Painting for beginners and painting for more advanced artists do not involve totally different processes. Only the familiarity with basic painting instruction and the ease of executing those technical steps is what separates a beginner painter from an advanced one.
To learn how to paint—right here and right now—start with three easy steps that will allow you to grow in confidence and skill as an artist.
1. Learn Oil Painting Step By Step: What Your Materials Are All About
There are dozens of beginner oil painting lessons out there. But the first, and most crucial, step of painting instruction is coming to know your materials. All oil painting lessons start there because knowing how your paints respond allows you to fully understand how to exploit them to their fullest potential, and how to avoid any big mistakes.
Traditional oil paints consist of ground pigments combined with a drying oil, such as linseed, walnut, or poppyseed oil. A “drying oil” is one that absorbs oxygen from the air, which causes it to dry and harden over time, forming a flexible and resistant surface. Each pigment requires a different amount of oil to reach the consistency needed for painting. The amount of oil absorbed by a pigment directly affects its drying time, which can be useful for an artist to know as he or she works in the studio to learn painting.
When applying layers of oil paint most artists follow one of the most popular oil painting lessons known as the “fat-over-lean” rule. ‘Fat’ oil paint contains more oil than pigment, which increases the length of time it takes to dry. ‘Lean’ oil paint is oil paint mixed with less oil, or with a solvent such as turpentine.
When creating an underpainting, painting tutorials often advise artists to avoid using colors with high oil contents, because subsequent layers of paint may crack if the layers contain less oil than the previous layer. Many artists prime their canvas accordingly to make this easier. “I work on oil-primed linen, so the ‘fat to lean’ qualities of the ‘paint to surface’ are an integral part of the painting process,” says still-life painter Ellen Buselli. –Naomi Ekperigin
For more painting lessons and essentials, learn from best-selling painting instruction artist Johanness Vloothuis in his Essentials of Painting Series as well as Donna Dewberry’s Essential One-Stroke Painting Reference, featuring 60 “learn to paint” demonstrations created using the artist’s popular one-stroke technique.
2. Painting Lessons for Beginners: The Basics of Color
A painter can learn how to paint nearly every color with just three pigments. Exact hues vary from one manufacturer to the next, but an artist could go far with any company’s Indian yellow, naphthol red, and ultramarine blue.
Secondary colors, such as orange, green, and purple, are made by mixing primary colors. Tertiary colors are those made by mixing a secondary color with a primary color. Other colors are made by adding a bit of white pigment (a process called tinting) or adding a bit of black (a process called shading).
When you start to learn painting, it helps to understand the vocabulary used in discussing color. Hue refers to the arbitrary name given to certain colors on the color wheel, for example, red, orange, blue-green, mauve, etc. Value refers to the degree of lightness or darkness in a color. This can be adjusted by tinting or shading the hue. And chroma, or saturation, is how pure the color is compared to its corollary on the color wheel. If a color is close to how it appears on the color wheel, it is said to be “high chroma.” Colors have less saturation or chroma when they are created by mixing two colors. This is because we experience color as light that is reflected off a toned surface. When we see green paint, we are seeing pigment that absorbs all the other colors in light except green. (White light has all the colors of the spectrum in it.) When two pigments are mixed, each color absorbs its own share of light, so the resulting mix is duller than either of the two mixing colors would be alone. The more you mix, the less saturated a color will be. This is often a good thing–colors straight out of the tube usually make a painting look garish and unnatural. –Bob Bahr
3. Learn to Paint with Dimension: Layering with Acrylics
Acrylic painting lessons lessons will usually include the basic techniques for manipulating washes of acrylic paint to develop detailed paintings of landscapes, figures, still lifes, and the like. This process sounds more complicated than it truly is, as there are just three essential steps to learning how to use acrylic paint to give objects depth and dimension. Here’s a painting exercise to show you how.
First, Apply a Thin Wash : Use either a wash or glaze of red oxide combined with a small amount of titanium white and diarylide yellow. Apply one thin wash to your surface to create a few shapes. (If you are still learning how to handle your paint brush, consider Brushwork Essentials, a resource that shows you how to use a brush properly for effective control and expression.)
Second, Apply a Second Coat: Using the same color as in step one, mix a wash or glaze using slightly less water or gel. This value will be darker because there is more pigment. When the first coat is dry, apply a second coat to the areas to give the initial shapes more dimension. For example, the second coat could be applied to the front and side of a cube.
Third, Apply Shadows: After the second coat is dry, apply a third one of the same color to the areas where shadows from other objects could be. You may need another coat after this one dries to further delineate shadowed areas. All of this was done with the same color and shows how successive layers of a single color can easily add dimension to a basic painting sketch. –Hugh Greer