Learning to paint with acrylics can be a fun and rewarding journey.
But that journey (especially at the beginning) can seem a bit overwhelming.
It can feel like there are so many things to learn and conquer.
Maybe you’ve done a painting or two and they haven’t turned out quite as expected. Maybe you’ve bought every single painting tool and paint under the sun, but fear holds you back from starting.
Or perhaps you’re on your way- feel good about it, and just want to learn more.
Whatever has brought you here today- the thing that remains the same is this: you DON’T want to give up and are willing to find a way to become a better painter than you were yesterday.
And that’s all you really need to move forward in this journey.
Below you’ll find a list of tips, tricks and advice that I have learned over the past 10+ years (and wish I had known when I was just beginning).
If you want a convenient and time-saving way to learn everything you need as a beginner including a 14 day plan to get you started (so you don’t have to piece things together), I’ve created this Acrylic For Beginners: an A-Z guide to move you forward . Written for beginners by someone whose been there.
And if you just need an easy tutorial to start your very first painting – checkout my popular beginners step by step tutorial: How to Paint Lavender.
Now for some tips…
1. The 3 Basic Brushes you Need
When starting out painting, people get overwhelmed with the what kind of brushes they need.
I was one of them.
Head on over to the paint section of any art store and you will most likely be faced with a sea of brushes. From different sizes, shapes and even hair types.
There are so MANY different options.
To simplify and avoid paint brush anxiety, I suggest having only 3 brushes when starting out. They can be used to do most things for beginners.
Here are the 3 basic brushes you need
- Large Flat Brush (synthetic hair):used to fill in large areas like backgrounds, filling in large shapes, etc..
- Medium size Filbert Brush (synthetic hair): versatile brush can be used for many things, including color blending, filling in medium size shapes, etc.
- Small round brush (synthetic hair): used for smaller shapes and detail work, highlighting, etc.
2. Learn How to Mix Paint/Color theory
Colors is one of the most important parts of painting.
Using the right colors can really bring a painting to life.
From making your paintings look more lifelike, to conveying and triggering emotions and statements through your art- learning the theory of color/color mixing will be one of the greatest painting skills you can give yourself.
Yet learning to mix paint and color theory is probably one of the most avoided topics for beginners.
And most beginners shy away from it.
But you shouldn’t.
Especially since it not so scary, when you break it down.
Here’s a brief explanation on each, followed by a couple of GREAT video tutorials that explains with more hands on exercises (totally worth a watch!).
In a nutshell: learning how to create any color/tone/shade/tint under the moon, with a few basic colors.
Think- how to mix right green for trees, how to create the right flesh coloured tones for portraits, etc..
Learning how to mix your paints will level up your paintings because your colors will be true to what you want to achieve AND it will save you a ton of money.
Usually beginners will just buy premixed versions of the paint (I have been totally guilty of this!). This can end up being a very expensive approach- and the store bought versions are usually not as rich in color as mixing them yourself.
When you practice this skill enough, you will be able to recreate any color your eyes see (very closely at least) with your basic paints at hand.
What a cool skill to have!
Watch the video below to learn how to start.
Color theory revolves around rules and guidelines of color in art and design.
In order to be able to color mix- you will need to learn some basics on color theory. From learning how differentiate warm from cool colors, to learning the properties of a color wheel will REALLY help you when you mix your paints or even correct colors.
Here’s 2 fabulous beginners tutorials that explain both paint mixing and the basics of color theory are EASY to understand and FUN to watch.
They both cover similar but different topics at different depths, so I would recommend watching both.
3. Tip for Keeping Paint from Drying Out
When you first start with Acrylics you will notice that acrylics dry out pretty fast. Which can be a huge benefit, especially when building layers fast-but can also be a bit frustrating when you want to paint to stay workable.
Unlike Oil paints which stay wet quite a while, and water-colours which reactivate once water touches it- once acrylics dry (which can happens within minutes) they stay that way, permanently.
You cannot re-work them.
One (cheap) trick that many artists use is to have an inexpensive spray water bottle handy, and mist the paint on their pallet every so often- which keeps the paint from drying out overly fast.
Another option is to mix an acrylic retardant paint medium with your paint. The retardant will keep the acrylic paint wet for much longer- without the need to add water and keep misting it.
4. Paint Dark to Light
One tip I learned from my highschool art teacher that always stuck with me is this: paint in your dark colors first, then transition all the way up to your lightest. In short: try to paint dark to light. With your highlights at the very end.
This will add the illusion of depth to your painting and also its much easier to work lighter colors into darker colors than the other way around.
5. Paint in Layers
As mentioned above, acrylic paints dry pretty fast- which is a huge benefit when building up paint layers.
What is building up paint layers and why should you care?
Simply put: putting multiple layers of paint or medium on your canvas (letting each layer dry before adding the next). Layering your paints can make landscape paintings look for realistic and abstract art have more depth and interest.
It also makes your final painting more cohesive.
Think of it like building a house.
First you have a house foundation that everything is built on (background layer of your painting: like the sky or ground in landscape art). Then you build the frame of the house (painting ALL the rough shapes/forms in your painting like trees, mountains, etc). Then finally finishing your house with the finishing details like drywall, cabinetry, etc (in your painting: folliage, leaves, blending work, highlights, details etc.)
Tip with layering: always wait for the layer to dry BEFORE painting on top of it. If you don’t, you will end up with a muddy mess and won’t get the layering look that gives that beautiful depth to your painting.
6. Rule Of The Thirds
The rule of the thirds is often taught in photography courses. It totally applies to art/painting, but for some reason it’s not talked about in many painting tutorials or classes.
Which is a shame because it can really take your painting to the next level. It makes paintings more eye appealing and interesting.
And its NOT even complicated!
As an example: In front of you are 2 paintings of an apple on a table. Everything about the 2 paintings are the same- identical colors, size, etc.. The only difference is this: the first painting the apple is directly in the center of the canvas. In the second painting, the apple is painted on the bottom right of the canvas.
Which painting is more eye catching and appealing?
The second painting! (where the apple is off centered to the bottom right)
Essentially, the rule of the thirds guides you to where to paint your objects of interest (I.e. the objects or things that eyes go to first in your painting).
Read more on how to apply the rule of the thirds here.
7. Flip Your Painting Upside Down
There will be a point in most of your paintings where something doesn’t just feel right about it, and you can’t point your finger at what is wrong.
Which is frustrating- take it from someone whose spent hours trying to figure it out!
One trick I learned AFTER wasting multiple hours is:
Look at your painting upside down.
And nope, you don’t have to stand on your head! Just incase you’re wondering 🙂
Just flip your canvas upside down and take a look. You will be AMAZED at the different things you end up noticing.
Another similar trick that artists use is: looking at your painting through a mirror, which has a similar effect.
8. Move Passed Failure
With learning any new skill there is one thing you cannot avoid: failure.
Everyone (have yet to meet someone who hasn’t) will fail at some point. And many times- especially at the beginning- it will happen frequently.
In painting it could be a bad or “ugly” painting (or two, or three). Or it could be a paint technique you learned but you can’t seem to get the hang of it.
It will happen.
The thing that matters isn’t the failure itself, but the permission you give yourself to continue passed it.
This could mean learning why you failed and trying again, OR just moving on to something else and coming back to it later.
Which is totally OK.
Try another technique, move on to another painting, or try a different tutorial. There are many, many options that let you move forward that doesn’t involve throwing in the towel.
Try to be gentle with yourself and know you are better than you were yesterday by just practicing and doing. And if you let yourself continue, you will be even better tomorrow.
Just Keep Painting….
I hope you enjoyed these tips and they help you get closer to becoming the artist you’ve always wanted to become.
Remember- even the tiniest baby steps forward will eventually lead you to your art-goals.
Be proud- you’re getting there!
Just keep painting, you’re doing great things!