25 Easy Acrylic Painting Tips for Beginners

By Milan Art Institute on April 17, 2024
25 Easy Acrylic Painting Tips for Beginners

Acrylic paints dry quickly and work well on a wide range of surfaces. Unlike oils, they're water-soluble but become water-resistant once dry. This unique property makes them ideal for beginners eager to experiment without the lengthy drying times associated with oil paints.

Here, we've curated 25 essential tips to help you start acrylic painting with confidence and creativity.

1. Start with the Right Supplies

Excellence as an artist requires a commitment to quality. Remember that your art is more than just a creative work—it’s a legacy. Quality artwork is archival, meeting the high standards of durability expected by museums and serious collectors.

Avoid using student-grade paint, crappy brushes, warped or thin canvases, or non-archival materials. Cheap, poor-quality supplies diminish the potential of your painting. You get what you pay for, so if you want to be a professional artist and produce quality artwork, invest in quality supplies. Your choice of materials speaks volumes about your respect for art, so use the best materials you can.

2. Experiment with Surfaces

Canvases or canvas boards are standard surfaces, but acrylics can also adhere well to wood, paper, and even glass. Experimenting with different surfaces can lead to interesting and unique outcomes.

Prepare your chosen surface to enhance your painting outcome. Priming surfaces like wood with gesso or modeling paste can provide a smoother painting experience, ensuring your acrylics glide effortlessly and adhere better. Also, priming the surface prevents the canvas from being “thirsty”, so you won’t need as much paint to cover the canvas.

3. Master Color Theory

Familiarize yourself with basic color theory and master the art of mixing your own colors. A great way to start is by choosing to use three to five colors, and creating shades with complementary colors and varying thicknesses of paint. Use black or white—never both—to alter the color value. This mastery over color mixing gives you complete control over your palette and empowers you to bring your vision to life.

4. Use a Limited Palette

Working with a limited palette encourages you to delve deeper into color mixing and harmony, fostering a cohesive and balanced composition. This constraint can liberate your creativity, pushing you to explore innovative solutions within your chosen hues.

Embracing a limited palette can lead to a more focused and harmonious artwork, teaching you the value of simplicity and the impact of well-chosen colors.

Professional artist Dimitra Milan using a palette knife

5. Take Care of Your Brushes

Acrylics dry quickly, which can damage brushes if not cleaned promptly. Develop a habit of rinsing your brushes thoroughly in water during painting sessions and washing them with gentle soap and water afterward.

Properly dried and stored brushes retain their shape and extend their lifespan. Store them with bristles facing up to prevent misshaping, ensuring they’re ready for your next creative project.

6. Work in Layers

Acrylics cater to diverse techniques, from thin glazes to thick impasto. Start with a light sketch and thin washes to lay down your composition and gradually build up to thicker layers for texture, depth, and detail.

Experiment with glazing for depth or dry brushing to add texture. Try mediums like gels or pastes to add interesting textures and effects to your work.

7. Keep the Paint Moist

The rapid drying time of acrylics is advantageous for quick work and layering but can be challenging in dry climates. To extend the working time of your acrylics, use a slow-drying medium or keep a spray bottle handy to lightly mist your palette and canvas, keeping the paint moist.

8. Clean Your Palette

A cluttered palette can lead to muddy colors. Regularly clean your palette during a painting session to keep colors fresh and vibrant.

A wet palette can also keep your acrylics moist for longer, reducing waste and making color mixing easier.

Consider using a glass or disposable palette for easier cleanup and to keep your workspace tidy and organized.

9. Sketch First

Begin your painting with a light pencil or chalk sketch on the canvas to help plan your composition and guide your initial layers of paint.

Don't worry about precision or painting over your sketch. Your sketch is there to map out the shape and form of your composition. Embrace this step as a blueprint, not a constraint, allowing flexibility and creativity as your painting evolves.

10. Embrace the Learning Curve

Every painting is a learning experience, and every mistake is a learning opportunity. If something doesn't turn out as expected, don’t worry—you can always paint over it with acrylics.

Acrylics are forgiving, allowing you to paint over and correct mistakes easily, so don't be afraid to experiment and take risks.

High-flow acrylic blue paint

11. Experiment and Explore Techniques

There are numerous painting techniques specific to acrylics that you can explore to enhance your artistic vocabulary, such as:

  • Washing: Applying a thin, watered-down layer of paint for a translucent effect.
  • Glazing: Applying a transparent layer of paint over a dry layer to adjust the color or tone.
  • Dry brushing: Using a dry brush with a small amount of paint creates a strong, textured effect.
  • Palette knife painting: Applying paint with a palette knife for bold textures and strokes.

Don't limit yourself to traditional painting techniques. Add materials like sand or rice to your paint for texture, or use unconventional tools like credit cards or combs to create unique effects. Play with palette knives, sponges, or even your fingers to apply paint. These tools can offer unique textures and effects, broadening your creative expression.

12. Understand Mediums

Acrylic mediums can drastically alter the behavior of your paint—its texture, finish, and drying time. Gloss medium increases shine and transparency, while matte medium reduces gloss for a flat finish. Modeling paste adds body to the paint for impasto techniques, and retarders slow the drying time, making blending easier.

13. Practice Consistently

Improvement comes with consistent practice. Set aside regular time for painting—even if it's just a few minutes a day—to help you become more comfortable with the medium and develop your own style over time. Remember: Becoming a professional artist requires a strong work ethic and prolific production. Professionals paint 40 hours each week.

14. Learn from Others

Study the work of artists you admire to gain inspiration and insight into different styles and techniques. Online tutorials, art books, and classes are also great resources for learning new approaches to acrylic painting.

Check out this quick tutorial from professional artist Elli Milan on how to make an underpainting with acrylics.

15. Paint from Life

Practice painting from real-life subjects to enhance your observational skills and understanding of light, form, and color. Still-life setups, landscapes, and portraits can offer valuable learning experiences.

Consider painting outdoors (plein air) to capture the nuances of natural light and scenery. This practice can invigorate your work with spontaneity and vibrancy, reflecting the dynamic beauty of the natural world.

16. Record Your Process

Create a video recording or time-lapse of your painting process. As you watch your recording, evaluate your demeanor and temperament as an artist. Do you still lack confidence in planting your brushstrokes and leaving them? Do you “blendy-blendy-smoothy-smooth” everything you do? Recording your process enables you to see the evolution of your painting and assess areas for improvement.

17. Set Achievable Goals

Set small, achievable goals for your painting practice. Whether mastering a new technique or completing a series of paintings, goals can provide direction, motivation,  and a sense of accomplishment.

For example, a few SMART goals for artists beginning to paint with acrylics might include:

  • Purchase quality brushes and a glass palette by the end of the week.
  • Complete a painting that uses glazing and dry brushing by the end of the month.
  • In the next 90 days, complete 10 acrylic paintings in various sizes.

Take time to celebrate your achievements, no matter how small. Acknowledging your successes reinforces your confidence and dedication to your art.

18. Join Art Communities

Engaging with other artists can provide support, feedback, and camaraderie. Whether online or in person, art communities—like Milan Art’s online social community—can be invaluable resources for connection, learning, and exposure.

19. Protect Your Art

Once your painting is complete, protect it with a suitable varnish to shield it from dust, UV damage, and fading. This final step will ensure your artwork remains vibrant and intact for years to come.

Select a varnish that complements your artistic finish. Typically, artists prefer glossy rather than matte. For acrylic paintings, you can use an acrylic gloss varnish. (Always use a professional-grade varnish instead of one from Home Depot or the local hardware store.) This final touch not only protects your painting but can also enhance its visual appeal.

Professional artist Dimitra Milan’s acrylic paint palette

20. Balance Critique with Confidence

Be open to feedback on your work, but also trust your artistic instincts. Constructive criticism can be helpful, but staying true to your vision and style is also essential. This balance between openness to growth and self-assurance is critical to your artistic evolution.

21. Study the Masters

Analyzing the works of accomplished acrylic artists can provide knowledge and inspiration. Study their techniques, color choices, and compositional strategies to glean insights that can inform your own practice.

22. Stay Organized

A well-organized workspace can streamline your painting process, making your creative sessions more productive and enjoyable. Invest time organizing your materials and tools, creating an environment that nurtures your creativity.

Your workspace should be a sanctuary for creativity. Tailor it to meet your preferences and needs, ensuring it inspires and supports your artistic endeavors.

23. Free Yourself From Clutter

Clutter blocks creativity—not just physical clutter but also mental clutter, relationship clutter, or time clutter. Examples of clutter include:

  • disorganized belongs or piles of laundry
  • negative mindsets or fear and self-doubt
  • staying connected with people who hold us back or dishonor us
  • spending too much time on unhealthy, unhelpful, or unproductive activities like social media gossip, excessive TV-watching, or obligations and activities we don’t want to do

Figure out what clutter is in your life. What is the energy that’s holding you back creatively? Once you’ve identified your clutter, free yourself from it.

24. Start with the Basics

Building a solid foundation in basic shapes, forms, and brushstrokes can empower you to tackle more complex subjects confidently. Dedicate time to mastering these fundamentals, as they are the building blocks of all great artworks.

Focus on understanding the core principles of acrylic painting, such as color theory, composition, and light. Experiment with acrylic paints and the various ways you can lay down acrylic paint. Learn how acrylics behave on your canvas. This foundational knowledge will serve you well as you expand your artistic repertoire.

25. Stay Inspired

Inspiration is the fuel for creativity. Cultivate a practice of seeking inspiration in everyday life, from the natural world to other art forms. Remain open to new experiences and ideas, as they can spark your next artistic breakthrough.

Adopt practices that keep your creativity flowing, such as keeping a sketchbook for spontaneous ideas or engaging in creative exercises. Inspiration will find you working, so an inspired artist is prolific, constantly generating ideas for new and exciting paintings and consistently producing new artwork.

Master the Art of Acrylic Painting

Acrylic painting offers endless possibilities for beginners, blending ease of use with the potential for stunning, diverse outcomes. Following these 25 tips, you'll navigate the initial challenges of acrylic painting like a pro and lay a solid foundation for your art practice.

Learn the essentials of acrylic painting from professional artist Elli Milan. In this online course, Elli shares the three-step acrylic painting process she has used to create and sell her artwork since 1996. Her techniques will empower you to paint lifelike imagery regardless of your subject matter.
Enroll now!


Milan Art Institute
Milan Art Institute

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