How to: Acrylic Painting Techniques for Fine Art and Illustration

Artists use various techniques to get interesting results in fine art and illustration applications from acrylic paint. Acrylic paint is a versatile medium that can get oil paint-like results, a flat, graphic look, watercolor textures plus many other looks. I like acrylic paint for it’s fast drying quality. My favored method is to layer the paint over dry layers to get interesting textures. I have also used it to get watercolor looks and oil paint looks. It’s great for commercial illustration projects as the deadlines tend to be quick so fast drying is important. Oil paint has it’s fans but I find that it’s odor bugs me, it’s hard to clean up and takes a dog’s-age to dry. Here’s a how-to on some techniques I like using acrylic paint for art.

Some Techniques:
1. Glazing
The way I like to use glazing is to create thin layers by thinning the paint with water and painting over a dry layer. You can use a medium which is just the base acrylic without color but I like water as using mediums build up and create a too thick result. This technique uses acrylic paint’s natural translucent quality.
Here’s an example:

Outgrown, Painting of serpent by Brian Raszka


Here I started with a sketch in light, watered-down acrylic and kept building up the color layer upon layer. It’s time consuming but you can get nice results that are similar to oil painting.

2. Scumbling
I like to think of scumbling as dragging paint across the surface of your art. The layer below is dry when you do this otherwise the paint will mix and that’s another technique altogether. Do as many layers as you like until you get the results you like. I like that this scumbling technique can add an aged look to the art.
An example:

Mr. Personality. A painting of a prickly person.

Mr. Personality

Here I used scumbling to get a dimensional effect on the figure. I also used it in the clouds to bring out their depth.
Lay down some color, dry with hairdryer then load some paint in a different color on the brush. Hold the brush at an angle to the surface and drag over making sure not to cover up the color underneath. Different sized brushes with yield different results. Experiment.

3. Wet-On-Wet
Sounds dirt, right. Pretty tame really. With this technique you’ll be working against acrylic paint’s fast-dry aspect to paint one color into another and having them intermix right on the art surface. You can help this along by using a medium that resists drying. Liquitex has their Slow Dri Fluid Retarder. Be aware that it is a medium so it thins the paint at the same time but when it’s summer time, you’ll be glad you have it. I tend not to use it for this reason and just paint really fast. This has the side effect of eliminating thinking which can be the enemy of art and relies on instinct and gut reactions. It also helps to keep the art small.
An example:



You can also draw into the paint as I did here. Keep it loose and be careful not to mix too many color or you’ll get a big mass of brown-grey. I tend to work lighter colors first then bring in darks at the end. It’s easy to cover light with dark but not the other way around.

4. Watercolor Effects
This technique is pretty easy as all you do is water down acrylic paint and have at it. Of course watercolor isn’t easy and has it’s own techniques but I find acrylic works well for watercolor effects. Plus, I don’t like having all kinds of mediums hanging around. I’m kind of a one tool to do it all type of guy. Also with this technique, I start with light colors and then go darker. You can get some interesting effects. Try working wet into wet or wet over dry and see what happens.
An example:

Abstract art

Untitled 6

So there you have it. A “How To” to acrylic painting techniques for fine art and illustration. There are many more techniques you can use acrylic paint with. These are just a few of my favorites. Techniques that I reach for like tools whenever I make art. I rarely use just one in a piece of art. I avoided a step-by-step approach because I think it’s more valuable to experiment and find your own methods – that’s how I learned. I saw some art and tried to reproduce the effect. It’s fun. So whether you like scumbling, watercolor or wet-on-wet, go paint something already.
Let me know if you have any questions.

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