of textures.

5) Dabbing


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Much like the name suggests, dabbing is a technique used to “dab” accents of colour onto the surface of a canvas. Using a stiff bristle brush or paper towel, simply apply the paint with quick, light pressure. To create more depth, add multiple layers. Dabbing adds movement to your painting and is often used to illustrate greenery or bushes; such as the leaves on trees.

6) Sponging


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Similar to dabbing, sponging requires a cellulose sponge to apply paint in a springing motion; creating an irregular, textured pattern.

Sponging is a great painting technique for beginners, because it is visually pleasing, fantastic for foliage, and hard to mess up.

Dabbing is often used when artists aimed to capture momentary, fleeting effects achieved by a sponge’s irregular surface; contrary to realism.

7) Palette Knife


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Although slightly more advanced, this technique is an easy way to add texture to the surface of your painting and can be beneficial in creating sweeping, flat layers.

To achieve the effect, simply use a thick layer of paint and apply it to your canvas with a palette knife; much like spreading frosting on a cake.

The Palette Knife technique can be applied to many different types of paints, offering texture and thickness to build up the surface of the canvas.

8) Detailing


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Often used when the artist is nearing the completion of an artwork, detailing should be done using much precision and control. Working with a small, fine brush, apply details and clean lines where needed.

This is regularly performed to create particulars such as sharp and realistic details. Examples include flowers within a landscape or other minute features that require careful attention.

9) Glazing


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A glaze is a thin, translucent film mixed with acrylic paint to create a rich luminous hue and texture on the surface. By applying a transparent layer of glaze over another layer of opaque paint, you can create a unique, beautiful, stained-glass effect.

If you want your painting to stand out, turn to a matte medium; when you mix a matte medium with your paint, it gives the paint new properties that add depth and complexity to your paintings.

10) Layering

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Layering can refer to a variety of different techniques beyond painting, but for the purpose of acrylic painting, layering is a widely used practice that can greatly enhance the perception of three-dimensionality.

As simple as it sounds, you start by applying paint in layers after another; working from the bottom up. You’ll paint big blocks of colour, often as washes, and then add more and more refinement as you add layers. Start with your bottom, background layer, then build your way up from there.

Unlike watercolor, acrylics dry into insoluble films, so you can layer without pulling any colour underneath.

Acrylic Painting Tips For Beginners

11) Choose the Proper Brushes

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While seemingly obvious, selecting the right tools can greatly affect the quality of your painting.

For acrylic painting, you’ll want access to a variety of brushes from small to large, to use with a variety of techniques.

For applying thick layers of paint, do ensure that you have a stiff-bristled brush.

For water-colour effects such as washing, use a soft-bristled brush. A Filbert paint brush makes a dependable, versatile option; offering a straight or round shape depending on your needs.

12) Underpainting

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Before painting, create a “sketch” of the image in paint.

Choose a color that contracts with the palette you have in mind for the finished piece; this would allow you to paint over the underpainting entirely with ease. If you use opaque acrylic, you’ll cover any evidence of the paint below. However, you can also let parts of the underpainting shine through for a dimensional effect.

13) Master Your Mixing
color wheel

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For seasoned artists, mixing might seem pretty straightforward; but there are ways to get creative with mixing techniques that can greatly improve your work.

Firstly, make sure you know and understand the color wheel so that you can mix with precision and confidence.

As seen in the diagram above, there are various groups of colors.

Analogous colors are groups of three colors that are next to each other on the color wheel. They usually match well and share a common color.

Complementary colors are opposite each other on the color wheel and are typically highly contrasted, creating a vibrant look.

Monochromatic color schemes are derived from a single base hue.

Triadic color schemes use colors that are evenly spaced around the color wheel.

For best results, blend colors using a palette knife, plastic knife, or an extra brush. Additionally, it can be beneficial to create a family of mixed hues to lend diversity to your art piece.

14) Paint in Blocks of Color
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This is an excellent method for beginners.

Begin by tracing your image, separating each color or tone into separate shapes; then paint in the shapes as if it were your own DIY paint-by-numbers piece.

This is an easy method that can be used with monochromatic palettes or a variety of colors.

15) Partially Mix Colors Before Painting
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Instead of fully mixing the two colors, just give them a brief stir with your palette knife. Afterwards, use the partially mixed colors to paint.

You’ll get a fascinating mingling of colors as you apply the paint to your canvas.

16) Create a Family of Colors
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Choosing a family of colors or tones to work with in your painting can help you create subtle variances.

Whether it’s creating slight varieties of skin tones or varying shades of red, having a family of tones pre-mixed before you paint can really help streamline the process.

17) Have a Mister Close By
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Since acrylic paints dry fast, you can keep them moist by using a mister. Simply water them down a bit with a mister; you’ll create a watercolor-esque type of paint to use when emulating the washing technique.

18) Protect with a Varnish

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When finished with a painting, use a varnish to create a protective film that safeguards against dust and other harmful determinants like ultraviolet rays.

You can use a non-acrylic material if you wish to remove the layer in the future.

All in all, while it’s worth giving these tried-and-true techniques a shot, don’t limit yourself to the basics. Experiment; mix and match these methods and techniques, exploring the ways of painting that feel right to you.

As you develop your skills, you’ll notice that your techniques will become refined into your own unique method of creating art.

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