13 Acrylic Painting Techniques All Beginners Should Try

You’ve got your acrylic paint, your work surface, and you’re really inspired to paint. But how exactly do you do get started? Here’s a guide to acrylic painting techniques for beginners that will help you begin your artistic journey. Want more? Check out our other resources for beginning acrylic painters!

Tubes of Acrylic Paint

Once you’ve assembled all of the necessary tools for acrylic painting, you’re ready for the fun part: putting paint to paper or canvas. Here, we’ll explore some easy key techniques for applying paint, mixing color, and building paintings so that you can paint like a pro in no time.

Techniques for paint application

The most basic supplies (brush, acrylic paint and paper) can be used in a variety of ways. These are some accessible techniques for applying paint to paper in a variety of styles. 

Dry brush 

Dry brush acrylic paint application

When paint is applied to canvas or work surface using a dry brush and paint undiluted by water, you’ll create a strong current of color on the page. Your lines will be uneven, as they won’t have water to soften the edges, but this can be a purposeful painterly effect. Dry brush application lends texture and movement to lines. 

Washing

acrylic paint wash with wet brush technique

You can treat acrylic somewhat like watercolor when you dilute the paint with enough water. You can use the watered down paint to apply translucent washes on your surface. However, unlike watercolor, the acrylic paint will set permanently. Mixing wash and dry brush methods can be very effective in creating a variety of textures in a single piece.

Stippling 

Stippling Acrylic Paint on Canvas with Large Round Brush

This method, often used in drawing, can also be used with paint (Georges Seurat’s work is a fine and famous example). Creating an assemblage of tiny dots to create imagery can be an effective way to show texture and to create a compelling scene with subtle variations in color. 

Splattering

Splattering Red Acrylic Paint on Paper

Using a fairly wet brush, you can flick or splatter paint onto a work surface for an uneven splatter effect. It’s fantastic for creating an abstract landscape or a starry night or for just adding texture to a piece.

Dabbing 

Dabbing red acrylic paint on canvas with a yellow sponge

Using a corner of a sponge or even a piece of paper towel, you can dab on accents of color. Think of it like very artistic sponge painting. Dabbing adds a lot of texture and movement to a piece. For instance, on the painting above, dabbing with a sponge perfectly captured the texture and movement of trees swaying in a light breeze. 

Palette knife

Applying Red Acrylic Paint With a Palette Knife

Applying paint with a palette knife is an instant way to make your painting “artsy.” It might seem intimidating or advanced, but it’s a technique accessible even to beginners. Simply use the palette knife to scrape up a bit of paint and apply it to your work surface. Pretend that you’re artfully spreading buttercream on a cake or even butter on bread, and you’ll get the idea pretty quickly. 

Detailing 

Detailed Painting of an Eye Made With Acrylics

A small, fine brush can be used to apply details, such as the whites of eyes or the glisten on the wing of a bird. In our tutorial on how to draw eyes, you’ll get a fantastic primer on detail work in acrylic, which can carry over to different subject matters. 

Techniques for building a painting 

One of the great things about these techniques for building a painting is that they will grow as your skills develop. Mastering these basic techniques is like laying a groundwork for your future painting. These techniques can become more involved complex as you advance. 

Underpainting

Creating an Underpainting in Red Acrylic Paint

Start your painting by creating a “sketch” of the image in paint. Often this is done in a color that contrasts with the palette you have in mind for the finished piece. You can paint over the underpainting entirely using opaque acrylic to cover any evidence of the paint below, or you can let parts of it shine through for a dimensional effect.

Glazing

Glazing Painting of a Leaf in Acrylic

By incorporating matte medium into your paint, you can create luminous scenes. The technique, which is detailed in this tutorial, is simple: Mix acrylic paint with a small amount of matte medium and apply the paint in thin layers, building the color until it creates a rich, complex color. 

Layering

Painting Green Layer on Painting of Plant

Layering, which can be combined with either of the two above methods, is simply to paint in layers. This means that you’ll build the painting from the bottom up. You’ll start by painting big blocks of color, often as washes, and then adding more and more refinement as you add layers.

The technique is detailed in this post about how to paint a self portrait, but the method could be applied to paint other subject matter.

Paint in blocks of color

Painting Large Blocks of Color in Acrylic Paint

This is a fantastic method for beginners. Trace your image, separating each color or tone into separate shapes. Create a palette, and then paint in the shapes as if it were your own DIY paint by numbers piece. This is an easy method with monochromatic palettes or can be employed with a variety of colors, too. 

Color mixing techniques

Mixing acrylic colors is fairly simple: Combine colors and mix using a palette knife. But once you’ve mastered color mixing, you can explore some more creative methods. Here are just two.

Partially mix colors before painting

Red and Blue Acrylic Paint Partially Mixed with Palette Knife

Instead of fully mixing the two colors, just give them a brief mix with your palette knife. Then, use the partially mixed colors to paint. You’ll get a fascinating mingling of colors as you apply the paint to your work surface. 

Create a family of colors

Mixed Acrylic Colors on Gray Palette

Creating a family of colors or tones to work with in a painting can help you create subtle variances in your painting. Whether it’s slight varieties of skin tones or varying shades of pink, having a family of tones pre-mixed before you paint can really help streamline the process. 

Then, get creative

While there are a few tried-and-true techniques all beginners should try out, don’t limit yourself to the basics! Mix and match these methods and techniques, exploring the ways of painting that feel right to you. As you develop your skills, you’ll notice that your techniques will become refined into your own unique method of creating art. 

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