This guide will cover the basics of Acrylic Paint. It will include paint suggestions, brush information, recommended supplies, and special tips when using.
Choosing a successful brand of acrylic paint can be a very painful process. There is no brand of paint that really sets the standards because it is more personal taste than anything else, but the brands Liquitex and Windsor Newton are two of high quality. I know students and professionals alike who swear by Liquitex. It is an easier paint to handle for beginners and has the high quality for professionals. An important note about choosing paint: never buy generic brand or student grade acrylic. Both Liquitex and Windsor Newton (among others) have a student grade version of their paints. The student grade, although cheaper than the professional grade, is not even close in quality. In addition to this, the student grade paints do not mix smoothly with each other, sometimes causing dirty colours. Stay away from student grades and generic paint. I also suggest staying clear of paint in jars. Use tubed paint. The stuff in jars does not seem to mix or work as nicely as tubed paint.
Brushes and Brush Care
Brushes come in many shapes, sizes and qualities. A painter can spend as much as a couple thousand dollars for top notch sets of paintbrushes. Luckily, an acrylic painter should not spend that much. The best way to choose the right brushes is to find cheap brushes that will hold their shape and will not fray. Don’t go out and buy expensive brushes because acrylic paint will destroy them quickly. You will go through more brushes than watercolour or oil painters because of the harsh effects acrylic has on them. It is important that the brush can maintain its shape without fraying or bending. This also means replacing them when they no longer do so. However, your brushes should not be so cheap that they are unusable.
The proper way to care for your brushes is as follows:
-Do not leave your brushes in your dirty (or even clean) water with the brush end down. This will ruin your brushes and make them lose their shape.
-Clean your brushes thoroughly. You can just use water, or a bit of dish soap, or buy acrylic brush soap to clean your brushes. If you use the brush soap, make sure it says that it is for ACRYLIC and not OIL. Also, be sure that they are cleaned well and you don’t allow paint to dry on the brush, otherwise they will get ruined.
-When storing brushes in an upward position, the brush end should always face UP. Doing otherwise will ruin the brush. Also, rolling your brushes flat is a good way to store them safely.
Some other useful, and often times necessary, supplies any beginner needs are a palette knife, paper towels, painting surface and a palette.
Palette knives and paper towels are easiest to explain. A palette knife is important to have for mixing paint because using your brush will waste paint and be harsh on your brush. Using a palette knife solves these two problems and mixes the paint evenly so that you don’t have a swirl effect. Paper towels are very important because they control the amount of water and paint that remains on the brush. It is also important for cleaning brushes or spills.
Choosing a surface to paint on is really up to the artist. Acrylic paint will dry on many surfaces. Most commonly painted on surfaces are Illustration Board and Canvas. Illustration Board is thick and sturdy enough to handle acrylic paint. It is easier to work on because there is no need for Gesso and sanding like canvas usually requires. Illustration Board is also what many Illustration professionals use. Canvas, whether it is stretched or not, is the most common painting surface. It works well with acrylic and creates texture that Illustration Board does not have naturally.
A palette is very important because this is the surface that you mix your paint on. There are basically 3 types of palettes to consider: Palette Paper, Traditional Palette, and Sponge Palette. Palette Paper is the cheapest of them all and is disposable. The problem with palette paper, however, is that it has no way of holding in moisture, thus drying out your paint quicker than you can use it. This problem can also occur with a Traditional Palette, but can be easily solved. (I will discuss how to solve this problem in the Tips section of the guide.) It lasts a long time, but needs to be cleaned after every use. The Sponge Palette is a palette that comes with a sponge insert that you keep wet. You use a piece of marker paper or palette paper over the sponge and mix the paint on top of this paper to keep the paint moist. The sponge palette is a great investment, but be sure to change or clean your the sponge every so often to keep it from molding or smelling (and it does! Badly!).
Some tips I will give you for painting with acrylics are:
-White vs. Gesso
-Keeping your paint from Drying
-Fixing mistakes in Acrylic
White versus Gesso is something I learned in school. Instead of using White Acrylic paint, I was told to use Gesso (matte) instead and it was so much smoother to use that I have used it instead of white ever since. The white paint is so pasty and thick that it didn’t mix or glide as smoothly as the Gesso. Gesso is basically the stuff you use to prime canvas before painting. I use Liquitex matte Gesso (glossy is obviously too shiny). The gesso is white, though more transparent than the paint, but when mixed shows no visual difference. I have also had class mates who found that mixing the white acrylic and the gesso together made an easy to work with combination. Not only do you save money from buying Gesso instead of the White Acrylic, you get a smoother substance to work with.
Black. I have heard people claim that they could not live without black paint and that it is essential to creating a large colour palette, but those people are so sadly mistaken. You can make any colour without black. If you are wondering how to darken a colour without black, I will let you in on a secret: The easiest way to darken a colour without black is to use it’s compliment. If you do not know what a compliment is, then please look up the colour wheel and find out. (Or wait for my colour theory article to come out, in which I explain it there.) Now, I bet you are thinking, “Wait! if you don’t have a tube of black paint, then you can paint that colour on your project!” Wrong! Black can be MADE. Yes. You can use a bunch of other colours and mix them together to make black. Your homemade black with be much nicer than the tube black.
Keeping your paint from drying up on the palette is a big turn off for people looking to try acrylic. Acrylic is plastic based and is very quick to dry, leaving little room for slow working. There is a great tip for keeping your paint from drying up quicker than you can use it all. If you have the Sponge Palette, you will have a lid and you can easily place the lid on and put the pallet in the fridge. However, if you are using just palette paper, there is no way for you to stop the drying process UNLESS you are also using a traditional palette. There are traditional type palettes that are sort of like a shallow, rectangular pan with a lip of maybe half an inch. For these palettes (though it works for flat ones as well), you should get a few paper towels and wet them. Don’t go over board but don’t wring them out either. Lay the paper towels along the bottom of the traditional palette and cover it with palette paper or marker paper (something that will soak through but not tear). Place all of your paint and do all of your mixing on this paper, and it will keep the moisture in the paint. If the paint is beginning to dry out or if the same is for the paper towels, pour some water in on the edges to re-hydrate them. If you want to continue using the same paint and mixes the next day, for example, cover the palette in tin foil or plastic wrap and stick it in the fridge. This is the best way to keep your paint from drying so quickly.
The great thing about acrylic is that fixing your mistakes is SO easy to do. It doesn’t always work out for the better, but acrylic is so workable that it is not difficult to fix your mistakes. Let’s say you dropped your brush on a finished section of your painting. Quick! Get a paper towel and, if needed, a TINY bit of water. As long as the painting underneath the mistake is dry, you can rub the wet acrylic off with no damage to the finished under painting. If you make a big mistake, keep in mind that you can continuously paint over acrylic without the layer underneath showing through. Just let the mistake dry and repaint it. Remember, acrylic is plastic based and can be cleaned easily. Unfortunately, this also means that if you get acrylic on cloth of any kind and it dries… it will NEVER come out.