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Acrylic Painting for Beginners: How to Start


Enjoy the Acrylics from the Very Beginning!

Acrylic paints are popular among beginners in the art world for their ease of use, attractive appearance, and almost countless available hues. Work with acrylics is fast, results don’t change with time (at least in roughly last six or seven decades while they are on the market), their level of toxicity is relatively low and cleaning rarely demands more than some soap and water. All these characteristics made acrylic paints a favorite choice for students of painting.

But some of these pros can also fire back (for instance if you need more time for working with color, they can dry too fast) or demand some additional knowledge to use them to their full advantage. Of course, this knowledge is not available to rookies, so it’s only fair to provide as much tips and tricks for working with acrylics.

Here is a growing list coming from all publicly available sources on- and off-line, mixed with advice of seasoned artists with many years of experience in this area:

Quality and Price

* Generally you can get acrylics in two basic qualities: for students and for artists (professionals). Beginners should obviously start with less expensive students’ acrylics, which have a lesser percentage and lower quality of pigments and slowly build up their assortment of colors to better and more expensive products which can be (due to their density) also slightly more demanding to work with.

* While the price and quality correlate in the world of acrylics pretty logically, you can still save significant amounts of money by:

– buying so-called painting sets varying from 5 to 100 US dollars for 4 to 36 colors in smaller or bigger tubes;
– carefully watching for coupons and discounts for the colors you want;
– ordering your most used hues in bigger packages (some are available even in 35 oz jars);
– combining students’ and artists’ paints (the same color can vary in price by the factor five or more, yet both can do the job equally well for some specific tasks)

* All major brands offer dozens of quality paint and related products in wide range of quality and prices, including more liquid or more buttery versions of acrylics. It’s up to each individual artist to experiment with available items to meet the best results.


A Starter Pack

* Quickness of drying and simplicity of manipulation should be first concerns for beginners. This means only the necessary colors, canvases or boards, and brushes, zero additives like solvents, gessos or primers, palette knives, spatulas, sponge applicators, etc. You’ll also need a palette, some paper towels and a few jars for water.

* Being a beginner is not always bad. For instance, you start from scratch, what means you need all basic colors, so you can reduce the price per color with buying a full set of jars at once. You can get for instance Liquitex set of 48 tubes for less than 25 dollars. Of course, some of the colors will be empty very soon, but you can buy these ones (and only these colors) in bigger containers.

* As a beginner you can skip many items, but you can’t go without a decent brush. Or maybe two: rectangular (flat) and pointed (round). Both come in different sizes, basically grouped in large, medium and small families. In general, beginners find bristles made of a synthetic material more practical than the ones made of natural hair. Most manufacturers offer special brushes made for acrylic paints, which are more durable than ones made for watercolor.

Being On The Budget

* Size of the paint jar is another way to stay within the budget. If you need one or two colors all the time, buy them in bulk and save your bucks thanks to quantity.

* Some of the colors will inevitably disappoint your expectations and others will simply tempt you to buy them just to try how they look in action. In both cases, you can save a lot of money just by buying all untested paints in smallest possible jars or tubes.

* Never forget another important fact about the acrylics. They mix with each other independent of quality, quantity or brand. All residues can be used for creating interesting hues or maybe even for special undercoats to create special effects.

* Typical starter pack of brushes for acrylics consists of 12 pieces with nylon bristles and costs around 15 dollars. In the same package, you’ll probably get a palette too. Another good news: the same pack is useful for aquarels and oils as well.

* For large areas you can use the cheapest household brushes (or apply color with other more or less improvised tools) and save some additional money.

* A palette is not a must. Every surface useful for mixing paints can work well, depending on your wishes.

* Apart from Artists’ and Students’ grade acrylics, you can use for some projects even cheaper Craft acrylic paints. Their quality is significantly inferior to both mentioned before, but they can be used for creating special effects or for underlayers.

* The quality (and price) of your working surface should reflect the quality of used paints. You’ll probably paint walls in an apartment with Craft, paper with Student and canvas with Artist quality paints.



Initial Set of Colors

While you can do a lot of interesting projects even with one single color, most of the users start with ten basic colors, from which most of the desired tones can be created. According to several contemporary artists, these are:

Titanium White
Cadmium Yellow
Cadmium Orange
Cadmium Red
Alizarin Crimson

Phthalo Green
Phthalo Blue
Dioxazine Purple
Burnt Sienna
Mars Black

But you can be even skimpier. We all know the basics of mixing colors what means, in general, we can make the whole rainbow from just three basic colors.

Apart from explaining the color relations we can use the color wheel for mixing and otherwise combining them

Well, the actual process of mixing is a bit more complicated, what in practice means you need two different basic colors for all possible secondary and tertiary colors:

Ultramarine Blue for making blueish purple tones
Quinacridone Red for making reddish purple tones
Cadmium Yellow for making yellowish orange tones
Cadmium Red for making reddish orange tones
Hansa Yellow for making yellowish green tones
Cerulean Blue for making blueish green tones

Where to Buy Acrylic Paints

  • You can obviously get them in specialized craft & hobby stores, where you can get a lot of very useful info about the paints you need for your projects. Michaels is the most well-known among them. Some other names are A. C. Moore, Artist and Craftsman Supply, Hobby Lobby, Jo-Ann, Pat Catan and Old Time Pottery.
  • Large supermarkets like Home Depot, Target and Wal-Mart offer almost all major brands of acrylics suitable for students and sometimes for artists too. They also offer many good bargains for some paints, but don’t expect highest quality stuff.
  • Buying acrylics on-line is another popular alternative, especially useful for people who don’t leave near stores with acrylics. It pays to follow most interesting pages to find when you can get nice discounts with coupons, free shipping etc. Apart from biggest companies like AliExpress, Amazon and eBay, there are also Ambience Design, Blick, Create for Less, Etsy, Factor Direct Craft, Oriental Trading, Scrapbook and Save-On-Crafts. Don’t hesitate examining their offers!
  • Additional Supplies

These are not a must but you’ll find you need them very soon, so it’s better to be prepared:

  • an apron (yes, painting can be a messy job)
  • several clean containers for water (you’ll need to clean brushes, put them off for a moment, etc.)
  • spray bottle (occasional mist of water on the unfinished painting can help you prolongate your working time for hours)
  • paper towels (for cleaning the excess paint)

 Few Pro Tips for the End

  • Always wash your brushes right after you are done. Some soap and water should do.
  • Better (and more expensive) paint in most cases leads to better results.
  • Before you start working with canvas, always prepare it with gesso, even if it is already ‘gessoed’.



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