The Step-by-Step Guide to Acrylic Painting

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This guide will show you how to master acrylic paint markers for your next masterpiece. Acrylic paints are accessible, easy to use, and relatively inexpensive.
acrylic painting

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Acrylic paint is a skill that takes some time to master, and it involves plenty of trial and error as you begin. We’ve put together a comprehensive 101 on acrylic paints based on the advice and guidance of painters who have been using acrylic paints for years. Stay with us and we’ll walk you through the entire process from beginning to end, from an explanation of what acrylic paints are to a detailed step-by-step guide.

Photo from Skillshare student Pam L. for Acrylic Painting: Learn the Basics For Beginners.

  • What Are Acrylic Paints?
  • Materials Needed & the Best Acrylic Paint Brands
  • An Easy Beginner’s Guide on How to Paint with Acrylics

What Are Acrylic Paints?

Let’s begin by discussing what acrylic paint is and how it differs from other media before learning how to paint with acrylics.

In order to dry, acrylic paints become water-resistant, according to Gary Griffin, an artist based in Houston, Texas. The advantages of working with acrylics compared to other media types include their speed of drying, ease of cleanup, low odor, and high pigmentation, so colors can be very vibrant and bold.

 While oil paints can take up to a full day to completely dry, acrylic paints dry in minutes instead of days. As Camilla Webster, a painter whose work has been displayed in museums and exhibits around the world, points out, it is a very appealing medium for beginners, since you can keep painting over the dried areas and you will not see any mistakes, making it very appealing.While oil paints can take up to a full day to completely dry, acrylic paints dry in minutes instead of days. As Camilla Webster, a painter whose work has been displayed in museums and exhibits around the world, points out, it is a very appealing medium for beginners, since you can keep painting over the dried areas and you will not see any mistakes, making it very appealing.

There are also some important things to be aware of about acrylic paints: they tend to dry in a darker hue than the color they show when wet, they don’t spread as easily as watercolors or gouaches, they dry very quickly (which has its benefits but can make blending a challenge), they are water-soluble when wet, and they are water-resistant when dry, which means that they cannot be altered once they are dry.

“The beauty of working with acrylics is that they are relatively inexpensive and easy to work with but can provide really amazing results in the hands of a creative artist.”


Acrylic painting from artist Camilla Webster. See details for the piece here.

Acrylic Paint Brands & Materials Needed

It is essential to have a palette, a palette knife for blending, brushes marked for acrylic paint, a canvas (Griffin suggests using gesso-primed canvas or wood panels), a rag or paper towel, and soap and water for cleaning. An easel will also be helpful.

 There are variations in the quality of materials you can use, just like with anything else. Webster advises beginners to stick with lower-cost or “student grade” materials rather than “professional grade”, noting that you can even ask an art store clerk for advice. 

“Both grades are good,” she says, “but student grade acrylic paints are more affordable and are perfect for exploring new subjects and colors as a beginner.” As you become more confident, you can upgrade to a higher quality acrylic paint.

Paints made from acrylic

The best acrylic paint brands, according to Webster, are Golden and Liquitex, which are both well recognized and readily available. Winsor Newton is another well-known, widely stocked, and reliable brand of acrylic paint. You should have no trouble finding a 24- or 36-piece set of paints online or in your local art store. Moreover, it is a good idea to purchase a few larger tubes of paints you really like or that you think you will be using a lot, as well as a large tube of black and a large tube of white paint which will inevitably be used a lot when blending and laying down your base layer.

The acrylic paint brush

It is important to not overwhelm yourself when choosing brushes, according to Webster. Many artists and students tend to focus on picking up a lot of brushes at once. You are more likely to enjoy the experience if you buy a couple of good brushes than if you buy a huge, overwhelming set of brushes or an inexpensive set you’ll find at Michael’s or a local art store,” she says. Winsor Newton and Grumbacher are two of the best brush brands on the market today.

Photo by ANDI WHISKEY on Unsplash.

She recommends picking up the following:

  • acrylic paint flat brush
  • acrylic paint round brush
  • acrylic paint wash brush
  • acrylic paint angled brush
  • acrylic paint liner brush
  • acrylic paint fan brush

Webster suggests looking for acrylic brushes in the brush aisle of a good local art store. Feel them and hold them and feel the bristles with your fingers. Brush them across your free hand. This brush is your magic wand. Take it out of its case and run your fingers through it. You will do great things with it.” 

It’s also important to keep your brushes clean and preserved. We recommend The Masters Paint Brush Cleaner and Preserver. 

Easel & Canvas

You should purchase a pack of acrylic-approved canvas boards at the beginning of your acrylic paint journey. Prime them yourself or have them primed by someone else. A primed canvas board is a white board with a label that reads “triple primed gesso.” Webster says, “You can experiment with ideas and concepts without having to worry about working on a $50 canvas by buying a cheaper set like this.”

Acrylic play space from Skillshare student Abi D.  

 Although an easel isn’t absolutely necessary, it may make your painting experience more enjoyable. Webster notes that an H-frame tabletop easel can be purchased for around $20 to $40. This easel can be kept at home and doesn’t take up too much space. You can find gently used easels on Facebook Marketplace, eBay, CraigsList, or even at your local art store if you’re interested in upgrading to something more robust. Several hundred dollars can be spent on a high quality, large standing easel, so take your time and explore your options.  

Acrylic Painting for Beginners: An Easy Guide

Despite some room for adaptation, acrylic painting should generally follow the same format, since acrylics aren’t as flexible and fixable as watercolors or oils. 

 Set up a painting station in Step One

Set up your easel and art supplies in a peaceful space at home or even outdoors, then place your canvas on the easel, a rag or paper towel near the palette, and your brushes in a sturdy cup near the palette. In order to protect the floor below you, you should use a tarp, an old rug, or garbage bags if you’re inside. You should place these in the right orientation depending on whether you’re left-handed or right-handed.

The second step is to practice and experiment with your materials

Getting to know your media is the first step to mastering an art form. “Most acrylic paints can also be diluted to varying degrees with water or used straight from the tube,” he adds.

There are several actionable ways to practice and experiment with acrylic paints. Each assignment is relatively short and will boost your confidence and abilities: 

  • You can also experiment with how water affects the consistency and opacity of the paints. If you feel overwhelmed by this step, save the modification products for later. 
  • This will help you learn how the colors blend together.
Tanya S student project.jpg

Step Three: Conceptualize Your Painting and/or Create a Rough Sketch

Conceptualizing your painting can be as simple as having an idea in your head, or as involved as sketching out your painting with a pencil or charcoal before you put brush to paper.

 During the composition process, Adam Schrimmer, owner and lead artist at Blank Canvas Mural Company based in Greenville, South Carolina, explains that if you are a representational artist — for instance if a flower must look like a flower — you would do a sketch or an under-drawing. Alternatively, ‘plein air’ painting is done directly from observation by painting as you see it, done freehand.”

 A number of artists sketch beforehand as a way to play with colors and to mock up their ideas before actually painting. It’s not a process that works for everyone, but if you think it’ll help, go for it.

Step Four: Start Painting

Creating your first acrylic painting is the last step. If you’re still feeling hesitant about taking the plunge, stick to just a couple of colors, or if you’re feeling more confident, go for it!

When painting with acrylics, keep these general rules in mind:

  • From mid-tones to darker tones, Webster says, “Apply the larger mid-tone first, then add darker tones to add depth, and highlight at the end.” “The mid-tone allows you to address shape and form, the darker tones will add richness and the lighter colors will demonstrate where the light falls. It is an act of balancing as you move through the work.”
  • It is much easier to go back over your large shapes to create finer details, rather than taking the opposite approach. You need to think about the painting “coming into focus” as you work. 
  • Remember that acrylics dry really quickly. This means most blending should be done on your palette before it hits the canvas. You can use a spray bottle to spritz your paints to keep them moist as you go, which will give you a little more time. The exercises in step one will help you get a feel for how acrylics apply and dry. 

Artwork from Blank Canvas Mural company.

“Whether you are painting a portrait or an abstract painting, a true painter captures the essence of a thing. When you are painting, try to step away from the mechanics of the application and focus on the feeling and experience of the work,” Webster advises. In this way, you will be able to create your own signature artwork and explore the use of paints more freely and creatively.

Step Five: Preserve & Move Forward

Considering acrylic paints are water-resistant and dry quickly, they can be preserved quite well by themselves. We recommend applying acrylic-approved varnish over a painting if you’re particularly proud of it and want it to last, or if you want to add another dimension to it. Your painting will be shiny and glassy, and it will be protected from scratches and paint flaking. 

No worries if you weren’t totally impressed with your first painting. It’s rare for a beginner to create a masterpiece right out of the gate. This is just the beginning of your acrylic journey, and there’s so much fun to come. It is important to follow your heart if you wish to paint — large or small, for pleasure or money. “I am a big fan of ‘go big or go home’.”

Learn how to discover and cultivate your signature style with Osheen Siva.


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