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Beginner's Toolbox Part 1


Mya Bessette - Optimistic Fine Art

Contemporary acrylic and mixed media paintings with vibrant color and uplifting composition.

Beginner's Toolbox Part 1

Mya Bessette

Getting Started with Acrylics

Getting started with acrylic painting should not be intimidating, scary or vastly un-affordable.  Before I began painting full time, the prospect of walking into an art store completely overwhelmed me and if I had known how simple my beginner toolbox could have been, I would have jumped into painting far earlier.

Acrylic paint has remained my favorite medium for so many reasons, especially the quick drying time that allows me to layer color to my heart’s delight and cover up mistakes in short order.  I’ll expand more on my love for acrylics in a future post.  For NOW, I want to get you excited about the prospect of creating your own unique art!  Remember, don’t think too much, just get your supplies and get ready to jump in!

Canvas: First, let’s decide on a substrate (fancy talk for the surface you’ll be painting on.)  I am a huge fan of Artist Loft Level 3 Gallery Wrapped Canvases (look for the green label.)  They are 1-1/2” deep and stand up incredibly well to moisture.  I use a lot of water and acrylic gels and have never had one warp.  When purchasing any canvas, do a quick warp check by laying the canvas on the ground.  It should not rock at all. 

Gallery Wrapped Canvas

If you happen to have a Michaels in your town, be sure to check their website for coupons first and if you ever see a sale like this, for the love of babies, fill your cart!  

Canvas Sale

A couple other affordable options are wood panels and canvas board.  I play with these when I’m trying a new style or messing around with a new medium.  They’re affordable, easily hung without a frame and a collection of smaller sizes makes for a stunning installation on a wall, bookshelf or console table.


Paint: Professional acrylic paints can get pricey and the price depends very much on the color.  I would still recommend starting with a small array of professional grade heavy body acrylics from Liquitex but don’t go too crazy.  Start with 2oz. tubes (as seen below) until you figure out your go-to colors.  Grab your primary colors and a few secondary colors and if you’re like me, a few “just because I can’t live without them” colors.  

Acrylic Paint Pricing

From there, you may want to play around with fluid acrylics.  These are great for dripping, pouring and mimicking the look of watercolor.  You can certainly invest in Golden’s fluid acrylics; they have excellent tinting strength and durability.  

Golden Fluid Acrylics

But you guys, there was another aisle of the store that constantly tempted me…the craft aisle with rows and rows of brightly colored craft paint.  For years, I walked by, gazing longingly at the array of vibrant color but I resisted.  I’m a professional painter after all…I buy my paint from the pro aisle!  Eventually I couldn’t resist any more and filled my basket with tube after tube for as little as 59cents/per.  My only regret was that I hadn’t tried them sooner.  Do yourself a favor and grab a couple.  Or 20.  

Craft Smart Acrylic Paints

Brushes: Hear me and hear me now!  DO NOT do what I did and go buy $100 animal hair brush set because you think that “real painters” use only the best brands.  Instead spend under $10 (with your coupon) and purchase a variety of Craft Smart’s synthetic brushes, or any synthetic of similar quality.  They carry a ton of paint, they hold a fine tip and mine have yet to wear out after years and years of use.  When you’re done, just wash with soap and water. If you are an overachiever and want to learn more about brush types, this article sums it up well and has a cute little chart for people like me who like visuals.

Craft Smart Synthetic Brushes

Varnish: This is one of those easy to forget details that should not be overlooked.  Covering your finished work in a light coat of spray varnish will protect it from environmental damage like sunlight and moisture.  And don’t worry, it smells awful so be sure to spray in a well ventilated area (I use my garage.)  The smell will dissipate after a couple of days, I promise.  My all-time favorite spray varnish is Grumbacher Matte Varnish for Oil and Acrylic.  It also comes in a gloss finish.

Matte Spray Varnish

There are so many other acrylic mediums out there that can add different effects to your painting.  I won’t touch on them all here but just keep in mind that all acrylic mediums are compatible with one another.  Some add a sandy, grainy texture, others will act like putty and hold peaks and palette knife marks, while others will create a crackle texture.  It’s practically endless.  Mix them with your paint or smear on your canvas, let dry and paint right over the top.  Just play, experiment and don’t be bummed if your first works aren’t masterpieces…mine were horrendous and I will never share them with anyone….ever.  The good news is that the fast drying time of acrylic paint allows us to cover our screw-ups rather quickly. 

Before I send you off on a shopping frenzy, just keep in mind that I am here to answer your questions and support you in your creative endeavors.  Don’t let a blank canvas intimidate you.  Read my previous post on shutting off your brain, squeeze some paint on a palette and start playing!


Shopping List Wrap Up

  1. Canvas or substrate of choice
  2. Heavy Body Acrylic Paint by Liquitex or Golden (don’t forget white and black!)
  3. Fluid Acrylic Paint or Craft Paint (if you wish)
  4. Synthetic brush(s) – Craftsmart
  5. Spray Varnish – Grumbacher
  6. Acrylic Mediums you may want to try: Crackle Paste, Course Molding Paste, Slow Dry Blending Medium, Gesso (good for adhering mixed media elements,) Self-Leveling Gel.
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