Acrylic Painting Techniques
We have looked at all the materials you are going to need for your acrylic painting journey. But that isn’t the be all and end all of painting the acrylics. One of the more important aspects, and it doesn’t matter what you’re using or how expensive your supplies are, is how to actually use them. So with your basic materials, including a brush, canvas and acrylic paint and these techniques; you will be well equipped to create some incredible paintings. We will be looking at some of the more universally used techniques to start and then even going into further depth with some lesser known techniques like dabbing and splattering. The more you practice these techniques the more comfortable you will feel with pushing them further and experimenting with your medium and paintings.
DRY BRUSHING: The dry brushing technique is great for a more diffused effect. The effect will be quite uneven and you could soften the edges using water but if you are looking for texture and direction, then dry brushing is the best option. It is particularly good for blending together two areas of textured colour.
GLAZING: When you add enough water to acrylic paint, it behaves in a similar way to watercolour. The paint becomes translucent and very runny. You can use this technique to add transparent layers of colour over each other, add variations of hue to areas of colour or even to do small areas of blending. Some sources, however, advise that you shouldn’t add more than 50% water to your paint as this may cause the polymer in the paint to break down and lose its adhesive qualities, resulting in the possibility of your paint lifting of flaking off when you paint subsequent layers over it. It’s best to just experiment for yourself and see what your own paints are capable of doing. Make a colour chart for yourself and label the wash swatches with the various ratios of water used. You’ll notice that after being watered down to a certain point the paint will start beading and breaking up into little speck of pigment as it dries. This shows you clearly how much over-dilution your paint can handle. Obviously, higher grade paints will hold a lot more water than lower grade quality.
STIPPLING: The technique of stippling consists of applying layers of varying sizes and thicknesses of dots. To create variations of depth and texture. This can be done with a brush to achieve a much looser, more expressive feeling or it can be achieved using more precise tools like earbuds, toothpicks and even the backs of paint brushes.
WET ON DRY: This refers to the technique of applying wet paint to a dried section of painted canvas. It is easily the most common and user-friendly way of painting, though you will need to master the art of blending out solid areas of colour. This can be achieved by dry brushing or simply spreading the paint onto the surface without lifting your brush too much or gathering more paint onto the bristles. Glazing techniques can be used on top of dry paint as well to blend.
WET ON WET: Aside from the Wet on Dry technique, wet on wet is probably the second most commonly used painting technique, particularly for Acrylic. Wet paint is pliable and easy to manipulate and thus gives you smoother effects overall. When a wet layer is applied over a wet area of paint, both layers blend together and can produce more irregular patterns, as it is particularly tricky to predict exactly how the colours will spread together.
PALETTE KNIFE: Palette knives are most often used to produce and apply thick layers of paint to achieve texture and create volume. It is used often hand in hand with the impasto technique, which we will explore in a moment. It is a relatively simple technique, though the variety of palette knives out there means your choices may feel overwhelming. The best way to learn is to just buy a few of the key shapes or a small pack and go from there. The difficulty in palette knives doesn’t lie in techniques but rather allowing layers to dry to avoid creating mush. Knowing when to stop is tricky with art in general!
IMPASTO: Impasto is a technique used in painting where the paint is laid out on an area of the canvas in very thick layers, usually so thick that the brush strokes or palette knife marks are visible. The paint can be mixed right onto the canvas because the thicker layers of paint do tend to swirl together somewhat and the marbling effect that tends to happen creates an impression of a new colour with a really interesting depth of colour. The only downside to impasto is that it tends to use up a lot of paint so it is advisable to add something like an impasto medium, which is designed to thicken up the paint without losing its colour and vitality.
SGRAFFITO: Sgraffito is a form of decoration typically used in ceramics, although it is a technique that can very successfully be incorporated into a painting. It involves scratching through a surface, usually a layer of wet paint, to reveal a lower layer of a different or contrasting colour. This can be done using any tool, though very sharp tools are not advisable on surfaces like a canvas. So things like toothpicks, the ends of paint brushes, palette knives or even your fingernails will all work in wonderful and unique ways. This technique is often good for adding texture to grass, foliage or hair.
SPLATTERING: Splattering is a really fun, quite carefree way to use paint. Using a fairly wet brush, you can flick or splatter paint onto a work surface for an uneven, splatter effect. Its fantastic for creating an abstract landscape or a starry night sky, or for just adding interesting texture to a piece. Famously, Jackson Pollock used this technique to create expressive abstract pieces.
DABBING: Dabbing is an interesting technique because it is not often thought of when it comes to painting techniques and adding texture but its a great way to apply large areas of rough paint. Using the corner of a sponge or even a piece of paper towel, dab onto the canvas with a little paint to add accents of colour. This does create a texture that can’t be replicated with any other applicator.
DETAILING: There often comes a point in the painting where you need to abandon your bigger brushes in favour of smaller, finer brushes to carefully paint in those finicky details. Detailing is a very important aspect of the artwork and will often involve shorter, sharper lines and fine edges that finish off and refine your overall forms.
The process of under-painting has three potential uses and can be applied in different ways depending on your specific needs.
– To create texture or build upon the canvas in preparation for further layers.
– To put tone or colour beneath the painting and allowing that to impact your final work in some way, either by leaving some areas exposed or using glazing methods to create translucent effects.
– A way of planning and laying out your painting to see whether all the elements you’re planning balance out compositionally and ‘fit’ together.
LEARN TO LAYER
Learning to layer your paint doesn’t just apply to acrylic paint and its an important part of the painting process that feeds into every aspect of your creative practice. Layered paintings, drawings or even art journals always look more professional and more finished than a painting that just has one flat layer. Every subsequent layer just adds more depth and you can really play around with layering different techniques like stippling and dabbing underneath glazing and detail work. It will really enhance the perception of three-dimensionality in your painting and acrylics really lend themselves to this because they dry so quickly and aren’t water-soluble when dry so you don’t have to worry about disturbing lower layers. Start with a bottom, background layer and build it from there, growing it and enhancing it as you need.
While all of the above techniques are very useful and versatile on their own, the brush you use to create the effect is particularly important because it can determine the final effect and overall form. Different shaped brushes will obviously give very different effects so the best thing to do is experiment and even make swatches using a few different brushes to see what will work better for you.
So having touched now on the multitude of painting techniques available to you, it’s up to you to try them out, play around with them and experiment to find the techniques that work for you. Grab a small cheap canvas or repurpose something old to practice on before committing to an actual artwork. It makes the whole process much easier. In the next post, we’ll have a nice in-depth look at the intricacies of colour, colour mixing and how using colour can influence the overall look and feel of your artworks.