Acrylic paints are a safe, simple, and versatile substance. Unlike watercolors, you can layer acrylics onto your canvas in thick strokes, create textures, and shape it using other tools. And, unlike oil paints, acrylics take less time to dry, and don’t require a heavy knowledge of fancy painting techniques to start using.
All in all, acrylic painting for beginners is a great choice for artists looking to explore new territory outside traditional pen and paper. However, just because acrylics are accessible doesn’t mean you should dive right in without any sort of preparation!
Acrylic Paint Bodies
Acrylic paints can be used by traditional artists, for canvas or paper-based paintings. It can also be painted on wood, leather, and a variety of other surfaces for hobbyists or workshoppers into the craftier side of art.
No matter what you’re doing, the first important thing to know about acrylic paints is the variety of viscosity the material comes in. Depending on the textures you want to work with for your painting or project, you’ll want to work and experiment with the different kinds of mediums, from thick to thin, acrylic paint has to offer.
Soft Body Acrylic Paint
Soft body (or medium viscosity) acrylic paint is a smooth, creamy paint with a fluid consistency. It’s useful for painting over wide, flat surfaces, it won’t easily retain brush marks, will dry smoothly and flatly, with little clumping.
You can add water to it to for extra fluidity, but on its own, medium viscosity acrylic paint is the most basic, versatile substance a beginner can want.
Heavy Body Acrylic Paint
Heavy body (or high viscosity) acrylic paint is a rich, high pigmented substance with a thick consistency. Because of its thickness, it’s not recommended for painting fine details, and is much better applied impasto with larger brushes or palette knives.
Its thick, buttery consistency will retain brush and other tool marks. Because it will most likely be applied in clumps, it will dry in clumps as well, and stay flexible and smooth.
Overview of Acrylic Paint Viscosity
If you want your painting to be…
… you would use soft body, or medium viscosity, acrylic paints.
If you want your painting to be…
… you would use heavy body, or high viscosity, acrylic paints.
Mediums and Other Additives
Acrylic paint can be mixed with substances called mediums, varnishes, and gels to change their appearance, consistency, and drying time. While someone who’s just picked up a paintbrush doesn’t need to bother too much with paint additives, as they’re still getting a feel for the base paint itself, it is a useful next step for those looking to mix things up (literally!) and hone their technique.
Check out The Art of Acrylic Glazing with a Modern Master for an in depth look at the acrylic glazing technique.
Fluid mediums are added while mixing paints, to alter its appearance or thin it out. Some examples include…
- Gloss medium: Can be added to soft body acrylic paints to add a glossy shine, and transparency, without sacrificing the paint’s viscosity.
- Matte Medium: Will decrease the acrylic paint’s shine, drying with a matte rather than a glossy finish.
- Blending Medium: Increases color depth, adds gloss, and extends the drying period so paint stays wet longer, allowing more time for blending.
Gel mediums, or pastes, are added while mixing paints, to add thickness, body, and extend the painting’s drying time.
- Modeling Paste: A heavy, opaque, almost clay-like substance used to create strong, thick textures.
- Glossy Heavy Gel: Adds a very thick, glossy texture to the paint. Dries transparent.
Varnishes should only be applied after the painting is completely dry, as they are used as protective films to resist damage from dust, light, and other elements. You can varnish an acrylic painting with a large brush, a damp sponge, or by spraying the varnish from a bottle. The method is up to personal preference, but whichever one you choose, make sure the painting is completely dry, and be careful!
Which paint brush is best for your technique, or style? Should you even use a paintbrush at all? There are plenty of painting tools, and finding the one that fits you best is something that will come naturally the more you experiment with different supplies.
Paint brushes are pretty straightforward. If you’re painting with acrylics, you’ll want to go with brushes made of synthetic materials, like nylon. Acrylic paint is made of chemicals that can wear down natural brushes made from animal hairs, which will eventually lose their stiffness after a while.
The brush size and shape has more to do with its use. Do you want to paint soft, small details? Go with a smaller brush, of course. Fan brushes work well for blending colors, because of their wide shape and soft bristles. Because of how widespread their bristles are, fan brushes are also really useful for dry brushing, a technique involving loose, rough, often light dabs of paint without much blending or dampening of the paint.
Soft brushes with dense bristles are good for applications of paint that are meant to be more fluid, and thin, because of the way the bristles are able to seep up the paint and retain it longer.
Painting with a palette knife feels a little like spreading butter on a piece of toast. You often don’t want to clump on too much at a time, and when you spread, you don’t want to press too hard. Palette knives are great for creating impasto works, where the texture of the painting is a major element.
Don’t stop at just acrylic painting. Learn to unleash your creativity with these awesome art classes:
- Watercolour Painting For Beginners
- Learn Drawing and Painting a Landscape with Oil Colours
- Oil/Acrylic Painting Techniques and Color Theory
- Anatomy For Figure Drawing and Comics
- Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor