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Acrylic Painting Techniques (for Beginners)

 

Learning to paint with acrylics is an ongoing process. Mastering new acrylic painting techniques opens the door to a varied portfolio of artwork.

Over time you will develop your own style of painting, but to begin with, mastering a few basic techniques will get you started and you will be more satisfied with your work.

Below are a few basic acrylic painting techniques that are a good starting point for beginners. Practice, experiment and learn while having fun and enjoying the satisfaction and creative release painting with acrylics can give you.

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Acrylic Painting Techniques

  1. Dry Brushing 

 

Dry brushing is done like it says…with a dry brush.  That means using straight paint with no water. It is used for highlighting or adding a hint of color to something.

Add a small amount of paint to your completely dry brush. Lightly sweep or dab it over already dried paint to add highlights or texture to things like tree trunks to give the illusion of snow or light.  

 

Acrylic painting of a tree with dry brush technique
Using a dry brush to add highlights to the tree trunk.
  1. Washing or Glazing

 

Acrylic paint can be watered down to create a thin, transparent wash of color. The effect is similar to watercolor and gives a soft, thin hint of color that is useful for deepening shadows or slightly altering the color of the underpainting.

You can use water to thin the paint or you can use a variety of glazing liquids available to give different effects. See my post on acrylic mediums.

Unlike watercolor, thinned acrylic paint cannot be regenerated when dry and is permanent.

 

Acrylic pain swatch showing the effects of a color wash
Adding a purple wash to deepen the color.
  1. Stippling Technique

Stippling is a technique similar to Pointillism, which is usually done with pencil or pen. Pointillism involves using tiny dots to create a shape or to shade particular areas.

 

Drawing of a head using pointalism.
Example of a pointalism drawing.

 

This technique can also be done with paint and a brush.

 

The Lighthouse at Honfleur by Georges Seurat
The Lighthouse at Honfleur by Georges Seurat 1886. Example of pointillist painting.    Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington

 

 

Stippling is a great way to add texture and dimension to your painting. It is a useful technique for trees and bushes among other things.

The technique involves using a stiff brush dipped in paint and then lightly dabbed on the surface.

Hold your brush upright and use only the tips to produce tiny dots of color. Press more firmly to get larger blob like texture depending upon what you want to achieve.

You can use several colors to give the illusion of depth and shadows. You can also do an entire painting using this technique.

 

Tree painted using stippling technique
Using stippling to add leaves to a tree.
  1. Splattering

Splattering is a fun but messy technique to get a starry night effect or falling snow among other things. It is also widely used in abstract art to get those wonderful pops of color.

To splatter, thin down your paint and load your brush.

Either flick the brush or tap the handle using another brush depending on the effect you want. You can also flick the bristles with your finger.

 

splattering paint onto a painting using brushes
Using two brushes to splatter paint to look like snow.

 

An old toothbrush dipped in paint is another way to get a splattering effect. Just pull back the bristles with your thumb or finger to create the effect you want.

 

using a toothbrush to splatter paint onto a painting
Using a toothbrush to splatter paint.

Splattering requires a little practice. If the paint is too thin you will get blobs of water on your surface. If it is too thick you will have trouble getting any splatter.

It is messy so cover surrounding surfaces. You can also use stencils to confine the splatter to a certain area or create a pattern. This technique is a lot of fun.

 

acrylic painting of a tree using various painting techniques
Painting of a tree using stippling, dry brushing and splattering.

 

  1. Detailing

To get fine thin lines such as for eyelashes, tiny flowers or trees or lines on a sail boat you need a small, fine detail brush.

It is easier to paint details with paint that has been thinned to an inky consistency. It flows better off the brush and gives a more consistent line.

A detail brush with long hairs, referred to as a “rigger”, works best for thin lines. It holds more paint than the shorter haired detail brush so you can get a longer more consistent line with one load.

I use the shorter haired detail brushes for tiny dots of color such as a twinkle in an eye.

 

detail brushes
Detail brushes

 

Using detail brushes also take a bit of practice. A light touch will give you a fine line. The harder you press the thicker the line.

Since I have Parkinson’s, getting fine details in my painting takes a lot of trial and error.

I usually lay my canvas on a flat surface for this and make sure it is completely dry before starting the details.

I keep a wet cloth handy to erase mistakes and rest my arm on the table to minimize tremors. Sometimes I use a ruler or masking tape as a guide.

For working at an easel I use a modified maul stick (or mahl stick).

A maul stick ( pictured below) is just a stick about 3 feet (1 meter) long with a soft covered ball at one end. You can lay it against your canvas and use it to steady your hand.

I made my own modified one which is about 5 feet (1.5 meters) long with a tennis ball covered in leather on one end. This is so I can hold it between my knees to steady it since my left hand does not cooperate most of the time.


 

  1. Wet into Wet Blending

Wet into wet blending is a popular technique in oil painting. It is much harder to achieve with acrylics since they dry so quickly.

You can achieve wet into wet blending by applying one color on top of another while both are still wet or by applying them next to each other and blending to form a gradient.

Adding water or acrylic retarder to the paint will help keep it wet and blendable a little longer. Misting the paint lightly with a spray bottle also helps.

This technique can give a beautiful softly blended background to abstract paintings.

 

  1. Sgraffito

Sgraffito comes from an Italian word sgraffire that means “to scratch”.

The technique involves scratching through the top layer of paint to reveal the layer of paint below.

The top layer should still be wet when doing this but the layer underneath should be completely dry.

It is useful for adding highlights into hair or adding thin blades of grass or twigs in a landscape but you don’t have to limit your technique to these.

The creative possibilities for sgraffito are endless.

You can use sgraffito to create words or designs in your piece, multiple colors to give variation or any type of medium to get more texture or special effects.

You can use any object to do the scratching such as the end of your brush, a credit card or even a stylus.

There are also numerous silicone or rubber tools available to create interesting textures and designs.

 

specialty artist painting tools
Specialty artist painting tools.

 

Be careful not to puncture your canvas or tear your paper with whatever tool you use.

This technique is really a lot of fun to do and is an ideal way to get children interested in painting.

wavy lines scratched into acrylic paintlines scratched into acrylic paint

  1. Sponging

Sponging is done by dabbing paint onto the surface with a sponge. A sea sponge works best for this since it can be easily torn into various shapes and can hold a lot of paint.

 

various sea sponges
Sea Sponges

 

This technique is a great way to paint foliage or loose, hints of shape in the background.

Sponging over a lighter or darker color will give you a beautiful and interesting background for abstract painting or any painting where you do not want details in the background.

Using a sponge can give you a lot of texture or you can use the sponge to gently blend wet into wet to get a subtle gradient.

 

using a sponge to paint trees and bushes
Using a sea sponge to paint trees and bushes.
  1. Painting Knife

Using a painting knife is thought of as a technique for more advanced painters but it is quite easy to use once you get the hang of it.

There are many artists who use painting knives exclusively in there work.

Painting knives can be used to make broad, sweeping strokes across the canvas, add snow to mountain tops or paint the mountains themselves among many other things.

The thin, straight edges of the knife make them perfect for making short, thin lines for trees or grasses or anywhere a line is needed.

A painting knife is great for building up texture in particular areas of your painting or for scratching paint off sgraffito style.

 

painting mountains with a palette knife
Using a palette knife to add snow to mountains.

 

For more information on how to use a painting knife check out my post on Palette and Painting Knives.

pinterest pin acrylic painting techniques for beginners

 

I hope these techniques will help you through your painting process. As with everything, practice is the key.

The more you paint, the better you become and the more you will enjoy being an artist.

If you have any questions or suggestions, leave them in the comments below.

You might also enjoy our Trembeling Art Creative Corner private Facebook group where you can post your work and ask questions.

 

Thanks for reading. 😊

Digital signature Marilyn with butterfly

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

13 thoughts on “Acrylic Painting Techniques (for Beginners)”

  1. Thank you, I have been enjoying painting for a year now, starting with watercolours
    , but it’s been a transition switching over to Acrylics. It’s taking some time with getting to know how to use water!? I just bought a bottle of Liquitex Acrylic medium, flow and additive. When do you use it?

      1. Marilyn… I related with Janice’s comment above and was glad to see the link you recommended, and provided, on Liquitex. I read recently where you can add up to 25% water with the slow dry Liquitex medium, but that just opened up more questions for me. So, you add water to the product, and then mix that with your paint… so… you need to use the same ratios throughout what you paint, or the finish, when dry, won’t be consistent, right? I’d love to take a class, but there aren’t many options where I live. Tutorials help but you can’t talk to them real-time and ask questions. But… I will preserver, as I did with alcohol inks!! Take care!! 🎨🙃

    1. Hi Janice… pretty much the same here, ‘cept I got my start with alcohol inks. Giving acrylics a try was a totally different thang… but, I was game! There’s thin, medium and thick acrylics… with different finishes and other mediums that can be added to give different finishes and textures. It’s a lot to take in and then apply what you think you grasped!! Marilyn’s article did help to shed more light on acrylics… and every little bit helps! 🙃🎨

  2. Dear Marilyn
    I learned a great deal from your instruction. I will check out the links you have provided. Thank you !

  3. Joanne Schafer

    I am a late in life painter and due to various circumstances wasn’t able to paint for a couple years. This was a great article for me for where I am right now. I’m grateful I happened on it.

  4. Anita Coombes

    Thank you. Very helpful as I am very new to painting with acrylics and need all the help I can get!

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