A Beginners Guide to Acrylic Painting – The Myth of Talent

acrylic abstract painting

On Painting, Procrastination and What Might Have Been

 “For of all sad word of tongue or pen, the saddest are these. “It might have been.”
John Greenleaf Whittier

I always feel so sad when I read this quote, “It might have been…”

What a waste.

So many aspiring artists come to me with a real passion for learning how to paint and ask me where they should start?

Not knowing where to begin or muddling along on your own can be really slow progress and eventually the paints can spend more time in your box than on your canvas.

Your dreams of becoming a painter get lost.

But you were so close!

If you came to my studio with the question ‘I have a week to learn how to paint, what do I need to know?

I’d strip the learning process down to basics, the fewest brushes, a few key colours and an essential introduction to the wide properties of acrylics.

Materials and set up, colour mixing and pigment choice, brush handling and palette knife techniques and gels and mediums.

Then we’d get painting using methods that achieve great results even if you’ve got no artistic training.

Why Acrylics?

Acrylics can be used in thin transparent washes like water colours or in a thicker more opaque form like oil paint.

They dry quickly and can be diluted and cleaned with water making them simple to use, odourless and accessible for the beginner.

So when are you coming round, right?

If you’ve never even picked up a pencil I’d always usually recommend learning how to draw. Which I know sounds a little deflating … you want to learn how to paint!

However, learning to draw sets you so far ahead, so quickly, it really is the most ‘bang for your buck’ for a set of principles that don’t change.

But what if the allure of colour is too much to resist and you want to get straight into painting?

Well, I’ve been working on a new course just for you…

The Foundations of a Good Painter

Picasso’s father was an art teacher.

Young Picasso had some great one-on-one artistic training in drawing and painting from an early age.

He progressed quickly.

By the time he was 15, Picasso’s father stopped painting as he felt his son had surpassed him.

Here’s a painting by the then 15-year-old Picasso.


Pablo Picasso, aged 15, La première communion (First Communion) 1896

You wouldn’t have predicted that 30 years later his paintings would look more like this:


Pablo Picasso, aged 47, The Studio (1927 -1928)

But you can start to see where his feeling for composition and colour balance has come from.

Both pictures have similar colour palettes of warm yellow and then a strong bright red.

There is a strong contrast with black and white, and a dialogue between the characters in both paintings.

All abstract paintings have been ‘abstracted’ from reality.

If you want to paint impressionistically or with a more abstract approach, it’s best to start with observation skills.

You can then grow from a solid foundation.

The Talent Myth

Sometimes it can feel like everyone else is a naturally gifted painter.

You can go to a ‘beginners art class’ and everyone seems to know so much already.

You’d love to emulate other students confidence and success but you don’t know how.

Every time you give it a go, there’s a little something holding you back.

It could be the fear of the unknown, a lack of time or an inner feeling that ‘I’m not talented enough’

Maybe you’ve followed some tutorials, read some books but still have some loose ends in your full understanding of how painting works.

Your first attempts?…not so amazing.

But I know that taking a simple approach can give you repeated consistent results, even if you’re an utter beginner.

Painting should be a simple process that gives you a great sense of calm, achievement and pleasure.

Without a basic understanding of the fundamentals, you can waste hours at your easel, get disheartened and amass a healthy collection of brand new paint tubes…with no brand new paintings.

The ‘I’m not talented’ conditioning can hold many people back for years before taking that first jump into painting, but artistic talent is a myth.

Painting is a skill that can be learnt, just like riding a bike.

The first stage in your transformation is to have a look at your mindset.

Do you have a growth mindset?

This could seem a strange question to ask when learning about painting, but your mindset before you begin any new creative endeavour can be the difference between failure and success.

Many admirers of paintings will often comment ‘you are so lucky to be talented’, and unwittingly place themselves within the ‘untalented’ bucket. Keeping themselves on the sideline as a viewer, rather than a doer.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Carol S. Dweck, a Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, claims that people can be placed into two different mindsets.

  • A fixed mindset
  • A growth mindset

You can have a fixed mindset in some areas and a growth mindset in regard to others.

But we’re interested in your mindset towards learning creative skills.

Those who have a ‘fixed mindset’ to painting, believe that success is based on an innate talent, assuming that creative ability is static and can’t be changed in any meaningful way.

These thoughts can stop you in your development as an artist before you even buy your first tube of paint.

We want to develop a growth mindset in regard to your artistic skills.

A growth mindset thrives on challenges and believes that success is reliant upon improving.

When you learn to paint, there are going to be drawings that look wonky, colour mixes that go wrong and areas that need repainting.

These shouldn’t be seen as failures but learning curves!

“In this mindset, the hand you’re dealt is just the starting point for development. This growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. Although people may differ in every which way — in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments — everyone can change and grow through application and experience.

Professor Carol S. Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

This is a pretty compelling thought, right?

That to become ‘talented’ as a painter is within your control.

But before you feel the urge to tidy your studio, let me introduce you to the Prince of Procrastination.

Overcoming procrastination

If there was an award for ‘best procrastinator‘ I think I’d win.

I am a master of it.

Let’s take a trip to my days at art school and the dreaded word ‘dissertation’

My 6000 word written dissertation was a lesson in life, fear and extremely high levels of anxiety.

Having had a 3-month time-frame to write it, I eventually sat down every day of the last month to write my masterpiece.

Vanessa often popped her head in my room to see a mass of paper around the floor, piles of books with labels sticking out of them and a flurry of activity, I was so busy I didn’t have time for a chat – I was writing…

She must have thought I was some kind of genius of prose…she was wrong.

At day 88 of the 90-day deadline, my word count was precisely 203.

Don’t laugh.

I’d worked extremely hard on that first Introduction.

I ended up writing 5000 words the day before the deadline.

The results?

Handing in a dissertation 2 minutes before the cut-off point, only to find when I received it back, I’d made a spelling mistake on the second line.

But that wasn’t the worse of it.

Just slightly, more importantly, I’d forgotten to include the final page of my conclusion!

The page I was most proud of, that pulled all of my revolutionary thoughts together in one groundbreaking piece of abstract artist thinking…was left under the word processor.

So I can sympathise with any fellow procrastinators who might be having a similar process with their painting production.

I’ve designed this course so each step is ‘procrastination-friendly’

A progressive sequence

My new Absolute Beginners Acrylic Painting Course is designed to give you professional looking paintings with a few key materials in a relatively short space of time when we take the right painting approach.

It’s designed for students who feel inspired to learn how to paint but have little or no training.

The course has a logical progression, from handling a brush, achieving the perfect paint consistency with water, the basics of colour mixing, to how to create depth and texture in your paintings.

It will take you on a journey covering a wide range of techniques from Classical realism to a more modern abstract approach as understanding how to create something realistically to start with, is the foundation of all great artists.

beginners palette knife painting

At each stage you might just be using one brush or one new colour, I’ve included my line drawing so you can have a jump start on where to begin and each lesson builds logically and progressively so you have a clear path to follow.

By the end of the course, you will have created 3 different painting studies in 3 different styles, moving from absolute beginner to painting with confidence.

acrylic painting basics

I started this website over 3 years ago with the ambition to help and encourage aspiring artists to face the fear of the white canvas and paint it anyway.

So what are we waiting for! My new Absolute Beginners Acrylic Painting Course  is available now.




This Post Has 356 Comments

  1. Engela

    Hi Will, I have learnt so much from your website content and would like to start painting, I am not sure if I should first purchase your learn to draw course or to purchase your procrastination course for beginner painters. I will do both as I will need all the help I can get. I love your work!

    Please send me details of both courses and what I need to get started!

    Warm regards


  2. Ima

    I am excited and waiting …! Thank you Will!

  3. Hermione Harding

    Hi Will,

    Granted, 2nd Feb still has six hours left.
    So far, I have not received any news about the new course.

    Have you postponed the launch?


      1. Hermione Harding

        Thanks Will,

        I have just purchased the course and am downloading it.


        1. Will Kemp

          Good one Hermi, really hope you’re enjoying it,

  4. Dario


    My therapist said this would be good for me.

  5. Lori

    Hi Will,
    I am so glad to have found your website – I’m enjoying your free lessons so much! You are a very good teacher and your patience and attitude is so helpful. Thank you, and I am looking forward to your new acrylics class!
    – Lori

    1. Will Kemp

      Great to hear it Lori, thanks for your kind words on the teaching.

  6. Viv Adams

    Hi Will, I love the look of the course but am procrastinating (of course) about getting it. I have been using acrylics for some time and am wondering if the course might be a little basic for me. Mostly, my results aren’t bad but I’ve never done a course or had any tuition in acrylics – mostly I’ve learned from books, video clips and trial & error. I have to be sure before I part with my dosh, don’t have much of it. Would be grateful for your advice.

    1. Will Kemp

      Hi Viv, yes you might find many of the lessons too basic with your current experience with acrylics, the 3 painting demos could still be of interest even if you have some previous experience with acrylics.

      Hope this helps,


    2. Hermione Harding

      I had some experience with acrylics and wondered whether the course would be too basic. Nevertheless, I am glad I decided to buy it.

      I have not started on the paintings yet; too much to do and…..procrastination.

      I watched the first four videos and the info on which brushes for what end e.g. was useful. Also the difference between opaque and transparent paints and how to use them was helpful, not to mention how to read the labels of paint.


      The only thing I wondered about was how much water can actually be added to acrylic paint. Some time ago I watched a youtube video in which it was suggested never to add/dilute with more than 30% water when used for an underpainting.
      Using more would mean that there is not enough binder to hold the paint together.

      1. Will Kemp

        Hi Hermione, pleased you’ve been enjoying the course, to answer your question:

        I wondered about was how much water can actually be added to acrylic paint. Some time ago I watched a youtube video in which it was suggested never to add/dilute with more than 30% water when used for an underpainting.
        Using more would mean that there is not enough binder to hold the paint together.

        It all depends on the feel and technique of the painting you’re trying to achieve.

        The best way to see how far you can go is start with the underpainting section on the first tutorial where the burnt umber is just diluted with water and just have a play, that is the single best way to learn how far you can go with the water and acrylics.

        I demonstrate with an ‘in-direct’ classical method of painting where I purposely use only water at the early stage to create a ‘chalky’ dry pigment effect with the paint. This way the next layer will ‘grab on’.(the exact same principle as ‘fat-over-lean with oil painting)

        You’ll see in the ‘mediums and gels’ video a demonstration of using thinner applications of paint with a glazing liquid, this helps bind thinner applications of paint in later layers of paintings.

        If you’re working in only thin applications you’ll have seen the ‘high flow’ and ‘fluid’ acrylic which has a higher binder to pigment ratio for watercolour-like applications of paint.

        Hope this helps,


  7. Pat

    You pretty much described me. The ‘inner artist’ in me wants to paint but I feel overwhelmed. I have had minute successes here and there but still feel confused. I know once I get into a hobby the creative juices flow. I have been working with clay for a couple of years and I know its true. I need this to happen for my new painting hobby.

  8. Nancy

    Hi Will~! This is going great~! It’s refreshing not to get too much detail too soon and your course helps me get off dead center by just looking at light and dark and then tone. Quick question if you have a moment? My Ultramarine Blue is not as brilliant and bright as I see on your canvas. I have the Golden Open Ultramarine. And I’m mixing that with Gesso (as my white). Is that what is making my Blue darker/duller instead of Titanium White? I am using clean water, brush, etc but it’s not giving me brilliant color. I was just going to switch to Cerulean Blue but my curiosity on the “why doesn’t my Ultramarine Blue look nice” got the best of me. Thanks, the course is fantastic, something to take the stress away after a long day at work.

    1. Will Kemp

      Hi Nancy,

      The difference will be in the use of:

      Golden OPEN acrylics and Gesso

      in comparison to the mix I demonstrate with using:

      Golden Heavy Body Acrylic and Golden Titanium white

      Both the Titanium white and Heavy body are much more opaque than using gesso and the Open paint, so your mixes would appear milky and not as bright.

      1. Nancy

        Works perfectly! I switched over to the regular Titanium White and Ultramarine Blue and the color is so “alive” and vibrant. Amazing what a little difference can do to colors. Thanks Will, my painting is moving along nicely, I am very pleased with the progress.

        1. Will Kemp

          Good one Nancy, pleased it did the trick.

  9. emiko venlet

    Dear will,

    First of all, you are super sweet and kind to reply to almost all the comments, which made me decide to write and ask you questions.

    I started drawing and painting again two years ago after 20 years of not painting since grade 7. I first took an online course which was an abstract spiritual sort of painting course in acrylic paints and I enjoyed it but right away I hit a big wall! I simply had no idea how the colors work or how the painting is done, really. So I decided to practice drawing last year and I fell in love with illustration. I found numerous wonderful illustrators and painters who illustrate narrative folk arty whimsical world and I really really was attracted to that type of style. I copied and practiced, but I then soon realized that I still lacked the fundamental drawing skill, the eyes of an artist.

    take Mair a kalman, for example. I don’t know if she can draw realistically, but her drawing and paintinga are just amazing. I love the style of Emily Sutton and as realistic as her drawings may look, her lines and compositions are not really realistic but are so beautiful.

    My question is, how can one cultivate her own folk art like style while learning to drawand paino realistically. I am thinking of taking your drawing course and this acrylic paintin course to really take a leap and learn this year and establish my narrative and story and painting style. Do you think, without going to art school, it is possible to be an illustrator/ fine artist?

    I have read many articles you wrote here. Thank you for sharing your talent!! The story of picasso in this article was what I needed to read now too. Thank you!!!

    1. Will Kemp

      Hi Emiko,

      Nice to hear from you,

      My question is, how can one cultivate her own folk art like style while learning to draw and paint realistically. I am thinking of taking your drawing course and this acrylic painting course to really take a leap and learn this year and establish my narrative and story and painting style.

      Any artist before cultivating their own style, needs to understand how the basics of drawing and painting works.
      Once you understand this, you can then start to develop your own direction.

      However the drawing course is aimed at students who want to develop representational works, rather than illustrations with a whimsical, folky feel.

      So I’m not sure this would be the best fit for the style of work you want to develop.

      I hope this helps,



      1. emiko venlet

        Dear will,
        Thank you for your reply!! I have decided to purchase your drawing course!! I do agree that drawing skill is so important and I’m tired of not knowing how to draw when i face sketch book or paper. i am happy to have finally decided to take a leap and learn from you. I’m very excited. i am thinking of practicing drawing till i feel rather comfortable with my drawing skills and style after your two drawing courses and then taking the other courses of your on paintings. Thank you, Will! If i come across with questions, could I ask you too? Dont worry, i won’t bother you with too many questions. I do my research first and then ask you if i seem to go nowhere. I do have a little request though… could you share what your day is like as an artist? or what it was like when you were studying. any tips for people like me who have never been to study art at school but are now so inspired to follow her heart to learn as much as she can online, from books etc?

        thank you for ever inspiring us!!


        1. Will Kemp

          Hi Emiko, hope you’re enjoying working through the drawing course, you might find this book of interest ‘Inside the painters studio, here’s a brief overview to give you an insight into different artists studios.


          1. emiko venlet

            Thank you, Will!

            I finally got all the materials! Let the fun begin!
            And thanks for mentioning the book.

  10. Nancy

    I think I have this figured out! Amazing what a good night’s sleep will do, I think I painted this whole course overnight in my head! I think my blue is picking up some of my under painting of the Burnt Umber. Maybe my under painting is too watery and didn’t totally bind to the canvas and keep from lifting off. Or I’m scrubbing too hard. I will just go back in with some more Ultramarine blue over the top of this dried layer.

    1. Will Kemp

      Hi Nancy, if you’ve been using the OPEN acrylics for the burnt umber that will be causing the issue as the paint may not be fully cured when you apply the next layer on top. On the demonstrations I use standard heavy body acrylics that dry much quicker.
      Hope this helps,


  11. Nancy Leary

    Hi Will,

    I have downloaded a few of your art classes and so appreciate the convenience of having a “class” right at my finger tips and on my schedule. Your classroom directions, comments and enthusiasm is infectious and I have learned so much from your “class-room”.

    I do have a problem and that is because I am left-handed! I find that the subjects chosen for your classroom pictures are oriented to the right and when I try to duplicate your brush strokes or application of paint on any part of the picture plane I am working at cross-purposes to your example that I am seeing on my viewing screen. It seems like I have to work in “reverse” and It really screws up my brain!

    Perhaps I am not explaining it well, so I hope you will understand what I am trying to say and have some suggestions to offer.

    1. Will Kemp

      Hi Nancy, pleased you’ve been enjoying the classes, yes, for most of the paintings I would work from left to right due to painting with oil paints and having to keep your hand off the painting surface, the easiest way to follow along with a left-handed painting would be to use the same images and ‘flip’ the image so it is a mirrored version (using a computer software like Photoshop)

      Although you would still be following ‘in-reverse’ unless the screen you were watching the video on could be reflected into a mirror?
      If the screen was reflected you could then have a mirrored reference image and a mirrored subject. That’s the only way I can think would work to be able to follow the flow of the painting. And the only other thing would be to find a tutor who is left-handed. I can ‘flip the images’ for you if you’d like? just drop me an email.

  12. Dave

    Thanks Will…I’m suffering from procrastination…I just can’t motivate myself to get stuck in and try. I’m hoping your website and lessons will help me get past this.

    Is there a list of recommended materials, brushes, etc


    1. Will Kemp

      Hi Dave, I’ll send the material list through to you.

      1. Dave

        Thanks Will..look forward to it.

  13. Dudsanee

    Hi Will, this is really useful lesson to help me understand how to define and mix colour. Thank you for this. Besides, I am trying to paint snow but don’t know what colour and technic. Maybe the next lesson could be snowy painting technic (:

  14. Christine deB.

    I just completed this course as an absolute beginner, and I really enjoyed it. I learned a lot, and my paintings look passably good! Thank you for your skilled and encouraging instruction!

    1. Will Kemp

      Hi Christine, great to hear from you and so pleased you enjoyed the course and have learnt a lot from the lessons. Would love to see your results.

  15. Kathleen Machado

    I just finished your first lesson. Can’t I post it anywhere for you to see?

  16. Marcia

    Dear Will,
    I came across your site yesterday in my search for tips on acryl paintings..and you hit the nail right on the head :-). Procrastinating? Afraid to mess up the new white canvas (still in plastic)? Worrying what to make that ‘people’ will like? Yep! All off the above! I want to thank you for sharing your knowledge and tips. Thanks to your explanation and writing style I had the courage to buy (today) the largest canvas I ever painted (80x120cm) AND unwrapped it AND painted it yellow ocre! It’s ready to dive in now and already looks so attractive :-). THANK YOU. Never ever heard of underpainting before. I am rather experienced with airbrush, but found a new passion now in combining it with brushes.
    Best regards, Marcia (The Netherlands)

    1. Will Kemp

      Hi Marcia, great to hear from you and so pleased you’ve been inspired by the articles and have been creating some new paintings, and an 80 x 120 is a cracker to get started on!

  17. Helle

    Dear Will,
    What fun I am having with this course and learning so much! Your teaching style is wonderful and you include so much helpful information and instruction. I love that each painting in the course uses different techniques and really shows what one can do with acrylics. I’ve also taken your Beginner Seascape course as well as all your tutorials on your website and I really feel I’ve gotten a lot out of each of them and am now building on what I’ve learned. Thanks so much Will and I look forward to taking more of your lessons. I encourage everyone to try Will’s courses – you will really enjoy yourselves.

    1. Will Kemp

      Hi Helle, great to hear from you and so pleased you’ve been enjoying the courses, thanks for sharing your experience.

  18. Dan

    Hi will l was wondering if you could answer a question for me ? . In your opinion is it more beneficial to draw and paint from life as opposed to drawing and painting from photos and why ? . Many thanks .

    1. Will Kemp

      Hi Dan, drawing from life will always be more beneficial, but drawing ‘from the flat’ from photographs is one of the best ways to initially learn how to draw, and then progress onto drawing from life.

      Hope this helps,


  19. Dan

    Thank you will

  20. Julie Davidson Smith

    Will, this site is juicy and refreshing – thank you for being you; funny, honest and pretty smart :) I am an artist/painter and teacher (gotta make money somehow) and LOVE your dialogue and humour. Your language has helped me to better articulate myself teaching and get to the point in a more organized fashion – Cheerio!

    1. Will Kemp

      Thanks Julie, really glad you’ve been enjoying the site and so pleased its been of help.

  21. Patty

    Good Morning Will, I stumbled across you’re website and could not be more thrilled! I purchased your starter video and am enjoying it so much. You make learning to paint much easier then any instructor I have came across. My husband does not see the whites of my eyes from the moment I get home until bed. I am in my studio (I now turned my sons old bedroom into my own room, he is not as thrilled) OK, I do come out to get cheese and fill my wine glass!

    I just want to let you know you have made my life better!

    Minnesota, USA

    1. Will Kemp

      Hey Patty, lovely to hear from you, really pleased you’re enjoying working through the course. I do agree, a cheese and wine break is a must for painting creativity! Thanks for taking the time to write, appreciate it.

  22. Lydia Bernard

    Hello Will,
    Last night I asked Google “how to fix an art painting” and your website popped up. It was a comfort to read your article that gave permission to start over. The moments of my discouragement went away after all. A friend who makes art came by and seemed to think the painting was very good…and I was able to fix what wasn’t working.
    I’d been in procrastination denial, and finally picked up the brush. I’m at the middle stage of the painting. It’s for my son who just completed his PhD. I so enjoyed what you wrote about your dissertation. It’s similar to what Ryan experienced in the 3-months of writing it.
    I loved reading what you wrote.
    I’ll be checking in for the importance of learning new skills and techniques. Thanks for the video on mixing primary colors…to get to green. Wow!

    1. Will Kemp

      Hi Lydia, lovely to hear from you and so pleased you’ve been enjoying the articles on the site. I know from my brothers PhD it can be a bit of an epic so sympathise with Ryan! so glad you’ve been learning new techniques from the lessons.

  23. Laurel

    For about ten years I have been saying that I would like to learn how to paint. Finally at the age of 55, I took my first art class ever. I started with a drawing class and then a beginner’s acrylic painting class at a local cultural center. I enjoyed it tremendously. Then I discovered your website! I have just completed your color mixing class and am now starting on the beginner acrylics class. Maybe that was out of order, but I was anxious for color mixing. I am very pleased with the paintings I have completed, but would like to learn to paint in a looser style. I would be happy to share my results with you, but couldn’t figure out how to post them here. I love your teaching style and thoroughly enjoy your personality. Although you are an ocean away, I feel like I am receiving one on one instruction. Thank you! Laurel

    1. Will Kemp

      Hi Laurel, great to hear from you and so pleased you’ve been enjoying the courses and the paintings you’ve been creating. You can attach your images from the course them to an email, details on the contact page

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