How to Use Acrylic Paint on Canvas

Written by nina makofsky
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Acrylic paint may not have the wet-on-wet mixing possibilities or the depth of oil paint, nor the water solubility of watercolours when dry, but it is an excellent medium for its versatility, quick drying time and ease of use and clean-up. For those wishing to work with bold, bright colours or mixed media work, acrylic paints are ideal. It's also safer to use in rooms with little to no ventilation and washes out with soap and water.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

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Things you need

  • Acrylic paint
  • Brushes
  • Canvas
  • Water
  • Gesso
  • Medium

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  1. 1

    Purchase or assemble your materials. There is a huge range of colour options in acrylic paint. A basic palette, which can usually be purchased as a set, includes cadmium red, cadmium yellow, cadmium orange, titanium white, mars black, burnt umber, phthalo blue, phthalo green and possibly some metallic shades, a cool grey, a dark purple, and buff hue, and a golden ochre.

  2. 2

    Prime your canvas. Unless you buy prepped, wrapped canvases, apply layers of gesso to create a smoother surface for painting. While this isn't a requisite as it is for oil paintings, it will make the ensuing painting process easier, showing less of the canvas' weave. Three coats of gesso is typical. Let the primed canvas dry completely before beginning painting.

  3. 3

    Consider adding an acrylic gel medium to your paints on the palette. The matt version makes the paint more spreadable, smooths the brushstroke and, if applied as a final coat, protects the surface of the painting. The gloss version of the medium is great for adding highlights and making certain details stand out in the composition, such as the edges of clouds or the peaks of waves.

  4. 4

    Wet your paintbrush. You can add water to the acrylics on your palette or work with them straight from the tube. The key is to work relatively quickly, due to the rapid drying time. Golden and other companies make a retardant that you can add to your paints to slow the drying process. Keep your brush moist and, if you switch brushes, put the other brush in a container of water.

  5. 5

    Create layers. The beauty of working with acrylics is that you can easily cover up areas you wish to change. You can also use textured mediums to add depth and texture. Mixed media artists might add in collage elements or found objects. When you're done with the composition, you can add gel medium or varnish to give the surface a smoother finish. Remember to sign your work.

Tips and warnings

  • Consider purchasing some student-grade cheaper paints, such as those made by Liquitex, for practicing.
  • Never let acrylic paint dry in your brushes. It's the point of no return.

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