I n t r o d u c t i on
crylic is a popular art medium because of
its versatility. For beginning painters and
accomplished artists alike, acrylic is great
for exploring new techniques and expanding creativity. Acrylic—also known as polymer paint—can
be applied thickly with rich textures, similar to oil
paint, or it can be applied in thin washes or glazes,
like water colour. It can even be used to imitate the
precision and minute detail obtainable with egg
tempera. Acrylic paint is synthetic (human-made)
and can be combined with other media to achieve
interesting results. However, when combining acrylic
with other media, it is best to
out which paints
are compatible and use them accordingly. For example, acrylic makes a suitable underpainting for oil
paints because it bonds with the layers of oil applied
over it. On the other hand, acrylic cannot be applied
over oil because the acrylic will eventually separate
from the oil.
The binder in polymer paints is an acrylic resin emulsion that
Acrylic dries very quickly, which can sometimes frustrate artists who need more time to blend and manipulate the paint.
When painting with acrylic, remember to (1) maintain dampness in areas where you want to blend colours, and (2) plan
your work in stages. “Extenders” that slow the drying time of
acrylic are available at art supply stores. Add these extenders
to water or paint and then apply them to the painting surface
with a mist sprayer or brush. There are also thickening agents
available that allow
you to apply acrylic
paint the way oil
paint is applied in
(see Oil Painting).
In this book, both artists use a limited palette of six co-
can be thinned with water. When dry, this “plastic” paint is
lours (crimson, brilliant red, lemon yellow, burnt sienna,
permanent and tough; it cannot be rewetted and restored to
phthalocyanine, or phthalo, blue, and white). Reeves offers
its original fluid state. This also means you can paint over
conveniently packaged sets of acrylic paints that make an
your work as much as you want without muddying the colours.
excellent choice for artists of all skill levels.
Acrylic is also flexible and can be used on virtually any porous
surface, including canvas, cloth, illustration board, watercolour
We hope this guide willl provide you with a solid intro-
paper, and pressed-wood panel. But the paint does not adhere
duction to acrylic and that you’ll continue to explore new
to nonporous surfaces, such as glass, plastic, and porcelain.
techniques with this versatile medium.
Tools and Materials
Acrylic paint comes in several forms, including tubes, jars,
and cans. Tube paints are the most popular and convenient
type of acrylic paint, and Reeves manufactures several sets
of acrylic tube paints that are ideal for beginners. Before
beginning the projects in this book, test the suggested colours on a separate sheet of practice paper to familiarize you-r
self with their characteristics. Try combining them to see
what new colours you can mix, and experiment with the
various effects you can create. Once you start painting,
remember that the viscosity of acrylics requires a thick
application (or multiple layers) of paint to achieve intense
lights and darks.
Because acrylic is so versatile, you can paint on just about
any surface—called a “support”—as long as it is slightly
porous and isn’t waxy or greasy; water-thinned acrylics
won’t adhere to oily surfaces. Most acrylic painters use
canvas, a fine-surfaced fabric that is available stretched
and mounted on a frame or glued to a board. If you like
a smoother surface, water colour paper and primed (sealed)
wood panels are good alternatives.
The only medium you really need for acrylic paints is plain
water (although there are many types of mediums available)
Thin your colour mixes with
water to create washes—thin,
of paint. Add
more water to
lighten a colour
and less water
to deepen it.
a wash, it’s also
helpful to apply
water to your painting surface with a
brush, sponge, or mist
sprayer. This will make the
paint bleed and create a soft
look. If the surface is dry,
your strokes and colour applic-ations will be more controlled and
have harder edges.
Round brushes are
great for detail work
and for achieving
a variety of different
stroke widths, whereas
flats are well-suited for
long, soft strokes and
blends. Reeves has
a selection of paint brushes that
are perfect for
the projects in
this book. Most
acrylic artists prefer
synthetic-hair brushes, but you
can also use natural-hair brushes.
However natural-hair brushes
require careful maintenance for long-term use
because acrylic paint tends to cling more
SUPPLIES Since 1766,
readily to natural hairs. Make sure you keep
Reeves has been manuMixing Palette
facturing excellent -quality
your brushes damp while you’re painting
paints and brushes and
You can use glass, ceramic, or plastic palbecause acrylic paint dries quickly, and the
has long been established
ettes with acrylic paint. Plastic palettes are
dried paint can ruin the hairs. At the end of
around the world as a
convenient; since dry acrylic paint doesn’t
a painting session, make sure you wash your
mate rial for beginners.
adhere to nonporous surfaces, you can easily
brushes thoroughly with mild soap and cool
wash them off with water. It’s a good idea to
water. (Caution: Never use hot water. Hot
purchase a palette that has multiple wells for
water can cause acrylic paint to set in the
pooling and mixing colours while painting.
brush, making it very difficult to remove.)
And you may want to purchase a palette knife to mix your
After you rinse out your brushes, reshape the bristles carepaints; you can also use it to create dramatic special effects.
fully with your fingers and lay them flat or allow them to
dry bristle-side up.
Primed pressed wood panels (rough side)
Primed pressed wood panels (smooth side)
Some supports, such as illustration board
and canvas, are paint-ready at the time
of purchase. Others, like pressed wood
panels, have a porous surface that needs
to be primed with a sealer (usually acrylic
gesso) first to make it less absorbent.
Different surfaces also have different
textures—smooth to rough—which
affect the appearance of the paint. The
examples at left show how thick (left)
and thin (right) applications of acrylic
paint appear on the different supports.
Using Pain ting Mediums
WORKING WITH MEDIUMS Adding a medium to your paint changes its characteristics.
the paint and give it a shiny surface when dry;
matte mediums dry dull. Gel medium allows you to
create some texture, as it thickens the paint.
Texture mediums also thicken; they’re used to create
sharp ridges and patterns. Retarders slow the paint’s drying time, and
s do just that:
Because acrylic is water based, you can
thin it simply by adding water, and
that’s all you’ll need to do when you’re
first starting out. Once you’ve acquired a
little more expertise, though, you might
want to try mixing the colours with various painting mediums—additives that
change the nature of the paint in various ways, such as making it dry slower,
appear more transparent, or become
thicker. Some also add luster, making
the colours look more translucent than
with water alone. The samples above
show a few of the most popular painting
mediums and how they mix with acrylic
paints. Don’t be alarmed by the look of
the mediums; they start out with a milky
white colour but they become transparent
To mix colour effectively, it helps to understand a little bit
about colour theory.There are three primary colours (yellow,
red, and blue); all other colours are derived from these three.
Secondary colours (purple, green, and orange) are each a com
-bination of two primaries (for example, mixing red and blue
makes purple). Tertiary colours are the results you get when
you mix a primary with a secondary (red-orange, yelloworange, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-purple, and redpurple). Complementary colours are any two colours directly
across from each other on the colour wheel.In addition,hue
means the colour itself, such as red or blue;intensity refers to
the strength of a colour, from its pure state (straight from the
tube) to one that is grayed or muted; and value refers to
the relative lightness or darkness of a colour or of black.
Warm and Cool Colours
Generally colours on the red side of the colour wheel are
considered to be warm, while colours on the blue side of the
wheel are thought of as cool. But within a family of colours,
some are warm and others are cool—for example, within
the red family, there are warmer orangish reds and cooler
COLOUR WHEEL A colour wheel is a convenient visual reference for mixing
colours. Knowing the fundamentals of how colours relate to and interact
with one another will help you create feeling—as well as interest and
unity—in your acrylic paintings. You can mix just about every colour
you would ever want from the three primaries. But all primaries are not
created alike, so you’ll eventually want to have at least two versions of
each primary, one warm (containing more red) and one cool (containing
more blue). These two primary sets will give you a wide range of
DIRECT CO MPLEMENTS Each of these examples is a pair of direct
complements. Direct complements create the most striking contrasts
when placed next to one another. When you want to create drama or
vitality in your paintings, place a colour next to its complement.
When placed next to each other, complementary colours
create visual interest, but when mixed, they neutralize (or
“gray”) one another. For example, to neutralize a bright
red, mix in a touch of its complement: green. By mixing
varying amounts of each colour, you can create a wide range
of neutral grays and browns. (In painting, mixing neutrals
is preferable to using them straight from a tube; neutral
mixtures provide fresher, realistic colours that are more like
those found in nature.)
The variations in value (the relative lightness and darkness
of colours) throughout a painting are the key to creating the
illusion of depth and form. On the colour wheel, yellow has
the lightest value and purple has the darkest value. You can
change the value of any colour by adding white or black to it.
Adding white to a pure colour results in a lighter value tint
of that colour, adding black results in a darker value shade
of that colour, and adding gray results in a tone. .A painting done with tints, shades, and tones of only one colour is
called a monochromatic painting. In a painting, the very
lightest values are the highlights and the very darkest values
are the shadows.
TINTS AND SHADES This diagram shows varying tints and shades of
lours. The pure colour is in the middle of each example;
the tints are to the left and the shades are to the right.
Learning to mix colours is a learned skill, and, like anything
else, the more you practice, the more skilled you will become.
You need to train your eye to really see the shapes of colour in
an object—the varying hues, values, tints, tones, and shades of
the object. Once you can see them, you can practice mixing
them. Below are three neutral gray mixtures created with three
different blues mixed with orange and white. Notice that each
mix results in a different gray, depending on whether the blue
is warmer (such as brilliant blue) or cooler (such as phthalo
blue). Learning to see subtle differences in colour (as in these
examples) is essential for successful colour mixing.
brilliant blue, cadmium
orange, and white
ultramarine blue, cadmium
orange, and white
phthalo blue, cadmium
orange, and white
Colour Creates Mood
Colour has a tremendous effect on our feelings and emotions, so colour is used to evoke certain moods in paintings. For example, a
painting done with mostly dark, muted colours may be viewed as dramatic or ominous, while a painting composed of light, bright
colours may be thought of as happy and cheerful. Paintings done with bright, pure colours can be very bold and eye-catching or
even loud and unsettling. Your choice of colours will determine whether your paintings appear warm and comfortable, cool and
refreshing, or vibrant and dramatic. Keep this in mind as you develop your colour palette.
CONTRASTING MOODS Compare the moods of these two paintings. The warm yellow tulips
and bright blue background in the still life on the left convey a cheerful feeling, while the
bold contrast of the red clouds set against the dark green hills in the landscape on the right
create a more dramatic, striking e ct.
Getting to Know the Paint
Your brushstrokes are just as important as the colours you
choose for a painting. Many artists feel that their brushwork is just as distinctive as their handwriting. The brushes
you use play a big part in how your brushstrokes look; a
round brush leaves a different print than a flat one does,
and the size of the brush affects its imprint. The way you
hold a brush and the amount of pressure you apply will
also change the appearance of your strokes. You can create
thin lines with the edge of any brush, make bold strokes
by applying more pressure, and taper your strokes by lessening the pressure and lifting up at the end. Practice the
techniques demonstrated on these pages on a separate sheet
of paper (cold-pressed water colour paper works well) or a
canvas sheet to see what effects you can produce. Have fun
experimenting with colour mixtures and drying times; you’ll
soon come to your own conclusions that will contribute to
your creation of beautiful acrylic paintings and your own
unique painting style!
DRYBRUSHING Drybrushing is great for creating texture in paintings.
First paint an even layer of colour and let it dry. Then load your brush
with a new colour, remove excess paint with a paper towel, and stroke
lightly over the rst layer, allowing the underlying colour to show
CHANGING DIRECTION You can create a variety o
brush by keeping your bristles at the same angle but stroking the brush
ent directions. Practice wi
at brush and gentle
B LENDING To create soft blends, use a s
brush strokes. Paint even, overlapping layers, varying the direction of
your strokes to evenly blend the colours and hide your brushstrokes.
DRA WING WITH THE B RUSH Use the tip of your round brush to render
simple lines and dots with precision. For maximum control and precise
strokes, be sure to remove excess paint from the brush before drawing.
A wash is a layer of colour thinned with water so that it is
transparent and flows easily. You can make the colour lighter
or deeper depending on how much water or flow improver
you add. Keep in mind that washes flow better when applied
to a dampened surface, as this gives you more time before the
paint dries. Many acrylic painters like to begin their paintings
by toning the entire support with a wash and then building up
the tones of the painting by adding transparent layers over the
initial wash, or underpainting.
h is an easy
way to cover a large area with a
solid colour. L
diluted paint, and—holding your
support at an angle—sweep the
colour evenly across in successive
strokes. Add more paint to your
brush be tween strokes, and let
the strokes blend together.
GRADED WASH A graded wash
graduates from dark to light, which
makes it a perfect technique for
depicting water and skies. Use
and paint horizontal
strokes across a tilted surface,
just as you wo
but add more water to each subsequent stroke to gradually lighten
You can use acrylic paint straight from the tube or dilute it
with water to produce an array of different effects—from thick
impasto applications to transparent washes. Another popular
acrylic technique is painting wet-into-wet, or brushing fresh
paint over a still-wet layer of paint and allowing the colours to
blend. The samples below and on the following pages show
just a few of the many exciting effects you can achieve with
acrylic by varying brushstroke, colour, and technique.
THICK STROKES To create texture
and variation in your paintings, apply thick paint with a large brush,
creating small peaks with the
paint. This is called “impasto.”
Many acrylic artists use impasto
to call attention to a speci c area
of a painting, as thicker paint has
more of a noticeable presence on a
THICK BLENDS You can achieve
interesting e cts by mixing thick
acrylic paint directly on your support
et brush. For ex ample,
in the demonstration above, blue
and yellow gradually blend to form
green, creating a soft, loose blend.
This type of gradual blend is great
for painting subjects in nature.
THICK ON THIN Another way to
texturize your acrylic paintings
is to add a thick layer of paint
over a thin layer. First apply a thin,
transparent wash to establish your
“ground,” or base colour. Then paint
thickly on top, leaving gaps to let
some of the underlying colour show
through, which creates the illusion
of depth and texture.
DRY ON WET To create a grainy
texture, pull a dry brush with very
little paint over damp paper. This
will make the colours separate,
leaving spots of white paper, and
will make the strokes of the individual bristles visible in your brushstrokes. This technique is especially
useful for depicting rough textures
like wood grains, bark, and stone.
Special Techniques and E ects
STRAIGHT LINES Place the metal ferrule — the band below the bristles
of the brush—against a straightedge and pull along the edge sideways.
To make jagged, crooked lines, start and stop as you pull. Use straight
lines when painting human made
structures, such as buildings, fences,
SPONGING You can create an interesting ect by dabbing a kitchen sponge in paint and lightly patting it on the painting surface. For
pattern variation, u
erent colours of paint and turn the sponge as
you dab. Sponging is great for painting foliage, or—if done with white
paint and light, soft d
SCRATCH STROKES To scratch out colour as shown abo
surface with water. Brush on a thin wash of yellow; then do the same
with brown. While the washes are wet, use the end of the brush handle
to scratch out diagonal lines. This tec
lines for grasses (see page 11), fur, and hair.
CREATING TEXTURE WITH PLASTIC For this unusual e
surface, and apply a dark wash of burnt sienna and phthalo blue. While
still wet, press crinkled plastic wrap into the paint. Remove the plastic
when dry. Use this technique to create background textures and to
KNIFE PAINTING Practice painting with a palette knife, using the
at blade to spread a thick layer
of paint over the surface. Each
knife stroke creates thick ridges
and lines where it ends, mimicking rough, complex textures like
stone walls or rocky landscapes.
You can also use the edge of the
blade and work quickly to create
thin linear ridges that suggest
ne shapes. Even the point
of the knife is useful; use it to
scrape away paint to reveal whatever lies beneath.
CLEAR SKY Create
lue wash along the top left merged
with a mix of brown on the right. Add more water toward the bottom (a
graded wash) to make the colour appear weaker.
STORMY SKY Paint this simple sky by wetting the surface with clear water
and then pulling several strokes of colour across it. Use blue, brown, and
white, and allow the water to create soft blends.
STEP ONE Wet your painting surface and apply
a wash of yellow to the top. Quickly add a wash
of brown in the center. Then wash in a mixture of
brown and blue along the bottom.
STEP TWO While the colours are still wet, use the
edge of a at brush and make vertical, sweeping
strokes to indicate blurred blades of grass. These
less distinct blades will appear to recede.
DISTANT FOLIAGE Paint dark strokes with a
round brush on a dry surface. Dab at the surface
with short, quick movements, layering the colours
over one another.
STEP THREE Use the end of the brush handle or
a toothpick to scrape out lighter grass blades.
Letting the undercolour show through the subsequent layers of paint adds interest and texture.
STEP FOUR Mix brown with a little blue. Use the
round brush and stroke upward, lifting up at the
end of each stroke to create a tapered end. The
light and dark grasses create the illusion of depth.
FOREGROUND FOLIAGE Use a at brush and
layer dark colours with short, single strokes. To
lighten the background layer of foliage and create
depth and distance, dilute the paint with water.