Where Do I Start With Painting?

Painting can be a complex area of art because of all the different types of paint, brushes and mediums.  There is the problem of what paint for what paper and the whole area of colour mixing can be challenging for many beginner learners.  So where do you start?! Here are some of the key points for those starting out…

Planning

Before starting to paint, spend some quality time looking at your subject – its overall shape (circle, triangle, etc.), colour, and values (lights and darks).

Plan your still life first by arranging the objects the way you want them.
Plan your still life first by arranging the objects the way you want them.

Drawing First 

Have you got enough space on the page to complete the whole painting?  Have you got your paper/board the correct way round to fit the subject on the page?

Complete a light sketch as your under-drawing using an HB or B pencil (soft pencils will leave too much graphite on the page).  You can use ‘boxing in’, guidelines and grids at this stage if it helps you.

Do some drawing to plan your painting
Do some drawing to plan your painting

Colour

Notice that usually, objects and surfaces are not all one colour – there are shadows and highlights on them which cause variations of their actual colour.

You can start with the lighter and medium tones first and work your way up to the darks; this is easier in terms of being able to cover up areas later.  Begin by looking to see what tones are in your subjects – lights, darks, and middle tones – before concentrating on their colours.

Using more than one brush, with one for whites and yellows, one for reds and purples, one for blues and black, etc., will help keep your colours from getting “muddy”.

Colours can look different on the palette than on the paper – try a small amount on the paper first.  Remember to mix colours on the palette first before applying to the paper, unless you want to apply thick unmixed paint as part of your technique.  As a beginner it is easier to use a palette to mix. 

Mix and try colours on paper first.
Mix and try colours on paper first.

Mix colours in increments (small amounts) at a time, small changes occur with tiny amounts of paint. Colour mixing is quite a skill, try it out as a sketchbook exercise if you need to get used to mixing colours first. 

Watercolours

Water is used to dilute the paint into ‘washes’.  These can take time to dry so watercolour painters often work background to front or in a piece by piece method.

White is rarely used as the water is used to make paler washes showing the white of the paper showing through for lighter tones and highlights.

Cabbaging
Watercolour

Oils and Acrylics

The best way to apply paint to a canvas or paper is “fat over lean.” This means that the thinner layers of paint should be applied first, gradually thickening the paint layers as you go.

Tint, Shade or Hue?!
Oils and acrylics are typically applied thicker than watercolours

Brushes

Try not to load your brush with too much paint.  Round brushes are good for line and detail work; flats are good for larger areas, and right-angled brushes are good for sharp edges.  From more advice on brushes see my post Which Paintbrush?

Rinse your brush between different colour applications to keep colours vibrant.

Allow yourself to play
Don’t overload the brush with paint
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