Acrylic Painting Techniques

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Acrylic Painting Techniques

acrylic painting techniques

There are various types of acrylic painting techniques that artists use to create different effects. To create those different effects, we grab different sizes and shapes of brushes. 

If you are the absolute beginner to acrylic painting, this post is meant to help you build some basic skills when it comes to selecting brush type and its purpose. 

 

Brushes I Use: 

There are so many brands of brushes on the market ranging from all sorts of price ranges. Just like most things that you invest in, the higher the brush price the most likely it will be of greater quality and the longer they’ll last. 

I personally like to grab a mid price range for brushes and a lot of times I’m perfectly fine using a basic craft brush as long as the bristles are good and it’s the right shape I’m looking for. 

The brand I use most often for my tutorials is the Royal & Langnickel brushes, specifically their Zen line and the Majestic Royal.

There’s a few other brands in the mix of my brush collection but I tend to gravitate to my Royal brushes. I think if there is a brush that works well for you, stick to it! You may have different preferences and that is fine.

Zen Brushes

Majestic Royal Brushes

The above graphic is by no means a list of all the brushes that exist!  I left out the filbert brush which is like a flat but has a rounded tip. A palette knife can be used as a brush to apply thick “impasto” strokes.  There’s even odd shaped brushes like zig-zag edged and v-shaped!

Brushes can come in interesting shapes to create unique effects. “Creative Mark FX Special Effects Paint Brush Set”

 

See My Post About Using A Round Brush!

Also note that these are all synthetic brushes! When I am shopping for brushes, I make sure the label says they are meant for acrylic paint but also that they are synthetic. Why? The bristles are soft but still firm, which make it ideal for painting with acrylic paint. Also, the synthetic material can withstand the acrylic paint and allow for easy cleaning. Some synthetic brushes say they are meant for all medias like watercolor and oil. 

 

How are brushes labeled?

Sometimes it depends on the brand. Wouldn’t it be more interesting if brushes were called fun names like “Harry” and “Louie”? Or if they were just color coded. That way we’d all know exactly which one! Oh well.

Brushes are typically labeled with names like “flat” or “round” or “bright” or “shader” or “fan” or “angle” (you get my gist) and a number. Usually the smaller the number, the smaller the brush! The larger the number the larger the brush. Everyday objects like old toothbrushes & cotton swabs can be used too!

Common Brushes

  • Basecoat/ Wash: Basecoat brushes can be used for painting an entire canvas with gesso or varnish. It can also be used to paint an extremely large area or if you want to paint the entire canvas one color like black! You may also see a “wash” which is a large flat used for covering large areas. 
Photo by Lisa Fotios from Pexels
  • Flat or Bright:Flat brushes are used to get a sharp edge or if you want to paint a large area. They vary in sizes and usually are labeled with a number or  how many inches wide they are (1″, 3/4″, etc.). Often times we hear “bright” used. A bright is also a flat brush but the bristles are shorter. A bright tends to be easier to control because the bristles are shorter. You may also see “shader” and that is typically with longer bristles. There is also a “chisel” which is a flat that is very short!
Photo by Ekrulila from Pexels
  • Angle:  An angle brush has many uses! I like to use this when I want my paint strokes to come to a fine point (like tree branches or pine needles).  It’s also perfect for “cutting in” sharp edges or creating zig-zag strokes and double loading for a blended look!
Photo by Ravi Kant from Pexels
  • Round/ LinerRound brushes are typically labeled with a number. The smaller the number, the smaller the brush. Use round brushes for filling in small areas. Also use them for fine details and tiny stokes! The very tiny round brushes are often labeled as “liners”. You may see 10/0 or 20/0 for these very small brushes. 

  • Fan BrushA fan brush is fun to experiment with! I don’t use it often but they are great for painting palm tree branches, pine trees, waterfalls, etc. I once used it to paint a “tutu” in one of my painting tutorials! They are also labeled with a number. 

  • Filbert: Similar to a flat but has a rounded top. Great for blending and creating smooth edged strokes. 

  • Everyday ObjectsUse an old tooth brush for a splatter paint effect! This is great for painting stars in a night sky. A lot of everyday objects can also be used as a brush: Q-Tips, sticks, feathers, fingers… You can even do some wonderful techniques using an artist sponge!

 

Photo by Deeana Garcia from Pexels

My Favorite Brush Techniques

This is not an inclusive list at all as there are many! These are just some of the ones that I love using in my paintings! In fact, I created a new post all about the different techniques you can create with just the round brush.

  • Dry Brush
  • Round Brush Techniques
  • Angle Brush Techniques 
  • Flat Brush Techniques 
  • Cross-hatching
  • Double And Triple Loading
  • Blending
  • Stippling
  • Using A Fan Brush
  • Splatter Painting

Dry Brush 

Dry brushing is a technique used by artists to make the paint look “feathery” or “dry”. Any brush can be used for this technique.

When you do a dry brush stroke, use a clean brush with no water on it. Dry it with a paper towel.

Load just the tip with a little bit of paint. You only need to get paint on the tip! If you load too much paint, wipe some off with a paper towel. 

Dry brush strokes are light and feathery and need no water on the brush

Then lightly apply the paint on the canvas! The strokes always remind me of a crayola marker that is running out of ink. It looks translucent and you can see the texture of the canvas or the color underneath.

Some examples of instances when a dry brush technique would look great are: sunset clouds, grass, waterfall, wood texture and more!

 

Round Brush

Typically, you use a round brush for small strokes and filling in smaller areas. Round brushes come in several different sizes and most brush brands label them with a number. The smaller the number, the smaller the brush.

Use a size 0 brush to paint tiny strokes. There are brushes that are smaller than size 0! You may see them labeled with a number like 5/0, 10/0, etc.

Use a larger number if you are filling in a medium to larger area (such as a silhouette). Or, use it to create medium rounded “free-style looking” strokes. You can see more in depth strokes you can do with a round brush here

 

 

Angle Brush

 

An angle brush is a handy brush to grab if you are painting trees or want to achieve a nice zig-zag stroke! I like to grab it when I want to “cut in” when painting a large object. 

An angle brush for trees and sharp zig-zag strokes

When you use an angle brush, try experimenting with the pressure of how you are holding it. See what happens when you press hard verses if you press light!

Experiment with turning your hand at different angles. The line will get thicker and then thinner when you turn your hand.

Try using the very tip (highest corner point in the angle) to paint fine lines. When I painted the smaller tree branches above, I pressed lightly only using the highest bristles of the brush!

You can also use an angle brush for double loading! I will be demonstrating how to double and triple load next in this guide!

Double Load

When you double load a brush, you are essentially adding two different colors to the brush without them mixing together.

You can use a flat brush or an angle brush for a double load. Actually, I’ve even used round brushes for this!

First dip one corner of the bristles in one color. Then dip the other corner in the other color.

Dip each corner of the brush in a different color.

 

Double loaded one stroke with orange and yellow

When you paint a stroke, the two colors will naturally blend together!

Try experimenting with this a bit! I like to double load when I’m painting a sunset. The colors will mix together on the canvas!

Double loaded brush of yellow and orange mixed together
Experimenting with different strokes with a flat and angle brush double load.

See what happens when you use an angle brush for double load! One side will be thicker than the other.

Experiment with different lines, curves, zig-zags, etc.!

Triple Load

Flat brush triple loaded with white, turquoise and black

One of my favorite ways to blend acrylic paint is letting them just mesh together right on the canvas (or paper)!  Adding three colors to the tip of a flat brush is one way to do this.

When you triple load a brush, dip the entire tip in one color first. Then, like a double load, dip each corner in a different color!

White, Turquoise and Black triple loaded brush created this blended color mix!

Try experimenting with three colors you think will mesh well together! I like using a triple load for the base of a lot of my paintings! The above graphic is a triple loaded brush with black, white and turquoise painted with all up and down strokes.

Flat brushes

Photo by Lisa Fotios from Pexels

Flat brushes are such a versatile brush. Use one when you are filling up large spaces such as sky or water. I will demonstrate two of my favorite ways I use the flat brush!

Painting a sky

I like to use flat brushes for blending colors directly on the canvas when I’m painting a sky. In the graphic you see below, I used the flat brush two different ways. Horizontal  strokes and “X” strokes. Those “X” strokes are also called “cross-hatching”.

Horizontal strokes and “X” strokes made with a flat brush.

 

I added white on the paper to blend the blue with the same kind of stroke.
 

Painting Thick then Thin Strokes with a flat brush

First press firm on the bristles. Then twist the brush and stroke up to use just the side of the flat brush. The stroke starts out very thick and then gets thin.

Try doing the same thing but with a double load! In the graphic below, I double loaded a flat brush with white and green.

 

Flat Vs. Bright

Is there a difference between a flat and a bright? Kind of. I grab them interchangeably. Bright brushes have slightly shorter bristles which allow for better control.

If you’re a beginner, then bright brushes are your best friend! Flat brushes have longer bristles which could hold more paint, making them great for painting skies and filling in large areas!

 

Cross-Hatching 

Cross hatching simply means that strokes are overlapping going in two different directions. There are many combinations you can do with cross hatching.

Vertical and horizontal cross hatching is one way. I don’t typically use this technique in my paintings but it is a unique way to blend colors or add interesting texture to a painting.

 

Cross hatching in “X” strokes is a technique I do love and use a lot! Any brush works for cross-hatching, I just happened to use a #3 round brush for this demonstration.  In the above graphic, I cross hatched phthalo red and yellow together to create a unique texture and blending style.

 

You can also play around with wet on wet, wet on dry, etc. In the above graphic, I experimented with using diagonal cross hatching strokes. I added multiple layers of the cross hatching pattern without waiting for the under-layer to dry (wet on wet).

 

Splatter Paint 

Call me a crazy former Elementary Art teacher but I LOVE splatter painting! If I could add splatters to all my paintings, I probably would.

The best tool, I think, to splatter with is an old toothbrush. I find that wetting it SLIGHTLY helps. If you put too much water on the toothbrush, you’ll get undesirable large drips everywhere. Try experimenting with the angle of the toothbrush or the amounts of paint. Also, it’s best to try on a separate paper first before throwing it on the canvas.

 

If you don’t want to use a toothbrush, using a regular brush works too! I sometimes grab a flat brush to splatter with because I want more control in where I want my splatters to go.

 

Stippling

I use the stippling technique sparingly in my paintings. I think this technique is more effective in other mediums like oil pastels so I don’t use it all too often with acrylic paint. Basically, you are painting little tiny dots using the tip of a round brush! It can be an effective, yet tedious, way to blend colors together.

 

Using A Fan Brush

A fan brush can be used to create a lot of different techniques. One of my favorite fan brush techniques is painting pine trees. To do this, I used a round tiny detail brush to paint the vertical trunk. Then I used the fan brush tips like a stamp and from the top to bottom I painted the branches. You can see my separate post “How To Paint Pine Trees With A Fan Brush” here. 

A fan brush can also be used for creating grass effects and other interesting ground and natural textures. You can even use your fan brush if you are painting a waterfall!

Paint grass textures with the fan brush by making short strokes going in different directions.

 

Create waterfall effects with fan brush by dragging it down and adding layers of blues and white.

 

Some Final Thoughts:

I think having a sketchbook is important to practicing brush and stroke techniques. I use a basic sketchbook with regular drawing paper and I don’t really worry about the paper crumbling from the paint because it’s just practice.

Do basic exercises frequently in your sketchbook to help refine your skills. Acrylic painting takes practice and the more you train your hand and mind and spirit with the skills, the better you will get!

 

See Also:

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46 thoughts on “Acrylic Painting Techniques”

  1. I am so happy that I found your website! Thank you so much for all the helpful information!
    I am a beginner and feel like I got lots of support from you! Thanks!!

  2. I have done 2 paintings and loved it. I have done paint night several times at a local studio and i have to say this is like being in the studio. Love you tips on brushes, just love it all!
    Thank You

  3. Thank you for a great tutorial. Makes me want to go out and get canvases and paint and brushes and paint something! I’m definitely a beginner but you make it sound doable. Thanks!

  4. Thank you so much Ms. Tracie…you’re straight to the point, with easy steps to comprehend for a refresher rundown on tools and uses.

  5. WOW — so detailed and informative. I painted about 30 years ago – folk art and tole, but not really detailed. Used to sell my work at craft shows. I knew the names of some of the brushes you described but learnt a few new ones. But I agree with the tooth brush that is the best to spackle with, until you get to much water and have black paint and it goes everywhere. Only can laugh and clean it up quick and the best you can.
    I am so glad I found your post and look forward to learning more from you.
    Thank you so much!!!

  6. Thank you so much. I’m self taught and sometimes have trouble finding great instruction that actually helps me. This was so awesome!!

  7. Great and clear instructions! You’ve inspired this beginner to buy a sketchbook and try these techniques – love the double and triple brush load which my current instructor has not shown me. I agree with the comment above – can you upload color mixing ideas? Also, depending on the brand, acrylics can have different names – is there a chart that equates colors across the brands?

    • Hi MaryKay! I can do something on color mixing. Yes paint colors vary across brands. I find that it’s not a 100% match but you can get a close impression of the color when you translate brands. There’s a few good charts out there, google “acrylic paint brand color chart” or something along those lines.

      Thanks for your comment and I’ll see what I can come up with as far as color mixing ideas!

  8. Love all the information you provided. I am a beginner and now I am sure I will have more fun practicing the loading and new strokes.
    Great info on brushes
    Thank you

  9. Good Morning! I am so happy to find your site! I have been interested in learning how to acrylic paint. Every site just jumps in without explaining the brushes and the techniques. I was playing with some paints outside today… painting on newspaper while learning the different brush strokes. Thank you so very much for having this for people like me!! I am hoping that by next month I will be confident enough to try the flag on the sky… using my front window! My coworker uses acrylic’s on her windows.

  10. Dear Tracie:

    I am a 86 year old person and I am in the process of trying my hand at acrylic painting. You see I painted a sunset scene (12″ x 23″) with deer drinking water. Goodness if I had your guidance I would have done it in double quick time. Thank you very much for your tutorial.
    Regards
    Sylvia
    May 3, 2019

  11. Dear Tracie
    I am a beginner and have watched loads of online tutorials and have books etc but your guide is the best I’ve seen. You explain everything so clearly and along with the examples it’s very easy to follow. Thank you. Looking forward to watching more.
    Best wishes.
    Janie

  12. Hola Tracie, soy una profesora de artes manuales, soy autodidacta, doy clases a adultos. Aquí en Venezuela no tenemos la facilidad de comprar pinturas acrilicas y las que se consiguen son muy costosas, asi que con lo poco que conseguimos lo hacemos. Te felicito por el tutorial, es fantastico, claro y conciso, muy facil de aprender, hasta yo he aprendido mucho. Mil gracias en nombre de 13 personas amantes del tiempo para pintar.

  13. Thank you so much for the information on brushes and how to use them. This was very helpful! Right now I’m struggling with painting geranium leaves using the double loading technique. It seems to be a real problem for me. I’ve tried with a flat and a bright. I’ll try again with an angle brush. Any suggestions on how to do them would be much appreciated.

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