9 Acrylic Blending Techniques

There are a number of blending techniques that you can use with acrylics. In this post, I demonstrate 9 ways to blend acrylics using a different brands of regular and slow drying acrylics.

I demonstrate each blending technique by creating a simple gradient on a canvas panel. Throughout the post, I also provide a few examples of my paintings that use these blending techniques.

Many artists are find acrylics frustrating because they can’t create smooth blending. With the right materials and techniques, it’s possible to use acrylics to create a smooth blending effects similar to oils.

The blending techniques that you use depends upon your style and the types of acrylics that you prefer. For variety, I also include blending techniques that allow the brush strokes to show.

About the Materials

Paint

In this demonstration, I use a variety of different acrylics. There are many different kinds of acrylics on the market and you should experiment with them to determine which one works best for you.

Some acrylics blend much easier than others. The drying times vary between brands too. There are slow drying acrylics, regular fast drying acrylics, and acrylics that you can reactivate with water or a special spray. I cover all of these options in this post.

It’s important to choose an acrylic paint with a viscosity that’s most suitable for the technique you’re using. Viscosity is the thickness of the paint.

For example, if you work in a thin watercolor style you should use a thin acrylic paint (low viscosity). Thick heavy body acrylics (high viscosity) require too much water to make them flow. If you dilute a thick heavy body acrylic with water, it may become very transparent by the time it’s thin enough to use like watercolor. This can make it difficult to achieve intense colors in your paintings, so it’s best to use fluid acrylics or acrylic inks.

Brushes

The brushes that I use in this demonstration are the cheap brushes that you can find at a craft store. The nylon brushes work well with acrylics. The 1” flat is one of my favorite brushes for acrylics. I use a hog bristle brush for the dry brushing because the stiff bristles help me to push the paint around on the canvas.

For the watercolor technique, I use a larger round mop brush. It’s also an inexpensive brush from the craft supply store.

I’m using the inexpensive cardboard canvas boards for these demonstrations. I would never use these for a painting because they’re prone to warping and it’s easy to ding the corners. The wood canvas panels are a lot sturdier. These inexpensive panels are okay for quick experiments.

The Blending Demos

Below are the 9 blending techniques that I use in my paintings. You can use the table of contents above to jump to the section that you’re interested in. If you want to return to the table of contents, click the “back” button in your browser.

1 Use Slow Drying Acrylics for Oil Like Blending

If you like to take your time blending without having to worry about the paint drying, Golden Open Acrylics may be what you’re looking for.

Open acrylics are a slow drying acrylic. They contain retarders and humectants so they will stay wet for a much longer period of time than regular acrylics. How long these paints will remain wet depends upon your environment. If you live in a very hot and dry environment they will dry faster than if you live in a humid location.

I was able to blend these colors at a slow pace without having them dry while I’m painting. In fact, the colors were still wet on the palette paper two hours later. This is impressive because I was working indoors during the winter when the furnace makes the indoor air dryer than normal.

The piles of paint on your palette will stay wet for a long period of time because of the thickness. Thin layers of paint on your canvas will dry faster.

The colors that I’m using our Phthalo Blue and Quinacridone Magenta. These colors are fairly dark when you use them straight from the tube, so I add Titanium White to lighten them. The light blue and magenta are on the palette in the photo below.

I begin by brushing on the Phthalo Blue at the top of the board and work my way down. I mix in a little bit of the magenta to the blue as I progress. To blend the color, I move the brush from side to side. It may be necessary to brush over it a few times to blend out the streaks and hard edges that may develop.

When I reach the middle of the board, I wash out my brush and start painting the pure magenta. It’s necessary to wash the brush so the Phthalo Blue doesn’t contaminate the pure magenta at the bottom.

I start from the bottom of the panel and work my way up to the purple in the middle. When I reach the purple, I blend the edges to create a smooth transition.

A Few Notes About Open Acrylics

You can dilute the paint with water but the OPEN thinner is more effective at keeping the paint wet. It will thin the paint while retaining the slow drying properties.

If you feel as though they take too long to dry, you can mix them with regular acrylics. It’s okay to mix brands of acrylic paint. The more regular acrylic paint that you add, the faster they’ll dry.

You can also use a hair dryer to make the paint dry faster.

These paints stay wet for a long time. The paint is glossy when wet, but it becomes more satin as it dries. Golden recommends waiting at least 2 weeks before applying varnish.

Avoid applying open acrylics in layers thicker than 1/16th of an inch. Thicker layers may remain tacky, or take a very long time to dry. If you like to paint in thick layers, you should probably use regular heavy body acrylics. Golden has extensive technical information for Open acrylics on their website.

2 Interactive Acrylics Will Allow You to Reactivate a Dry Layer

“Autumn Reflections” Atelier Interactive acrylics on canvas panel. 8”x10”

Atelier interactive acrylics are not a slow drying acrylic. They work like regular fast drying acrylics, but you can rewet them by misting them with water. This works even if it starts to dry to the touch. If you allow the paint to dry overnight, misting it with water may not reactivate it the paint. In that case, you can use the “Unlocking Formula” to make it workable again. If you let it dry for an extended period of time it will begin to cure and you won’t be able to reactivate it.

These paints blend well and the ability to reactivate them takes the pressure off. You can take your time and blend the colors at a leisurely pace.

If you don’t want the unlocking formula to lift the previous layers, you can seal the painting with Fast Medium Fixer or their Universal Medium and let it dry. Some artists use this technique to seal the painting once it gets to the stage that they like. Then they can experiment on top of it. If they don’t like how it looks they can use the unlocking formula to remove new layer.

In the photos below, I’m using Burnt Sienna and Ultramarine Blue which will blend to a neutral black.

I begin by brushing on the Burnt Sienna along the topand I slowly introduce more of the Ultramarine Blue as I work my way down the canvas board.

I can take my time with the blending. When I notice that the paint is starting to get tacky, I mist it with water and keep blending.

When the paint dries, I notice there were some streaks in the Burnt Sienna. This is because I didn’t use enough paint. If I used more paint, it would have covered better. I can fix it by applying a second layer.

These paints are creamy and blend well. They are a good option for acrylic artists who want smooth blending but don’t like the extended drying times of open acrylics. The only downside is that you have to switch brands of acrylics that you use.