What Should I Know About Acrylic Painting?

Margo Upson
Margo Upson

Acrylic painting is a rewarding pastime for artists who enjoy using a paint that is both versatile and challenging. Artists are able to change the properties of acrylic paints to achieve the look they are trying to create. The challenges involved in acrylic painting can be overcome by knowing about them in advance, and planning around them.

Acrylic paints dry quickly.
Acrylic paints dry quickly.

There are several things to keep in mind when using acrylic paints. The most important is that acrylic paint dries fast. Only squeeze a small amount of paint out of the tube at a time, and use it quickly. Be careful, though. Acrylic paints are also very difficult to remove once they have dried. Solvents are available to remove the paint, but they can’t be used for small mistakes. They will remove everything down to the canvas.

Blending acrylic paint may be difficult.
Blending acrylic paint may be difficult.

A fast drying paint also means that blending can become very difficult after a very short period of time. To work around this challenge, paint small segments of the canvas as fully as you can before moving on to the next. Have an idea of the details you want to add that might require blending, and incorporate them as you go.

To get the best results when acrylic painting, prepare the canvas with artist-grade gesso. Smooth this onto the canvas, then allow adequate drying time before painting. While this step is not necessary, it will help the paint bind more securely to the canvas. Gesso is available in many colors, and can be used as the back drop of a painting.

Because acrylic paints are quick drying, blending is sometimes difficult. It is better to paint in small areas at a time, then blend as needed, then to use one color at a time over the whole canvas. A medium may be used to slow the drying process, but not by much. For the paint on your palette, occasional mists with a water bottle should help keep it wet enough to use.

Acrylic paints can be made either thinner or thicker by using additives. Additives are one of an artists best tools when acrylic painting. Not only can they change the thickness of the paint, but they can also change the finish, the drying time, and the transparency level. Water can also be added to acrylic paint to thin it down. Using more than 30% water mixed into the paint, however, can break down the paint’s properties and make it unusable.

Be sure to blot your paintbrush often when acrylic painting. With thick paint, the paint can dry up and form thick globs on your paint brush. When using thinner paint, extra droplets may run off the brush and onto your artwork.

Acrylic painting lends itself easily to mixed media artwork. Acrylic paints are almost impossible to remove after they have dried. This means that an artist can use oil paints, chalk, pen, charcoal, and other artistic mediums on their paintings without ruining the work they have already done.

Cleaning up after acrylic painting is easy because the paints are water soluble. Rinse paintbrushes off with water, and dry thoroughly. Work surfaces should be wiped up immediately after any spills to prevent staining.

Acrylic paints can be thinned or thickened using additives.
Acrylic paints can be thinned or thickened using additives.
Margo Upson
Margo Upson

Margo has a varied academic background, which has involved everything from psychology and culinary arts to criminal justice and education. These wide-ranging interests make her an ideal wiseGEEK writer, as she always enjoys becoming an expert on new and unfamiliar topics.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


@pleonasm - Good acrylic painting instruction will usually include this sort of warm-up anyway. I did a few classes at the local art school about a decade ago and it seemed like the vast majority of the time we were just splashing paint onto the paper rather than trying to paint something specific.

It was a lot of fun, but I think it's good for some people to have more structured lessons as well.


@Iluviaporos - I guess that ties in to what I usually suggest to new painters, which is to experiment as much as possible. Don't just throw yourself into painting a specific image for your first attempt with paint. Even if you have had acrylic painting lessons, you still need to learn how to work with your particular brand of paint and your particular paintbrushes.

Get some scrap paper and muck around for a while. Figure out how fast the paint dries, how thickly it will go onto the paper, what colors look good together and so forth. Otherwise, while you're painting a picture, you're just guessing every time you put the brush on the canvas.

It might feel like a waste of time and resources to play like this, but it will save you time and resources in the long run.


My suggestion would be to mix up a good amount of whatever acrylic color blend you want to use, because it can be very difficult to get the exact same blend a second time. It's true that acrylics will dry fast once they are on the canvas, but if you keep little jars of them, they will dry more slowly, and if you can get airtight containers, in theory they won't dry at all.

Don't waste paint, but if you've got to get a particular blue for a large portion of canvas, don't be afraid to mix up a large amount to cover it right from the start.

Post your comments
Forgot password?