The initial expense of tools for painting in acrylic can make people shy away from getting better quality materials while they are learning. This is why student grade acrylics are available. What makes them cheaper is lower density of pigment–the color part of the paint–relative to the amount of medium and water. Student acrylics are usually sold in craft stores as Liquitex Basics or as kits with a set of paints, brushes and a canvas or two.
The problems with student or kit grade acrylics is that they tend to lack the body and the concentration of color to get the effects of master painters. While they are better than craft acrylics for learning traditional technique, they are more difficult to use than better grades. Much like using cheap, limp brushes that come apart, or that won’t hold shape, student quality paint often does not cover as well, and may not mix as true to color. Often the paint in kits is also at the end of its shelf life, and has clumps of dried paint which can be an aggravation to brush out. While buying better quality paint and brushes is a greater expense at the beginning, they make painting in acrylic more successful and fun.
A better way is to choose a few of the less expensive pigments and a few good brushes that will provide a successful experience. Learn one tool and one technique at a time. For example, I like a palette that includes yellow ochre/oxide, hansa yellow, napthol red, cobalt blue hue (not real cobalt), burnt umber, and white. These colors allow me to mix nearly any shade I might need with the least expensive pigments. I also like hooker’s green, burnt sienna and pthalo blue, but they are not the most basic colors for me. Other artists, of course, choose other colors, and the palette of an artist is part of his or her style. But start small with a few colors, and mix your secondaries–greens, purples, oranges, browns. I do include burnt umber just to save paint–it is excellent for making shadows, not as cold or overpowering as black.
But even in the student grade paints, these colors will allow a beginner to learn color mixing, avoiding the mistake of using the paint directly from the tube like coloring with crayons, so fewer tubes are needed. The Liquitex brand is a good one, but avoid both the Basic paints for the quality of the paint, and all “learn how to paint acrylic” kits.
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