My tips on how to use acrylic paints

March 04, 2019

My tips on how to use acrylic paints

I quite often paint or draw whilst I’m in the shop, and frequently visitors like to come and watch or ask questions as to what I’m doing. Quite often people are starting to dabble with creating artwork of their own, or children are particularly curious (which I love, and feel should be encouraged). We all have our own ways of doing things (and it’s very much trial and improvement!), but these are a few of my beginners tips for painting with acrylics.

I always paint using acrylics. They’re vibrant, forgiving, reasonably quick drying, economical and give almost a plastic, quite tactile finish.

My first tip would be to never use water during painting (of course brushes and palettes should be washed thoroughly afterwards). Sounds strange but as soon as I stopped using water, to clean my brushes during painting or to thin the paint, I became much happier with the results that I was able to achieve. Water tends to thin the paint so colours appear wishy-washy and you can quite frequently see the canvas through (which is something that I always tend to avoid). I usually have lots of different brushes on the go loaded with my different colours; however don’t be afraid to use one brush for several different colours, as this can lead to some rather interesting mixed or blended effects.

My second tip would be to paint in layers. I never used to do this, trying to achieve a finished result first time, and I found that my progress was slow and my paintings were quite stagnant. I now tend to paint a sky first, then draw in the shapes of the scene or object that I’m painting, then lay down a base layer with dark and light areas, and then add further layers to create the detail. This also means that colours can be used all over a painting instead of concentrated to only one area, which gives a more balanced composition overall. It’s also less daunting as I tend to have limited time slots for my artwork, and means that it’s easier to pick up and leave off.

My third tip would be to pick a colour palette and stick to it (within reason). On my larger landscape paintings, I tend to pick out five colours – quite often ultramarine blue, teal, purple, pink and orange, and then work within those colours using different shades and tones. I’ll choose my colours, paint the sky – and that tends to dictate the whole painting.

My fourth tip would be to remember darks and lights. I’m sometimes guilty of not making my darks dark enough. But I’ve come to realise that they add drama and depth, and make the other colours ‘pop’. I often exaggerate the darkest and brightest tones to create contrast, and I’ll usually add them in towards the end of the painting.

My fifth tip would be to have many different sorts of brushes. Brushes come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes, some are coarse, some are soft, and they all achieve different results. Some are perfect for covering large areas, some are great to use without paint to dry brush and blend dramatic skies, and some are long and fine and required for the perfect finishing details. Brushes can also be used in different ways to create various marks.

My sixth tip would be to experiment with different surfaces. I love painting on stretched canvas as I find it far easier to blend my colours than on a rigid, canvas board. For smaller pieces, I love to use watercolour paper as it’s perfect for sketching on and I really like the surface for applying acrylic paint.

My seventh tip would be to take a photograph of your work whilst it’s in progress. After I’ve left the painting for a while, I actually find it far easier to look at a photograph on my phone to understand which parts need work or a certain tweak.  

My eighth tip would be to crack on and paint. Practice, practice, practice really does make all the difference, and it’s amazing what you discover along the way.

Thanks for reading!

Katie x