Painting With Acrylics - The Basics

You've been to the art shop and you have bought your set of acrylic paint and you are ready to paint. Before you start let's go over some basics.

Here are the main differences between acrylic and watercolor;
Acrylic paint is resin based, it dries very quickly and when it is dry it is completely waterproof (Watercolor is never waterproof). Acrylic paint can be used like oil paints and painted impasto (that is so thick that you can see the brush strokes). Acrylic paint can be layered like oils but because of the drying time it can be layered much more quickly (oil paint can take days to dry, acrylics will dry in minutes). In theory you can paint a canvas black, let it dry and then paint it white again! In practice the paints are never completely opaque and some of the color underneath will come through. You can dilute acrylics with acrylic medium. This is a clear resin formula which will slow the drying time of your acrylics and "bulk" them allowing impasto work more easily (and cheaply).

Here are some of the similarities;
You can dilute acrylics with water to produce washes in much the same way you would with watercolor. Some people paint with acrylics much as they would with watercolor, that is to say first starting with a very pale wash for sky or distant landscape and then gradually working in washes of increasing color density for the foreground and detail. You can apply glazes with acrylics in the same way as watercolor. A glaze is the application of a semi translucent layer of paint which will allow the color underneath to shine through in varying degrees according to the light. This is one of the most exiting ways paint can be used, glazing as a technique was very popular with the neo-romantic movement with artists such as Gabriel Dante Rossetti. Layers of paint of increasing translucency was applied to areas of the face and skin which allowed the skin tones to glow in the light.

Some useful tips on the use of acrylics;
As mentioned above glazing is a very exiting technique to really make your paintings stand out and give the color a particular intensity. To do this you will need to know which of your colors are opaque and which are translucent. Some acrylics have a coding system on the colors, for example "T" for translucent and "O" for opaque. In practice you don't need to be told this, you can squeeze a little of your paint onto your white palette. If the paint is translucent it will look like jelly, you will be able to see through it, if it is opaque it will look more like a blob of wet plasticine, it's as simple as that, although obviously mastering subtle glazing technique can take many years.

The other useful thing to bear in mind is you will either need a way to keep your acrylic paint wet or you should only use in small amounts. Ways to keep acrylics useable on the palette include special paper like blotting paper you wet first with water and then mix your acrylics on top of it. Other artists will spray water on their palette at regular intervals. For myself I like to work fast and when it's getting a bit dry I wash the palette and start again from scratch.

Never, ever let acrylic dry on the brush! When painting with acrylic keep your brushes in water. When you have finished using them wash them carefully with cold water and washing up liquid, rinse them and dry them upright, shaping the bristles into points.

I hope you have found this brief guide useful, feel free to browse the website below and you will see some of my work.

Mark Robb is a practising artist based in Haworth. If you have enjoyed the article above then he invites you to browse the website where you will find all kinds of art materials, art prints and further advice and tips to help you become a better artist.

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