Technique Tuesdays: 10 Tips for Acrylic Painting

Mixed-media artists love using acrylic paint in their projects, whether for an art journal page, collage, monoprint, stamping, or a mixed-media painting. Acrylics are a staple supply because they’re easy to work with, come in an array of colors and types, and can be mixed with a variety of mediums, such as texture paste, gesso, and gel medium. Dilute them with water and they can take on the look of watercolor.

With so many possibilities, it’s no wonder artists have come up with an abundance of techniques for using acrylic paint. Below are some great tips from articles in Cloth Paper Scissors, Zen Doodle Workshop, and Faces magazines. At the end you’ll find some helpful new resources that offer even more great information. Load up your brush and let’s get painting!

1. When working with acrylics, Staci Swider loves to experiment with color. Sometimes she intentionally works with a limited palette (three colors plus white) to test the limits of how many colors she can create. She also occasionally forgoes black in favor of mixing phthalo blue with burnt umber, creating what she calls “a darkest dark that is much more lively than black.”

2. Acrylic paint can be used to make paste paper, decorative paper with dimensional designs that can used for handmade books, paper arts, and jewelry. Marie Kelzer combines different colors of acrylic paint with Elmer’s Paper Maché Art Paste and brushes it on in layers on top of the paper. While still wet, she drags texture tools through the paint layers to make 3-D patterns. What makes this technique so fun is the variety of tools she uses to get different effects, such as combs, pastry rollers, and clay patterning tools. Here’s one more tip: When finished using the tools on the paste paper, roll or brush them on blank sheets of paper, and use those in other projects.

Acrylic painting |
Marie Kelzer uses acrylic paint to make decorative paste paper 

3. Not sure how to choose a suitable acrylic paint for your work? Willow Wolfe offers this advice: “Good-quality paint should consist of binder and pigment, and very little else. To achieve universal sheen, improved paint performance and pigment drying times, manufacturers add modifying ingredients, but these additions should be very limited. Fillers are commonly used in the manufacturing of student, craft, or entry-level paints, and these fillers make the paint less expensive to manufacture.” Experiment with tube, fluid, and craft paints to see what works best for your project.

4. Artists often splatter paint to add a fun, vibrant look to their work. Tammy Northrup knows how to take those splatters and turn them into a beautiful garden by making them intentional. Her technique: To make flower stems, flick a round paintbrush loaded with green paint across your index finger, being sure the paint is aimed away from you. Practice until you’re happy with the way the splatters look, and try different color combinations. Then, add other colors to create flowers. Build up the flowers by adding dabs of color with a size 4 round paintbrush—you don’t have to paint every petal, just give the suggestion of a flower, and use light and dark shades to give it depth.

Acrylic paint splatter landscape
Turn paint splatters into a lovely landscape (Artwork by Tammy Northrup, photo by Sharon White Photography).

5. When creating a painting, it’s not always what’s on top of the canvas that counts. Carrie Schmitt shares a wonderful technique for starting a painting: Write a love note to yourself with acrylic paint on the blank canvas, before covering it up. The note, she adds, should include, “releasing any negative thoughts about who you are. Let go of any pain and forgive yourself as you paint. Even though these words will be covered with paint, I believe the energy you infuse in your art comes through in subtle ways.”

6. If you’re stuck in a paintbrush rut, try using different types of brushes to get a variety of effects. One that Willow Wolfe recommends is the deer foot, which has an angled top with a pointed tip. When used with a stippling motion and a light amount of paint, the brush can create texture by making tiny, separate dots. A bristle fan brush is great for painting landscapes and foliage; one stroke can create a striated appearance. And a filbert grainer produces a repetitive pattern of thin lines, perfect for creating the look of feathers or animal fur.

7. Beautiful layered backgrounds for art journal pages, cards, collages, and more are easily created with a few shades of acrylic paint and an expired credit or gift card. Kathryn Costa starts her bold mixed-media mandalas by putting a small amount of three analogous paint colors on palette paper. Then she dips the gift card into one color of paint and scrapes it across heavyweight paper or Bristol board. She repeats this, each time loading the card with more paint and scraping it across until the paper is covered. You can also try misting the paper with water and then scraping paint over it, or scrape on a layer of paint, spray the paper, and then scrape some more. Experiment and discover all the different textures and abstract patterns you can create.

Layered acrylic paint background
Layering several colors of acrylic paint makes a dramatic background (Artwork by Kathryn Costa, photo by Sharon White Photography).

8. Color mixing is one of the most enjoyable and creative parts of painting. Chris Cozen recommends building your color vocabulary by becoming familiar with some often-used color terms. Color temperature refers to the warmth or coolness of a color. Typical warm colors are red, orange, and yellow, and typical cool colors are blue, purple, and gray. However, some colors straddle both categories: reds and grays, for example, can be warm or cool. Two more terms to know: Add black to a color and you have a shade; add white and you have a tint.

9. Since acrylic paint is a water-based medium, water can be used to enhance its effects. When beginning a mixed-media painting, Tracy Verdugo sometimes starts out a piece by wetting random areas of hot-press watercolor paper with water, using a wide brush. Then she applies acrylic paint in several shades (such as cadmium red, fluorescent magenta, and Payne’s gray), using wide, skimming brushstrokes to create different reactions across the wet and dry areas of the paper. She then uses a brayer to apply paint in other areas of the paper. Tracy also doesn’t limit herself to using acrylics with a brush—she uses acrylic paint pens as well to draw designs and make marks.

Acrylic paint marker techniques
Acrylic paint markers are great for adding text, marks, and drawings (Art and photo by Tracy Verdugo).

10. Gesso is an artist’s best friend, says Dina Wakley. When painting with acrylics on paper or canvas, she brushes on a coat of gesso first: “Gesso is insurance for your drawing. If you paint gesso on the paper first, you can wipe the marks off with a baby wipe if you don’t like what you’ve painted.” Also, be sure to leave some white space on your substrate, which gives the eye a place to rest, and helps lead the viewer around the painting.

Here are those resources I mentioned earlier; click on the links to find out more!

Mixed-Media Acrylic Painting
This new eMagazine features articles from Cloth Paper Scissors, Zen Doodle Workshop, and Faces magazines.

Acrylic Painting: Techniques and Projects for the Canvas and Beyond is a new eMagazine download that features great articles from Cloth Paper Scissors, Zen Doodle Workshop, and Faces magazines on all types of acrylic painting, plus basics on types of paints and brushes. Click here to get your copy!

Acrylic Painting Studio Kit
This acrylic painting kit is a great creative jump start!

Go on your acrylic painting journey with confidence with this incredible kit that includes Staci Swider’s new book, Acrylic Expressions, plus her four new Acrylic Painting Studio videos: Natural Compositions, Painting Negative Space, Using Personal Imagery, and Working in a Series. You also get a starter set of Sennelier oil pastels, and Staci shows you how to combine those with acrylics for  phenomenal effects. Click here to get the kit!

Awesome Acrylics Dina Wakley
Learn techniques for mixed-media acrylic painting from Dina Wakley in this new video.

Dina Wakley is always coming up with great new techniques for using acrylic paint, and in this video you’ll learn useful tips for creating paint washes, stamping with acrylics, and more. Available as a DVD or video download. Click here to get your copy!


Blog, Mixed-Media Painting Techniques


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