Painting tools and surfaces



Student acrylic still life including fans and orchids

Paintbrushes for acrylics come in many different shapes and sizes. The shapes and sizes of the brushes chosen depends mainly on the size and detail of your work.

Acrylic brushes and their best uses:

  • Round or pointed tip brushes are good for sketching, outlining, detailed work and filling in small areas.
  • Flat square end brushes are good for bold strokes, washes and filling wide spaces. The can also be used for fine lines, straight edges and stripes.
  • Filbert flat and oval-shaped end brushes work well for blending and creating soft-rounded edges like flower petals.
  • Fan flat brushes have hairs that spread. They are good for smoothing, blending and feathering. They are effective for textural effects, such as for clouds and leaves on trees.
  • Angular flat brushes have angled hairs. They are good for curved strokes and filling corners.
  • Detail round brushes have short hairs. They are a good choice for working on details and making short strokes.

Palette and painting knives

Textured seascape in acrylic on card and tissue

Acrylics often have a buttery consistency. Palette knives and painting knives are useful for mixing paints together into a consistent colour. They can be used to apply thick, textured paint directly onto the canvas.

Painting surfaces

Canvas is one of the most popular surfaces for painting with acrylics. Alternatives include:

  • wood panels
  • MDF
  • paper

Canvas can be bought in primed or unprimed form. Primed canvas has already been coated with a primer, such as gesso. Unprimed canvas has not been coated.

Canvas that has been primed will accept the paint more easily. Gesso and acrylic primer comes in jars, tubes, squeezable bottles and even spray cans. Primers come in different consistencies that will give different surface textures to your canvas before you paint:

  • Lliquid gesso leaves a smooth surface
  • thicker gesso gives you a more textured surface
  • super heavy gesso allows you to create sculptural effects with a palette knife

Stretched canvas is the most popular and conventional form of painting on canvas. Using pre-stretched canvas is much easier than stretching your own.

Preparing surfaces