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Acrylic Painting - Basics

A surreal painting of nymph on a mushroom
Copyright - Leeza A. Harris. Acrylic on canvas with metallic colors

Acrylics – Simple & Easy

I started using acrylic paints when I was about nine and I fell in love with them. It was a tiny handkerchief on which I had wanted to paint a flower. That was the start of a journey and I have loved every minute of it. As I went along I have learned a lot about the use of acrylics and I want to share with you the essentials.

Acrylics on Fabric

Some of the paintings I have done on fabric with acrylic paints have lasted over a decade. While its kudos to the brand of paints I must admit that a few steps of prep of the fabric have contributed to the longevity of the painting.

So let us take a look at the different types of fabric that you can paint on. Cotton, satin, silk are the preferred choices but you can even use a T Shirt. Cotton is great to work on especially if you want to try acrylics on fabric for the first time. Here is the tip to using cotton – You need to make sure that all the starch in the fabric is removed before you begin painting. That is easy to do since you just need to wash the fabric to remove the starch. Once the fabric dries, you can iron it to remove the wrinkles and you can start using it. Silk and satin do not have starch in them so this step is not required.

In order to dilute your acrylic paints you can add a very little water. The best way to do this is to put some acrylic paint on a palette and then mix in the water to get the consistency you desired. Remember not to use too much of water and the reason for this word of caution is because the paint will then bleed when applied on to the fabric. Extra caution when applying paint on silk and satin because of the texture of these fabrics too much water mixed in the paint will make it bleed very badly. To prep silks and satins for painting, a base such as a primer can be used on the fabric before applying the paint.

TIP - When you dip your brush in water remember to remove excess water before getting paint in the brush.

Once your fabric is prepped you need to make sure that you have a frame across which the fabric can be stretched as this will ensure the effective application of paint. An embroidery ring is perfect for stretching the fabric and you can use embroidery rings of varying sizes that fit your design.

Red paint on canvas
Painted canvas

Acrylics on Canvas

There is much more that you can do with acrylics on canvas than just paint because there is something called acrylic pouring that is awesome. I am going to stick to traditional art on canvas in this article but I will write about acrylic pouring in the future.

Canvas sheets that come in a book (varying dimensions are available) or a starched canvas can be used for painting. You need to check the specifications of the canvas to find out if you need to prep them or not. To prep a canvas you need to use gesso that can be purchased in any art store. Many canvases are sold after being prepped but there are some people who like to still give a coat or two of gesso (drying between coats) to the canvas.

Whatever the medium, fabric or canvas, you must remember that acrylic paint will dry fast so it is a good thing to have your sketch outlined on the canvas and your palette identified. This will save on time so you can get more painting done before the paint starts to dry. Do not mix too much of water to dilute the paint as it will cause the paint to come off the canvas.

Some acrylic paints are available as pigments that can be combined with a binder solution that is specifically for this purpose so water can only be used sparingly after the pigment and binder have been thoroughly mixed together.

The Paints

Start out by purchasing a small set of paints which contain the primary colors with black and white included. Since acrylic paints are available in glass/plastic containers and also in tubes, you can pick up the former since those have a more liquid consistency. This makes application easy and you will not need to dilute them much.

Paint Brushes
Paint Brushes


A basic set of brushes for acrylic painting can be purchased quite easily from any art & craft store. You can also get the 0 and the 00 sized brushes which will come in handy for detailing and outlines.

A palette, piece of cloth and a container for water are the rest of the items that you will require to get started.

Enjoy the process of painting with acrylics and as you go along you will develop your own style and that way you can make the painting your own.

Happy Painting!

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