Playing with Paints - Acrylics: 100 Prompts, Projects and Playful Activities

Playing with Paints - Acrylics: 100 Prompts, Projects and Playful Activities

by Courtney Burden


View All Available Formats & Editions
Members save with free shipping everyday! 
See details


Break the rules and explore acrylic paint in a free and fun way. This book encourages you to get over the fear of the blank canvas and the anxiety over the outcome so you can focus on the process of painting and the pure joy of creating. Whether you're a novice who doesn't know how to get started or a classical painter looking to try something new, you will benefit from the activities in this book, which range from quick, messy and expressive exercises to relaxing and meditative paintings.

Courtney Pilgrim shares 100 prompts, projects and playful activities that will build your confidence, inspiring you to roll up your sleeves and play with acrylic paint in a pressure-free way. There is no right or wrong way to create a painting, so enjoy the journey, relax, unwind and have fun!

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781440300707
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/02/2019
Pages: 160
Sales rank: 470,930
Product dimensions: 7.90(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.60(d)

Read an Excerpt


Beginners begin here!

Whether you're a novice painter or a seasoned pro, this chapter will encourage you to have fun playing with your paints, showing you ways to sharpen your skills but also how to loosen up and fall in love with the painting process. It introduces you to the supplies you will be using throughout this book, as well as fun and useful painting techniques to jumpstart your creativity.


Throughout this book, we use a variety of my favorite art supplies that go well with the acrylic medium. We will get creative with paints, oil pastels, and markers on a lot of different surfaces — not just canvas!


Acrylic paints are my favorite paints to use for a variety of reasons, many of which we explore in this book. We will be using fluid acrylics, soft and heavy body acrylics, and acrylic gouache paints. These are all acrylic paints that vary in their consistency or fluidity. A heavy body acrylic, for example, will have a thick consistency whereas a fluid acrylic will be more like liquid.


Paintbrushes come in three basic shapes: flat, round, and filbert. I suggest having a variety of all three. Each type makes a different stroke, and varying sizes will give you more options and control over your mark's thickness.

Palette knives

Palette knives are great, both for mixing paint and as a tool to paint with. A variety of shapes and sizes will be useful, and both plastic or metal knives will work well with your paints.


Painting sponges or traditional housecleaning sponges are fun and useful both to build texture and add dimension.


Acrylic mediums are additives you can use with your paints to manipulate the texture or appearance, or change how the paints move and/or cling to your surface. Mediums include:

* gesso: prepares raw canvas and covers up mistakes

* texture: changes the texture or body of the paint

* gloss: makes your paint thin and transparent without becoming runny

* decoupage: gives your artwork a glossy finish

* extender: extends the body and drying time of the paint

* pouring medium: helps paint pour smoothly without diluting the pigment or binding agent of the paint

* glazing medium: enhances the color of your painting


There are a variety of palette options for you to choose from. My favorite is a white butcher's tray as it makes it easier to judge your mixes. You can always choose a traditional wooden palette and prime it with white paint. Some palettes come with lids that help prevent your paints from drying.


We will explore painting on a variety of surfaces — including cardstock, mat board, canvas, pillow, rug, leather, wood, and glass — throughout this book. The beauty of acrylic paint is that it can stick to nearly any surface with little preparation, additives, or finishing mediums needed.

Oil pastels

Oil pastels are fun to experiment with. You can use them in an oil-water resist method (see page 21) or to draw directly onto your painted surface.

Paint markers

Acrylic paint markers are great for mark making and add an element of control that you may not achieve with your brush. They are also useful to take with you to use "on the go."


Painter's tape is useful for creating clean edges. Washi tape can be used in your paintings to create another visual element.

Other useful tools

* straws for blowing paint across your canvas to create patterns

* props for still life shots

* photos to paint from and on

Paint palette and brush care

Acrylic paints are wonderful for novice painters in that they dry quickly and you can quickly and easily cover any mistakes. However, fast-drying paint can ruin your brushes and palettes. Proper care is essential to the longevity of your materials.


There are a lot of palette options for you to choose from, with no option being a wrong one, but there are also things to keep in mind. Once dried, acrylics will stick to almost any surface. Choosing a palette you like using and can keep clean will make the painting process more enjoyable. A glass or metal (butcher's) palette is a non-porous surface that is easily wiped when wet and can be scraped clean. If you opt for a wooden or plastic palette, remember that once your paints have dried you will not be able to wipe it clean. Using a spray bottle to spritz your paints and keep your paint palette wet will help prevent your paints from drying quickly on your palette.


As with your palettes, once the paint has dried on your brush's bristles there is little you can do to remove it. Paint left to dry on your brush will make it hard and ruin it. After using your paintbrush, you should immediately clean it in water. If you want to let it soak, only allow the brush's tip to be submerged in the water. Letting the brush's handle soak in water will ruin it.

At the end of each painting session, I suggest taking your brushes and massaging their bristles with dish soap and running water to thoroughly clean out any paint residue.

Play Mark making

Mark making is all about creating varying types of line, pattern, and texture. You can do this by using different brush sizes and brushes with different-shaped heads — flat, fan, angular, or dagger.

You can also vary your marks by applying different amounts of pressure to your brush. Alternatively, you can swap your brush for a different tool altogether: experiment by applying paint with things you have around you, like forks, knives, credit cards, or even rubber spatulas. Another way of varying your marks is to work with different consistencies of paint — thick or thin.

Mark making can be very structured — for example, you can create a regular pattern such as polka dots — or spontaneous and loose, where you create a different mark each time.

This is a fun exercise on its own, but discovering different marks will add dimension and texture to your paintings.

Create circles using varying sizes of brush.

Paint big and little "X"s, applying more and less pressure to create thicker and thinner lines.

Use an old fork to create marks by pressing it into thick paint and dragging the tines downward.

Make dashes using a square-tip brush and a round-tip brush to see the difference.

Make smile shapes with a medium-size brush.

Experiment with other tools such as a spatula or a credit card to see what marks you can make.

Play Paint and create with a palette knife

Palette knives are such a great tool to include in your painting supplies and process. They can be used in a variety of techniques and help add dimension to your paintings in ways that paintbrushes can't. I typically gravitate toward using palette knives with wooden handles and metal tips, although the plastic ones work just as well. As with your brushes, clean your palette knives promptly after using to avoid a build up of paint.

Mixing Palette knives are useful for mixing paint colors on your palette, as well as for mixing acrylic mediums into the paint.

Painting Painting with a palette knife creates expressive marks, movement, and a textured surface.

Texture Using a palette knife will naturally create a unique texture different to that of a paintbrush. With a palette knife, you can scoop big blobs of paint onto your surface, creating a raised, textured surface once the paint has dried.

Scraping Experiment with making different marks, and with holding the knife at different angles. Use the edge or the tip of your knife to scrape it across your surface to make unique marks.

Prompt Drawing with paints

Whenever I begin an acrylic painting, I always start by lightly sketching with my brush. This is the beginning of your underpainting; however, I often find that I fall in love with the simple acrylic outline, more than the final outcome.

Sketching with your brush trains your eye and hand to work together. The pressure you apply to create varied lines gives you the motor skills to control your brush, as well as setting the scene for your painting so you can begin adding layers.

Choose just a few objects and set up a simple still life to sketch with your paints. Begin with the object in front or closest to you, and paint what you see. Remember that you are not trying to paint forms, create shadows, or blend with your paints; instead, just concentrate on the outline of the objects and the shapes that you see. Stick to one color and one brush. Try it again with different objects and different brushes.

Prompt Blending acrylic paints

Blending paints is so much fun, as well as being an impressive and useful technique to have in your painting skill set. Learning to blend paints properly will help you build form and dimension in your paintings.

When you're first learning to blend, stick to one color, blending in black or white paint. You can mix and blend different color combinations once you have learned the color wheel (see page 82).

Start by painting a graduation of color, blending your paints from dark to light. (It's helpful to draw a rectangle and create a graduated scale to practice blending within.) When blending a color with white paint, you are creating a tint. When blending a color with black paint, you are creating a shade.

Experiment with painting different shapes, blending your paints to create form — for example, making a circle appear as a 3-D sphere.

Once you're feeling confident about blending tints and shades, play around with blending your paints using only water, as well as blending with different painting mediums, such as glazing mediums or extenders.

Play Playing with oil pastels

Acrylic paints are a water-based medium. Oil pastels have a non-drying binder in them, whereas acrylic paints dry quickly. The two typically work best together when you apply your acrylics first, let them dry, and then draw on top of them with an oil pastel.

However, watering down your acrylics to a wash and painting on and around oil pastels creates a cool oil-resist method that is fun to play around with. Water and oil will not mix; therefore watering down your acrylics will cause them to bead up and only stick to a surface where there isn't any oil pastel.

Incorporating oil pastels into your paintings will give them an interesting dynamic. Explore this technique by making marks with your oil pastels and painting over them with acrylic washes. Let dry and continue experimenting.

Play Palette knife vs brush painting

Let's play with our palette knives and paintbrushes, and see which we like best! Compare and contrast the way the final outcome looks, and how the two processes differ.

Choose a simple object, like a pineapple, and paint it once with a paintbrush and again with a palette knife. Keep the colors and compositions the same, changing only your tool. You will be surprised how different the two painting experiences can be.

Pay attention to how each tool feels in your hand, how it feels when you apply paint to the surface, and how the final paintings look. Which do you prefer?

Using a paintbrush gives you more control over your tool. Draw the outline of your object and slowly build up detail and texture. Choose vibrant and contrasting colors to make your painting "pop"!

Now it's time for the palette knife! Stick with the same color palette and blend your paints to create the object's form. Use various sizes of knives to build up details and texture.

Play Go wild with washes

Using thin layers of acrylic paint (washes) can help you build color and depth into your painting. There are various ways to use washes and reasons why you would want to.

Using a large brush, cover your surface or the area you want to paint using only water. Then, mix up your first color wash by watering down the paint. Apply the wash to the wet surface and allow the water to carry the paint naturally across the surface. Try different colors by layering washes. Allow each layer to dry completely before adding another. Keep it simple, painting only swatches and brushstrokes. Try building up different colors and tones with your washes. Notice how the paint colors look different when they are layered compared with how they look when they are mixed on the palette. Explore how this can help you to create dynamic colors and shadows, and build form while you are painting.

Using acrylic washes, you can cast shadows and highlights when painting, as well as neutralize colors. For example, a bright yellow can be neutralized with a thin wash of purple paint.

Play Dry brush

Dry-brush painting is a fun and easy way to build up texture in your artwork. Dry-brush painting is exactly what it sounds like — painting with a dry paintbrush. This painting technique will give you a unique texture with a scratchy appearance, which is very different to washes or the smooth look you get when blending your paints.

The trick to achieving the dry-brush look is to keep your brushes dry. Do not dip them in water or apply too much paint to the tip. Use a different brush for each color. You want your brush to be dry, but not hard: it still needs to be soft enough to absorb and pick up the paint.

Play around with different types and sizes of brushes to figure out which works best. Some brushes are naturally softer than others, so finding the perfect stiff-bristle paintbrush is key!

Project Blob, mark, and drip: an abstract conversation

This painting project is a great lesson in going with the flow, teaching you to have a conversation with your painting and how to respond to each blob, mark, and drip that is made.


* Acrylic paints

* Palette knife * Two sheets of paper

* Mat or newspaper (optional)

* Brushes

* Spray bottle (optional)

[1] Squirt and blob (you can use a palette knife) paint onto a piece of paper. Let the paint spread sporadically, but not too close to the edges.

[3] Gently peel the pieces of paper apart and admire the abstract marks you have made.

[2] Place the second, clean sheet of paper on top of the painted paper, lining up the edges. Rub your hand across the surface to spread the paint. You may want to have a mat or newspaper underneath your painting to catch the overflow of paint from the edges.

[4] Now it's time to paint what you see. Take a step back, rotate your paper different ways, and decide what you will do next. Feel free to use a spray bottle to make the paint run, or mark and blob more paint on.

Your finished piece

You can paint something symmetrical or something totally abstract — there is no right or wrong way to do this.

Play Dabbing with a sponge to create texture

Sponges are an inexpensive, creative, and useful tool to have when painting. Sponges are wonderful for blending paints, as well as for creating textures. There are various types of sponges out there for you to use, so experiment with them all, including your kitchen sponge! Different sponges will be useful in different ways, creating unique textures depending on what they are made of.

[1] Play around with the different marks that each sponge can make. Try holding and turning the sponge different ways, and apply more and less pressure to figure out how to manipulate this tool in painting.

[2] Create a painting using only sponges. Paint your background first, using a sponge to blend the colors onto the surface. Once it has dried, build up form and texture with your sponge, finishing the painting off with details using the corner of the sponge.

Project Fluid acrylics

Fluid acrylics are useful to have and fun to play with. With their thin consistency, they are made to flow without sacrificing the color's saturation. They are perfect for dripping and splattering paints.


* Fluid acrylics

* Canvas

* Brush

* Spray bottle

[1] Choose a few colors that will look nice and blend well together without turning into a muddy mess. Pick your base color and paint it onto your canvas.

[2] Squirt a different color paint onto the canvas. Notice the difference between how the fluid acrylics flow compared to regular- or heavy-body acrylics.

[3] Drop more paint onto your surface in a different color, then tilt the surface up and allow the paint to stream down.

[4] Use a spray bottle filled with water to disperse the paint, then drip another color into it and allow it to puddle, continuing your practice of having a conversation with your painting.

Project Using acrylic paints like oil paints

One of the main reasons I love acrylic is because it can be used in so many ways — be it for watering down paints, using fluid acrylics as watercolors, or using extenders and glazing mediums as oil paints.


* Acrylic paints

* Canvas

* Brushes

* Glazing medium

[1] Let's use our acrylic paints like oils and paint an ocean scene. Start by painting a base coat in blues and greens. Let dry completely.

[2] Seal off your painting with an acrylic glazing medium. Let dry completely.

[3] Once dried, sketch out the scenery using your brush and let dry. Mix your paints with a glaze of blue and add a top coat to your painting.

[4] Continue building up layers of your oceanic scene, alternating between blue and green, then applying a thin layer of glazing medium over the top once the paint is dry.


Excerpted from "Playing with Paints Acrylics"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Courtney Burden.
Excerpted by permission of F+W Media, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Meet Courtney 6

Chapter 1 Beginners begin here! 10

Supplies 12

Paint palette and brush care 15

Mark making 16

Paint and create with a palette knife 18

Drawing with paints 19

Blending acrylic paints 20

Playing with oil pastels 21

Palette knife vs brush painting 22

Go wild with washes 24

Dry brush 25

Blob, mark, and drip: an abstract conversation 26

Dabbing with a sponge to create texture 28

Fluid acrylics 29

Using acrylic paints like oil paints 30

Stippling and spots 32

Make a mess, experiment, and create a colorful abstract painting 33

The art of pattern making 34

Fixing mistakes 35

Paint a picture of a photo you love 37

Paint a quote of inspiration 38

Chapter 2 Arty hard for 15 minutes 40

Painting and tape 42

Drip, drop, spatter 43

Shadow painting 44

In your bag 47

Paint an item on your desk 48

Art on the go 48

Polka-dot pop an 50

Combine mark making 52

Continuous line painting 53

Layered dashes 54

Paint with your non-dominant hand 56

Polaroid paintings 57

Marbling paint pouring 59

Stamping 59

Turn a pic upside down 60

Look, both hands! 62

Finger painting 63

Wish I was here 64

Beauty in the mundane 65

Botanical motifs 66

Facial features 67

Blow paint-with a straw 68

Shape face 69

Postcard 70

Magazine 71

Gesture painting 72

The seine 73

Old painting 74

Quick and easy abstract 76

Mandala painting 78

Chapter 3 Color me happy 80

Create a color wheel 82

Kandinksy concentric circles 83

Monochromatic still life 84

Meditative mark making 85

Self-portraits 86

Underpainting plants 88

Complementary colors at work 91

De-stress 91

Portrait painting 92

Block colors 94

Painting-with yarn 94

Paint from chaos to calm 96

Art journal 98

Peaceful painting 100

Color studies 101

Abstract warm colors 102

Abstract cool colors 103

Chapter 4 Texture: When life gets rough 104

Molding-paste cityscape 106

Abstract mountains 109

Cactus painting 109

Cake 110

Sunset sky: colors of the wind 112

Bird's-eye view 113

Create art with leftover paint 114

Composition 117

Faux texture: hair-raising an 117

Abstract landscape 118

Pine cone study 120

Tissue paper 122

Movement across the canvas 123

Seasonal colors of the wind 124

Fruity feels 125

Magazine texture 126

Rag and sponge moon painting 127

Underwater coral reef 128

Painting without a brush 130

Texture triptych 131

Silhouette 132

Crackle-paint snake 133

Detailed still life 134

Neon sign 136

Chapter 5 Painting beyond the canvas 138

Painting on leather 140

Painting on photos 142

Rug 143

Paint a pillow 144

Statement art 146

Skin tones 147

Painting on Plexiglass 148

Painting on wood 149

Painting on cardboard 150

Old book 151

Paint-pour platform 152

Glossary 154

Index 156

Credits 160

Customer Reviews