Notes on Acrylics


APPLICATION METHODS: Acrylics can be painted like watercolors using washes to create transparent passages.  They can be painted translucently with the addition of diluted titanium white mixed with other pigment.  They can be painted opaquely on a dry ground like oils using titanium white and/or thick pigment.

PAINTING PLANES OR LAYERS: Combining these three approaches creates paintings that have a three-layered structure--transparent deep space, translucent middle distance, and opaque foreground.  This arrangement is variable.

SPECIAL TECHNIQUES: Acrylic pigments can be applied in the following ways:  Flat washes, graded washes, variegated washes (separate washes mingled), moist into wet, lifting, water and alcohol dropped into a wet medium, glazing, dry brush, stippling and spattering, wiping, tissue lifting, plastic wrap, impasto, scraping through impasto, scumbling, building textures, embossing patterns into thick paint, creating and blending edges, and many more.  Experiment with them so you create examples for your studio use.  Because acrylic pigments bind with paper, you must lift them quickly.

DESIGN: Create a design as you would for any painting.  Through it, you establish the placement and relationship of shapes.  Try to favor large and mid-size shapes (Papa and Momma Bear).  Small shapes tend to disappear. Select related shapes (rectangles, circles, or triangles) and make them tell a story by overlapping and interlocking them.  If you are working from a subject, simplify and exaggerate the shapes.  Use the Rule of Thirds to locate your impact area.

VALUES: Create a value study by first establishing your light source.  Link together light areas, and shade in linked mid-tone and dark areas.  Dark shapes placed next to light shapes create visual drama, while mid-tone values relate light to dark shapes and encourage the viewer’s eyes to travel around the picture.

COLORS: Select a limited number of colors so you don’t confuse yourself, forget about values (and even design), and create disunity.  Used transparently, acrylic pigments do not fade like watercolor pigments.  Used translucently and opaquely, they dry darker than they appear when first applied.

If you want to see how value is expressed in color, use one color (other than yellow) and create light shapes by diluting pigments with water and dark shapes by using more pigment.

If you want a harmonious painting, use analogous (neighboring) warm or cool colors.

If you want contrast, use complementary (contrasting) colors such as yellow and purple, orange and blue, or red and green.  When complements are mixed, they cancel each 
other out and produce neutrals.  Add more of one color than the other to the neutral mix to produce semi-neutrals.  Place pure color in the impact area.
ACRYLIC PAINTING NOTES Wes Hanson   2    ©2011

If you want lively color, use the primary triad (yellow, red, and blue).  This creates clashing combinations.  When two primaries are mixed to produce a secondary (for instance, primary red and blue will produce secondary purple), the remaining primary (in this case yellow) will cancel the secondary, producing a neutral or semi-neutral.

Color can be overwhelming and make it impossible for you to see value patterns.  Use color to create value first, then temperature variation (favoring warm over cool or cool over warm), and intensity (brightness and dullness).  This is why it is best to select a simple palette so you can keep track of what you are doing.

EDGES: Use hard edges to create dramatic focus, soft edges to suggest depth and mystery and provide transitions.


Generally, apply an underpainting first.  Color can be applied as a wash or painted thinly onto dry paper or canvas.  Allow some of this to show through subsequent translucent and opaque paint applications.

Mix and apply diluted titanium white and pigment to middle distance shapes to create solidity.

Apply thicker pigments to dry foreground shapes to create definition and texture.  Textures can also be created using various acrylic mediums before applying pigments.


Create transparent, translucent, and opaque passages separately and in combination.

Paint three spatial (spacial) planes--deep space, middle ground, and foreground.

Create some special transparent, translucent, and opaque techniques.

Develop some designs (Perspectives, shapes, relationships, target).

Use values.

Combine color.

Experiment with edges.

Paint a picture using transparent, translucent, and opaque application methods.

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