How to Paint on Canvas With Acrylic

    by Pam Gaulin

    About the Author

    Pam Gaulin is a content specialist and copy writer whose clients have included Reebok,, Walmart, Butterfinger, Ball Park Franks, Modern Mom, McCormikc, Equifax, Transuion, Walmart, and many other notable brands. Her previous positions include editor of "Web Site Source Book," project leader for a K-12 database, business writer for a newsletter publisher and Happenings editor for "The Valley Advocate." Gaulin holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from the University of Massachusetts.


    Acrylic paint provides the artist with a versatile medium for painting canvas. These paints can watered down to replicate transparent watercolors or layered on to mimic oil paints. Unlike watercolors, however, acrylic paint is forgiving, meaning the artist can wipe the paint off the canvas and start over while it's still wet. And, unlike oil paints, acrylic paints can more effectively be worked into mixed medium works.

    Things You'll Need

    • Primed canvas
    • Acrylic paints
    • Palette
    • Palette knife
    • Assorted acrylic paint brushes
    • Acrylic retarder
    • Acrylic flow release
    • Spray bottle

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    Identify a subject to paint. It may be useful to sketch thumbnail drawings of the subject first. Subjects can be abstract or can come from landscapes, still-life displays, photographs and models.

    Squeeze acrylic paint colors onto your paint palette. Use colors that replicate the subject to create a realistic painting, unless you're painting an abstract work. Over time, you'll build your own specialized palette of signature colors.

    Dip a brush into the paint and blend it to check its consistency. Each acrylic paint pigment and brand has its own viscosity level. Playing with the paint is one way to see how easily it moves and glides. Add acrylic flow release to loosen thick paints.

    Create an underpainting with shades of gray to guide later layers of light and shadows. A complementary hue can be used as the underpainting once the primary palette for the painting has been planned. An underpainting of yellows, for example, would complement a painting with purples.

    Paint on the canvas with the full-bodied acrylic paints to produce a thick texture. Use a palette knife to make thick strokes of paint or to scratch into the paint.

    Experiment with different acrylic mediums including gloss, matte or gel to create different effects on canvas. Use the flow and retarder mediums one drop at a time to keep form diluting the paint. Experiment with acrylic mediums such as black lava rock, sand and sculpting foam on the canvas.

    Use masking tape to tape off sections of color or to create geometric shapes on the canvas.

    • Mix paint colors on the palette, not the canvas, since acrylic paints dry fairly quickly. Spritz the paint in the palette with water to keep it from drying out as you paint.
    • Wash brushes thoroughly after use.


    • Acrylic Innovation; Nancy Reyner

    Photo Credits

    • Hemera Technologies/ Images