How to Get Started Painting With Acrylics for Beginners
All the basics you need to know before painting with acrylics
If you’re looking into painting with acrylic paints, you’re interested in one of the most amazing painting mediums, not only is it one of the most flexible and forgiving paints out there, it’s also not as expensive as it seems.
Using acrylic paints may seem like an intimidating process for many beginners, but the reality is that acrylics are great for starters, it’s water-soluble, easy to manipulate and can be used on almost any surface… Plus you do not need a ton of materials to even get started.
So if you’ve been looking into this medium but do not know what it is you will need to begin, this article will highlight all the basic materials that are required for acrylic painting.
All you need to start gaining with acrylics are the basics, these are your most important supplies.
These are your acrylic paints, your paint brushes, a surface to paint on such as a canvas, a palette, water and paper towels. An easel, apron and a palette knife are also great to have, but are optional.
Now let’s look at some of these supplies individually, and others you can add overtime:
2. Paint brushes
You can still paint quality work with inexpensive paint brushes, however, try to get a range of sizes with various brush tips for different techniques. Here’s a list of basic brushes, what they are called and what they are used for:
These are used very often by most painters, the tip of this brush allows you to make small brush marks and larger brushstrokes as well. You can choose to purchase small to larger round brushes depending on your needs, however having a variety of sizes is a must. Try to have a small, medium and large at least when getting started.
In general round brushes are used for smaller lines, these lines can be used for tree branches, creating the appearance of leaves and creating outlines. To create smaller and bigger brushstrokes with the brush, all you have to do is apply minimal pressure for the thin lines and for thicker lines you apply more pressure.
Flat and bright brushes
These types of brushes can be used as if they are the same brush, but the difference is that flat brushes have longer bristles than bright brushes.
Flats are great for edging, filling in space and can be used to create thicker, dense lines, like those you would use to create the appearance of a tree trunk.
Flat paint brushes are also great for just painting in shapes and adding light colors on top of established colors. The bristles of this brush are also flexible enough to be used to gently add medium to large details.
Once a flat brush gets to a larger size it is called a wash. A wash can be used to cover large spaces.
If you are painting on a medium to large surface or even a small one, having a wash is great for allowing you to lay down your main colors in no time. It’s also great for laying down large blocks of colors that require minimal detailing.
A filbert brush is similar to a flat, but with a round edge on the end.
This brush is used for rounding edges and can be used to paint images of clouds, or other organic shapes.
The fan brush is a well known brush for it’s blending abilities.
It is generally used to help blend gradients, soften lines and brush strokes to create a very smooth brush stroke. It can also be used to create interesting marks and texture.
The angle brush is great for painting lines and angles.
If you have a lot of angular shapes and edges like a cityscape in your painting, then these brushes are a must-have.
These are your '7' basic brushes, now as you continue to paint and develop as an artist you’ll discover your favorite brushes and you may desire to have more expensive brushes.
3. Watercolor pencil
Before painting you can use a watercolor pencil to sketch your design so that when you add water to the canvas, the lines will vanish and not interfere with your paint.
4. Palette knife
A palette knife while optional, is great for mixing paints and is also a great tool to paint with. Some of the benefits are that you can achieve incredible textures and change colors with ease.
5. Acrylic paints
Not all acrylic paints are the same. As a reminder, tempera paint is not the same as acrylic paint and should not be bought as such. Acrylic paint dries shiny, while tempera dries flat and is prone to cracking.
Acrylic paint is basically painting with plastic, so when it dries it seals itself. With acrylic paint, it is better to purchase one that is of good quality as that will affect your work.
When sourcing acrylic paints what you should look for, is no separation of liquid and pigment when you place it on your palette. You want great color pigment that is not grainy or dull.
There are a few consistencies of acrylics you can get at the store, based on what you want to make with your acrylics. The liquid acrylics would be used for spray painting with acrylics or pouring.
While regular acrylics do not create textures when you paint with them, and are most commonly used. Heavy body acrylics are a favorite as they are less transparent and can be used smoothly or to create texture depending on how much water you add to the paint.
If you like painting with oils this is a great consistency to transition to acrylics with.
6. Paint additives
You do not need to purchase paint additives as one of your basic supplies, but there are also additives that you can add to your acrylic paints to change the consistency to what you want, for example if you want to use your acrylics to do a pouring technique. So if you plan to do acrylic pours then you can purchase additives, but if you’re simply painting with acrylics then it’s not necessary.
When getting into acrylic painting, it is recommended to start out with canvases.
Canvases are easy to find and you can get small canvas panels as small as 8x10. These panels are thin and you can take an 8x10 frame which is easy to find, pop out the glass from the frame, put in the canvas and showcase your artwork.
When you’re getting ready to sell your artwork, you will need to be on the lookout for inexpensive but quality canvases. When sourcing these canvases what you want to look for is the fully wrapped canvas that continues all the way over the edge of the frame and to the back.
You also want the canvas on the frame to bounce when you touch it and not be loose.
If you are not painting on a canvas but want your painting to last, it is still recommended that you prime the surface that you’re going to paint on, with the exception of murals. When doing murals, buy wall paint, not the small tubes of paint at the art store.
Try to think about the purpose of your paintings and what specific brands have great quality paint for those purposes.
For a lot of beginners getting into acrylic painting, using a plate as a palette was one of the first containers used to mix the paint, however, you would have also noticed how quickly the paint dries out.
To prevent this from happening, there are specialized brands that create a type of wet palette that utilizes a special kind of paper, this paper then sits on a sponge material that is saturated in water. When you’re ready to store it to use the colors in the future, you simply pop the lid back on the container and store it for weeks at a time.
These types of palettes allow the paint to slowly soak up the water from the sponge and through the wet paper, ensuring that the paint remains moist.
At some point however, they will get moldy so you want to ensure that you keep your palette clean and check on your paints.
If you enjoy painting plein air like a lot of artists do, then having a wet palette is a must-have as you will encounter windy conditions at some point that will sometimes dry your paints out.
9. Easel stand
An easel while optional is always nice to have, you can use it on a table or you can use it standing up.
Now that you have all the basic tools and equipment, you are all ready to paint and get as creative as you can.