Acrylic Paints are a fun, versatile and very forgiving medium to start painting with. There are no mistakes, you just paint over it and move on.
I started learning how to paint with Oils at the age of 48. I love Oil Painting, don’t get me wrong, but it wasn’t satisfying my need for speed. It can take weeks for an Oil Painting to dry and cure and I don’t have that kind of patience.
That’s when my mind turned to Acrylic Painting. Acrylics were developed in the 1940s and have slowly made their way into becoming a medium “real” artists can use. They dry much quicker than Oils, generally within 15 minutes, faster if you’re outside. (There are mediums you can add to the paint to slow it down, but personally, I’ve never used them.) The range of colors and brands available now equal that of Oils. You can develop any palette that suits your needs.
As I said in, 15 Acrylic Techniques, my choice of colors has changed over the last 10 years. I started using the same colors as my teacher, Jeremy Doss, but over time evolved to a less earthy more watery theme.
Use this post as a starting point. Then as you paint and practice you will see what works best for you. The sky is the limit. (and the clouds and the happy trees…) I’ve also created a printable checklist you can bring to your favorite craft and hobby store. You’ll find it in my Library Resource section. So, lets begin!
The Paints You Need, and the Ones You Want
This is the range of Oil Colors that I first started with, which oddly enough is Jeremy’s color choice. I found everything I needed between Winsor Newton and Rembrandt brands: Ultramarine Blue, Cobalt Blue, Cerulean Blue, Alizarin Crimson, Terra Rosa, Yellow Ochre Pale, Viridian, Sap Green, Cadmium Red Dark and Cadmium Red , Cadmium Yellow Light, Lemon Yellow and Titanium White (which is a bright, opaque, slightly bluish white great for mixing.) These colors will make any color you can dream of. Literally, any color.
I eventually realized I
hate really disapprove of Earth Tones. Some people make amazing paintings with them. Jeremy being one of them. I am not that person. I like Water Tones, the colors of Florida and Santa Fe. Turquoise, pinks, tropical colors. So I took out the Terra Rosa and Yellow Ochre and replaced them with Permanent Rose and Turquoise. (I will use Burnt Sienna instead if a brown is called for though.) I am much happier now.
Just a sidebar on the Cadmiums. They are hazardous to your health over a long time if they get absorbed into your skin, so wearing gloves or hand protection is a good idea. Think of all the artists from the past who were a little crazy (Van Gogh will lend you an ear) They may have been a little wacky, to begin with, but I’m sure the poisonous paints didn’t help. There are plenty of colors you can switch out with the Cadmiums if you are worried about it, though.
No Black for Monet!
Notice the absence of Black. You do not need Black in general. When painting landscapes there are dozens of darks you can mix that will give you a beautiful shadow and not leave a black hole in the middle of your painting. Speaking of black holes, I generally use black as my background when doing space paintings if that’s your thing.
Even Monet had a problem with black. In his early years he used a lot of dark colors, but as time went on he lightened up a lot.
When asked about the colors he used in his paintings, Monet replied, “As for the colors I use, what’s so interesting about that? I don’t think one could paint better or more brightly with another palette. The most important thing is to know how to use the colors. Their choice is a matter of habit. In short, I use white lead, cadmium yellow, vermilion, madder, cobalt blue, chrome green. That’s all.”
Supposedly, Monet was so adamant against using black that when he died, his friend Georges Clemenceau refused to allow them to put a black sheet over his coffin. “No! No black for Monet !” and had it replaced with a flowered material.
These Are the Acrylic Equivalents
So with some trial and error, I have found an Acrylic equivalent to my Oil palette. I generally go with Liquitex Basics and Master’s Touch because I am cheap and Hobby Lobby and Michael’s have awesome sales and coupons. All these colors can still be found in Winsor’s Galleria brand which will be my next step I think.
These are the colors I use from Liquitex Basics, notice it is essentially blue, red, green and yellow, with white for mixing.
- Ultramarine Blue
- Cerulean Blue
- Alizarin Crimson
- Transparent Oxide Red
- Deep Green (Instead of Sap Green)
- Cadmium Red Medium (Instead of Cad Red)
- Cadmium Yellow Light
- Titanium White
These Colors can be bought farther down the road. They give you a deeper range of color choices.
- Cobalt Blue
- Burnt Sienna (Instead of Terra Rosa)
- Cadmium Red Dark
These are the colors I use from Masters Touch (also not necessary to start with but fun to have)
- Lemon Yellow
- Medium Magenta (Instead of Permanent Rose)
- Yellow ochre (if you like Earth Tones)
A Brush, A Brush, My Kingdom for a Brush
There are many different brushes you can use with Acrylic Painting. Round, Bright, Filbert, Flat, and Fan are just a few. Each one gives you different effects and it’s fun exploring what they can do.
I love collecting brushes, I have dozens. I use 4. Just like paints, a few brushes can do the work of many. And as I mentioned before, I’m cheap. Why buy 4 bushes when 1 will do. Doesn’t stop me from buying more when they’re on sale though.
My go to brushes are Filbert, Flat, Round, and Palette Knife. Yes, your palette knife doubles as a brush. It makes lovely tree trunks, fence posts and sharp edges. With the brushes, you have a choice of natural or synthetic. You’ll eventually decide which one you like. I find that if it’s labeled for Acrylic Painting it’ll work fine, regardless. They come in a variety of sizes from the smallest 0 (or 0000 even) to the largest at 24 The bigger the painting you are creating, the bigger the brush you’ll need. I find brushes between 6 and 12 are perfect for up to a 24″ canvas.
These Are Good Brushes To Start With
- 2″ Wash Brush
- Filbert – #8, #10, #12
- Flat – #6, #10
- Round – #4, #8
- Liner – #10/0 (Which means 0000000000, nice and thin)
- Palette Knife – 3.5″ Multi-Angle and Diamond Shape
All the Fun Tools and Goodies That Go With Them
Now that you have your Paints and Brushes, it’s time to put them to work. These next items will make your Acrylic Painting journey much easier.
Acrylics are water based so you will need a container to hold water and rinse your brushes. I use a plastic brush washer bucket from Hobby Lobby.
Sponges, Q-tips and Viva Paper Towels are also very handy. Viva holds up much better than the rest, I even use them for Oil Painting. You can make some neat special effects with sponges and draw with the Q-tips.
You’ll need a place to put your paints like a Plastic or Glass Palette (or even a plastic disposable plate, Acrylics are not fussy)
There are many choices for paint surfaces as well. You can paint on inexpensive cotton or the more professional linen canvas, wood panels and even rocks. If you want something good to practice on there are also pads of canvas paper you can buy.
You should also pick up an easel as well. There are some nice tabletop ones available if you don’t have space. I tend to paint on a lap desk or art drawing board out on my porch.
When you are finished with your paintings, they will need to be sealed. It will keep the painting clean and bright and make your colors really pop. I like Liquitex Soluvar Satin Varnish. Glossy is too shiny and Matte is boring. Satin is a nice in-between.
The Tools of the Trade
- Water Container
- Natural sponges
- Viva Paper Towels
- Glass or Plastic Palette
- Canvas/Canvas Paper Pad
- Easel/Lap Desk
And that, my friend, is the beginning of your Acrylic Journey. Over time you will develop your own kit. Please let me know if you find anything fun that I can add to mine.
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