Acrylic is a plastic-based paint, so it dries quickly (as opposed to oils, which take 2 week+ to dry, depending on how thick you work). I like to use Liquitex Acrylics. I learned the following exercise in college; once you’ve tried this and gotten some experience with it, feel free to improvise or try other methods.
As for colors, start with a very limited palette, so you start getting a feel for mixing colors. I would recommend: Burnt Umber, Ultramarine, Burnt Sienna, Cadmium Red, Cadmium Yellow, and White or White Gesso. I prefer White Gesso over white paint; it’s more opaque and smoother than regular paint (it’s meant to coat canvases–that’s the stuff that makes your basic canvas white). Notice there is no black…that’s because you make black by mixing Burnt Umber and Ultramarine, thereby making your blacks slightly more complex and able to go warm or cool. From this color palette, you can mix most colors you’ll want to achieve.
Get a variety of brushes that feel good to you. I’d say get at least five, including a large flat brush (a #20 or bigger, depending on how big your canvas is) and a small detail brush (like a Winsor Newton #1). Cheap student grade brushes are good for beginners.
For a palette, I recommend the Masterson one with the sponge bottom and the pad of paper palettes to put paint on (above). ACRYLICS DRY QUICKLY–thin coats dry in minutes–so this palette keeps your paints wet and usable.
For beginners, I would recommend choosing a photo that you like, and try to copy it. Once you’ve mastered that, move on to live still life, live human poses, and landscapes–whatever interests you at the time. I did all of these in school. We also spent months of study on the live nude of all ages, colors, and shapes (drawing, sculpting, and painting), and studied and dissected cadavers from the USC medical lab. All of these things were amazing learning experiences.
For now, start like this: before you do any painting, “tone” the canvas with a coat of Burnt Sienna (or any medium range color), thinned on your palette by brush with water. Cover the whole canvas with the burnt sienna; once it’s dry, start your sketch in pencil, then paint. This is a good idea for many reasons: 1.) it gives your painting a warm glow, 2.) if your paint doesn’t completely cover the surface, the canvas showing through won’t be stark white, and 3.) from this color base, you’re able to build in both a light and a dark direction. Color-wise, you’re starting from a middle ground.
Also, don’t forget to use the most appropriate brush for the job…If you’re filling in a larger area with color, remember to switch to a larger brush, so your color fields look consistent and you don’t waste your time. And, of course, if you’re painting a detail part, don’t get lazy and forget to use a detail brush.
Traditional painters will say to start with a sketch and build your painting from dark to light. I just do whatever makes the painting look good to me 🙂