How to paint with acrylic on canvas for beginners. 

If you want to find out how to paint with acrylic on canvas for beginners, here are a few tips to guide you as you improve your skills. 

Why use a canvas when painting with acrylics paints

A canvas will let you get expressive with your acrylic paints because it will easily hold the heavy paint, whereas paper is prone to buckle and fold. The structure of the canvas itself will also allow you to reposition it easily as you work. For this reason alone, as we like to focus on beginners getting started with art materials, we encourage you to utilise canvases when painting with acrylic. 

What do you need to paint acrylic on canvas?

Really, to get started painting acrylic on canvas as a beginner you need very few things. 


As you are just beginning, rather than an expert, it’s recommended to use low-cost options until you understand your needs. A ten-piece Bosbo paint brush set is a good option to start with, it will provide you with a range of brushes and won’t cost a lot of money.

The variety of widths and shapes will give you options and let you discover what works for you. 


There’s an almost limitless variety of acrylic paints for you to get your hands on. But, as with the brushes, lets start simple (and cheap) and see how you get on. 

Acrylic paints come in a wide range of prices, from inexpensive student-grade paints to more expensive professional-grade paints. The main difference between cheap and expensive acrylic paints is the quality and quantity of pigments used.

Cheap acrylic paints often contain lower-quality pigments, which can result in less vibrant and less lightfast colors. They also tend to have more fillers, which can lead to a less smooth and less consistent paint consistency. Additionally, cheaper paints tend to dry faster and be more brittle once dry.

Expensive acrylic paints, on the other hand, typically use higher-quality pigments, resulting in more vibrant and lightfast colors. They also have less fillers, which leads to a smoother and more consistent paint consistency. Additionally, more expensive paints tend to dry slower and be more flexible once dry. They also tend to have a higher concentration of pigment which leads to better coverage and a more intense color

In general, expensive acrylic paints are considered to be higher-quality and are used by professional artists, while cheaper acrylic paints are generally considered to be lower-quality and are used by students and hobbyists. However, it’s important to note that the quality of a paint can vary within a brand or a price range, so it’s always a good idea to test the paint before committing to a large purchase.


For beginner painters, I recommend using small canvases as they are more affordable and less intimidating. I used a small one when experimenting using copic markers on canvas. While you can purchase expensive canvases, they are not necessary at this stage. Using small canvases will allow you to focus on honing your skills without the added pressure of figuring our how to use acrylic paints on a large, expensive canvas. This will help you to become more confident in your abilities and develop your own style without the added financial burden. It’s the quickest way to figure out how to paint with acrylic on canvas for beginners.

A good option is the U.S. Art Supply 3″ x 3″ Mini Professional Primed Stretched Canvas. They are well priced and come with 12 in a pack, allowing you plenty of room for experimentation. 

Can you paint acrylic directly on canvas?

Acrylic paint can be applied directly to a canvas, it is a water-based medium that dries quickly and can be used to create a variety of effects. It is a versatile medium suitable for beginners and experienced painters. This means, at this stage at least, you won’t need to do anything else to your canvas before you get started. 

A beginner should use a palette for their acrylic paints

When figuring out how to paint with acrylic on canvas as a beginner, a palette will be essential because:

  • A paint palette allows for easy mixing of colors: With a paint palette, you can mix different colors together to create new hues, shades, and tones.
  • Keeps paint from drying out: A paint palette can keep your acrylic paint from drying out too quickly, allowing you more time to work with your paint.
  • Keeps your workspace clean: A paint palette can help to keep your workspace clean by containing the paint and keeping it off of other surfaces.
  • Keeps paint consistent: A paint palette will help to keep the consistency of paint, so you can achieve a more uniform look in your painting.
  • Easy to clean: A paint palette is easy to clean and can be wiped down or washed with water and soap, making it convenient and hygienic to use.

You don’t need to break the bank here either. They are designed for kids parties, but the Hulameda paint tray pallets are perfect for a beginner using a small canvas.

Do you need to use water with acrylic paint on canvas?

When painting with acrylic paint on canvas, you do not need to use water. Acrylic paint is water-based, so you can use water to thin the paint and make it easier to apply to the canvas. However, it is not required, you can paint with acrylic paint straight out of the tube or you can use acrylic mediums to adjust the consistency and finish of the paint.

However, dipping your brush in water before dipping it in acrylic paint can help to prevent the paint from drying out too quickly on your brush. Acrylic paint dries quickly, so if you don’t wet your brush before applying it to the canvas, the paint can dry on the brush and make it difficult to apply. When you wet your brush before applying paint, it will help keep the paint wet and workable on your brush for a longer period of time, allowing you more time to work on your painting.

With everything you need ready, let’s explore how to paint with acrylic on canvas for beginners!

Creating your artwork

Sketch on the canvas with a charcoal pencil to establish the layout

Sketches on a canvas before paint is applied.

Sketching out your picture on a canvas before you start painting is a good way to plan out your composition and make any necessary adjustments before committing to the final painting. Here are a few methods you can use to sketch out your picture on a canvas:

  1. Use a pencil: Use a graphite or charcoal pencil to sketch out your picture on the canvas. This method is great for making quick and easy adjustments, as the pencil marks can be erased if necessary.
  2. Use a thin paintbrush and paint: You can use a thin paintbrush and paint (tempera, acrylic or oil paint) to sketch out your picture. This method is great for creating a more detailed sketch, but it may be harder to make adjustments later on.
  3. Use a lightbox or projector: You can use a lightbox or projector to project the image you want to paint onto the canvas, and then trace the image with a pencil or paint. This method is great for creating detailed and accurate sketches.
  4. Grid method: Divide your reference image into a grid, then divide your canvas in the same proportion and then draw the corresponding squares on the canvas, this method is great for making sure that the proportions and perspective are accurate

Once you have your sketch in place, it is important to remember to paint lightly over your sketch lines and not press too hard on the canvas as it can be difficult to cover up later on. And also, If you used paint to sketch out your picture, you may need to wait for the paint to dry before you can begin your final painting.

Organize your paints on a paint palette

Get your paints laid out on your palette before you begin. Mixing new colors for your composition? Get started on this before you commit anything to the canvas too, as once applied that paint will start to dry fast. This is one of the keys to how to paint with acrylic on canvas for beginners.

Painting over your sketch on a canvas with acrylic paint

To ensure your sketch is beneficial, you can take some actions to enhance its value after all the time you’ve invested in it.

  1. Use a fixative spray: Before you start painting, use a fixative spray to hold your pencil sketch in place. This will prevent the sketch from smudging or smearing as you paint over it.
  2. Thin your paint: Acrylic paint can be thick and opaque, which can make it difficult to see your pencil sketch beneath it. To solve this, you can thin your paint with water or an acrylic medium to make it more transparent.
  3. Use a small brush: When painting over a pencil sketch, use a small brush to help you stay within the lines of your sketch. A small brush will give you more control over where the paint goes.
  4. Build up your layers: Acrylic paint dries quickly, so you’ll need to work in layers. Start with a light coat of paint and build up your layers gradually. This will help you to see your pencil sketch beneath the paint and make adjustments if necessary.

The rest is up to you. Experiment with those brushes, watch some YouTube videos for inspiration. Most importantly, don’t be too precious about the process, just enjoying. Working with acrylic paints is one of those things that you will improve at just by using them.