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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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Alex Rowe, Illustrator & Children's Book Artist

Alex Rowe
Illustrator & Children’s Book Artist

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Winsor & Newton

Materials provided by Winsor & Newton

Fredrix Canvas

Materials provided by Fredrix Canvas

Recommended Tutorials

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, 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.”

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