Canvas Painting Tips for Beginners

Acrylic Painting Tips for beginners and artist of all level. Tips on mixing colors, brushes, contrast, blending color, palette knife, signing artwork

Have you started painting recently and unhappy with the results? 

Do you have all the painting tools, but the results are not as expected?

It may be that you are making some common mistakes that you haven't noticed yet.

Painting with acrylics is real fun and a gives a happy feeling! The journey can seem overwhelming when you start out as there are too many things to learn and practice but do not worry. 

Below is a brief article on some basic things to keep in mind when you paint on canvas.

1. Mixing Color

Mixing acrylc color with water and medium

By now you know how quickly acrylics dry. The brighter side is you can blend it to create beautiful paintings. There are two options for thinning acrylic paint water and acrylic medium. Acrylic medium will preserve the paint viscosity and vibrancy, while water will lose the vibrancy if you are using student-grade paints. If you are using Artist grade colors, you can use both water or medium to dilute the paint.  

2. Never paint a white canvas

Prefer to start by giving a background wash to your surface. It creates a more level surface to paint rather than painting on a glaring white canvas. It also presents a professional touch to a painting and develops an interest to paint on the canvas.

The color for tonal ground will depend upon what you are going to paint. You can choose some earthy color for landscape, while for blue seascape, choose yellow color tone. The colored ground will help you judge the tones and values of your painting. 

3. Complementary Color Contrast

Contrast is everything in art. One can make contrast in various forms - color contrast, shape contrast, texture contrast. 

Complementary color contrast is one way to make your paintings visually exciting and bring a realistic look. 

It adds a visual depth to the painting because cool color recedes into the background, and warm colors emerge. You can use warm colors (reds, yellows, oranges) alongside cool colors (blues, purples, greens).

I found this Color Wheel chart for Complementary Colors helpful to study the color theory.



4. Blending Paints

Color mixing on canvas is a trickier painting technique to master. 

Take a damp brush and dip it into the paint. Make sure there is enough paint on the brush. Cover a small area on the canvas by going back and forth in the horizontal direction. There should be enough paint on the surface so the brush glides smoothly. 

Now clean the brush, dip it in another paint and start painting where it touches the first color. Blend the two shades and paint the next color to it and blend. Take another blending brush and make the two colors come together by merging it smoothly.

The quick-drying character of acrylics will make blending a challenge. By simple practice, you'll find the hang of it.

5. Some Acrylic Paint seem Darker when Dry

Acrylic paints tend to dry darker than when they are moist, especially with cheap paints, which have a higher ratio of binder to pigment. 

If such a thing happens, apply several successively lighter layers of paint to achieve the desired color. This layering often enhances the painting, adding sophistication and richness to the color.

Student-grade paints tend to be more transparent. Add a little titanium white to the shade or a tiny bit of white gesso to counter this.

This tints the color just a little bit and offers you the opacity you require.

If you're attempting to change an underlying layer entirely, you should paint over it with gesso or a medium grey before implementing the next shade.

6. Keep a variety of Paintbrushes

Multiple Brushes for acrylic Painting

You will need all sizes of brushes small, medium, and large. Hence it makes sense to keep different types of paint brushes handy with you. 

flat large brush - for filling large areas

medium filbert brush- for blending, filling smaller areas

small round brush - for detail work, highlighting

You can buy an inexpensive paintbrush set for starters. Once you know your preferred brush, you can buy more of it individually rather than a set.

7. Use Palette knife for mixing paint

These are very good for mixing paints. Plastic palette knives are cheap and affordable. They are good for adding textures too. 

The steel ones are a little pricey, but it is worth the investment as they last forever. You can later use them for palette knife painting when you are comfortable.

8. Use Broad Strokes

Wide strokes with a bigger brush will cover more areas and also help to create a better texture. Big brush increases your brushwork economy and makes it much easier to cover a canvas.

Many beginner artists have the opinion that smaller brushes will cause more realistic and delicate painting, but that's not the case. Save the thinner strokes for smaller areas and doing fine details.

9. Pause in between

It's easy to miss the perspective of what you are painting. That is why you should step back from time to time, walk around it, see it from various angles.

You can even hang it in a different light and take a look at the total work frequently. 

By taking only a couple of steps back, you'll immediately see how the colors work together if angles need adjusting or your objects are in scale.

10. Function fast

Acrylic paints dry fast, so you have to work in the time when painting in layers. Always think ahead about what you are going to paint next. This is a benefit over oil paints because you do not have to wait for long hours to do layers.

If you are a newcomer, you do not have to worry, practice will make you understand how you should function fast so the paints do not dry while you paint.

11. Keep a spray bottle to extend drying time

Have a fine mist spray bottle to keep them from drying out. It is also helpful for painting background. For example, mist the painting surface before you start painting. This will keep paints wet for blending.    

12. Clean your brushes

Brushes are an investment, and if you want to keep them long-term, you must clean them thoroughly after every use.

This is really important because once acrylic paint gets dry onto a brush so fast, you will have no luck cleaning it. They will easily mess with your brushes, and it'll not be easy to take them off.

13. Have two water jars handy

It is productive to have two jars, one for cleaning the brushes and the other jar to dip your brush in when thinning the paint. You don't have to buy these jars. Just take any household jars.

14. Signing your Painting

Even if you are not an artist yet and it is your first attempt, sign and date your painting. It gives you a feeling of being an 'artist'. It also gives you a sense of accomplishment and ownership.

When you add a date, it is a reference point for you to look back. You will be glad to see how far you have come over the years.

Last tip

It is recommended to start using acrylic paints first and then later consider branching out to oils or watercolors.  In case you have fabric paints, you can use them on canvas too. They behave the same as acrylic paint and are cheaper.

Once you get a little comfortable in one medium, you will find it easier to pick up another medium. 

The painting principles are the same across all mediums. The main distinction between them is the techniques used for each. 

I hope you have enough tips and tricks to start fresh again. 

Happy Painting!