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Introduction to Acrylic Painting Techniques

00:13   “Beginner’s paint”
00:45   Which colors to buy
01:14    Essential colors
01:33   Black and white paint
01:51   Additional colors
02:51   Types of palettes
03:07   Freezer paper palette

03:36   Painting mediums
04:50   Safe alternative to oil
05:10   Cadmium Colors
05:21    Brush care
06:29   Palette knives
07:00   Pencil sketch
07:40   Brush types

09:00   Underpainting
09:10   Complementary colors
09:56   Second layer of paint
10:28   Painting with a palette knife
11:00   Details
11:50   Varnishes
13:16   Finished painting
13:31   Bloopers

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00:12    Dry time
00:46   Benefits of acrylic
00:56    Hazards of oil
03:13    Slowing/Extending dry time
03:35   Choosing colors
05:09   Black paint
06:05    White paint
06:47   Palette knives

08:14   Painting mediums
09:10   Oil brushes vs. acrylic brushes
10:24   Thumbnail sketches
11:36    Sketching in pencil or paint
13:03   Painting in layers
13:59   Painting takes patience
14:42   Painting with a cotton rag
15:47   “Fat over lean”

17:05   Clean up
17:45   Silicoil brush cleaning tank
20:10   Student grade, pro grade paint
22:31   Poor quality supplies
23:01   Brush techniques
24:04   Getting started with painting
25:42   There’s no wrong way to paint
26:52   Bloopers

Winsor & Newton

Materials provided by Winsor & Newton

Fredrix Canvas

Materials provided by Fredrix Canvas

Recommended Tutorials


Set up a still life painting and paint from direct observation using acrylic paint.

Core Ideas

Composition, Color, Texture, Lighting

00:11   Which surface to use?
01:42   When to stretch a canvas
01:55   Archival surfaces
02:18   Canvas paper
03:45   Canvas boards
04:47   Pre-stretched canvases
06:03  Stretching your own
01:18   Acrylic gesso intro
08:10   Clear gesso intro
08:42   Rabbitskin glue intro
10:00   Types of canvas

01:33   Watercolor canvas
12:22   Stretching paper flat
13:30   Masonite & wood
14:14   Large scale canvases
16:03   Re-using stretcher bars
17:42    Assembling stretchers
19:38   Stretching canvas techniques
20:25   Canvas pliers
25:10   Applying gesso
27:52   Loose canvases: canvas keys
29:12   Sanding gesso

29:52   Stretching paper flat
34:16   Stretching paper on bars
37:53   Rabbitskin glue overview
38:46   Oil primer overview
40:03   Mixing rabbitskin glue
43:48   Applying oil primer
49:59   Cleaning up oil primer
51:10   Heavy duty stretcher bars
53:47   Assembling heavy duty bars
56:39   Very large scale canvases
57:58   Bloopers

Painting Surface Supply Lists

Pre-made surfaces
canvas paper, canvas board, stretched canvas

Stretching canvas on a stretcher bar frame
standard stretcher bars, staple gun, staples, canvas keys, canvas or linen, sandpaper, canvas pliers

Stretching paper flat
Rives BFK or watercolor paper, china bristle brush, towel, large flat tray for water or bathtub, acrylic gesso, paper tape, 3/4″ thick plywood, utility knife

Stretching paper on a stretcher bar frame
standard stretcher bars, staple gun, staplesRives BFK or watercolor paper, china bristle brush, towel, tray for water or bathtub, acrylic gesso

Clear gesso on masonite/wood
W&N clear gesso, untempered masonite, 3/4″ thick plywood, other types of wood,  sandpaper, china bristle brush

Rabbitskin glue & oil primer
canvas or linen, rabbitskin glue, tablespoon measure, plastic container for rabbitskin glue, boiling water, oil primer, palette knife, gloves, linseed oil, china bristle brush, canvas pliersstandard stretcher bars, staple gun, staples, canvas keys

Taking a canvas apart
screwdriver or needle nose pliers

Heavy duty canvases
heavy duty staple gun, heavy duty staples, heavy duty stretcher bars, cross braces, canvas pliers

Art Supplies: Canvas Stretcher
Art Supplies: Canvas Stretcher
Art Supplies: Canvas Pliers
Art Supplies: Fredrix canvas
Art Supplies: Canvas Keys
Art Supplies: Heavy Duty Staple Gun
Art Supplies: Acrylic Gesso
Art Supplies: Clear Gesso
Art Supplies: Cross Brace
Fredrix Heavy Duty Stretcher Bars
Art Supplies: Heavy Duty Staples
Art Supplies: Linen canvas
Art Supplies: Canvas Paper
Rives BFK Paper
Art Supplies: Tablespoon measure
Art Supplies: Rabbitskin Glue
Oil painting primer
Art Supplies: 3/4" thick Plywood
Art Supplies: Off Set Palette Knife
Gummed Paper Tape
Art Supplies: Fredrix Watercolor Canvas
Art Supplies: Hot Press Watercolor Paper
Art Supplies: Canvas board
Boiling Water for Rabbitskin Glue
Art Supplies: Scissors
Art Supplies: Utility Knife
Art Supplies: Needlenose Pliers

Acrylic Painting Supplies

Art Supplies: Tall Plastic Container
Art Supplies: Off Set Palette Knife
Art Supplies: Acrylic Paint
Winsor & Newton Acrylic Matt Medium
Winsor & Newton Slow Dri Medium
Winsor & Newton Acrylic Brushes
Winsor & Newton Pro Acrylic Gloss Varnish
Winsor & Newton Pro Acrylic Semi-Gloss Varnish
Art Supplies: Blue Painter's Tape
Art Supplies: Freezer Paper
Art Supplies: Winsor & Newton Payne's Grey
Art Supplies: Winsor & Newton Titanium White
Art Supplies: Winsor & Newton Permanent Rose
Art Supplies: Winsor & Newton Naples Yellow
Art Supplies: Winsor & Newton Mixing White
Art Supplies: Winsor & Newton Cobalt Green
Art Supplies: Winsor & Newton Cobalt Blue
Art Supplies: Winsor & Newton Alizarin Crimson


Ruth Lee

Ruth Lee
Project Assistant

“I think more than anything, still life paintings are an exercise in patience, determination, and artistic stamina. Although it can be a bit tedious to see to completion, there is no better way to hone technical skills, observation, and understanding of color dynamics.

One of the many challenges I encountered while working on this piece was mixing the right colors I wanted, and properly shading areas of both shadow and different tone altogether. I found it was extremely easy to end up wasting a whole bunch of paint trying to mix a small swatch for just one small area of the painting, because you keep adding and adding paint and mixing it in and realize later that you have a giant lump on your palette that you won’t even use.

Additionally, I learned the hard way not to let brushes soak in my water container for too long (and completely dry them on a towel before diving into paint again), because when painting larger swaths of color, I began to realize that even a tiny bit of water turned my paint into a wash and killed the thick opacity of color I wanted.

Though it felt a bit like a game of whack-a-mole scrambling to fix constant technical difficulties I ran into while painting, this very aspect of the project is what made it so valuable: it allowed me to self-diagnose my problems and technique errors and teach myself lessons for what to do in the future.”

Julie Sharpe

Julie Sharpe
Project Assistant

“Most of my work tends to be focused on portraits or figures, so painting a still life felt refreshing for me. The first aspect I focused on was creating a visually interesting composition. I didn’t want to cram the scene with many objects, but I also didn’t want to place the objects in a predictable way.

I experimented with many compositions before choosing a final setup. The objects were placed on a silk cloth, which I moved around to create folds that would be interesting to paint. Next, I made a preliminary observational sketch with pencil on a wood canvas, and then began mixing colors. A challenge I faced during this time was knowing which colors were most important to the piece – I wanted to cover as much surface area in as little time as possible.

Then, I would be able to focus on details later as opposed to starting with detail work (which is a habit I have). After covering most of the canvas, I started to correct mistakes and work on details. At this point, I worked mostly from a photograph that I took of the piece because I got hungry and had to use some of the food for a meal!

Although I think I should’ve worked from observation the entire time, I learned a lot from this painting. Creating a still life was a rewarding experience for me, and I’d love to paint more of them in the future.”

Partial Video Transcript, Painting Surfaces

Alex: “Painting’s an interesting medium because there are so many choices and options. Not least of all, the surface you paint on.”

Prof Lieu: “I think a lot of it depends on your situation, like the amount of time that you have and also the type of work that you’re doing.”

Alex: “Yeah, I did a big painting that was commissioned and they really wanted archival quality materials including canvas, gesso, the stretchers, all of it. And then if I’m just at home, practicing with a new color or testing out a new type of paint, I’ll even paint on an old cardboard box, you know?”

Prof Lieu: “Or sometimes when I was in art school and I didn’t think about it in advance, I was running to painting class like, ‘Oh shoot I need something to paint on!’ I’d run to the store, grab a stretched canvas, and go to class.”

Alex: “They all serve their own purpose, but you can definitely notice when you’re painting on a pre-stretched canvas, or a piece of cardboard obviously, or a really nice canvas you’ve stretched yourself. It’s so hard to get into painting because they can seem just like a monumental feat to get all the paints you need, all the supplies, the brushes, the canvases. When you’re starting to test something out, I don’t think that a cheaper, pre-stretched canvas is going to make or break your experience.

Prof Lieu: “I don’t think so at all. I mean definitely, I have personal preferences. For example, I tend to really like rabbit skin glue and oil primer, but whenever I’m teaching a beginning painting class, I don’t start with that because it’s overwhelming.”

Alex: “There were so many painting classes where you start off and the supply list is just like, ‘I’m sorry, whAT???’”

Prof Lieu: “I’m just going to break the bank to find the basic supplies and I would say if you’re just dipping your feet into the water, I don’t think it’s worth it to stretch your own canvas. I think just a pre-stretched canvas, that’s totally sufficient for your needs. I really think it’s people who are concerned about the archival nature of their work – if it’s going to last long term – that’s when you really need to spend time on it. And some of these processes take a long time.”

Alex: “Oh yeah!”

Prof Lieu: “Oil primer takes like two weeks to dry. Gesso is overnight.”

Alex: “Like you said, you’ve developed your own preferences for it. You have to learn the medium in general to see what those preferences are.”

Prof Lieu: “Probably, the most affordable option for a surface to paint on would be canvas paper. It usually comes in a pad so you can get many sheets at a time. It’s pre-primed, so you don’t even have to bother with gesso-ing it. This is for when you have no time at all and you really need something to paint on right away.”

Alex: “More-so, I use this for things like on-the-go. I don’t often do plein air painting, but when I do, something like this is great because if you tear out the individual sheets, you can roll them, fold them. And then if you just get some painter’s tape around to box it off, I can roll this up in a backpack, stick it in with my paints, and then you can just do a quick little painting study without needing to set up an easel or stretchers, or anything like that.”

Prof Lieu: “But I think one of the disadvantages of it is that you can see it’s just floppy. So it’s really flimsy, it’s not going to be a very sturdy surface, and you have to tape it onto something else. So it’s not terrific in terms of being really sturdy compared to the other options our there.”

Alex: “I think that that difference is so vast, that if you’re just trying out- like let’s say you’re just looking into whether or not you like acrylic or oil better. I would say that this is not an accurate representation of what either of those mediums can do. This is the thing where if you know what you’re working with, then you recognize how this is a different surface and you kinda plan for that. But if you just kind of start painting for the first time on this, it can be a completely different experience.”

Prof Lieu: “The next step up from canvas paper, I would say, is a canvas board. So this one here is made by Frederick’s and it’s basically just canvas paper with a board behind it.”

Alex: “They come in all different sizes and I get some of the smaller 8x8s, and anytime I’m doing color studies, or film studies or something like that, they’re just perfect to sit on your lap as you sit on the couch and just play around with the painting.”

Partial Video Transcript, Acrylic Painting

“There are a lot of different kinds of paint to use and one of them that I think that gets overlooked is acrylic paint. The problem with it is that it’s usually the first paint taught and its on every high school art class. But, it’s not often examined or taught to the extent that it could be. So I think a lot of people have the mindset that acrylic is kind of like entry-level paint, it’s the starting paint.

There’s a lot of good qualities to it. It’s pretty quick drying so it’s easy to work with. Also, the plastic based nature of it, it’s very permanent. You don’t have to worry about toxins or chemicals or anything like that. With things that are a little bit more nuanced in it like blending mediums and different kinds of colors and how to mix them, acrylic can actually be a very workable medium.

The first question is, ‘what colors do I start with?’ Don’t just head there and get every color available. You’d be spending a lot of money and it gets you into the habit of not mixing your paint. It’s always good to start with a limited palette just to get a feel for the medium and see if you enjoy it. Then if you do, then you can get yourself some nicer series for colors and a wider range.

To start, there are just a few basic colors that are a great starter pack for any acrylic painting. Naples yellow definitely, pines gray, a richer red like a cadmium red or maybe an alizarin crimson, raw umber, burnt sienna, and then let’s throw in cobalt blue. It’s a little bit nicer of a blue but it’s worth it. I wouldn’t recommend your starting set including either black or white. Because it gets you into the habit of using black for shadows and white for highlights, which can really dull your paint and your color. You want to start getting into the habit of learning how to use things like Payne’s grey or naples yellow to brighten or darken things.

When you’re ready, a couple extra colors that are nice to have but not necessarily essential are permanent rose, which once you incorporate it, you’ll want to use nothing else. Cobalt green and there’s something called mixing white. Mixing white is a really cool element for acrylic paint where it doesn’t dull the color as much but it helps to lighten it a little bit.

Titanium white, which is another color to add if you really find yourself enjoying acrylic paint, is a very punch, strong white. The downside is, it does mute the colors. Of course that’s a great thing to use if you know how to use it. But, with any painting, you don’t want to start with something like titanium white in your palette because it’s too tempting to use it.

For example, if you’re painting a room like this and you’re looking at the white on the wall, it’s very tempting to not think about it and just go ‘That’s white, I’m going to paint it white.’ That problem happens all the time if you’re starting painting. If you’re painting your red apple, reach for the red. One of the things that a limited palette can do is train your eye to kind of see the more subtle colors in it.

Since acrylic paint dries so quickly and it’s so hard to get out, it’s not really a good idea to get a store bought plastic palette. The kind of thing I’d use for most other paints. You can go two routes. You can either get a more expensive and more permanent glass palette which you can have for years or you can use freezer paper. Freezer paper is terrific. It’s exactly the same material as those expensive temporary palettes you find at art supply stores, but it’s so so cheap and it’s simply just like wax paper. It’s a little bit glossy and it works really well for a short term temporary palette to just throw out when you’re done. Freezer paper is really great of course because it’s on a roll. So you can make your palette as large or as small as you want and you can always tear off a new sheet if your palette gets too busy or crowded.

Winsor and Newton makes really great mediums and blending tools that help with that. For example, they make a slow drying medium, which if you’re frustrated like I was that acrylic paint dries just too quickly, this is really good to incorporate in the palette for say mixing a large amount of a color and incorporating this to increase the longevity of that. It’s also really good to kind of add some transparency so you can do more layers and more washes over without watering it down with water.”

Video Transcript, Glass Palette

Alex: “Anytime I use acrylic paint since it dries so quickly, I’ve never really thought about the palette. Like it ruins any palette that you’ll get and so I end up just using pieces of scrap paper, cardboard.”

Prof Lieu: “Are you serious?”

Alex: “Yea! Because I just don’t know a way to work around it, but you were telling me that like a glass palette will change everything”

Prof Lieu:  “I’m like horrified that you use a piece of cardboard as a palette. That to me is just..”

Alex: “Just sort of like whatever I can grab can be used as a palette.“

Prof Lieu: “That’s just awful!”

Alex: “I used an envelope once, it was a small painting.”

Prof Lieu: “ Alright, well the glass palette is just such a game changer. I think one thing is that it’s a really sturdy stable surface that you can paint on. Where as a piece of cardboard is not really like that. But, mostly for me, it has to do with the cleaning part. Because what you do is when you have the paint on the glass palette, you just use this window scraper and this has a razer blade at the end and you just scrape it off, and it comes off like magic.

It’s the greatest thing and so if the paint is dry, it just comes off. If it’s wet, you scrape it up and then you take a rag and you just wipe it off.  Then it’s like a perfectly clean palette every single time. So you end up with a really clean set of brushes.

You can use it for acrylic paint too. It doesn’t matter if you’re doing oil or acrylic. To make a glass palette, you want to start with a sheet of foam board, a sheet of grey paper, and then a sheet of glass. “

Alex: “Why do you have to use a gray paper?”

Prof Lieu: “You don’t have to, I mean if you really want to have a white palette you can. My argument for it is that , if you have a middle gray, it allows you to see your whites much better. Because, if you have a white palette and you put  white paint on it, you don’t really understand how bright that white really is. Where as if you put white paint on a gray palette, it’s really clear how bright that white is.

You take the three items, you’re going to put the gray paper on first. This is the glass right on top like this. Making sure that all the corners line up. Then you’re going to take some duct tape. You’re going to make the duct tape a little bit longer than one of the sides of the palette. A pair of scissors.

You want to put the duct tape so it’s like half of the duct tape is over the glass. So you’re going to put it down like this, press it down like that, and then you just lift this up and bend this over to the other side. The duct tape is really strong, so once you have it on there, it’s pretty much not going to go anywhere else. So that’s one edge and then you go through and you do all four edges. Then, when you’re all done, you can end up with this beautiful glass palette.”

Alex: “ Perfect!”

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