'The versatility of acrylic colours makes them an ideal and indeed the most logical choice of medium for beginners,' says Soraya French.

'Acrylic can be thinned down and used in watercolour techniques, or in thicker applications similar to oil painting. It also has some unique characteristics of its own. You can paint with acrylic on a variety of surfaces, the only two to avoid being greasy or oil-based surfaces, or a shiny surface, as acrylic paint will peel off both at a later stage. To use acrylics watercolour-style the best surface to use is a good-quality watercolour paper.

'Acrylics come in a range of opaque and transparent colours and it is useful to get to know this quality in your paints before you start working with them, especially when painting watercolour-style. Although you can find this information on the tubes, the following simple exercise will also help. Apply an inch thick stripe of each colour on the paper and let it dry, then paint an inch thick stripe of each colour across the top. Transparent colours will let the layer underneath show through and the opaque ones will cover them. Make a note of these to refer to.

'The colours may look quite bright when squeezed from the tube, but it is possible to make the most subtle tones by mixing them. In this exercise I am using diluted Daler-Rowney System 3 acrylic colours to paint a still life, using a variety of watercolour techniques such as wet-into-wet and wet-on-dry. System 3 colours have a runny consistency and are known as ‘soft body’ colours so they lend themselves to watercolour techniques.

System 3 brushes are rather soft so they can be used for washes of colour, or you can use your normal watercolour brushes; however, be vigilant about cleaning them afterwards. For thicker colours you will definitely require stiffer acrylic brushes.

The beauty of using acrylics to paint in a watercolour style is that a wash of acrylic colour turns into a plastic film once dry, therefore subsequent washes of colour do not disturb the one underneath. This helps the colours to stay fresh and vibrant.

Demonstration: Still life with sunflowers

Stage 1

Sunflowers painting stage 1










With a blue water-soluble pencil draw the outline of the still-life arrangement.

To show the outlines in the photograph, I added a little pencil mark for the lemons and sunflowers where I would normally have used just a yellow aquarelle pencil.

The outlines will merge easily into the rest of the painting.

Stage 2

Paint Sunflowers stage 2










Apply water to the petals an the foliage areas of the painting, then using your wash brush loaded with lemon yellow, apply the pigment which will disperse into all the wet areas.

Then add diluted Prussian blue to the area where the foliage will be.

Dry the surface ready for the subsequent washes by using a hairdryer.

Stage 3

Paint Sunflowers stage 3








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Load your wash brush with process cyan and apply it to the background.

This colour makes a lovely contrast against the yellow of the flowers and gives a Mediterranean feel to the painting.

I also added another sunflower on the right to balance the composition.

Then apply ultramarine blue to the stripes on the tablecloth using your round brush

To avoid damaging brushes with the dried acrylic paints, keep them in water during the painting session and wash and dry them.

Stage 4

How to paint Sunflowers 4









Start to define the petals using your round brush and cadmium yellow, which is a more orangey yellow, to bring a little variation between the petal shapes.

Then add more green to the areas of the foliage. I made the mixture of green with Prussian blue and lemon yellow.

Add a touch of red to this mixture to darken it and paint the foliage area with some dark tones to create depth in the centre of the arrangement.

For the centre of the flowers, use a mix of burnt sienna and ultramarine and apply it with your round brush.

Stage 5

Use a round brush to paint Sunflowers 5









Add more colour on the lemons and use a little blue in the shadow area.

Using your round brush, re-wet the petal area of the drooping sunflower on the right and drop in some yellow colour to create a wet-into-wet effect.

I also added some finishing touches to the centre of the flowers.

Stage 6
Sunflowers  by Soraya French
Sunflowers, Daler-Rowney System 3 acrylics, (51x40.5cm)
All the finishing touches can now be applied to pull the whole painting together.
I defined the petals a little further.
Add some of the details to the foliage, and more colour on the jug holding the flowers.
Sharpen the stripes of the tablecloth adding creases for more effect and add strong shadow colour underneath the jug and the lemons to ground them.


Use an inexpensive watercolour palette with generous mixing wells for making watercolour washes from your tube colours or for using acrylic ink.

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