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Following on from our earlier article 'How to use acrylic paints', we have put together a list of materials, paints, brushes and palettes, etc. As a beginner there can be an overwhelming amount of information out there which may be very confusing. This simple guide will help you to buy the basics so you can get creative sooner!

What do I need to buy to get started?

Getting started is the biggest hurdle for many would-be artists, so having the right equipment and paints at hand will help jumpstart your creative journey. You will need acrylic paints, acrylic paint brushes, a palette for acrylic paint, 2 water-pots, acrylic sketchbook or paper and a little roll of paper towel! 

You can paint on many surfaces with acrylic paint such as mixed media paper, art boards, canvas boards, primed canvas, primed wooden panel, fabric, heavy weight card, cardboard or sketchbooks designed to take acrylic paint. We will list your options for surfaces after the paint brush section.  

‘Soft’ and ‘medium’ body paints

Start with ‘soft body’ or ‘medium body’ acrylic paints which are creamy and smooth, easy to mix together to create secondary or tertiary colours, are highly pigmented and dry to a smooth satin finish. 

If applied in thin coats they will dry in about 10 to 15 minutes, however if the room or studio is very warm, it could be sooner (unlike oil paint that takes many days to dry).

Acrylic paint can be applied with a brush or palette knife, or even a sponge for a textured effect. They can be diluted with water as they are water soluble. When creating glazes, do not dilute them more than 20% or you will weaken the integrity of the binder and they may flake or not adhere to the surface when dry. Over-dilution will under-bind the paint basically meaning the glue binder that is holding the pigment particles together can no longer do its job. You can also use the pigments straight from the tube or with a medium to extend their drying time. Once painting or studies are dry, they will remain water resistant. 

Below is a list of soft and medium body paints including our own brand of Artdiscount soft body paints, which are affordable and easy to use. They come in a range of colours and won’t break the bank whilst exploring colour palettes and unique colour ways! The list includes 500ml bottles and smaller 250 ml tubs, and also a range of brands that sell smaller individual tubes.   

Painting tips for beginners: acrylic paints, individual bottles and tubes

If you are considering buying individual colours, aim to get a range of both warm and cool primary colours plus a black and white.

Suggested colours would be; alizarin crimson, cadmium red, cadmium yellow, lemon yellow, ultramarine blue, prussian blue, titanium white and mars or ivory black.  

These warm and cool primary colours will provide you with a range of secondary and tertiary colour schemes and palettes. Adding white will give you a variety of tinted pastel colours, whilst adding grey will tone them down and adding black will darken their value. 

To desaturate or make your colours dull and muted you can also add small amounts of complementary colours to each other i.e., blue to orange, red to green, or purple to yellow. You would only need to add very small amounts of pigments to each other to adjust your colour and to practice blending techniques. All acrylic paints are intermixable, although if you mix more than 3 together, you are likely to end up with a dull grey colour.

Excellent Acrylic paint starter sets for beginners;
all the colours you need!

More painting tips with Heavy body acrylic paints

Heavy body paints are excellent if you like more of a thicker consistency. They come individually or in sets like the medium body and soft body Acrylic paints. Heavy body paints can be applied with a brush or palette knife in thick layers and because of its denser consistency, can be drawn or scraped into leaving textural marks. It can also be layered to create raised areas on paper or canvas.

Various mediums and gels can alter the texture of your acrylic paint, such as Winsor & Newton Galeria Glass Beads Texture Gel which provides a granular appearance. Golden Crackle Paste cracks as it dries creating random surface effects. The depth of cracking varies depending on the thickness of application. 

Heavy body paints will take a little longer to dry than soft or medium body acrylics but definitely not as long as oil paints. They can be diluted, but not more than 20%. Once dry, your painting will remain water resistant. Don't be tempted to use a hair dryer to speed up the drying time, leave your artwork to dry naturally. 

Palettes

Acrylic paint dries quickly and unfortunately if left on your palette to dry will undoubtedly ruin your palette- especially if it is a watercolour one! During painting you can lightly mist your paints on your palette with a spray bottle and water to keep them moist. However aim to have dedicated palettes for your watercolour and acrylic paints. (Sometimes you can peel the whole dry unused paint off but this isn’t advisable or cost effective). Below are some great Stay Wet palettes that will allow you to work a little slower if you need to ( due to the reservoir paper, it keeps your paints workable for longer), or use an airtight acrylic palette which is much easier and more economical than peeling off paint and it will keep unused paint wet. Paper towels are great for wiping the excess paint off your palette or brush before washing, or use the tear off palettes for a speedy tidy up!

Palette knives

Palette knives are a great tool to have in your studio, for mixing colors, scraping paint and for applying paint! They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. As a beginner the ART essentials Palette Knife set is perfect! We sell many individual knives which you can build up your collection with once you get to grips with acrylic painting. 

Water pots

Water pots seem like a minor consideration when starting out painting, but if you don’t want to experience muddy colours and dirty brushes, it is important to have at least two on the go! One for washing your brushes and one for diluting paint. Three would be even better! Top tip, always replace the water when it becomes dirty. Below are our recommendations; some even have brush holders- another bonus! We particularly like the Brush Holder Tub With Integrated Palette/Lid, as it serves a multitude of functions. It will hold a good amount of water, accommodate lots of brushes and it is also great for cleaning brushes too. 

Acrylic Brushes for the beginner

To begin your acrylic painting journey synthetic brushes will serve you well. Synthetic brushes are made to withstand the rigors of acrylic painting, are more durable and resistant to wear than natural hair brushes. You will benefit from a range of sizes and shapes so you can investigate mark making and small details. We recommend a few 'good brushes' to start with, which will really help you gain creative confidence as well as developing your painting skills. Short and long handled brushes are available for acrylic painting, but hope it really boils down to personal preference and what you are comfortable painting with. Some synthetic brushes have hard bristles whilst some are quite soft. We have listed a range of brushes with links to the product pages under the descriptions below.

Round brushes

Basically a round brush which comes in different sizes anything from 0 to 12. Aim to buy a small, medium and large Round bush being a 4. 8 and a 10 or 12. Great for washes, small detailing and blocking in areas.

Filbert brushes

A flat brush with a tapered round end. Similar to the round brush, Filberts come in a range of sizes from 0 to12. A Filbert brush is good for blending and mixing paint and blocking in large areas. Aim to buy a small and a medium being a 4 and an 8.

Flat brushes

Flat brushes are flat and have a square end. They come in sizes labeled ¼”, ½”, ¾” and 1”, or 0 to 10. Flat brushes are great for blocking in colour, or when you need a sharp edge for a geometric shape or long tree trunk! Flat brushes with a short bristle are also known as Brights. 

Rigger Brushes

A rigger brush is a very thin, long-haired round brush. Used for creating long thin lines. Rigger brushes come in sizes 0 to 6. To begin with you probably only need a size 4 to practise with then you can build up your collection as and when you need a larger or smaller brush.

Investigating Acrylic painting techniques and mixing Colour.

As a beginner, aim to do many preliminary colour exercises and practise techniques before jumping straight into an ambitious, large scale piece. Some acrylic colours are more translucent than others, and with so many colours to choose from, using a limited palette will be easier in the beginning. 

Creating colour charts will help you understand how you can make some colours lighter, brighter, darker or duller! A Colour Wheel and Pocket Guide to Mixing Colour will also help you.

We also stock a number of books which will help you understand techniques, terminology, create portraits or abstract landscapes. We have compiled a list below. 

Books on Acrylic painting

Painting surface; papers, canvas boards and sketchbooks for acrylic paintings 

When buying paper to use with acrylic paint, there are a few considerations to make. Look for paper that specifies it is designed for acrylic paint or for mixed media. These will work well. Thin cartridge or copy paper will definitely warp under the strain of diluted or undiluted acrylic paint. Usually heavy-duty papers, anything between 200gsm to 450gsm, will not warp or ripple too much. If you already have heavy watercolour paper over 200lb this will work fine, though it may be more absorbent than acrylic paper which has been finished with more size, but for initial studies will work ok. Painting a gel medium primer over the watercolour paper first will make it more resilient. 

When it comes to paper surfaces, you also have lots of choice, some may be textured or very smooth, and some may have a slight linen texture and a satin sheen. All surfaces will take the acrylic paint well, but whatever surface you choose will determine the outcome of the finished painting or study. Thin applications of paint will allow the texture to show through for organic studies, whilst a smooth surface is ideal for creating a painting containing lots of fine detail. If you can, it would be advantageous to practise on many surfaces until you find the one you are most comfortable with fortunately we can offer you a good range of pads, individual papers and canvas boards; along with canvas, canvas boards and wooden panels.

Some papers are bright white, so translucent or semi translucent acrylic colours will appear bright, whilst off white papers or coloured papers will alter the acrylic paint colour slightly, either dulling or darkening them.

Art Boards are perfect for when you wish to use a thicker application of paint using palette knives. They are durable boards laminated with acrylic paper. Some have a slight texture which will hold onto the paint very well. 

Hope this blog has helped you to put your toolkit together, happy painting and enjoy the painting process.