Art instruction: achieve good results painting with acrylic

I have been an art instructor for more than 35 years and I have spent thousands of hours watching how students start out with their paintings.  I have also been a beginner in arts many years ago. Therefore, I am aware of tough things which we experience when using such a medium as acrylic. Especially, if this type of paint is a completely new to you.

Acrylic paints are very friendly. No smells, no known allergy causing components. I would advise people with sensitive skin to use gloves: they should be thin and match size of your hand.

Acrylic is easy to use because we can repaint, paint over, cover up and restart painting any areas which we assume not good enough, not suitable our intention and not nice enough. We sometimes need to wait until the first layer is dry. Overworking one spot causes to come off all wet paint.

Acrylic paints can be applied thinly, diluted with glazing medium or water and in a thick layer creating almost impasto effects. It’s just so that prices of paints have tripled since 2008 in Canada, so it is obvious that using modelling paste or different materials as a base is better than applying a lot of paint.

The biggest challenges are two. 95% of beginning artists who work in acrylic USE TOO LESS PAINT. A LOT LESS than required, actually. That results in uneven, streaky coverage or there is no distinction in color and value. We have to add the paint we are using most as it is almost gone. Acrylic dries fast, so dipping on it a few drops of water or slightly spraying it with water time to time will help hugely. It might be so that somebody gets overwhelmed with all information they have to absorb in first classes, but still: having just a small drop of paint on your palette is not going to work. USE DECENT AMOUNT OF PAINT! ALWAYS! Keep it slightly wet all the time while you are using this paint.

Secondly, partially covered canvas does not look good. We can check whether the coverage is proper by taking a picture. If the canvas fabric is clearly visible, that part certainly requires more paint, sometimes: much more paint.

By its nature, acrylic acts like a glue. We have to use this feature in our favor and so we do. We start with more abstracted, not that careful layers and move onto something more definite. WE SHOULD NOT START WITH FINAL DETAILS OR ASSUME THAT ANY FIRST LAYER IS FINAL. Apply at least 3-5 layers and then decide what else you do. Never judge an unfinished painting or make unreasonable conclusions about it. We fix and change EVERYTHING as we add more layers.

The second challenge is BRUSHING PAINT ALL AROUND. We need to place the paint wherever we want it and leave this spot alone. With that being said, we shouldn’t create strong fat lines with sharp edges for darker areas or road sides, field ends and similar. We want darker areas, not darker frames everywhere. To achieve that, we feather out the outer edge on that area. Just let the brush dance on your canvas and don’t worry about too much blending in the first few layers. By letting the brush slightly touch canvas on one spot we can hold the particular color on that area where we want it. Brushing paint around results in achieving uniformly flat color on the entire canvas or area.  We have to use the color we want on the spot where we intend to apply it.

Instructor can demonstrate, explain or show principles, methods and approaches, but painting is still up to you. That means: you have to use the reference, remember to look at the reference whether it is a real abject or scene, or a photo thereof all the time, not only when you start the painting. That does not really happen in reality.

Painting is based on very many decisions we make every second; in fact, we make some hundreds of decisions every second. So, if you only follow the instructor, but haven’t decided anything for yourself, results will not be that great.

Why am I saying: pay attention to reference? I have to repeat that because most people don’t ever pay attention to reference. When we are just beginning the painting, they would have a brief look at it; and I notice after a small while that NOBODY LOOKS any more at the reference. YOU HAVE TO! Reference or value drawing (if you have created such) HAS ALL THE ANSWERS: where to use dark color, where to make strong edge, where to wash edge or lose it, where to place highlights and what exactly the shape of something is. It is extremely important, much more important than what brush to use.

Talking about brushes: always use the ones which you feel comfortable with and which suit the size of the area you are working on. Very simple. We use the largest possible brush for any task. Flat brush has MULTIPLE USES IN ACRYLIC. We can draw thin long lines with the edge of it; we can cover large areas using it flatly, parallel to surface in full width, we can use 2 different shades or colors on each end of the flat brush which simplifies and speeds up painting.

How does the painting or drawing happen? We transform the visually perceived information in the brain signals that eventually lead to our hand movements. Whenever our hand moves accordingly to decision we made, we achieve the desired result. The more decisions one makes and the more one understands why some parts are neutral, some have strong and some have weak values, the easier it is to paint or draw. Blindly following and copying RESTRICTS our ability to analyze, understand and apply creatively our vision.

We develop acrylic paintings from my sketches. The light barn with pink-red roof was painted by our youngest student Erin who is 11 and attends classes together with her mom. We just started a new project which we are also doing from a quick sketch of mine.

This post was waiting for a long time because I was very busy working on class images and steps.

Therefore, some images are from mid-December classes.

Painting, drawing and sketching manually is THE BEST MENTAL FITNESS EXERCISE. Nothing else can compete or compare to that. Period.

The lifeschool blog reviews challenges during dark and upsetting winter: Please enjoy!


19 Replies to “Art instruction: achieve good results painting with acrylic”

  1. Great lesson, Inese. I really appreciate it. Do you also do oil painting or watercolor painting? I want to learn all. 😉
    Again, thanks. I have learned a lot (I know nothing about the subject.)
    Have a great day.

    1. Thanks! As you can see from tag cloud and other posts, I’m doing a lot of watercolor, drawing and sketching, too. I cannot do oils any longer because some 10 years ago I developed very strong sensitivity and allergy to oils. Therefore, I have to use something that isn’t that harsh as watercolor and acrylic. Every medium ha sits specific approach and I like how they are very different, however, principles remain the same throughout any painting or drawing process.

  2. Hi Inese, I was wondering if I was to come to a class what you are working on these days. I am interested in a scenery picture. Any openings on Wednesday or Thursday? Connie >

      1. I watercolor, but I need to be braver about the acrylics. I bought a set, I just haven’t been brave enough to get them out. I usually end up working at my kitchen table, and the next meal is always coming too soon. 🙂 One of these days, I will set up a place for painting in my house. Where I can leave out my paints. That’s the way to accomplish things. I used to work that way. In oils. A little bit each day, three paintings going at a time. I miss everything but the smell and mess. 🙂

    1. Thanks! The first ones are just sketch, first layers, second layers and then the last one is practically done, I think, thta’s the first line. But students get their paintings very differently, that’s true, I do not pressurize them or make use some particular color. I liked that slightly pink barn that 11 years old Erin painted. There were many more, I just didn’t have time to take pictures or they were not done yet.

  3. Bonjour ou bonsoir Jolie INESE

    Par des mots simples

    Je viens déposer sur ton blog

    Quelques mots de bonheur et te donner de le joie en cette fin de semaine
    Vois-tu je t’ emmène sur des chemins

    Je les ai tracé pour toi principalement

    Sur ces chemins j’ai découvert
    Une pétale de rose pour effacer ta peine
    Un sourire d’enfant contre une larme
    Des mots que je dis à ceux que j’apprécie
    Dont tu fais réellement

    je te souhaite un bonne journée ou soirée

    gros bisous


    Je tire ma révérence LOL tu me troubles que j’en perds mon équilibre

  4. Hi there dear Inese,
    Great post. Interesting to learn about the pros and cons of painting with acrylics.
    I found that (once again) you give us a lessons concerning not only Art and the creative porcess … but Life itself…
    You left me thinking about life and freedom particularly when you say:
    “Painting is based on very many decisions we make every second; in fact, we make some hundreds of decisions every second”….
    And I agree with you: Having a teacher (role model) and paying attention to reference are also important points when it comes to learning and developping our skills! Sending love & best wishes ! 😊 ❤️

    1. Thanks Aquileana! You noticed all the main things I wanted to emphasize. That makes me happy because the goal is definitely to reach the reader’s mind and keep working based on this mutual exchange of ideas. It makes me as an artist feel being accepted which is so great!
      I didn’t initially plan to become a teacher, but I’ve ended up teaching for very many years. European student groups very large: up to 30-35 in each class, and I was mostly teaching foreign languages those times, German language and literature. Therefore, having a huge experience in how to handle each situation is a big advantage.
      Teaching art is more interesting than language because I make up my own curriculum based on what I see in the classroom. Internet is full of online art instruction, however, nothing can replace the first steps with a real art instructor and facilitate picking up good paintings habits than being present in such live class.
      Thanks again!

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