How to get acrylic paint to move smoothly

Reader Question: 
I am working in abstract on a 14 x 11" canvas. In order to get my shapes and details nice and smooth I am having to work too hard on it. Lots of drag, not smooth outlines, etc. Rather jagged. So my question is.....are you using your acrylics straight from the tube/bottle or are you adding anything to help with the flow?

Also, do you prepare your canvas beforehand to create a very smooth surface?

Any tips on a brush that you particularly like for this technique?

To answer your questions, I'll start with the beginning:

  1. Preparing the surface - Yes, I do prepare the surface before painting on it, whether it is canvas or wood. Even though most store-bought canvases are pre-gessoed, I like to add another coat or two of gesso before I start painting. This gives the canvas a nice "tooth", making it easier to paint on it. If you want to learn more about gesso, check out my page all about gesso, where I discuss different types of gesso and also explain how to prime a canvas with gesso.
  2. Choosing a paintbrush - When I paint abstracts, the size and type of paintbrush that I use depends on how large of an area I want to cover with paint. For large spaces, I'll use a flat brush that is around 2 inches wide. For medium spaces, I might use a flat brush that is about 1 inch wide, or use a similar sized bright or filbert brush. For small detail, I use a round or pointed round paintbrush. For teeny tiny detail, I use a very small pointed round brush. You can learn more about different brush types, and what they are best used for, on my page about artist paint brushes.
  3. Painting - When I paint in abstracts, I use the paint straight from the tube or bottle. I just squirt some onto my palette, wet my paintbrush in water, then dip it in the paint and go for it! I have found that acrylics in bottles tend to be more fluid than the acrylics in tubes or jars, so they spread easily on the canvas and work well for details. If I use acrylics from a tube or a jar, I usually wet my paintbrush and then drip a bit of water onto the paint and mix it together until it gets nice and fluid, adding more water when/if necessary. If that doesn't work for you, consider making the paint more fluid by adding some Acrylic Flow Improver or Acrylic Flow Release (these link to Blick Art Materials, and if you make a purchase I get a small commission that helps support this site).

Hope that helps & happy painting!!

Return to Acrylic Painting Techniques and Tips.