Art Blog

How to Make Acrylic Paints Act More Like Watercolors

Are you curious about painting in a watercolor style, but only have acrylic paint on hand? You’re not alone, and you don’t need to invest in a whole new set of paint to create watercolor-style art.

How to use acrylic paints more like watercolor

Photos via CakeSpy

It’s actually quite easy to make acrylic paints more like watercolor.

We’ll share an incredibly easy method of transforming acrylic paint into a more watercolor-like mixture, as well as discussing the benefits of using this technique. 

Why make acrylic paints more like watercolor? 

As it turns out, there are plenty of benefits of making acrylic paints more like watercolor. 

Get a watercolor finish

It may be obvious, but with this approach, you can create watercolor-like finished piece without using watercolor paints. If you primarily work in acrylic, this can be a benefit as you won’t have to buy a whole new set of paint.

It’s permanent

Unlike watercolor, once acrylic paint dries, it’s permanent. This means that if moisture or a drop of water gets on your finished painting, it’s less likely to be damaged. It also makes it easier to paint layers on top of the dried acrylic paint. 

It’s more opaque

Even a highly diluted acrylic paint has a higher level of opacity than the average watercolor paint. For certain works of art, this can be an advantage. 

Watercolor and acrylic

How to make acrylic paints more like watercolor

The not-so-secret technique behind making acrylic more like watercolor? Use lots of water. Basically, you want to dilute the acrylic to the point where it feels more fluid when coming off of your brush and has a more feathery, watercolor-like texture.

You’ll need: 

  • Paint brushes suitable for acrylic paint
  • A paint palette 
  • Water for diluting your paint
  • Water for cleaning your brush
  • A cloth or paper towels for drying your brush 
  • A work surface 

Step 1: 

Dab that paint

Place a dab of the color or colors you’d like to use in your palette. Use a palette knife to mix colors to your desired shade.

Step 2:

Add water a little at a time to your mixed color, until it progresses from thick to somewhat fluid. You can add the water with your brush (I like to add the water next to the paint so I don’t have to wash the brush between adding drops of water) and mix with your palette knife. 

 

Step 3:

Apply paint

Apply a test area to a piece of scrap paper and determine if it’s the look you’re going for. If not, add a little bit more water. 

Step 4: 

Acrylic versus watercolor

Get painting! You can now create washes and watercolor-like effects with your acrylic paint. As you can see, the look of this paint really is quite similar to watercolor. 

While it’s really as easy as this, there are plenty of things that you’ll want to consider to make your painting most effective. 

Brushes

While you’re treating acrylic more like watercolor, you still need to remember that it’s not actually watercolor. For this reason, you should still use acrylic brushes

For one thing, the sturdier texture of an acrylic brush is still better suited to the paint, even in its diluted form. However, this is also for the protection of your brushes: if tiny bits of acrylic paint dry in watercolor brushes, it can ruin them for future use with watercolor. 

Work surface

Acrylic paint can normally be used on a variety of surfaces, but when it’s diluted with water, your choices are a bit more limited. You need to use a surface that can handle the extra moisture.

You may find that a canvas is not quite absorbent enough. Watercolor paper,  Bristol board or illustration board may be easier to work with in this case.

Palette

When diluting your paint colors, you need a palette that will allow for the added liquid without spreading and bleeding too much. While you can use a regular flat palette or a paper palette, be extremely careful when mixing colors to ensure that they don’t bleed together.

If it’s your first time working with highly diluted acrylic paint, I suggest a palette with individual vessels for each color, or separate containers for mixing colors. I used small ceramic plates I purchased at a dollar store! 

Saving mixed colors

Saving mixed acrylic colors

Unlike watercolor paint, you can’t simply re-wet an acrylic color and “revive” it for future painting. Once acrylic paint dries, it’s permanent.

To preserve mixed acrylic colors, cover them with plastic wrap or seal them in an airtight container. It won’t make the paint last indefinitely, but at least long enough to take a lunch break or to go run a few errands! 

Have you ever used acrylic paint to achieve a more watercolor-like finish? 

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