Step 4. Learn The Essential Artist Skills That You'll Need

By this point, you've done all the prep work and it's time to learn about the painting process and the essential skills you'll need to get to grips with to put into practice on your paintings.

This is a big topic but briefly, beginners should focus on:

Understanding how to use visual language such as "shapes", "colors", "edges", "spaces", "relationships", "light and darkness", and "the whole".

Learn how to create contrast, perspective, and good composition in your paintings.

Understand the basic painting processes such as undercoating, creating an initial outline, blocking in, and mark-marking. 

Spending some time figuring out color mixing and how to use a color wheel to mix colors and combine colors successfully.

Setting up your workspace for best results.

Claude Monet, Cliffs at Les Petites-Dalles

Beginner painter goes through a process and ends up painting great pictures.

PAINTING FOR BEGINNERS:
4 Steps To Get Started That Every Beginner Should Follow

PAINTING FOR BEGINNERS:
4 Steps To Get Started That Every Beginner Should Follow

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Step 1. Be Clear On Why You Want To Learn To Paint

If you want to learn how to paint and you're wondering how best to get started you'll do well to read this. 

By the end, you'll have an idea about how hard it is to do, how best to go about it, and most importantly, improve your chances of being successful as you start your painting journey and become an artist :-)

While all new painters make mistakes, you can easily shortcut the learning process by focusing on these four steps:

Step 1. Be Clear Why You Want To Learn To Paint

Before you start, an important question to ask yourself is why do you want to learn to paint? 

What do YOU hope to get from it? 

Are you looking to take up painting as a relaxing hobby or do you want to be a professional painter? 

Take your time, because your answers will probably determine how great an artist you end up becoming! 

Be ambitious if you want to be because it doesn't matter if you think you have no artistic talent whatsoever; with the right learning process and practice, you can still become a great painter by following the right path for YOU depending on where your strengths lie.

Different Paths For Learning To paint

Be warned: the best way for you to learn how to paint is probably not the same as the best way for your friend to learn how to paint! 

Recognizing this is a key learning point.

We all have different learning styles and our starting points and strengths are naturally different.

Painting is also an art form that's all about expressing your individuality as an artist.  

So if you're serious, take the time to do a little research and soul searching. 

Try not to jump into something you're not suited to. 

You'll find painting easier, more enjoyable, and paint better pictures once you find a painting medium and style that suits you. 

Step 2. Decide How You Want To Learn

As a beginner, you have several options and each serves a different purpose.

  • Take a formal painting class at your local community college or art institute 
  • Copy online tutorial classes
  • Teach yourself how to paint

Painting Classes

Painting classes range from specialized subjects, such as 'Acrylic Landscape Painting,' to social free-for-alls, which are as much about meeting new people and interacting with other artists as they are about learning or improving your painting. 

The Pros Of Taking Painting Classes

One of the best things about taking painting classes is having access to an art teacher in real-time who can answer your questions and give you individual feedback on your progress. 

In addition, by being around other people who are learning how to paint, you may learn from other students as well as from the teacher. 

Scheduled painting classes can also keep you painting regularly if you are struggling with motivation.

The Cons Of Taking Painting Classes

Painting classes tend to focus on intermediate techniques for painting in specific styles rather than on teaching the basics, so there is a risk it won't be a good fit for you.

Also, classes are largely influenced by the instructor's personality, so your enjoyment will hinge on whether their teaching style is a good match for you.

In addition, because the teacher wants to give equal attention to each student in a group setting, there may not be enough individual feedback if you are struggling with something, and can't move at the pace of the group. 

The format of most art classes doesn't necessarily help as well. By copying the instructor's example you may leave the class without really knowing anything that you can do on your own. 

Classes are also held at a specific time and place, so you may not always be able to fit it into your schedule or attend every session. 

Then there is also your personality to consider. For example, if you are an introvert you might find working in a group environment stressful. Or, if you enjoy peace and quiet you may find it hard to paint with the background noise of the class.

Can I Learn Painting On My Own?

Teaching yourself how to paint can be a great option to learn the basics of painting. 

The main advantage of self-study is that you can go at your own pace, so it may be ideal if you are busy with work or family commitments. 

However, it can be difficult to know where to start when you are studying on your own, and there is no one to help you troubleshoot if you don't get something straight away. 

As a result, it's advisable to start with a structured step-by-step program, such as a beginner's online course or book. 

The Pros And Cons Of Learning To Paint From Online Painting Tutorials

There are a tonne of free and paid instructional videos to choose from if you search the net, and the choice can be overwhelming. 

Compared to art classes, you can follow tutorials when you have free time which can be a real plus for some, although it can be more difficult to understand what you are watching without having a live teacher or other students to ask questions.

As a beginner, you need to be careful not to choose tutorials that are above your skill level, and you want to be sure you don't skip past learning the basics.

That said, online tutorials can be a good way to learn new techniques from other artists to broaden your painting skills, but ideally, you just want to get the gist of how to do the technique and then branch out on your own.

That's because if you learn exclusively from tutorials, unfortunately, they won't teach you how to be very creative.

Bingeing on tutorials will teach you how to become an expert at copying and not an artist!

This means you'll find it harder to think on your own, which will hold you back as want to progress with your paintings. 

Verdict: What Is The Best Way To Learn How To Paint?

If you are a complete beginner you will probably benefit most from learning the basics by yourself at home. 

By getting an overview of the different painting styles and techniques at your own pace, you will give yourself a solid foundation on which to build, and be more confident about deciding which direction you might want to go. 

Then when you feel ready, progress onto paint-specific classes and tutorials if you feel you would benefit from additional instruction. 

You'll likely find both art classes and online tutorials much easier and less stressful once you've got the basics down, and you'll end up getting a lot more value from them. 

You also are less likely to make the beginner mistake of heading off in the wrong direction.

 

How To Teach Yourself Painting At Home

If you are just starting, it's ideal to look for a course or book that is simple to understand, starts from the absolute basics, and provides plenty of step-by-step instructions. 

Try to find two or three good sources if you can. You will learn different things from different artists and get a more rounded knowledge base.

I recommend the Painting Super Starter because it's a fun introduction to painting that's structured in a way that is ideal for complete beginners.

It's unique because it puts you in the center of things and guides you towards making the best choices for YOU as an individual. 

It's based on three important foundational elements.

The first is to understand how to think like an artist and be more creative. 

This is ideal if you don't consider yourself to be a natural artist or are coming to painting later in life and have concerns about your artistic ability. 

The second is to make good starting choices. This is important because beginners often make poor choices and go off in the wrong direction. 

You'll choose between six different painting mediums that are suitable for beginners and then, once you've made your decision, you're given a list of the equipment you'll need. 

The third and final element teaches beginners the essential painting techniques to put into practice in their first painting session. 

If you would like to take a look at it click here. The remainder of this article is based on excerpts from stages two and three.

Step 3. Figure Out Your Artistic Direction

For most beginners, deciding the best place to start is the hardest part of learning to paint. That's because it goes hand in hand with figuring out your artistic direction.

If you boil it all down, there are five elements to consider when beginning to paint. 

  • Personality
  • Paints
  • Painting style
  • Subject matter
  • The basic supplies that you'll need

Here we are going to briefly consider the paints you might choose and the basic supplies you may need. For more information on the impact of personality, painting style, and subject matter please see the Painting Super Starter.

What Is The Best Paint For A Beginner Painter?

If you search the internet you may be forgiven for thinking that the ideal way to start painting is by using acrylics. 

But that's really not the case. 

Acrylic paint is often presented as a one-size-fits-all cookie-cutter solution for beginners for at least three reasons. 

One is that acrylics are an OK choice. When I started I did use acrylics briefly, but I found them frustrating for the reasons I explain below. 

The second is that there is so much choice when learning to paint that it can be bewildering and lead to indecision, so businesses want to present you with an easy ready-made solution.

The final reason is that acrylics are a practical choice for art teachers who run art classes. For example, it's ideal if the paints used in the class can dry quickly so that folks can take their art work home easily after class.

In reality, there are many different types of paints to choose from and there's no right or wrong answer. It's a personal choice. 

But the less trial and error you need to go through to find one that you like the better.

Essentially, the best paint will depend on YOU: your goals, skill level, interests, available space, and personality. 

The most important thing is understanding how the paints work so you know what to expect when you start using them. 

Let's briefly look at a couple of the paints.

Acrylic Painting Pros And Cons For Beginners

Pros:

  • Acrylic paints can be painted directly onto any painting surface.
  • Acrylic mediums are a water-soluble paint, so they are easy to dilute and you can clean up with paper towels
  • Acrylic paint is very versatile and can be used to mimic all the other painting mediums.

Cons:

  • Acrylic paints dry very quickly ie. sometimes the paint dries while you are mid-way through painting something, which isn't ideal if you still want to apply more paint!
  • Acrylic colors dry differently from how you mix them which can make acrylic paintings unnecessarily confusing. For example, it's easy to mix the wrong color if the area you want to work on is already dry. Or if you paint an area and think it looks right, only to find out it looks odd when it's dry. Both of these examples are not ideal when you are just starting out - or ever for that matter!

Water Mixable Oil Painting Pros And Cons For Beginners

Pros:

  • They are an alternative to ‘real’ oils and they work a lot like traditionally formulated oil paint
  • Unlike traditional oil paints they are water-soluble so they can be mixed and cleaned with water - just use a paper towel
  • The drying time is about half that of traditional oils which is a plus but you'll still need somewhere to store your art work while it dries

Cons:

  • The paint can get sticky if you’re not careful
  • There are fewer resources available in terms of paint brands, tutorials etc because most professional artists still favor traditional oils.

For a more in-depth understanding of the paints that are suitable for beginners, and to go through a guided process to decide which is right for you, check out the Painting Super Starter where the six paints below are considered. 

  • Oil paint
  • Water mixable oil paint
  • Acrylic paint 
  • Gouache paint
  • Watercolor paint
  • Painting pastels

What Factors May Influence Your Choice Of Paint? 

Which paints change colors when they dry?

Are they easy to blend?

Can I correct mistakes?

How versatile are they?

How expensive are they?

How quickly do the paints dry?

How easy are they to clean up?

Are there any potential health issues?

What will the shelf life of your painting be?

How much space will they need?

How much equipment do they require?

What Basic Supplies Do Beginners Need?

The supplies you'll need vary depending on what medium, style, and subject matter you choose but there are some pitfalls that you should be aware of before getting your art supplies.

If you’re not careful buying the right equipment can be a bit like going grocery shopping on an empty stomach. You end up buying the wrong things... 

I remember going into the art store for a mooch around one time and I came across this amazing-looking ‘ultimate paint set’ that had a million and one paints, brushes, and lots of other bolt-ons, like a palette knife and a spray bottle. 

It looked great. It was presented in a big circle with everything on show......I was immediately attracted to it......how could you go wrong with something so fantastic? 

Then I laughed to myself as I thought how easily my emotional brain was being drawn in and that actually that paint set was a walking disaster... especially if a learner bought it. 

Sometimes, what seems the right thing to buy when you start can be the worst thing for you... 

So how do you know what's best to buy?

I detail out everything you need for each paint in the Painting Super Starter, but generally, I recommend buying supplies like paints and brushes from a local art store because you can pick up the item and examine it closely and ask for advice if needed. 

I usually only order online if I am already familiar with an item and there are considerable savings to be made over art stores. 

Buying Paints

Beware: shop attendants at your local art store will probably point you in the direction of a pre-boxed starter set. Surely this is an obvious choice as they are designed with you in mind? 

Not really, working with a limited palette is the way to go. A limited palette just has three to five colors. 

Working with fewer colors has many benefits for beginners. It helps keep things simple, is a more efficient way of working, and forces you to use good techniques and develop your skills.

I also recommend using cheaper student-quality paints when you're a beginner if they are an option. The main difference compared to the artist quality paints used by experienced amateurs and professional artists is in the depth of color of the paint in your finished painting. 

But as a beginner, you're unlikely to notice the difference.

Buying Brushes

Different paints and styles do need different brushes.

I'm a fan of investing in good paint brushes if I am sure I will continue to use them. 

Whether it's best to buy natural hair brushes or synthetic brushes depends on which medium you are using and the effect you are trying to create. 

But don't stress about which brush to buy! 

Both natural hair and synthetic brushes will allow you to learn to paint just fine. 

Vassily Kandinsky, Water color study, Squares with Concentric Circles

Vassily Kandinsky, 1913, Water color study, Squares with Concentric Circles

Claude Monet painting, White Frost, Sunrise

Claude Monet - White Frost, Sunrise

Gustav Klimt, 1907, Adele Bloch-Bauer I

Sunset painting with people on the beach

Vincent van Gogh - Wheat Field with Cypresses

Now Get Started Painting!

We've briefly covered a lot of ground together in this post but I hope it has helped answer some of the questions you may have had about the best way to learn painting and pointed you towards your next steps.

If you would like some further guidance please do check out the Painting Super Starter. 

It's a fun way to learn and it's the introduction to painting I wish I'd had when I started. 

Good luck & happy painting!

Stuart Le Tissier, Remembering Costa Rica

Stuart Le Tissier | November 2021

Vincent Van Gogh painting - Wheat Field with Cypresses
Gustav Klimt portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I

Step 4. Learn the essential art skills that you'll need

Step 3. Figure out your artistic direction 

Step 2. Decide which learning method to use 

Step 1. Be clear why you want to learn to paint

Step 1. Be clear why you want to learn to paint

Step 2. Decide which learning method to use 

Step 3. Figure out your artistic direction 

Step 4. Learn the essential art skills that you'll need

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