12 Acrylic Painting Techniques for Beginners

If you’re new to acrylic painting, this is the blog post for you! In this tutorial, we will explore 12 different techniques that you can use to create beautiful paintings. Acrylics are a versatile medium that can be used in a variety of ways, so don’t be afraid to experiment. We’ll start with some basic techniques and work our way up to more advanced methods. By the end of this tutorial, you’ll be able to create any type of painting you desire!

In this article we will cover the following topics;

  • What is an acrylic technique?
  • Why is this important to beginners?
  • 12 acrylic techniques and examples
  • 3 examples of techniques applied to finished art
  • How to learn more
  • Conclusion

12 acrylic techniques you should know

What is an acrylic technique? Acrylic painting techniques are the various ways you can use acrylic paint to create a work of art. It’s how you create the art. It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with as many techniques as you possibly can. This way you have many tools and tricks to create amazing acrylic artwork.

This article doesn’t cover every technique for acrylics, but it does have some of the basics you should know and use to build upon as you become more skilled.

Applying acrylic with wet brush
– Applying acrylic with wet brush

#1; Use plenty of water

Technique one is the most important of all assuming you are using artist-grade heavy body acrylics. Use water! Water will help with the flow of the paint, it will help keep your painting from drying out too quickly, and most importantly it will help to prevent your colors from getting muddy.

Add water to your palette before you add paint. Acrylics dry very quickly, so you need to work fast. I like to have a small cup of water on my palette to dip my brush in as I’m painting. This will help keep your colors clean and prevent them from drying out.

If you find that your paint is getting too dry, you can mist it with a spray bottle or add more water to your palette.

Acrylics can be thinned with water, but they will lose some of their opacity. If you want to maintain the opacity of your paint, you can use an acrylic medium.

Acrylic mediums are additives that can be mixed with paint to change the properties of the paint. There are mediums that will thin your paint without affecting its opacity, as well as mediums that will make your paint thicker, change its sheen, or make it dry slower. I’ll admit I’m not a fan of additives, I prefer H20. It’s effective and free.

blended gradation acrylic technique
– Blended gradation acrylic technique

#2; Blended gradation

A blended gradation is created by applying two colors side by side and then blending them with a brush.

To create a blended gradation, start by applying a color to your canvas. Then apply another color next to it. Using a wet brush, blend the two colors until you get the desired effect.

You can also create a blended gradation by applying two colors to your brush and then blending them on your canvas. More advanced, but totally doable.

As you can see in the illustration, the two colors blend seamlessly. This technique is perfect for creating smooth transitions between colors.

Non-blended gradations acrylic technique
– Non-blended gradations acrylic technique

#2; Non-blended gradation

A non-blended gradation is created by applying two colors side by side and then blending them with a brush.

To create a non-blended gradation, start by applying any color to your canvas. Then apply your another color next to it. Using a brush, or palette knife, blend the two colors with only a few strokes.

You can also create a non-blended gradation by applying two colors to your brush and then blending them on your canvas. Again, use only a few brushstrokes or it will become blended.

As you can see, the two colors blend but not too much. This technique is perfect for chunky transitions between colors.

Mix on paper gradation acrylic technique
– Mix on paper gradation acrylic technique

#3; Mix on paper gradation

A mix on paper gradation is when you do not pre-mix paint on the palette. Instead, you mix directly on the canvas or paper. When mixing on the canvas, you can use a wet or dry brush.

To create a mix of paper gradation, start by applying any color to your canvas. Then apply another color next to it. Using a wet or dry brush, blend the two colors until you get the desired effect.

lines and dots acrylic technique
– Lines and dots acrylic technique

#4; Lines and dots

There are two types of marks you can make. They are lines and dots! That’s it. Every single painting you create is done with these two options. Dots are done by touching the paint on the surface and immediately lifting it.

  1. Dots can be very small, or larger depending on your brush, or palette knife size and the amount of paint that is loaded onto it.
  2. Lines are created by placing the brush onto the canvas and drawing it across the surface. The majority of your art will be created with lines.
blending with dots gradation acrylic technique
– Blending with dots gradation acrylic technique

#5; Lines and dot gradations

Now that you know what lines and dots are, let’s explore how to blend with them. You may have seen this in the Impressionist’s art. And it’s still a very common technique to use. The illustration shows both types of gradations.

Positive space painting technique
– Positive space painting technique

#6; Positive space painting

Positive space painting is when you focus on the subject matter and not the space around it. The negative space is what’s left. It’s usually the background.

In this painting, I focused on the apple and bottle and left the background untouched. This created a nice contrast between the subject matter and the background.

You can use any colors you want for your positive space painting. It’s a good idea to start with simple subjects and move into more advanced ideas later on.

Negative space painting technique
– Negative space painting technique

#7; Negative space painting

Negative space painting is when you focus on the background and paint around the subject matter. The positive space is what’s left. It’s usually the subject matter.

In this painting, I focused on the background and painted the same apple and bottle with black. This created a nice contrast between the subject matter and the background.

Layering acrylic technique
– Layering acrylic technique

#8; Layering

Layering acrylics are best described as painting one layer of color over another. It’s a technique that can be used to create depth and dimension in your painting.

To layer colors, start with the lightest color and paint it on your canvas. Then add the next darkest color and paint it over the first color. Repeat this process until you have the desired effect.

You can use any colors you want when layering. Just make sure the colors you choose complement each other.

In the example I layered light over dark to achieve a quick layered study. This is a very complex subject and multi-faceted technique.

separate light and shadow technique
– Separate light and shadow technique
Inspiration subject
– Inspiration subject

#9; Separate light and shadow

This is when you take two colors and use one for the light areas and one for the shadows. It’s a great technique to use if you want to create a sense of depth in your painting. Notan is another name for this technique.

To separate light and shadows, start by painting the area you want to be lit with your lightest color. Then paint the area you want to be in shadow with your darkest color. Using a wet or dry brush, blend the two colors until you get the desired effect.

You can use any colors you want when separating light and shadows. Just make sure the colors you choose complement each other. I chose pencil and paper for this example. It’s an easy way to explore without all the cleanup.

Complex blended value gradation
– Complex blended value gradation

#10; Blended light and shadow

In this technique, you will combine one, or more, of the gradation techniques discussed earlier with separating light and shadows. The goal is to achieve a more realistic transition of values. Avoid the stiff, rigid appearance in the separate light and shadow example.

If you study the image you will see how the light and shadow separations are smoothly done, or blended.

Local color technique
– Local color technique

#11; Local colors

Using local colors means painting an object with the colors that naturally occur on that object. For example, if you are painting an orange, you would use orange paint. If you are painting an apple, you would use red paint.

To find the local colors of an object, start by looking at what’s in light. Don’t choose the lightest hue, nor the darkest. Something in the middle. This is usually a good choice for establishing the local color.

The next step is to look at the mid-tones and do the same. And of course the darks as well.

local color gradation technique
– Local color gradation technique

#12: Local color gradations

At this stage, you are combining values, local colors, and gradations. Everything we have covered to this point. It doesn’t matter how you choose to blend the colors, so long as you pick a lane and stay in it. If you are more realistic, you may want a blended gradation, whereas if you are looser you may opt for dots.

In the example I used blended gradations, local colors and other techniques to paint the simple block study.

Technique examples used in paintings

Below are three paintings for you to study. Take a few minutes and see if there are some acrylic techniques you can spot that was shared in this article? Hopefully, you see many 🙂 Getting a good visual is sometimes the icing on the cake for learning how to apply the techniques. It doesn’t mean you have mastered them, that takes time and effort.

Acrylic painting created with non-blended techniques
– Non-blended gradations

Non-blended example

This abstract style still life is created with mostly non-blended gradations. It has that ‘chunky’ look. And notice how the separation of light and shadows is very subtle, if at all present. But the painting works because it has good composition and color harmony.

Learn more about this painting here

Abstract landscape created with various acrylic techniques
– Abstract landscape with many acrylic techniques

Lines & dots

This is a great example of how you could exploit blending with lines and dots. Study the sky and you will see the linear blending. Take a close look at the middle ground and all the dots appear.

The painting exhibits separation of light and shadows, and some blended qualities as well.

Learn more about this painting here

Five minute acrylic portrait
– Five minute acrylic portrait

5 minute abstract portrait

This quick portrait study uses plenty of local color combined with blended and non-blended techniques. It’s most created using lines with very few, if any, dots.

There’s enough separation of light and shadow for it to work. Take a look at the eye sockets and you’ll see the subtle color shift to a darker hue.

The jackets is mostly painted with four, or five bold lines.

Learn more about this painting here

How to learn more

Here are three amazing courses for learning more about acrylic painting techniques.

Conclusion

I hope this article helped spark some creativity and give you a few ideas on how to use acrylics. Acrylics are a versatile medium that can be used in many different ways. Be sure to experiment and find what works best for you. As with anything, the more you practice the better you will become.

Happy painting!

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