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Learn How to Use Acrylic Paint (for Beginners)

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Acrylic Painting

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A Beginner Acrylic Painting Guide for The Artist in All of Us!

By Courtney Jordan, Online Editor

Painting is one of the most rewarding ways to artistically express yourself, and starting that odyssey by learning how to use acrylic paint is a smart decision because the medium is flexible and durable. Using acrylic paint is considerably more affordable than working with oils--a significant boon for the beginning painter.

 Learn aacrylic painting techniques from the experts with this amazing list of resources

Les Trois Amis by Colleen Howe, 2007, pastel painting, 14 x 18. Content adapted from articles by Linda S. Price and Colleen Howe as told to Collin Fry.

The First Lesson in Acrylic Painting: Understanding the Medium

Of the many acrylic painting lessons you will certainly learn, many would argue that the first lesson should be understanding the medium itself.

Simply put, what is acrylic paint? The answer is a water-soluble medium made from a synthetic resin binder mixed with pigments. The water soluble aspect of acrylic paints means that a painting dries quickly and you do not have to use solvents to dilute the paint or for cleaning brushes or a palette. But after an acrylic painting on canvas dries the surface becomes water resistant, and a canvas can be rolled up and stored with no fear of cracking or damaging. This is all in contrast to oil paints, which need to be thinned with solvents, take much longer to dry and harden as they do so, making them quite fragile and not so easily transported. Acrylic painting, for beginners, can be an exciting prospect because acrylics have so much versatility.

You'll notice when painting with acrylic paint that they dry to a flat finish. But mediums abound that can be added to the paints to increase luminosity or to get a matte or semi-matte finish. Acrylic pigments can also be diluted with water or a medium to create watercolor-like transparent washes. You can add mediums that thicken acrylic paint as well, which is ideal if you want more noticeable brushstrokes as you put acrylic paint on canvas.

Getting Started: The Basics of Acrylic Painting

To get started, a few acrylic painting basics include choosing a painting surface that does not contain oil or wax, to which acrylic paints just won't adhere. Also, certain pigments aren't always available by the same name from acrylic paint manufacturers. The brand of paint you choose will likely have the colors you want, but you just may have to search through a few name variations.

Another of our acrylic painting tips is try to resist mixing pigments too much or adding more than two or three colors to a mix because you run the risk of muddying your acrylic paints. Also, when acrylic paint is first put down, colors can look lighter than and not as bold as they will when they dry, so be patient as you first start out.

Having Fun with Acrylic Paints: Painting Outdoors (Tips & Guidance)

Once you feel like you have a familiarity with how to use acrylic paint in your art, take your acrylic paints outdoors! It's a thrilling and exciting way to explore acrylic painting. You'll want to remember that because acrylic paints dry very quickly, especially when you are painting outdoors, you may want to keep a spray bottle of water on hand to keep the paints moist. Also, don't squeeze out a ton of paint on your palette so it doesn't dry out and end up wasted.

There are also stay-wet palettes that you can buy or make if you are so inclined. If you want to learn more about the acrylic painting techniques that you can use when painting the landscape or cityscape, check out Mastering Acrylic Painting with Marcia Burtt as she paints ocean waves and palm trees in sunny California, or John Harrell's DVD on Painting Scenes from the City. Plus Stephen Quiller's acrylic landscape painting digital download gives you immediate access to professional art instruction on landscape painting with acrylic paint, so you'll be all set for using acrylic paint outdoors because of the acrylic painting lessons that Quiller shares based on his own painting experiences.

Next Steps with Beginner Acrylic Painting

If you are more content to stay in the studio while exploring your acrylic painting techniques, consider taking the still life as your subject, or using acrylic paint with a more decorative mindset. There are many specialty acrylic colors and pigments out there, from iridescent colors to fluorescents and glimmering metallics. You can take any acrylic painting ideas you have and ramp them up for artworks that are really eye catching if you use these special mixes. Be sure to download Tom Fischer's video on how to paint flowers in acrylics to get you started! He'll set you on the right track when it comes to color, composition, and more. Enjoy!

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Courtney Jordan is the Online Editor of Artist Daily. For her, art is one of life’s essentials and a career mainstay. She’s pursued academic studies of the Old Masters of Spain and Italy as well as museum curatorial experience, writing and reporting on arts and culture as a magazine staffer, and acquiring and editing architecture and cultural history books. She hopes to recommit herself to more studio time, too, working in mixed media.