“Painting is easy when you don't know how, but very difficult when you do.” - Edgar Degas
A lot more people would be interested in artistic pursuits like painting, dancing, sculpture, or photography if they had the time and the money.
So why not set aside a bit of time and learn how to paint with acrylics?
While acrylics can be used for painting walls, they’re mainly used for creating art. From primers, primary colours, and additives to glazes, washes, undercoats, and extra-fine paints, here’s our guide to acrylic painting. Whether you don't have a clue about mixing colours or using an easel, both beginners and experts alike can paint with acrylics.
What Are Acrylic Paints?
Have you just started your art tutorials and you’re not sure where to begin?
Not sure what type of paint you should be using or which techniques you should be learning?
Painting classes can cover plenty of different techniques and mediums (graphite pencils, Indian ink, pastels, poster paints, watercolours, sanguine drawing, charcoal, oil paints, etc.).
But what about acrylics? Where do they come from?
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According to Wikipedia, “Acrylic paint is a fast-drying paint made of pigment suspended in acrylic polymer emulsion.”
This type of paint is relatively new in comparison to older types of paint like watercolours. Oil paints have also been around for about 500 years. The story of acrylic paint starts more recently.
Synthetic paints first appeared in the 1930s in the United States of America. The paint was initially used to paint cars and buildings. However, some artists started using this paint for their works.
The paint as we know it today was really invented in 1963. The chemist Henry Levinson invented this paint which could be diluted in water to make it more useful for art.
The first brand of this type of acrylic paint was called Liquitex. It was made famous by Andy Warhol who regularly used it in his work.
Acrylics started becoming popular in Europe in the 1960s after Pierre Alechinsky discovered them while in the United States.
The paint today is made from ground synthetic or natural pigments. It is then mixed with water and acrylic resin in order to give it its final texture.
Learn more about the differences between acrylics, oils and pastels!
Why Use Acrylic Paints?
What is so special about acrylic paint and what are the advantages of using it?
Acrylic paints can be really easy to use. Once they're mixed with a bit of water, they're very easy to paint with.
It can be used on a wide range of supports and surfaces making it many artists’ favourite type of paint.
However, acrylic paint, unlike oil paint, dries very quickly. It’s therefore very difficult to go back to your work in order to change the colours.
This can also be its biggest strength. You don’t have to wait weeks for the layers to dry like you have to with oil painting. That said, some painters do leave their acrylics to dry for a bit longer.
Acrylic paint can also be used to base your work before painting on a stretched canvas with oils. It doesn’t quite work the other way round, though.
You can use acrylics for a variety of different pieces. It’s one of the most common types of paint used in art classes, painting tutorials, and online art classes. I’ve always loved painting with acrylics.
It’s also very easy to quickly copy the greats like Monet, Courbet, Delacroix, Dali, Da Vinci, Picasso, Cézanne, Degas, Rubens, Botticelli, Renoir, Rembrandt, Van Gogh, or Manet.
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How Do You Use Acrylic Paints?
Acrylics are very easy to use. There are plenty of acrylic painting techniques: you can work with a palette knife, brush, or whatever. You can paint to your heart’s content!
So how do use this type of paint?
While there’s no surefire way to paint with acrylics, here’s some advice.
Start by applying a layer of acrylic paint to smooth out of the surface of your canvas. This paint will also act as the background to your work. If your composition is light, avoid using a dark colour for the base.
Make sure that the paint is slightly diluted. Choose a colour close to the main colour of your piece. Some artists paint shapes directly onto the canvas with a brush. If you’re not sure of yourself, you can sketch with charcoal, chalk, graphite pencils, etc.
You’ll need to add colour to your work, too. Start with the background objects first. Even if you make a mistake, you can always go back over it later with the elements in the foreground.
Go from the lightest to the darkest colours. You’ll finish by adding the dark shadows to your piece in order to give it depth. You can achieve a wide range of textures and tones with your strokes. You can create dynamic works with each brushstroke visible.
You should then protect your work by using a special varnish for acrylic paints which can be found in art shops. This will stop the paint spoiling over time.
Join the discussion: is it easier to paint with acrylics or with to paint with watercolours?
How Can You Learn to Paint with Acrylics?
Knowing the theory is all well and good, but it’s practice that makes perfect.
So how can you learn to paint with acrylic paint in your free time?
There are several options depending on why you’re trying to learn and what you’re trying to learn.
Learn to Paint in an Art School
If you’re in secondary school or college and looking for something to do with your life, you might consider studying art at university or at an art school.
There are plenty of good art schools up and down the country where students will learn a variety of painting techniques (watercolours, acrylics, oils, poster paints, pastels, Indian ink, etc.) and you can find your speciality.
In order to learn how to paint, either for work or for fun, you can attend art workshops. These acrylic painting lessons, taught by a professional artist, painter, or art teacher, are a great way for anyone to learn both the basics of art or to improve their artwork.
There are plenty of different types of workshops: intensive workshops, how to paint on canvas, painting with knives, painting on glass, silk, porcelain, etc.
Get in Touch with Art Associations
There are often art associations and groups in the bigger cities and exist to help people get into art. They often offer classes for all levels to learn how to paint with a variety of different paints, including acrylics.
You can also meet other art students and learn together by sharing acrylic painting tips and advice.
Contact a Private Art Tutor
If you have a busy schedule, you can always find a private art tutor.
They might be a retired art school teacher, a student currently studying art, or anything in between. Regardless of their profile, they can help you learn how to paint and improve your creativity.
Teaching Yourself to Paint
Some people would prefer not to attend art classes or get private tutorials. Others just can’t get to a class because they live too far away or just don’t have the time.
You can set aside a few hours a week to watch online video tutorials and practise what you learn. This can be a great way to learn how to paint.
Whatever you’re painting, you can find videos on learning how to do it online.
What Equipment Do You Need to Paint with Acrylics?
Whether you’re using acrylics on canvas, paper, mixed media, or another support, you’ll need some equipment. You need to take your budget into account when getting art supplies.
Easels, acrylic varnish, paints, canvases, mechanical pencils, white spirit, etc... what exactly do you need to buy?
The paint is obviously the first thing you should get if you want to learn how to paint with acrylics. However, there are plenty of different types of acrylic paint.
Before you buy your paint, you should check the labels for things like “quick drying” etc. Acrylic paints are generally bigger and cheaper than oils. They’re a good alternative.
You also need to buy supports. Canson paper, cotton, linen, or synthetic canvas, the choice is yours. Whether you're doing portrait painting, landscape painting, or a still life.
When it comes to buying brushes, avoid buying thin brushes. Acrylics are thick and you need a brush with bristles that can handle them. You can, of course, buy a couple finer brushes for the details.
Now discover how to paint with pastels...