Tips for Painting on Wood with Acrylic Paints

Tips for Painting on Wood with Acrylic Paints

The main reason of popularity of acrylic paints is because they are straightforward medium, meaning that they are very easy to use. They come in a dazzling range of brilliant colors and the techniques for using acrylics are much easier and quicker to master than for water colors and oils, therefore making it an ideal medium for beginners.

I love painting with acrylics because I like the flexibility that comes with such a fun and versatile medium. Here are just some of the many fabulous benefits of working with the best acrylic paint.

  • Water-based so you can use them straight from the tube or thin them with water
  • No toxic solvents or thinners like oils
  • Easy to use
  • Fast drying time
  • Permanence and they don’t yellow or harden with age
  • They change very little from wet to dry unlike watercolours.
  • Brushes are easily cleaned with soap and water.
  • You can paint with a wide variety of supports including canvas, paper, board, metal, plastic, plaster and wood.
  • You can use them with mixed media techniques, watercolour techniques and oil painting techniques.
  • You can use a whole range of mediums and additives to create a broad range of effects, textures and finishes to your work.
  • You can build up your work with additional layers of color without harming the ones underneath and in a relatively short time.

Quick Facts on Acrylic Paint

  • It was marketed in 1952.
  • It is a polyethylene based type of plastic that once dried is permanent and cannot be dissolved again.
  • They can be mixed with both water and oil.
  • The most common mix ratio is 1 part paint and 2 parts of water or oil.
  • Most of the modern masters have used them; among the more famous are Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali.
  • It is water resistant, so once it has dried, it is very easy to keep it clean.

Is acrylic paint toxic?

Well, both yes and no. Some types of acrylic paint contain toxic metals like cadmium, magnesium and so on, but this will be labeled on the tube. The only real risk factor with acrylic paints comes from ingestion of the paint or from inhalation, if used in airbrushes or if you are sanding down a surface that is covered with acrylic paints. In that case you should wear a mask.

Although toxic metals and other harmful components found in acrylic paint can be absorbed through your skin, the rate of absorption is so slow that you don’t need to panic if you get acrylic on your hands. As long as you clean your hands when you are done painting and don’t walk around with ‘painted’ hands for many days. If you have paint on your hands then you might also risk ingesting some of the paint by accident while eating, so clean your hands on immediate basis.

Painting on wood with acrylic paints is not a new thing. The old masters did it, and so can we. For instance, did you know that the Mona Lisa is painted on a regular wooden board? Now, before you go out to the shed and begin to pull out old pieces of plywood and start slinging paint at it, there are a few things that you need to know about painting on wood with acrylic paints.

What type of wood to use for acrylic paints?

There really are no rules regarding this, however, wooden plates with smooth surfaces seem to be the better choice as they don’t soak up too much paint, making it easier to add fine details to your painting. I prefer smooth surfaced plates myself. Most often I go for salvaged wood; you really can paint on anything. Old doors, wallboards, roof panels; anything goes. Nothing is better than bringing scrap back to life.

Preparing the Wood for Acrylic Paints

Now, after you have found a proper piece of wood, you must clean it for dirt and other things that might sit on the wood and cause it to rot. I usually go over the plate with good old green soap and a cloth.

I then use some fine grained sanding paper and carefully sand the entire surface using circular motions. After the first sanding I take a moist cloth and run it over the plate. This will make the surface of the place swell slightly so it is possible to sand down any irregularities on the plate. You should now have a well cleaned and sanded wooden plate, ready for some acrylic paints. Before you begin on your masterpiece, you we will need to gesso the plate or canvas if you like.

The gesso will give us a smooth and even surface for us to paint on and it will seal the wooden surface, making it much less likely to swell up and create cracks in the painting. I usually recommend two layers of gesso before the canvas is ready, and sanding after the first layer has dried. I do this because the first coating of gesso will cause a few bumps and spots in the wood to appear, so sanding the canvas one more time should remove whatever irregularities that may be left. After the final sanding, the wooden plate is ready for the final coat of gesso.

Ready for the Masterpiece with Acrylic Paints

Once the gesso has dried up, it’s time to start painting. Painting on wood with acrylic paints is a bit different from painting on regular canvas. The paint will move much easier and doesn’t absorb into the canvas as much as it does on regular fabric canvas. The best way to master the technique of painting on wood is to get your hands dirty and try out different motives and acrylic/water mixtures and different types of brushes. If you run out of acrylic paints, you can always get a good bargain at The Review Gurus.


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