Can you combine watercolors with acrylics?


I’ve said before that I’m not your average watercolor evangelist. Most people think of landscapes, birds, or trees when they think of watercolors. They almost never think about pinup art.

One thing I really like about watercolors – they play nicely with others. I’ve written before how you can combine watercolors with gouache. I’ve even written before about inking watercolors.

Well this year, I started getting into acrylics.

I’ll always paint watercolors. I love watercolors for their layering abilities. Nothing quite layers like watercolors.

Acrylics on the other hand have different strengths and weaknesses. Some strengths – acrylics are much cheaper than watercolors. And because they’re so much cheaper, I’ll do a lot more experimental color mixing and not feel bad if I have to toss a little.

(So if budget is an issue for you, consider acrylics).

Acrylics also cover better, which of course can also be a liability. You can guess several scenarios for both. For instance, if you accidentally paint acrylics over watercolors, you’re not getting that out. You’ll have to somehow work that into the painting.

Let’s talk about them together

One thing I really like about acrylics is that yes, you can paint acrylics directly onto watercolor paper. They work great!

Sophia – she is painted with watercolors. The rest of the painting are acrylics

Note that you have to paint in order. Watercolors are transparent. Acrylics are not.

So you have to paint the watercolors first. Then you can paint the acrylics over them.

For both the featured painting and the painting directly above, the girls are painted in watercolors. Except for their hair which is acrylics.

The rest of the paintings? Acrylics.

With acrylics, you also see the brushstrokes better. Some people like that effect.

In order to see the brushstrokes with watercolors, you really have to slam a lot of paint on. And like I’ve mentioned earlier, watercolors cost more than acrylics. By a lot.

The funny thing is I thought that since the acrylic layer is physically higher than the watercolor layer, the girls would be subdued. Actually, the reverse happened. The girls still popped forward.

I guess it also helps that I’m using cold colors for the water, which also helps push the girls forward.

It’s hard to tell from the pictures, but acrylics have a sort of fluorescent look to them. Look at the sunsets especially. They look a little fluorescent in the pictures. Way more so in real life.

Technique of combining

Really, there’s not too much to say here. As I mentioned, you have to paint the watercolors first because acrylics will cover watercolors but not vice versa. Just be aware of that.

I can however ink over the acrylics. That works. Not everyone inks though so to most artists, that’s irrelevant.

So other than order, you just paint normally.

Now, if you’ve never painted acrylics before, you need to know one more thing. Your brushes.

Whereas watercolor brushes, you can accidentally forget to wash them, wash them the next morning, and they’re totally fine. Not so with acrylics. You accidentally leave acrylic paint on them overnight and you’ll need a new brush.

Definitely keep that in mind. Wash your acrylics brushes more thoroughly than you would with your watercolor brushes.


  1. There are many ways to get texture out of watercolor. Aquapasto or impasto Gel are two that come to mind. About watercolor being more expensive- A little goes a LOOOONGGGG way, as long as you’re not glopping it on there. I’m kind of curious as to why you rarely leave the white of the paper show through with your watercolors?

    1. You are correct. Watercolors have a lot of pigment so you can really stretch them out.

      As for leaving white, it’s stylistic preference. I like filling the whole canvas, except for white areas (teeth, eyes, waves, etc). Most watercolor artists like to leave a lot of white though so I’m a minority of watercolor artists.

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