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Getting started with acrylic paint: the basics

Acrylic is a versatile and very popular medium for artists. It is easy to work with and use, as well as durable and inexpensive. Acrylic paint is an excellent choice for painting beginners because it dries quickly and offers many creative possibilities. However, it can be difficult to know where to start.

In this article, I'll give you the basic information you need to get started with acrylic painting. We'll cover the basic materials you need and how to prepare a canvas for painting. We will also see how to find inspirations for your first works. If you're ready to start painting with acrylics, here are some tips to get you started.

The material to start in acrylic painting

To get started with acrylic painting, there are a few basic materials you will need. The first thing to choose is the support on which you will paint. It can be canvas or canvas board. Cotton canvases are a popular choice for acrylic paint because they are affordable and absorb paint well, but you can also use specialty paper pads for acrylic paint.

Next, you will need good brushes to apply the paint. It is important to choose quality brushes to prevent the bristles from coming loose or losing their shape. Synthetic bristle brushes are a popular choice for acrylic painting because they are more affordable and easy to clean. Since acrylic paint is water-based, you will clean your brushes with water. Provide a small pot of water for rinsing the brushes and do not dry your brushes with the bristles up (the water goes down to the base of the bristles and dilutes the glue, reducing their lifespan).

If you are a beginner I recommend starting with medium quality acrylic paints as they are cheaper and easier to work with. These are the "study" paintings.

peintures acrylique étude

Some examples of study acrylic paints

For the palette or stand to mix your paint, you can buy one at an art store, or use something you own. Don't use something you care about, you're not sure you can get it back because acrylic sticks a lot. Typically I like to use cottage cheese or crème fraiche jar lids, as the paint peels off very well on these surfaces when dry. So I can reuse them and save water on cleaning. The jar will also make a perfect container for soaking your brushes or making your most liquid mixtures.

pot de crème fraiche

Typically the kind of packaging you can salvage from your trash cans. The lid will make you a palette and the jar will be perfect for your liquid mixtures.

Watch out for your clothes too! Acrylic rarely forgives. Keep a rag handy to clean the surfaces. If you get it on, rinse it off immediately with water. The acrylic dries very quickly and once trapped in the fibers, you can always hold on to remove it... (I lost a bunch of tops and jeans like that...). Provide an apron, it is still the safest.

You can find all these materials in an art store or online (in bulk: Rougier and Plé, Géant des Beaux Arts, Boesner, etc.).

Prepare your canvas

Before you start painting with acrylics, it is important to properly prepare your canvas. First, you need to make sure your canvas is clean and free of dust or grease before you start painting. You can use a soft cloth or brush to remove the dust. It is also important to check that the surface of the canvas is taut. Most canvases with frames (the wooden surround) in stores are sold with small pieces of wood called keys. They must be driven into the holes provided for this purpose in the chassis, with a hammer. If, despite everything, the fabric seems too loose, moisten it with a sponge and let it dry.

Next, you will need to prepare your canvas for painting (optional step). There are various ways to do this, but one of the most common ways is to use a solution of gesso or titanium white (white acrylic paint, simply put) to prepare the surface of the canvas. The gesso or titanium white will help the paint adhere to the canvas and improve the durability of the paint. The gesso, thicker than the paint, will also erase the weaving of the canvas if you want a completely smooth canvas. Once this first coat is dry, you can start painting on your canvas.

If you want to get a textured canvas, with raised patterns, you can skip this step and go directly to see my techniques here.

Start painting

Once you have the supplies you need, it's time to start painting. You can start with simple subjects if you want to do figurative, with solid colors, a bit like coloring, and work your way up to more complex subjects.

If you're a beginner, I recommend starting with basic exercises like mixing colors and creating simple shapes. These exercises will help you understand and master the basics of acrylic. I will offer you these exercises in the following post. Once you understand how paint reacts, you can begin to explore different acrylic techniques and mediums. You can try playing with bright colors, texture effects, color layers, etc. The possibilities are endless and you can experiment to your heart's content. If you lack inspiration to start, here is some help.

Find inspiration and ideas for your first acrylic works

Finding inspiration and ideas for your first acrylic works can be a challenge, especially if you are new to painting. There are many ways to come up with ideas for your artwork, here are a few:

The first thing to do is surround yourself with other artists and their work. You can visit museums, exhibitions or art galleries to see how other artists use acrylic paint. You can also search for artists online and follow their work on social media (instagram is a gold mine for that) or on their website. It can give you ideas about different techniques and styles that you can use in your own work.

Then you can look for inspiration in nature and in the world around you. Whether landscapes, animals, flowers or everyday objects, everything can be a source of inspiration for your works. Take photos, notes, sketches to remind you of your inspirations.

Finally, you can also find ideas by exploring different painting techniques and styles. Try painting portraits, landscapes, still lifes, abstracts, genre scenes... Try different techniques of textures, transparency, layering, glazes, materials... It will help you discover your preferences and develop your own style.

Either way, don't forget to take time to have fun and relax while painting. Take the time to look at your work and enjoy it. Remember that acrylic painting, like any creative activity, is an activity that can help you relax and grow. So have fun and let your creativity flow!


peintures et pinceaux


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