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Smooth Blending with Acrylics – Can it be done?

April 21, 2010

wet-blend-acrylic-paint-4In short, yes! Smooth blending with acrylic paints is extremely tricky, mostly because they dry so fast. The key is to work quickly, using some kind of substance to extend the working time of the paints.

One of these substances is simply water. A little bit of water mixed into the paint will extend its workability. You can also use a spray bottle to give your entire painting surface a light mist. This moisture will allow you to work the paint longer.

Another substance that is available is called acrylic retarder. This is a liquid specially designed to delay the drying of acrylic paints. You can buy it at most art supply stores and it’s fairly inexpensive. Remember, a little bit goes a long way. If you use too much, it can compromise the integrity of your paint.

How to Blend

The following is a really quick tutorial on smoothly blending acrylic paints. This can also be called wet blending because both colours are wet (as opposed to scumbling, which is when you blend two colours when one is already dry).

I have to apologize; I tried to make this a video tutorial, but my poor camera had some focusing issues.

This is a very simplistic example of how to blend smoothly, but it’s a good place to start practicing, and the principles can be applied to more complex subjects.

First, you want to start with the two colours you want to blend. Place them side by side.



Next, spread the colours out to fill in the areas you want to paint, painting up to the other colour but not crossing over. Leave a small space between each colour.



At this point, it’s really important that the paint is still wet in the middle where you will blend. If it’s not, add a little more. Take a fresh brush, a wide flat one is best, and stroke down the middle. This is where a video would have come in handy, but it’s pretty simple. Repeatedly stroke down, moving the brush slightly to each side to let the paint overlap. In this example, I had to be careful that the darker, intense blue didn’t take over the yellow. Whatever you do, don’t flip your brush around or you’ll end up with blue in the yellow and vice versa.



If you want a a soft, but definite line where the two colours meet, don’t move the brush too much. If you want the colours to blend gradually over a large area, move the brush a little bit more with each stroke.



You will need to be careful that you don’t over-work this too much. As the paint dries, it will become sticky and your brush could begin to take paint off the canvas! The trick is to go quickly, and use a tiny bit of water or retarder if you need. If you’re working on a large area, this is even more important!


From → Painting

  1. i like the informations you give! thanks

  2. A very good discussion and demo on mixing acrylics. I find that experimenting and not worrying about failure is the best way to learn–especially in art and especially with acrylics. Be bold!

    • Thanks for the comment, Byrne, and thanks for the mention on your blog! I agree that experimentation is the best thing you can do as an artist, especially at the beginning but even as you get more experience. I tried everything I could get my hands on when I first started drawing and painting and will still play around with new materials just for fun!

  3. pablo permalink

    I’ve been painting with acrylics for over 10 yrs and yes definetly blending is one of the most difficult aspects of workng with this medium. But I have to disagree with you; smooth blending with acrylics is not possible, or at least not when compared with other mediums. Yes, mixing two colors is very simple and water or retardar are not even needed but try to paint, for instance, a portrait and show the subtle changes of colors, hues and values. That, I think, is not possible.

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