Random Tips

These little snippets I have learnt through reading, education, experimentation and of-course, my confrères.

These little snippets revolve mainly around three mediums: Acrylics, Oils and Watercolour. However, being a huge fan of acrylic paint, my notes and observations tend to weigh heavier in that direction.

Acrylics are extremely versatile, fast-drying paints and mastering them can really put you in good stead for painting with oils and watercolour too. Depending on your style and experience with the medium, acrylics can be applied to finish like an oil or watercolour piece … or a mix of both, which can sometimes prove for an interesting finish!

I am aware there are countless amounts of articles written on this subject and therefore do not feel I have all the answers, only the hope that a different perspective on the subject might be of some value to another.

Please note that my work ethics, notes or the tips provided, may not work for others. Thank you.


Wooden palettes will absorb water from the paints thus making them dry out quicker. A non-porous palette, such as a large sheet of glass or an enamel tray works better preserving the life of the paint.

Acrylics dry very quickly so try to keep moist on the paint on the palette. A fine spray of water with a spray bottle is helpful for this purpose.

Acrylic colours can be used on almost any surface that is not slick or greasy.

Never palette mix acrylics with oils or paint on top of oil colours with acrylics. However, oils can be painted over a thoroughly dry acrylic underpainting or gesso.

Acrylics can be used in a similar fashion to watercolour. They cannot however be “lifted” like traditional watercolors.

A coat of varnish can give a very ‘oil-like’ appearance to a painting done strictly in acrylic.

Make sure that brushes are cleaned thoroughly and kept moist during the painting session to avoid dried paint clogging the brush hairs. It is best to use synthetic filament brushes. The natural bristles of other painting brushes will absorb water, swell, and become floppy.

Remember that paint in the threads of your paint container can glue the cap shut tight so before replacing the cap make sure the threads of the container are clean and paint free.

Clean brushes and tools thoroughly using soap and water. Art and it’s materials is not cheap.

Keep a paper towel or cloth next to your water jar and get into the habit of wiping your brushes on it after you rinse them. This prevents water from dropping onto your painting. Less mistakes equals quicker work.

Masking fluid can be used with acrylics washes, as well as watercolours. Once masking fluid has dried on a bristles, it’s nearly impossible to remove. Dipping a brush into some washing-up liquid first makes it easier to wash masking fluid out of a brush.

Did you know that acrylic paint will work as a glue in a collage. Apply it quite thickly to tissue paper or lighter items for some interesting effects.

Ever messed up big time on an acrylic painting? If you work on Schoellerhammer board simply use a blade to scrape away the unwanted area …. this takes some practice but well worth the effort. Click on link to watch video. If the work is done on canvas simply sand down (very gently and not with a power sander!) the affected area and gesso over the top; then resume your painting.

Remember to always keep your colour mixes simple. No more than 3 colours need be mixed for any given application.

Being left handed I tend to work from right to left when laying down my base colours. I find this helps to lessen the risk of smudging and as a disipline it quickens my work rate.

Sometimes the finished work can lack lustre so by laying on very thin glazes of pure colour one can bring back some vibrancy to the work; this can work the opposite too, with contrast being too strong you can glaze over the offending area with a thin wash of a midrange colour to soften its effect. By simply adding some white to the glazed mix you can dampen down or give an immediate sense of distance to a picture.

Masking fluid can be used to mask acrylic provided the paint is used thinly and not laid on too thick. The same rule applies to masking tape for hard or sharp edges. Just remember to stick the edges of the tape down firmly and don’t paint too thickly, otherwise you risk getting a very rough and not so crisp edge.

Use room temperature water to clean your brushes and do not leave your brushes in the water. Not only will it loosen the glue in the ferrules but will warp them too. Remember to always reshape your bristles leaving them flat or if possible hanging with brush end pointing downwards to dry.


Soak brushes in Turpenoid Natural overnight to remove hardened oil paint.

Always lay your oil paints (as with other mediums) out on your palette in the same order. In time you’ll be able to choose a particular colour instinctively thus quickening your work rate and I find it helps with my colour memory too.

Understand the painting term, ‘fat over lean’. The proportion of oil (medium) should be increased for each subsequent layer in an oil painting. The lower layers absorb oil from the layers on top of them. If the upper layers dry faster than the lower ones, they can crack.

Avoid using Ivory Black for an underpainting or sketching as it dries much slower than other oil paints. This applies to other mediums too. Rather than use black why not mix black. Theoretically there isn’t true black in our world … a mix of colours can give more depth than a black straight out of a tube.

Lead, cobalt, and manganese contained in some pigments can accelerate drying. Mixed with other colours drying time can be speeded up. This is ideal for under layers.

Linseed oil for an underpainting or applied to the bottom layers of any oil painting dries the most thoroughly of all the oils used as mediums. Do avoid using this oil in whites and blues as it has a tendency to yellow, notably with the lighter range of colours. Although slow to dry, Poppy oil is recommended for lighter colours.

Drying your oil paintings in the dark may cause a thin film of oil to rise to the surface, yellowing it. (This can be removed by exposure to bright daylight.)

If the paint on your palette is dry and wrinkly stop putting it in your mouth!!! Or, too much oil paint has been added.

Not too sure if your spirits are suitable for oil painting? Put a few droplets onto some paper, if it evaporates leaving no residues, stain, or smell, it should be fine.

Need to clean away a layer of oil paint or oil varnish but short on spirits? Locate your drinks cabinet (or someone elses) and use some alcohol. Depending on the severity of your mistake I recommend a drink first!

Preserving your oils:

A glass palette simply submerged in a tray of water works quite well overnight.

I read about a lady who used Styrofoam plates as palettes when painting and at the end of day she simply taped another plate, (same dimensions) over it and and stuck it in the freezer. This might work provided you are not mixing an enormous amount at a time. Styrofoam works quite well as palettes since they do not absorb the oils in the paint. Better still they are easily and quickly disposed of when you are finished with them and they are cheap!

Using freezer paper as a palette for oils I’ve read is quite effective. Should one get interrupted for any reason just pop it into the freezer where it will last for quite a while before drying out.


Mistakes can often be lifted off by sponging with clean water and blotting either with cloths, tissue paper or even a dry brush, however, some “staining” pigments can’t always be entirely removed.

Always remember to paint with light colors first and work up to darker colors.

Watercolor paintings should be mounted and framed under glass and hung in subtle lighting conditions and not in direct sunlight. Remember that extreme humidity can have adverse effects too.

Purists teach that the best way to use white in a watercolour painting is to simply have none at all. We are not all ‘pure’ nor the same. Picture walking into a gallery where the only thing different is the signature on the painting! Forge ahead with whatever it takes to get your desired finish! Why not throw in some white pastel or chalk?

Use masking fluid. This way you can just go crazy and not worry too much about cutting in on light areas.

Paint on really wet paper using a dry brush then on dry paper using a really wet brush. What a crazy life us artists lead!

For ghostly effects use some tissue paper, rags etc to lift off partially wet surfaces.

Create a resist effect by painting over an area of oil pastel or crayon. Washes will bead up, creating a stippled look.

Try sprinkling some salt on an area of wet paint. Do not overdo this, as it can ruin the painting while possibly blinding the person next to you!!!

Old toothbrush? Mix up a watery mixture of intended colour, dip the brush in, tap to release excess and run your thumb along the bristles of the brush. Please make sure old-folk and carpets are covered up during practise run!

Try leaving thin unpainted lines around each area of colour for a mosaic effect. Or better still why not add thin lines of various colours around individual brush strokes. This can be time consuming but well worth the results. Just remember the colour you choose has to be slightly darker than the stroke you will outline.

Next time you find yourself working on a painting with a large wash imminent and you happen to have a tot of whiskey handy, add some droplets to the wash and see what happens. Please remember to dip using a clean brush unless of course you have a taste for colbalt blue!!!

Next time you are painting outdoors (plein-air) and feeling a little crazy, grab a handful of grass, a lamb, or whatever’s within reach and throw onto the wash (remember to wait until dry before cleaning off). Crazy moments like these sometimes provide great results… at other times you wish you had never read this!

Do you want your acrylic paints to last for days?

Click to Make your own Stay-Wet™ Palette (easier than you think!)