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MHS Library | Painting: Acrylic

Acrylic paint


Acrylic paint is a modern invention that allows artists to create bold paintings with strong colors, while also mimicking the qualities of other media.

Acrylic is an appealing medium because of its versatility. When it is watered down, acrylic paint can become thin and watery like watercolors. Acrylic paint can also be applied thickly, mimicking the appearance of oil paints. Additionally, there are several different acrylic mediums, gels and pastes that artists can add to the paint to alter the texture, sheen, consistency, and various other characteristics of the acrylic paint. This versatility allows for a wide range of expressive techniques that captivate both artists and viewers of the artwork.

What is Acrylic?

Acrylic paint consists of pigment suspended in a binder of acrylic polymer emulsion. Water is the vehicle for the acrylic polymer emulsion.

Acrylics are sold in tubes or jars. Acrylics can be applied to the support (i.e., canvas, paper, etc) in a number of different ways – via a paintbrush, palette knife, fingers, or just about anything. They can be used right from the jar or tube, although in most cases the paint is mixed on a palette first.

You can make acrylic paints by mixing pure powdered pigment with a binder and a solvent. Below are the steps to creating your own acrylic paints. 

Read more about acrylic paint here, and see the stages of an acrylic painting step by step. This resource also includes 'mixing paint', 'sketch and gesso', 'underpainting', 'lights and shadows', 'adding colour', 'details', 'layering and glazing', and 'finishing the painting'. 

You can also see how to make acrylic paint, and listen to an artist talking about making acrylic paint.

Source: Pigments through the Ages.

Painting in acrylic - examples

Examples of paintings in acrylic (Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History)

No. 13 (White, Red, on Yellow), 1958
Mark Rothko (American, born Russia, 1903–1970)
Oil and acrylic with powdered pigments on canvas

Acrylic painting links

Subject guide created by

contact Tania Sheko