Like oil paints, acrylic paints offer versatility, are used from tubes, and can be mixed with a medium (such as oil). Unlike oil paints, acrylics are water soluble, can also therefore be thinned with water (instead of another medium), are faster-drying, do not have the yellowing issue that oils have, can be used on just about any surface, and are easy to clean up after.
In fact, because this type of paint, which is made with synthetic resins, or polymerised acrylic acid esters, to bind the pigments, is so much more versatile, a few additional tips and acrylics painting techniques might be helpful.
But rather than offer a full-out acrylic painting step-by-step guide, here is an offer of a few basic tips and strategies for painting with acrylics.
Basic Terms for Painting with Acrylics
Acrylic flow improver: a medium added to acrylic paints to enhance flow but not diminish colour.
Binder: the element added to paint to make the paint pigments hold together (bind) and to give the paint an adhering quality. Binders in acrylics make for a paint that is highly adherent.
Glaze(s): thin application of oil paints; transparent; glossy; commonly used in layers to enhance colours and/or add depth.
Impasto: the thick application of pigment with brush or knife that results in deep brush marks or dense impressions left by the oil painting implement.
Medium (sing.)/media (pl.): a medium in painting is the binding element or the thickening/thinning element added accordingly to the artist’s pigments. In acrylic painting, it is not typically necessary to add a medium (as one would with oil paints), but to add water alone (as a thinning agent). There are, however, thinning media (composed of the same binders as are used in the paint) such a glazing media.
Opaque wash: the result of application of paint that is applied directly from acrylics tube and without addition of water or a medium.
Overpainting: a finishing layer of oil painting—done over the previous layer after the previous layer(s) has (have) dried.
Primary, secondary, and tertiary colours: the primary colours are, of course, red, yellow, and blue. A secondary colour is created by the mixing of two primary colours; likewise, a tertiary colour is made by either the mixing of all three primary colours or by mixing a primary and a secondary colour.
Surface: the topmost layer or boundary of an object, also used as a substitute term for the object (canvas) used.
Transparent wash: the resulting effect (viewer able to see through it) of adding more water to the acrylic paint.
Underpainting: preceding layer(s)—that done first or those applied before overpainting is done.
Tips and Techniques for Painting with Acrylics
To work with fast-drying acrylics…
Because acrylics dry fast, it is suggested to either:Use a wet palette (also called a stay-wet palette)Paint with a spray bottle to spray the palette and keep paints from drying Squeeze colours onto the palette only a little at a time. The same applies for mixing colours.
To increase drying time…
While acrylics dry exceptionally fast to begin with, you can speed drying time by adding a retarder to the paint.
To thicken acrylic paint…
Use modelling paste, texture gel, or other water-based medium that is made with the same resins used in the binding agents of the acrylics.
To avoid streaking…
When painting with acrylics a large area of flat colour, be sure the colour is an opaque one; add a bit of opaque to a transparent colour; or try a blending technique using a large soft brush.
To determine colour quality…
When painting with acrylics, know that they dry darker than when they are first applied, so test on separate surface first.
To underpaint or overpaint with acrylics…
Acrylic paints will stick to any surface that is not waxy or oily. Therefore, do not overpaint oil paint. However, underpainting oil paints with acrylics is workable. Likewise, because dried acrylic paint is water-resistant, overpainting acrylic with acrylic is also workable.
To use acrylics as something other than paint…
Because acrylics have adhesive properties, you can use them as glue in three-dimensional projects, collages, and other pieces.
As you can see with that last tip, painting with acrylics is a more flexible experience in one respect—provided you can appreciate working with the stubborn quick-drying nature of the paints. If not, it might be time to go back to Painting with Oils or Painting with Watercolours.