13 Helpful Acrylic Painting Tips Every Beginner Should Know

red paint and a brush

If you’re just beginning with acrylic paint in your art journal, you’re going to love these acrylic painting tips for beginners.

Some of them seem so silly and small at first, but trust me, each one of these tips can change how you see acrylic painting and can help you improve your painting skills.

That said, you’ll find tips about brushes, tools, neat techniques, etc.

Acrylic painting tips for beginners

These are the tips and tricks I’ve learned by using acrylic paint in my art journals.

1. Acrylic paint vs. watercolor

We’ve done both in school, right? But we can also sometimes confuse the two when it comes to small things like what brush to use.

Acrylic paint is like plastic, so when it dries, you can work on it with layers without disrupting the layers beneath. On the other hand, watercolor is different because it’ll always react to water, so painting layers is a bit different than with acrylic paint.

It’s obvious that you must use water with watercolors, but this isn’t the case with acrylics. I mostly use them with no water at all. This creates wonderful texture and bold, saturated colors.

Another difference I usually make is the use of paintbrushes. For watercolor, I mostly use round brushes, but with acrylics, I think flat ones are better. Round brushes just can’t have control over the thickness of acrylics because they’re softer than the flat brushes.

2. Clean your brushes

This is extremely important because once acrylic paint is dry on a brush, you’ll have no luck cleaning it. It ruins the bristles and I’ve been guilty of doing this for a number of times. Still regret it.

So, if you’re working on a project, have a jar of water and keep your brushes in it while you work. This way, cleaning won’t take too much time away from your work, will keep the brush wet and ready to use.

However, when you finish your work, then clean the brushes properly.

Here’s how.

Wash them with water and soap thoroughly, all the way to the bottom of the bristles.

If acrylic paint dries on your brush, you can use acetone or other appropriate cleaning solution. But just be careful because they can be toxic if you take in a lot of fumes.

3. Store your brushes properly

After you’ve washed your brushes, shape the bristles gently with your fingers and lay them flat on a paper towel.

Once they’re dry, you can store them bristles up.

4. Use different brush sizes and shapes

You don’t have to have every brush that’s out there. Also, there’s no need spending a fortune on the top quality brushes, especially if you’re only a beginner.

I’ve been art journaling for years now, and I’ve never felt the need to buy expensive artist quality brushes. My art journals are for fun and learning, I’m not going to sell my work or exhibit it.

That’s why I want you to feel free to buy brushes with this in mind.

When it comes to acrylic painting, having a few different brushes is a great way to practice acrylic painting and to diversify your strokes.

For example, I have about 5 larger and 5-7 medium or smaller size brushes.

I use larger ones for bigger areas, of course, especially if I’m making an acrylic background.

Smaller brushes can help you paint details better, especially if you’re painting faces or flowers.

acrylic paint palette

5. Create textures with acrylic paint

Acrylic paint is a great medium to create texture because it’s thick, and making thicker areas and shapes will result in amazing effects once it dries.

You can use many different tools to create texture with acrylic paint. Some of them are kitchen sponge, aluminum foil, painting knife, etc.

If you want to create texture with acrylic paint, don’t add water to it. Water just thins it down and then it’s impossible to create the same texture.

6. Let it dry

I know how we, lovers of all things paint, can be impatient when we want to finish something and finally see the result.

Well, on many unlucky occasions, this impatience led to ruining my backgrounds or faces I was painting.

I just didn’t let the paint dry long enough.

Acrylic paint generally dries fast, but that doesn’t mean you can work on it a minute after you’ve put it on the paper.

The thicker your paint is, the longer it will take for it to dry. I know this is boring, but you can use that time and do useful things.

For example, you can clean all your brushes and tools, really taking the time to clean the bristles and store the tools properly.

Also, while waiting, you can look at the color wheel to see what your next color can be, or plan any other next step you’re going to make.

If you’re stubbornly impatient (guilty as charged) then by all means use a hair dryer or a heat gun.

I love using my heat gun because it doesn’t blow away my stuff, which the hairdryer will do if you don’t lower the fan settings. The heat gun dries things so quickly that somehow it became a must-have among my supplies.

Finally, be careful when you’re creating texture with thick layers of paint. These things take a long time to dry, more than 20 minutes in my case.

Experiment with the brand you have and see how long it takes to dry because different brands may have different drying characteristics.

7. Mix colors

One of the most useful acrylic painting tips is to develop a habit of mixing colors instead of using them straight out of the tube.

To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with using the paints as they are, especially because there are so many different tones and shades to choose from.

But when you begin mixing colors and using them this way, you learn new things every single time.

You learn what color mix well, which ones look like crap together, and the best of all, your images display a variety of colors and create more interest.

Now, imagine the possibilities.

To learn more about this, check my article on color theory for artists here.

acrylic paint palette and a brush

8. Use acrylic paint on almost anything

Yes, they’re so versatile that when you realize what you can paint with them, you’ll go bananas.

Besides using them for painting on paper or canvas, you can paint with them over plastic, glass, rocks, metal, etc.

What about making your own pots for flowers, or decorating a plain plastic container or a glass jar?

Here’s what I did.

I have a stand-alone bookshelf that was entirely white, and I could remove the back of the shelves. So, I removed each of the back sides and painted them as if they were my canvas boards. I painted them with acrylic paint and they look awesome.

If you’re going to do some of these things, you’d maybe want to seal your surface with an appropriate sealer, so that chunks of paint wouldn’t fall off if you use those items all the time.

9. Protect your pages

When you work in your art journal, paint tends to go all over the place, especially on the pages underneath or in the spine. If you don’t want the paint messing the other pages underneath, just put a sheet of paper behind the page you’re working on.

This doesn’t bother me most of the time because I see my journals as places to practice, experiment and have fun. And most of all, make a mess. So, sometimes I protect pages like this, other times I don’t. The only thing that matters is how you see it and if you want to make less mess.

I’d usually do this if I plan on using so much acrylic paint on my background that it could easily glue two pages together at the edges, and I don’t want that.

Here’s why.

Acrylic paint acts like adhesive, so taking two pages apart would be like tearing them after you’ve glued them together.

10. Use your fingers

Using your fingers when painting with acrylic paint is an amazing way to create interesting strokes and textures, and man, it’s fun. It’s so fun that you’ll become addicted.

And how quirky and cute are fingers covered in paint? One of the reasons I love painting so much: playing like a child. And finger painting lets you do that, especially with acrylic paint because they’re creamy and soft.

Blending acrylic paint with fingers is something you must try.

11. Thin it down with water

You can use acrylics with water to make them even lighter and softer. However, don’t use more water than the paint, use max 50% of water.

This is great if you want to have a more watercolor like effect but with acrylics.

close up of acrylic paint

12. Be careful with pens

This is a very important acrylic painting tip because it will save your pens from retiring early in the trash bin.

Ordinary pens don’t write well on acrylic background, especially if there’s texture. You might clog the pen. Rather, try a marker or a thin, small size brush to write with.

When I want to write or doodle on acrylic paint, I almost always use my Posca Paint markers and pens. They don’t mind that and work perfectly.

If you remember that acrylic paint is actually plastic, any marker that writes on plastic would be a good choice.

Check out which pens are good for using on acrylic paint in this article about best pens for art journaling.

13. Be patient and consistent

Like in any learning process, figuring out acrylic paint also takes time.

But if you practice consistently, I’m sure you’ll see progress.

Take one step at a time, and be patient with yourself.

Acrylic painting tips – recap

Here are the acrylic painting tips we’ve covered today:

Realize the difference between acrylic paint and watercolor

Clean your brushes and tools properly

Store your brushes properly

Use different brush sizes and shapes for a variety of strokes

Create texture with different tools

Let it dry completely

Mix colors and experiment

Paint other things besides paper

Protect your pages underneath

Use your fingers to ply and experiment

Thin acrylic paint down with water

Be careful with pens, so you don’t ruin them

Be patient and keep practicing

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ACRYLIC PAINTING TIPS FOR BEGINNERS

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