14 Quick Tips For Working With Acrylics

By Nicole Tinkham

Quick Tips For Working With Acrylics

Acrylics are a wonderful medium to work with and if you haven’t done so already, we highly recommend playing around with them. But before you do, there are some very important things you need to know. If you typically work in oils or watercolor paint, there’s a trick to help you feel more comfortable when making the transition to acrylics. For instance, if you use them straight out of the tube you’ll get more of an oil paint feel. Mixing them with either a medium (to achieve different consistencies) or water tends to thin the paint and will remind you of watercolors. There are numerous types of a medium you can use to create different effects but that’s a whole other post. Literally, check it out here: The Various GOLDEN Mediums Explained. Anyway, one challenge that you’ll be facing is keeping these paints workable as they dry extremely fast. They’re also permanent so that could be another adjustment if you’re used to lifting color with watercolors. And we’re sure you’ll encounter other unexpected things along your journey so remember that there’s always a learning curve when trying something new in the art world. Luckily, we put together these 14 quick tips to prevent some of the oopsies that tend to come up when working with acrylics.

1.    Keep them workable by having a spray bottle near by to mist the paint as you work. Since they dry so quickly, only put on your palette what you’ll definitely use to avoid wasted paint. A Stay-Wet palette is another option to look into. It’s basically a sheet of wax paper that lies on top of a wet piece of watercolor paper.

2.    Make them transparent by mixing the paint with a retarder which will also open the working time of the paint. Water can be used to thin them but will compromise the pigmentation. Stick with the retarder instead. Note: Not all acrylic paint is opaque. The tube itself will note whether it’s opaque of transparent.

3.    Blend quickly by dampening the canvas first which will buy you more working time.

4.    Create hard edges with masking tape. The tape can be applied to a layer of dried acrylic paint and removed without lifting the paint. Use this method to easily create hard, straight lines. Just be sure not to paint too thickly up along the tape.

5.     Use it as glue when working on a collage as long as the pieces being held together aren’t too heavy.

6.    Masking fluid can be used as a resist if you’re using the acrylics like you would watercolors (watered down). Be sure the masking fluid is dry before you paint over it and don’t paint over too thickly.

7.    Acrylics dry darker. Don’t freak out, you’ll get the hang of mixing them just right with a little practice.

8.    Create depth by layering. It takes away the flatness of the piece and adds dimension.

9.    Applying white over a dark blue can give you a blue tint. The trick: Paint a second layer of white OR neutralize the blue by adding a little bit of yellow or orange to your white.

10.    Use larger brushes when possible to cover large areas quickly before the paint dries. Of course you still need smaller brushes for details so keep those handy as well.

11.    Clean your brushes right away. Acrylic paint can harden on your brushes quickly and ruin them if left on for too long. Be sure to have some water close by to dip them in while you work. Also be sure to rinse them with warm water and Murphy’s Oil Soap (no solvent necessary) right after use.

12.    Prime your canvas with acrylic gesso primers instead of oil based primers.

13.    Don’t stack acrylic paintings face to face as the paint can stick to itself and destroy your piece.

14.    Use a palette knife for mixing. Palette knives make mixing acrylic paint much easier (not to mention a lot of fun) and you can even use this tool to paint. Learn more about the palette knife technique here: Painting with a palette knife.

Experimenting with any new medium can be a challenge. Even though it may feel foreign to you right now, remember that acrylic paint can be used similar to oil paint or watercolors. Starting out with what you’re already comfortable with can make transitioning much easier. But it all really comes down to experimentation so grab a brush, a few tubes of paint, a blank canvas, and get started!

Name one type of medium you’d love to learn more about and we might just feature it in our next blog! Comment below or over on our Facebook page!

4 thoughts on “14 Quick Tips For Working With Acrylics

  1. To avoid washing too much acrylic paint down the drain try wiping your brushes off onto art papers or deli sheets. The deli sheets can be torn up and collaged. The art paper can turn into a work by itself or lead to a new work.

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