17 Basic (And Fun!) Acrylic Painting Techniques
The best way to get better at acrylic painting is to experiment. I learned the basics in a high school class and then a college class, but after that I taught myself how to paint with acrylics by practicing.
And the best way to practice is by: spreading out all of your supplies and playing around with lots of different techniques, add music, podcasts, tasty beverages, and pets to keep you company as you see fit.
With this post, I compiled a list of basic acrylic painting techniques for you to try, and then I literally spent hours sitting on my butt, mixing up paints and working my way through the list of ideas. Hours turned into days and I made so many practice paintings and painting doodles that I split them into 3 posts, so prepare for acrylic overload.
The basic acrylic techniques here are intended for absolute beginners to acrylic painting and those more familiar with acrylics. You will benefit from experimenting with these techniques whether you’ve never used the medium or you’ve been using it for years.
Even if you are a seasoned artist, you will still learn and enjoy your face off if you print out the list of acrylic techniques and sit and just DO some of them. I was surprised at how many of these I hadn’t done for decades.
P.S. Bonus points if you can find the dog hair in each photo. #lifewithdogs
P.P.S. Go here first for supply recommendations and tips if you are just getting started with acrylic painting.
Basic Techniques with Acrylics
These are the basics – if you simply want to try acrylics for the first time, and have no clue what the heck to do because the blank surface is intimidating, (we’ve all been there)… try these!
You certainly don’t need to do them all, but you can, and if you just work down the list you will probably be surprised at how much more comfortable you feel with acrylic paints.
Acrylic Paint Washes
Acrylic paint lends itself brilliantly to washes, which are paint thinned down with water and used in single or overlapping thin layers. Acrylic washes can look surprisingly similar to watercolor, only they are permanent when dry, unlike watercolor that will reactivate when water is added.
Washes are usually used as a base layer on your surface, and are an excellent way to quickly get color onto a surface for more techniques on top.
Any acrylic paint can be thinned with water to create washes, but you will need significantly more water when starting with a heavy body acrylic paint over a fluid or high flow acrylic. Check out the texture difference in the surfaces used. The lest surface is watercolor paper, and the right is a canvas board.
Glazing with acrylics is similar to painting with washes, only you are mixing the paint with a glazing medium or other medium. The paint and medium will sit on top of the surface instead of sinking into it as it does with washes, so you will get a different effect. Artists use this technique to get a sense of depth in their paintings, and if you play around with glazes you will see the subtle differences you can achieve with paint colors and values.
Typically you want to use a transparent paint color with washes, but I mixed some titanium white with my colors here, so the glaze is a little milky. #rebel
Isn’t this fun!? And we’re just getting started with acrylic techniques and all of the subtle effects you can achieve oh my god I’m going to hyperventilate already.
Scumbling has a similar effect to washes and glazes, but is done differently. With scumbling, you use paint dry on the brush and lightly add color over a dry color – usually lighter than the bottom layer. Scumbling lets you lighten up or soften am area of your painting.
Note to self: paint a prettier example of scumbling.
Blending Acrylic Paints
Sometimes you want to seamlessly blend 2 paint colors or values into each other. There are different techniques for this, but for the most part you will lay 2 paint colors next to each other, and then use a dry, clean brush (preferably soft) to sweep the colors into each other.
Here is a good video from Will Kemp showing acrylic paint blending, as well as color-mixing. The first half of the video you can watch him mixing colors on his palette as well as on the canvas. Starting at about 12:50, he begins to paint the apple and blend colors into each other. Watch a few times if you’d like to get a good feel for his blending technique.
Sgraffito is scratching into wet paint with a tool in order to show the background underneath. You can paint one color on the background, let it dry completely, paint another layer on top, and scrape through with any tool.
I used a small double-sided tool with tiny balls on either ned, made specifically for this purpose. You can also use the end of a paintbrush, a pencil, etc.
Acrylic paint stained onto raw canvas or fabric
Remember the paint washes from above? Acrylic paint mixed with a ton of water will soak into raw (unprimed) canvas or fabric. If you are wanting to use acrylic as a fabric paint, you can mix it with a fabric medium. Otherwise, good old water works well and you can get some pretty cool staining effects.
You will get different effects with this technique if you wet the fabric first, so try a little of both. Wet canvas will allow the colors to spread and bleed more, while staining dry canvas is slightly more controlled.
Short, loose brushstrokes
Little daubs of paint look fantastic together. You can get a very textured, loose look when you use this technique with acrylics. Paint abstractly using this technique, or you can give a painterly look to recognizable objects. Like dogs! Paint dogs in this style!
Related: 5 Dog Artists
Impasto is laying down buttery-thick layers of acrylic paint onto the surface so you see texture – you’ll get some lines and even peaks in the paint if you use it thickly enough. If you want to see some examples of impasto, check out this MOMA page.
Incidentally, you’ll be able to see the previous technique (painting in little daubs) in Van Gogh’s Starry Night painting as well. Here’s a fun closeup:
Combining paint daubs and impasto is a loose, impressionistic way to paint, and you’ll end up mixing some of your colors together on the surface as you paint. The endless number of mixed values you get, along with the many little paint marks add up to create a dreamy, blurred effect for your paintings.
Acrylic color over color with unthinned paint
Acrylic paint can be layered over acrylic paint, as mentioned previously. With this basic acrylic technique, instead of painting patterns, lines, or a design, you can paint areas of color over another color so the bottom layer peeks through where the top layer skips over any texture, or where you leave it unpainted. Here are 2 examples:
Much like painting in little loose daubs of paint, you can use acrylic paint for pointillism. Dip a pencil eraser, q-tips, or another tool that gives you a small, circular shape, and you can dot paint circles on your surface to create a pointillism painting.
I used thick paint here, but you can also try thinning your paint down with a medium so you get a less textured look.
Washes over dark painted lines
Paint dark lines onto a surface, and when they dry, you can layer acrylic paint washes over the top. Depending on how many layers of washes or how thinned-out the washes are, you will end up seeing more or less of the underlying lines.
Acrylic Paint Stamping with objects
Roll some paint (or just brush it) onto household objects and stamp them down onto paper to make fun prints. I recommend using either fluid acrylics for this, or if you only have heavy body, then them a bit with medium so the paint isn’t so gloppy when you go to print.
Playing around with simply rolling paint across your surface is a fun way to make quick, abstract color field paintings. Try using different sized brayers, and letting your paint surface dry before you go back in later with different techniques. This is a super way to make quick backgrounds for art journaling or mixed media collage.
Paper towel blotting and wiping
Many acrylic techniques can also be combined with paper towel blotting or wiping away. Once you paint a layer of acrylic, before it dries, try wiping across the surface with a paper towel – which will leave a color stain behind. Or blot wadded-up paper towel onto the surface – which will pick up some color and leave texture behind. You can do this over a paint wash or thick paint.
Scraping is a kinda cool way to also get a bunch of paint spread out onto your surface, and it lends itself to viral social media videos because the process is so fun to watch. 🙃
Squeeze out a few small dots of acrylic paint next to each other on your surface, then drag them across the surface using the edge of a piece of cardboard, old credit card, or a flat scraper tool.
Super-wet (with water or flowy medium) paint can be dripped down the surface you are painting on. This is a fun look to play with and combine with other acrylic painting techniques.
Pop quiz: What very awesome acrylic paint technique is featured underneath the dripping example?
Loosely paint onto a piece of palette paper or glass and press your surface paper on top of the painting to pull a quick monoprint. My example is painfully basic, but you get the point. You could play around with this technique for hours.
I think that’s a sufficient number of acrylic techniques for you to get started. Once you get painting, it’s hard to not go off in a million different directions – my studio looks like a bomb just hit it.
You can play around with all of these techniques and explore different color combinations, paint thicknesses, mix and match techniques. The more you play with acrylic paint, the more you will figure out what you like.
Acrylic Painting Supplies
Printable Basic Acrylic Painting Techniques List
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