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How to acrylic paint

This article was co-authored by Jeanine Hattas Wilson. Jeanine Hattas Wilson is a Professional Painter and the President of Hattas Public Murals, Inc. With nearly 20 years of experience, Jeanine specializes in creating, overseeing, designing, and painting murals. Jeanine holds a BA in Advertising from Marquette University and a Studio Painting Minor from The Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design. She has studied at The Atelier Artien in Paris, France, Los Angeles Academy of Figurative Art, and under renowned artists such as Robert Liberace, Michael Siegel, and William Cochran. To date, Hattas Public Murals has painted nearly 5,000 commissioned works of art in homes and commercial and public spaces.

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Many artists enjoy painting portraits with acrylic paint, which is easy to work with and cheaper than oil paint. To paint a face using acrylics, you’ll need a variety of paint colors so you can blend the right skin, eye, and hair color for your portrait. You’ll also want different size brushes to work with, as well as some water on hand for cleaning the brushes, thinning the paints, and keeping the paints from drying out. Before you get started, draw your subject’s face on paper or canvas. Then, paint one part of the face at a time, starting with the skin and filling in the eyes, mouth, nose, and hair as you go.

How to acrylic paint

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Whether you are new to acrylics or have been painting with them for some time, there are always new techniques to learn. By expanding your knowledge of acrylic painting techniques, it’s possible to work creatively with unparalleled freedom. So don’t be afraid to experiment and try some new ways of working with paint.

As you learn to paint with acrylics, you’ll slowly build up your repertoire of tricks to create any image you desire. And by beginning to work with some of the techniques of the great Old Master painters, you’ll be able to produce even more painterly pieces. To help you along, beginners will find tons of painting tutorials on YouTube that will give great insight into and tips on how to work with acrylics.

To get you on your way, we’ve explored 11 of the most common acrylic painting techniques, along with quick tutorials that will put you on the path to artistic freedom. We’ll also look at some of the acrylic mediums that will help push your pigments to the next level by changing their drying time, texture, and consistency.

Need more information on which acrylics will work for you? Check out our guide on how to select the best acrylic paints.

How to acrylic paint

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Learn how to paint with acrylics by mastering these easy painting techniques.

Drybrush

A great technique to add dimension and texture to paintings, drybrush can be especially useful in landscape painting to create blades of grass or fluffy clouds. It’s also an excellent technique to add highlights and dimension to an underpainting. Just load your brush with paint and test it on another surface to begin with in order to ensure that you have the right quantity of paint to create fine uneven lines.

Wash

The acrylic wash technique will allow you to build up transparent layers of colors for a watercolor look. The finished result will set permanently and you’ll want to be careful about how much water you add—a good rule of thumb is no more than 30% water to maintain the paint’s vibrant colors and binding properties. Using a flow aid medium will allow you to achieve a wash consistency without compromising the pigment.

Stippling

Most people think of Georges Seurat and Pointillism when stippling is mentioned. This easy, versatile technique is applied with stiff brushes that allow small dots of paint to be applied across the surface. By layering different colors, it’s possible to make subtle color blends that create dimension and texture in any painting.

Pouring

Acrylic pouring is a fun, creative way to produce abstract art. The psychedelic paintings that acrylic pouring produces can be enhanced by incorporating different pouring mediums. You’ll want to use fluid acrylics and prepare yourself for a messy but fun experience that produces a different end result each time!

Splattering

Channel your inner Jackson Pollack and attempt the splattering technique to create abstract masterpieces. Using fluid acrylics and thinning them with water or a flow medium will greatly help the process. You can either drip from above or flick your wet brush to get a spray of paint. Be sure to let colors dry between spatters in order to get clean, vivid hues.

Fluid acrylics are acrylic paints with a runny or thin consistency, designed to flow and spread easily without sacrificing color intensity. Fluid acrylics are ideal for pouring or dribbling paint, rather than applying it with a brush.

Various paint manufacturers sell fluid acrylics, but if it’s only something you’re going to want occasionally, you can make your own version from your usual, more buttery acrylics (it works best if the tube of paint you’re using is artist’s quality and soft-body). Here’s how to do it:

Step 1: Find a Suitable Container

Ideally, you want a container that is squeezable and has a nozzle for creating a fine line, but also has an opening that's big enough to put a brush into should you want to load your brush. You can often find inexpensive squeeze bottles at a craft store or discount store.

If you know someone who does a lot of fabric painting or decorative painting, they’ll likely have paint in a similar bottle, so ask them to save you an empty one. Or you can purchase your own squeeze bottles in various sizes (Buy from Amazon), depending on how often and how much fluid paint you will use.

Step 2: Add Medium/Water

How to acrylic paint

You can just use water to dilute acrylics, but remember you don’t really want to use more than 50% water (to the volume of paint) otherwise you run the risk of the paint losing its adhesive properties. It is better to use a 50:50 mixture of water and a glazing medium such as Golden Acrylic Glazing Liquid (Buy from Amazon) or Liquitex Professional Glazing Fluid Medium (Buy from Amazon).

A dispersing medium would also work, but check the label to see how much is ‘safe’ to use. With some, if you use a lot, the paint may become water-soluble which could be a nuisance when applying further layers of paint.

Step 3: Add 'Normal' Acrylic Paint

How to acrylic paint

Once you have your fluids in your container, it's time to add some paint. How much is something you'll have to figure out through trial and error based on the thickness of the paint you are using. Too much and the paint won't be fluid enough, too little and your fluid acrylic won't have much strength in its color. It is best to stick to opaque colors rather than transparent for a stronger result. Titanium White in a tube is an opaque white that can easily be made​ into a fluid white paint with good coverage.

Another option worth considering is to use an acrylic ink rather than paint, as these have a very fluid consistency and intense colors.

Step 4: Consider Making a Funnel

How to acrylic paint

If you are having trouble pouring medium into your container, make a funnel using a piece of aluminum foil. Fold it into a triangle, then around your finger or pencil to keep a hole open, and crimp the edges together. Don't stress over it; it's meant to be functional and disposable, not a work of art!

Step 5: Mix It All Together Thoroughly

How to acrylic paint

Mixing it all together is the boring part as you have to ensure it's done thoroughly. Otherwise, you will get medium on its own and little lumps of paint. Use a coffee stirrer or an equivalent to stir it or shake the mixture gently so as not to get air bubbles. If you can get hold of one, add a small ball bearing in the bottle to help with mixing.

Step 6: Using Your Fluid Acrylic

How to acrylic paint

Spend a bit of time practicing the kinds of marks you can make with your fluid acrylic. It will be influenced, for instance, by how narrow the nozzle is on your bottle, how fast you move across the canvas, and how hard you squeeze.

Step 7: Clean the Nozzle When You're Done

How to acrylic paint

Take the time to clean the nozzle of the container thoroughly when you have finished painting. Yes, it's tedious to do, but if you don't do that the paint will dry in it and clog it. You might find a meat skewer, toothpick, or large sewing needle useful for keeping the tip of the nozzle clear.

Step 8: Ensuring an Air-Tight Seal

How to acrylic paint

As acrylics dry when the water evaporates, you need to check that the container you are using for your fluid acrylics is air-tight or well sealed. To ensure the paint is sealed in air-tight and thus won't dry out too quickly, unscrew the nozzle, place a small piece of plastic wrap over the bottle, then screw the nozzle back on again.

Step 9: Experimenting With Fluid Acrylics

How to acrylic paint

Fluid acrylics are good for many different ways of painting. They are the best acrylic paints to use for watercolor-like effects without diluting the color, since it takes less water to thin them than is needed to thin heavier-bodied acrylics. For watercolor effects, thin the paint down even more than you normally would. A ratio of one part paint to three parts water should be enough to break down the acrylic binder so that the paint acts like watercolor.

Also use fluid acrylics for glazing over another color, for creating drips (an eye dropper works well for this), for bleeding colors into each other, and for pouring. To get an even surface when pouring, mix fluid acrylics with Pouring Medium (Buy from Amazon) in a ratio of 1 cup of pouring medium to 1 tablespoon of paint.

Watch Liquitex Pouring Medium and Using Liquitex Pouring Medium, by Michele Theberge to see how to create a resin-like coat on your paintings.

Reader Question: If the acrylic paint is too thick or too hard, how can it be diluted?

If you find that your acrylic paint is too thick or too hard to be workable, here are a few things you can try to loosen up the paint and improve its viscosity:

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  • Add water. Dip your paintbrush in a cup of clean water and then gently tap the water from your brush onto the paint. Carefully work the water into the paint using your brush, adding more water if necessary, until the paint becomes more liquid.
  • Add a product like Flow-Aid Fluid Additive or Acrylic Flow Improver. Squeeze out a small amount of the additive and gently mix it with your paint until the paint reaches your desired consistency.
  • Mix the hard paint with a palette knife. Add a bit of water to the paint and then mix it together with a palette knife. You may have to use a grinding motion a few times for the water to mix in with the paint. You can also use a palette knife if you add an acrylic additive, as described above.

Hope that helps and best of luck with it!

Check out my Guide to Buying Art Supplies

Learn more about acrylic painting!

These recommended courses from Skillshare and The Great Courses Plus will take your painting to the next level! If you sign up for a free trial via the links below, I’ll get a commission that helps support this site and keeps it free of ads!

Acrylic Painting Basics

How to acrylic paint

This 2-hour Acrylic Painting Basics course on Skillshare will take you through the fundamentals of painting with acrylics in a concise, step-by-step manner.

How to Paint Course

How to acrylic paint

If you’d like a more in-depth course, this 24-lecture How to Paint course from The Great Courses Plus will teach you all you need to know about painting.