Acrylics are the best of mediums because they are versatile and very forgiving. They can be used on almost any surface: acrylic paper, canvas, canvas board, wood, hardboard, plastic, glass. They can be used thick like oils, used straight from the tube, or thin like a watercolour. But unlike watercolour, you can correct things, turn mistakes into “happy accidents” rather than scrap all your hard work. You are not stifled by painting in washes, putting the next layer on at precisely the right drying stage or using masking fluid to keep the white bits white, or painting all the light pale parts first before adding mid tones, then the darks. Those rules don’t apply with acrylics. Anything goes.
Nor is there any hard and fast rule about how you actually apply the paint. You can use broad strokes, wet-in-wet, stipple, use a palette knife, or add salt, a ball of crumpled up cling film, splatter with a toothbrush. You can add glitter, other sparkles, paint in silver, bronze and gold paint. Use Pearlescent mediums and pearlescent paint. You don’t even need a paintbrush. Cotton buds, sponges, your finger, a painting knife, twig or stick, can all be used Some artists even use the back of a spoon. The possibilities are endless, stymied only by your own imagination. And unlike other mediums, with the exception of oils, you can paint over acrylic. White will go over black. Yellow can go over blue without it turning green. If you want to turn a dark blue light green and add highlights, you can. You can paint over a whole completed painting if you so wish. And because acrylics are water-based, brushes are a doddle to wash.
I’ve heard many painters say they don’t like acrylics, that can’t get on with them. That they dry too quickly. They do, but that is one of their advantages. A stay wet palette helps, as does a fine water mister. There are various retarders you can buy to delay drying time, but I’ve never found cause to use these. There’s even a brand, Atelier Interactive, which can be re-activated on canvas with water long after it’s dried, but they are expensive, and not something I would recommend to beginners.
One reason why some people cannot get on with acrylics is because they use them too thickly, buying the wrong type of acrylic for their need, or using far too much water when mixing. Unless you require a thin wash, the only water required is by first wetting your brush and squeezing out any surplus before putting it your paint.
Another joy is that apart from a few basic housekeeping rules, there is no right or wrong way to use them. Every artist will have their own method. Nor is there any correct way to hold your brush. It’s a matter of finding which suits you best and not be swayed by someone telling you you’re doing it all wrong. You can paint in any style you want too. Bright and vibrant, or moody and atmospheric. Loose and abstract, or tight and precise with lots of detail.
The secret is not to be afraid of them. To let them work for you and find a technique that suits you. And to practice. Practice mixing. Practice laying paint on. Practicing with different brushes, learn what they can do for you. And keep painting pictures. Don’t expect every one to be a masterpiece. It won’t. Even after all the time I’ve been doing this, for every painting I’m happy and satisfied with, there’s at least 4 or 5 that I’m not. Each painting is a learning curve. The opportunity to try a different technique. A different brush. A different way of holding a brush – like a pen, or at the tip of the handle. A different style. A different approach. Like any technique, be it playing the piano, riding a bicycle, or driving a car, painting needs to be practiced.
Watching how other painters work is always of value, be it on a video (there are plenty of helpful ones on YouTube), or by attending demonstrations even if it is not in the same medium. There’s always something to learn, even if it’s just one tiny tip you pick up, it’s worth it.
So, where do we start?
With a list of basic equipment, of course.
And by learning the few basic household management rules: