Tackle the Easel the Easy Way: How To Get Started in Painting

Tackle the Easel the Easy Way: How To Get Started in Painting

Composition, colour theory, brushes, washes and tones! If you’re new to painting, or haven’t painted for many years, it can be a daunting thing to jump straight into. Luckily, the comprehensive guide Artist’s Painting Techniques has got you covered with some simple, practical tips to ease you into the easel. 

1. Pick the right subject

Think of your painting’s subject as the person you’ll be sitting next to on the train for the next several hours ­– or months, or days! Hopefully, it’s someone or something you like.

It may seem obvious, but one of the best ways to overcome any hesitancy in tackling a new painting is to choose a subject that excites and inspires you. That way, you’re likely to feel compelled to express yourself, and your painting will be authentic and heartfelt.

A successful painting connects with viewers and holds their interest. It may provoke discussion or represent a familiar subject in a new way. If the viewer is moved to re-evaluate something familiar, then you’ve made a positive impact with your work. However, try not to be swayed by what other people think – after all, everyone has a different idea of what makes a good painting. The most important thing is that your creative work inspires you.

2. Choose the right medium

Choosing your medium is like choosing the right clothes for an occasion – different things are right for different situations. Is comfort and flexibility most important, or formality? What do you want to express? And – don’t forget – how much time do you have to get dressed?

When you’re choosing a medium, it can help to look at other artists’ work – you may be inspired by their use of a particular type of paint. Some artists use mixed media, while others are known for their paintings in one medium. Their choice often depends on factors such as drying time, how easy the paint is to use, and scale. If you’re interested in work with a certain feel, identify whether the medium has played a part in creating the image.

Here are the pros and cons of some common media:

Watercolour paints are diluted with water, making them easy to clean up and use. They remain dilutable even after the paint has dried, meaning fresh colours can be blended into dried colour. However, watercolour techniques can be difficult to master, and works in progress are fragile – just one drop of water can damage a painting.

Acrylic paints combine many of the advantages of oils and watercolours, such as a fast drying time and the fact that you can build up multiple layers quickly. However, that fast drying time also means you must work quickly to blend colours. Colours can also change as they dry.

Oil paints have a long tradition and are popular due to the richness of colours available. They have a thick, sculptural quality, and techniques such as glazing, impasto, and layering can be used to produce work from dynamic abstract paintings to hyperrealstic depictions. Downsides are that canvases must be primed before use, and special cleaning materials such as turpentine are needed.

3. Take your time

Unless you’re diving straight into action painting, it always helps to take things slow (Actually, though, even Jackson Pollock needed to observe his subject first!)

One of the biggest keys to a great painting is good observation skills, especially as a beginner or novice. But observation is about more than simply replicating a subject with photographic accuracy. As an artist, you have license to move, alter, emphasize, or exclude elements of your choosing. For example, you might decide to exaggerate scale or experiment with perspective to create a more dynamic arrangement. The art of seeing is not only about capturing what is in front of you, but also interpreting it in your own way.

Don’t rush onto the canvas – spend time with a subject before you start to paint. Try to dispel any preconceptions you may have about how you think something looks. Instead, learn to concentrate on what you can actually see in front of you.

Notice where the light falls and which areas are in shadow. Look at the edges: are they crisp and well-defined, or blurred and indistinct? What shapes can you see? Objects are given form by light, so producing a painting is really a matter of rendering light, with the objects taking shape as a result.

Where accuracy is important, take a measurement from an element in the scene, such as the width of a house or the height of a tree. Then, compare other elements to this base measure to keep the proportions true.

4. Know where to start (and when to stop!)

To help discover how finely detailed you want your work to be, it’s a good idea to develop a painting through gradual refinement. This means starting from an impressionistic, even abstract, starting point, and then adding more and more detail. A pencil sketch is a good place to begin before even picking up a paintbrush, to get a handle on composition and scale. 

Working around the whole painting, rather than concentrating on one area at a time, will mean you can stop at any point and the painting can be considered “finished”. Artists often find it difficult to know when to stop painting, and it can be tempting to keep on adding more to your work. It’s important to take a few steps back from the painting from time to time to assess your progress. Putting too much into a painting can spoil its impact and leave it looking overworked.

If you find yourself struggling to decide whether you’ve finished, take a break and come back to it later with fresh eyes. You could even do a little more research about your subject, perhaps with some more sketching and studies, to help you analyse the work you have already done. Then you can decide whether any areas of your painting would benefit from further refinement.


Want more expert tips and techniques? Artist's Painting Techniques is your practical guide to learning how to bring out your inner artist with a wide range of painting stylesWith progression in mind, this master class will teach you the basic principles of painting and then inspire you to move on to new challenges and create masterpieces of your own. It explains which tools, materials, and methods should be used along the way, but lets you develop your artistic skills on your own terms rather than providing a series of steps to be followed.

Buy the book

Buy the book

Artist's Painting Techniques Artist's Painting

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