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Looking to start out with acrylic paints and not sure what you need or where to start? This article offers advice to those looking to start out with Acrylics and also offers further help and advice for taking your paintings up a notch.

Acrylic paints are a versatile medium being able to mix them to different consistencies and use them thinly like Watercolours or thickly like Oils or anywhere in between. Acrylic paints are an exciting medium for any Artist regardless of calibre as they offer a wide range of colours and mediums that can be used to create texture and effect which can be applied to many different surfaces such as Canvas, paper, wood and Aluminium to name a few. Here are the basics that are recommended to get you started:

starting out with acrylics

Paints – You don’t need a huge collection of colours so start out by buying Black, White & the 3 Primary Colours which are Red, Blue & Yellow – Primary colours are the 3 colours that cannot be created by mixing other colours together. These 5 colours can then be mixed to create lots of other colours which will minimise wastage and cost you less.

Brushes – You do not need to buy a huge set of expensive brushes to begin with, starting with a set of 5 different sized/shaped brushes should allow you plenty of scope – the sizes you choose will depend on your subject, style and canvas size

Support – When starting out it may be more cost effective to buy a cheap canvas for practice – as you advance in the medium, you may find your choice of support will change to adapt to your preference & personal style.

Once you have these, you will need the following before you get started:

Mixing Dish – There are many mixing dishes available but an old saucer or spare tile works just as well. Porcelain is easier to clean than plastic.

Water Jar – A glass jar is ideal, using 2 allows you to use 1 for light washes and the other for dark washes to cut down on continuously having to change water.

Pencil– A soft grade pencil such as a 2B pencil is ideal to apply your initial outline

Kitchen Roll – To keep your paintbrushes clean between colour washes and avoid colours mixing

Clothing – Acrylic paints will stain clothes which may not wash out so it is best to wear old clothing or cover your clothing with an Apron. If working in a carpeted area, you may also wish to put a blanket on the floor too.

how to paint with acrylics

Important Tips:

* It may be easier to start with heavy body acrylics as they can just as easily be thinned down allowing you to try different styles before deciding if you prefer a heavier, buttery consistency (like Oil paints) or work with thinner washes (like Watercolours) or simply stick to the middle ground.

* Ideally apply a loose base wash to the whole canvas using colours such as a Burnt Sienna or grey tone before drawing your outline

* Ideally work the painting from back to front (background to foreground)

* Apply a droplet of water to unused paint in your palette and then cover the whole thing with Clingfilm before placing it in the fridge overnight, this will stop the paints drying out if you wish to continue using these colours again the next day.

* Avoid standing brushes to dry bristles down as it will bend them and possibly render the brush unusable.

* Avoid wastage by only using what paint you think you will need for each section of your painting

Never rinse paint down plugholes as you can cause blockages this way – wipe the excess with a tissue and dispose of in a bin or wait until the paint has dried so you can peel it off and throw it in the bin.

acrylic painting tips

Advancing With Acrylics

If you find you enjoy working with Acrylics, there are many more products available that may help take your Art up a level and give you more scope to create quality work! You may wish to buy a few more colours to cut down time spent mixing and it may be helpful to have a larger tube of Titanium White as you may find you use this colour rather a lot, especially for mixing. If you wish to take your Acrylic style to another level, there are various mediums available which you can mix with your paints to add various textures and effects to your Canvas. There are also moulding pastes & gels which will give your work a 3D effect by creating peaks and heavy texture, these can be mixed and/or applied using a palette knife for greater control. If you are thinking of selling your paintings, it is recommended that you choose a good quality canvas which is suited to your preference. Maybe try out a few different surfaces, doing some research on them before taking the plunge. You may also wish to buy a larger set of brushes, having found your Artistic style you may wish to splash out on the expensive animal hair brushes or if you work on a coarse surface and find you wear your brushes down quickly, cheaper synthetic brushes may be the best option.

Advanced Tips:

* Purchasing single tubes as and when needed as opposed to buying a huge range of colours will save money and avoid unused paints drying out.

* Acrylics can be applied to most surfaces but always ensure your surface is primed correctly before applying any paint.

* Ensure the final painting is well protected with a suitable varnish (Matt, Satin or Gloss) as Acrylic paintings are usually framed without the need for glass.

* Some colour pigments may contain animal derivatives such as crushed bone or cochineal (Carmine pigment), if you are Vegetarian/Vegan you may prefer to check with a company before purchasing.

Buying your Acrylic paints – What are the differences between Student & Professional Acrylics?

If you are completely new to Acrylics, it is not necessary to buy a huge range of the most expensive Acrylics available – I cannot stress the importance of trying Acrylics out before buying as if you cannot get on with them you will have wasted a lot of money. Starting out with a student grade paint won’t break the bank and allows you to get used to this medium, if you do not like it after all, you haven’t wasted too much money.

Here are the positives & negatives of student grade Acrylic paint:

Student Acrylics tend to be far cheaper to buy, are created from man made pigments or from a dye and tend to have more filler and less pigment, this means colours will be thinner offering less coverage. In some student Acrylics, you may notice some colour shift which may be slightly darker than the ‘wet’ colour seen in the tube, the cheaper the paints the more colour shift you will see. Also be aware that not all student paints use lightfast pigments so some colours may fade quicker than others. Don’t let the negatives put you off, it is easy to adapt and work around these issues. Student Acrylics are non toxic and safe for everyone to use.

Here are the positives & negatives of professional grade Acrylic paints:

Professional grade Acrylics which also include Interactive Acrylics are more expensive but are made from natural pigments which offers a smoother consistency making them easier to blend and gives better coverage with no colour shift. They tend to have a wider selection of colours and are lightfast. Note that some pigments are toxic (Cadmium) – this pigment is hard to obtain and is one of the most expensive. If you want to sell your work as a professional business, professional products are the only way to go.

Lastly, Acrylics, like most mediums, may not be easy to start off with but they are a wonderful medium to work with and offer so much scope, vibrancy and interest that they are well worth trying!

The most important thing to remember is to simply ‘Have fun creating’!


Artist Karen Berisford

Karen Berisford is a professional Pet & Portrait Artist creating highly detailed bespoke Commissions for customers both in the UK and Internationally. Working in Coloured pencils and Acrylic paints, Karen works alongside her partner & fellow Pet Artist John Graham, in their home studio in Newbiggin by the Sea, Northumberland, UK. Find out more about Karen and her work at –

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How To Paint With Acrylics, Starting Out | Guest Post by Artist Karen Berisford