How to Paint

Painting is a medium through which many people find that their emotions and thoughts can shine through. No previous experience is necessary, and if you’ve ever taken an art class, even if it was finger painting in elementary school, then you’ve had an introduction to painting.



1. Choose your paint. For your first painting, try using watercolor paints or acrylic paints. Both are water based and easy to use. In the future, after you’ve painted for a while, you may want to experiment with oil paints.

  • Watercolors come in cases or small tubes of pigment. When used alone, they are thick and opaque, and do not cover much area. When used in combination with water, they will thin out and become transparent. Watercolors are used on specific paper made for use with watercolor; any old piece of paper will not necessarily work very well. If you have difficulty finding the right kind of paper, an employee at any arts and crafts store will be more than happy to show you various tablets of watercolor paper sheets.
  • Acrylics are tubes of paint ready to go to work.

    Acrylics are tubes of paint ready to go to work. They do not need to be watered down, but can be to achieve a desired effect, such as tints and better coverage, as well as making your paint supply last a little longer. Unlike watercolors, when acrylics dry, they will not moisten again so don’t squeeze out more paint than necessary. If you have paint leftover that you would like to use again, cover the tray or cup tightly in plastic wrap or tin foil. They will keep for several days to a week at the most. Acrylics are used on canvas panel, which is a canvas with a cardboard backing, or canvas that is stretched over a wooden frame.

2. Get a canvas panel. For beginners, you may be more comfortable using a canvas panel than painting on a stretched canvas. Canvas panels are inexpensive and, while some artists may argue that stretched and mounted canvas is more professional, panels are just as good for painting on. The only downside is that if too much water or thick layers of paint are applied, the canvas will curl inward. This can be remedied by painting a large X on the back side from corner to corner to counteract the curl. You will encounter the same problem with watercolor sheets, and you may do the same thing; just make sure your X is done in white paint to avoid a darker color showing through your painting.

3. Select brushes.

  • The larger the brush, the broader the stroke. The smaller the brush, the finer the stroke. Therefore, for covering large areas of canvas with paint, a bigger brush will get the job done quickly. A smaller brush will allow you to add detail more easily. For instance, if you are painting a landscape, you can use a big brush to lay down the base color for your sky. Then, you can go in with a small brush and add hues of different colors for clouds, sun rays, sky gradient, or even stars or birds.
  • When considering brushes, not only is size important, but material. Most brushes you will come across and probably use the most are made from synthetic hair. Take care to rinse the paint out of your brushes when you are done. When acrylic paint dries, it turns to plastic, thus ruining your brush. While working, keep your brushes in a cup of water to prevent them from hardening.

4. Familiarize yourself with the color wheel, a circle of primary and secondary colors.

  • Primary colors are: Red, Blue, and Yellow. These are colors that come straight from a tube; they cannot be made from mixing other colors. However, secondary colors (purple, green, and orange) can be made from the primary colors.
    • Red + Yellow=Orange
    • Yellow + Blue=Green
    • Red + Blue=Violet
  • Mix the two primary colors in equal amounts for a true color, or add a little more of one color than the other. For example, making purple with slightly more blue than red will result in a bluish indigo color, while mixing with more red may result in a deep maroon.
  • Adding a small amount of white or black to any color will make it lighter or darker. Mixing more white or black into certain colors may change them drastically, as red when mixed with white will become pink.
  • If a color is too bright for your liking, mix the color’s opposite into it to dull the vibrancy. A color’s opposite is the one directly across from it on the color wheel, i.e. the opposite of red is green, yellow is violet, and blue is orange.

5. Paint. It may take some time to find out what you like to paint. Some people enjoy portraits, others landscapes, and further more, some enjoy abstract artwork. There is an endless list of things you could paint. For inspiration, think about what looks pleasing to your eye. Maybe you enjoy certain color combinations more than others? Maybe certain shapes? If you get stuck on what to paint, you can always reference from life. The classic example is a bowl of fruit. It’s overflowing with different angles, colors, shapes, and sizes. Most importantly, it won’t move, so you can reference from it as long as the fruit keeps. Then, you might try portrait. Chances are you won’t find anyone to sit still long enough for you, so a photograph will probably suit you better when you first start. Here are some additional ideas:

  • Paint with just black and white. Or, choose any two colors and use in combination with black and white. Paint a picture with these colors only.
  • Choose a subject matter and intentionally warp and distort the anatomy of it, i.e. painting a cat with legs longer than the length of its body, a house that retains its typical features but bends into a spiral, etc.
  • Ask someone to write down 3-5 random words, and paint what comes to mind when you read them.
  • Try to paint water. It can be anything from an ocean to water running from the tap.

6. Practice techniques.

  • When painting with acrylic, layer. This means start with the farthest thing away in the background, for instance, paint the sky, then the mountain, then the plains for your background, then the trees, grass, and object of subject for your foreground. This prevents you having to paint around anything.
  • When painting with watercolor, always work from lightest to darkest. Traditionally, there is no white paint in watercolor. These days you can cheat, as it is possible to buy a white watercolor, but for best results, start with very, very light colors for your outline before jumping in with the dark colors. An example would be painting something shiny, say a blue bowl. Take a very watered down light blue, and outline the shape of the bowl, and then outline, not fill in, where the light reflections of the bowl will go, giving it shape and making it more realistic.IMG_0801


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