If you have never painted with acrylics before, you are in for a real treat! Relatively forgiving and easy to work with, acrylic paints are also extremely versatile. Whether your tastes run more toward realism or abstract art, acrylics are a great way to bring your artistic vision to life. Here’s a beginner’s guide to getting started.
Characteristics of Acrylics
Acrylics are a sort of midrange paint choice, because they can mimic the appearance of both oil paints and watercolors, depending on whether you thin them with water. Unlike oils, though, they are water-based and easy to clean up. They are also nontoxic and do not give off a heavy or unpleasant odor.
Acrylics dry quickly, making it easier to go over spots you don’t like. This fast drying time can make it challenging to mix colors, but there are additives readily available to extend the working time and improve the blendability of acrylics.
There are also numerous additives that can completely change the consistency, texture, and even sheen of the acrylic paint. From gels to pastes, acrylic additives offer a seemingly endless playground for experimentation.
To get started with acrylic painting, you will need some basic supplies. Everyone has their own preferences, so it is generally best to start with inexpensive items that are easy to replace rather than investing a lot of money in a palette or paintbrush that you might not love. Here’s what you need:
Acrylic Paints: Obviously, you can’t paint anything without paint! Start with a midrange set of paints in Student Quality. If you find yourself getting serious about acrylic painting, you can move to the pricier Artist Quality paints, and buy individual add-on tubes and jars as needed.
Paintbrushes: These are available in a breathtakingly large array of sizes, styles, shapes, and even hair types. More expensive does not necessarily mean better, and at the beginning, it’s more important to learn what feels best to you. Buy several cheap brushes in different sizes and shapes, and learn as you go about what you want in your brushes.
Canvases: Canvases have been used by artists throughout the centuries, and are still highly popular today. While there are many other options for painting with acrylics, from wood panels to metal to plastic to heavy paper, canvas is still the best choice for those learning to paint. Canvases are available with a wide range of characteristics, at vastly different price points, but in the beginning, it’s best to stick to simple stretched canvases in a moderate size.
Palette: Your palette is where you mix your paints. Traditional palettes are made of wood and have a thumb hole for easy holding while you work. Today, though, you have quite a few options, from Plexiglas to disposable paper. Try out a few different styles to see what works best for you.
Cleaning Supplies: Acrylics are easy to clean up, but it is important to have supplies on hand. A jar or cup of water for dipping the paintbrush, a handful of rags or a roll of paper towels, and some soap are all that you need. You can buy special soaps designed for paintbrushes, or just use a liquid hand soap.
Varnishing Your Finished Piece
Although it is not strictly required, varnishing your finished artwork is highly recommended. Varnish protects your piece from dust and UV damage, and brings together the colors in a beautiful way. Use a separate brush and jar rather than reusing any of your painting materials. Make sure the painting is completely dry and dust free. Mix the varnish with water according to the package instructions, lay the painting down flat, and paint on the varnish until the entire painting looks shiny. Let it dry for several hours, and then apply a second coat if desired.