Is Acrylic Painting Difficult To Learn


One of the things many people are worried about when deciding to try out acrylic painting is if it is difficult to do. This is perfectly natural and something I felt when I started learning.

Acrylic painting is not difficult. It is the best medium for beginners because it is the most forgiving. The paints are easy to use. Mistakes are easy to correct. Tools are easy to look after. Any smell is negligible. You can get great results with a few techniques and a simple picture.

If you go about it the right way it is easy to avoid the difficulties with learning acrylic painting. It can be very easy to learn and get great results. However, there are some pitfalls that you need to know so you can avoid them.

Why Acrylic Painting is Not Difficult To Learn

Acrylic painting is one of the friendliest painting mediums to learn. There are several reasons for this.

  • Acrylic painting is easy to start up and doesn’t cost a lot.
  • The supplies are really easy to get hold of in many places in the world.
  • Acrylics are easier to use than oils
  • Brushes and Palettes are easy to clean.
  • Acrylic painting is very forgiving of mistakes.
  • Beginners can get good results with very few techniques much sooner than other mediums.
  • They are flexible to use.

Some hobbies are difficult to learn simply because they are so inconvenient. They are difficult to get to or they take up a lot of space. Or they need a special location. 

With acrylics, you can paint at your kitchen or dining table or set up a small area in your lounge. (You have to make the area safe as you don’t want to get paint on everything). The initial outlay isn’t that much if you stick to the basics. 

I can’t say that for every location you can get paints. They are widely available. And you can usually get them online and order them if you have not anywhere near. Not all brands will be available in all countries.

The reason I stopped learning oil painting was that it was so inconvenient. It takes forever to dry. It smells. And it is a nightmare to clean out the brushes (at least in my view anyway). This may not be an issue for you but if you live in a small or open plan property you are living with that smell and the fumes all the time.

In comparison, Acrylic brushes and palettes are easy to clean and don’t need any special cleaners to clean them out if you don’t want to. All you need is water and soap. You can get a brush cleaner if you want. They don’t really smell like that. 

They dry quickly which makes storing them much easier.

Although you can buy different additives for when you are painting to help you they don’t need harsh chemicals. Although in fairness to oils there are much better alternatives on the market now.

The reason acrylic painting is very forgiving of mistakes is because you can easily correct them. You can wipe the paint off while working. It dries quickly and you can paint over the mistake with another layer.

Acrylics are very easy to handle. You can learn a few basic techniques and get great results if you paint a simple picture. You can then build up to more detailed work if you want to. 

Acrylics are very flexible to style. They suit a range of styles. 

For example 

  1. If you like impasto work and love the really thick painting style you can add thickeners or buy thicker paints and paint in that style.
  2. If you like Bob Ross you can adapt his style to acrylics from oil.
  3. You can use acrylics like oils in general as you can layer them.
  4. You can also use them like watercolors (Just be careful not to water them down too much).

Make Starting Out In Acrylics Easier

I love to use acrylics – now. 

Originally I learned to paint in oils so transferring from them to acrylics took some adapting. 

I didn’t get on with acrylics at first. I bought acrylic paper which is designed especially for acrylic. I didn’t get on with it at all. 

Then I discovered you could use watercolor paper. That didn’t work either for me as it drew in the paint too much. (There are ways to stop that if you want to try paper).

It wasn’t until I started to use canvases that I grew to love acrylics.

So what is the right painting surface?

You can use acrylics to paint on lots of things including all of the above, wood, slate and many more. It’s just the things I tried weren’t right for me. They may work perfectly for you.

I would recommend that you use canvas or acrylic paper or something specially designed for painting on. 

When starting out to make it easier, use a painting surface that you do not need to prep (prime). This removes a step from the process until you feel more confident. Most stretched canvases you can buy in a store are already primed. While many artists do still prime these you don’t have to unless you are experiencing difficulties with coverage of the paint.

Don’t go too big or too small with your canvas. A big canvas looks great when you are a beginner but it can make covering the canvas more difficult and takes longer to finish the painting. 

Keep your techniques simple to start. 

Choose a style that does not need too much layering and is easy to use. There are lots of beginner tutorials on Youtube and Skillshare. Find one you like and give it a go. Make sure you watch the whole video at least once right through before you start painting as it is difficult to watch and paint at the same time. It slows you down and may give you drying time issues. By having a rough idea of what you are doing you can follow it much more easily.   

Practice blending your paints together. You will need to know how to blend whether painting wet on wet or wet on dry.

What Can Make Acrylic Painting Difficult and How to Overcome It

One of the difficulties with acrylic paint is drying time. Acrylic paint dries really quickly.  This can make it difficult for the student because they are naturally slower because they are learning.

5 ways to overcome this are:

  1. Use better quality paint and not the cheapest range as it increases drying time.
  2. Control your environment and make sure it is not too hot, too cold or too dry.
  3. Pick easier paintings with less detail until you are confident of the techniques.
  4. Use slow-drying acrylic paints.
  5. You can also use retarders but I don’t recommend this because that brings with it other things you need to learn.

When you are doing layers you can start off with thin paint and work too thick, much like with oils. There can be a problem if you paint a thick layer and then a thin one. This is because the thick layer dries faster. While this process happens much more quickly than with oils it can still be a problem. Acrylic paints dry out so fast that you can’t then work with them. But although they are unworkable they still need time to properly dry. Do not put a thin layer on top. 

Paints can dry different colors. Then when you paint them. Some people say lighter and some say darker. I have never noticed any difference. However, if this is a concern simply create a color wheel with your paint and mixes on to see what they will look like dry. 

I wouldn’t worry too much, to begin with. If you are following tutorials they will say what colors to use and how to mix them.

Using water when painting with acrylic is nowhere near as complex as when using watercolors. Keep the water to the minimum and do not over-wet your brush to start with. Dab, your brush on some paper. This simple technique can save you so much heartache. And do not dilute your paints too much.

The paints drying out fast can be an issue. To help slow them down using a stay wet palette. You can buy them or make them.

Why Acrylic Painting Is Easier to Learn Than Watercolor

Watercolor is considered the hardest method of painting to learn because it is very unforgiving. Mistakes are that much harder to correct. With acrylic, you can paint over or wipe off a mistake depending on which method works at the time. With watercolor its not so easy to do.

With acrylics, the control of water is minimal when compared to watercolors. You wet your brush and you can water down your paints for mixes. With watercolor, your water usage is your primary control. It’s not just about how much water you use but how long you leave the water to dry on the paper before adding another layer. It’s very easy to get this wrong. You need to learn to read the sheen so that you know when to add more. Get it wrong and it affects you blending.

An example would be clouds. To paint clouds with acrylic you need to get the fluffy edges so you need to blend the white fluffy cloud into the blue (or whatever colors you are using). You can blend wet on wet. But what if the blue has dried? You can still paint over and soften the edges. With watercolor, if you leave it to dry with hard edges it is very difficult to correct. Often you have to leave mistakes and work around them.

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