Painting Tips for Beginners

Have Fun Creating an Original Painting

Basic information for beginner painters including painting tools, helpful hints, and simple techniques.

For many people, painting can be a relaxing hobby that helps them to express themselves. Professional paintings may intimidate beginners, as they are often detailed and realistic. However, anyone can paint a fantastic painting that expresses a part of themselves, or one that simply looks pretty. The following advice can help beginners to get going in the face of intimidation.

Painting Supplies to Have Before Starting to Paint

Before beginning painting, there are a few supplies that are very important to have. The following items are essential or near essential when first starting out:

  • A drawing tablet and pencils
  • Canvases
  • A variety of paint colors (usually either acrylic, oil, or watercolor)
  • Starter brushes
  • Medium (to mix with the paint)
  • Some sort of towel
  • A palette or palette paper
  • Paintbrush cleaner (for oils)

Easels, an apron, floor coverings, and other accessories are more optional.

In terms of what artist paint brushes to pick, it is often a good idea for beginners to purchase a wide variety of brushes. Large brushes are generally good for wide strokes, while thin, small brushes are better for details. Brushes vary greatly in quality, so it is important to choose how much time one wants to devote to the art. If one is simply experimenting, it may be best to choose cheaper, lower quality brushes. If someone is instead planning on painting much more in the future, it may be better to purchase sturdier, more expensive brushes.

It may also be wise to buy several canvases while one is at the art store. That way, he or she may be more inspired to paint on a whim instead of having to go to the store every time the urge to paint strikes. It can be fun to have, say, a big canvas for a large painting and several smaller canvases for less-detailed paintings.

When choosing what type of paint to use, it helps to have some experience working with different paint types beforehand. Watercolors, acrylics, tempera, and oils are vastly different paint types. Watercolors require a steady, careful hand, while oils are messier but more forgiving. Acrylics are somewhere in between, as they are not as thick as oils but they do allow for some mistakes. Taking a painting class or trying out a friend’s paints first can be a good idea before purchasing a whole paint set.

Basic Techniques for Painting an Art Canvas

Before painting, many professional painters draw their subject from many angles to get a good idea of how they will design the painting, and in order to get an intimate idea of what they are painting. It is important for beginners to get in the habit of drawing pictures beforehand so that they can figure out what they are painting before they paint it. This technique can lead to better paintings and less frustration.

After drawing sketches, many artists will draw a faint outline of their subject directly onto the canvas. Some artists will make the canvas into a grid so that all objects are lined up properly. These lines do not really show up for acrylics or oils, but they may for watercolors. They can be erased with a simple eraser, but an eraser can also remove some of the dried paint as well. Thus, it is best to draw the sketch with a light touch, to begin with.

Once the sketches are done and all items are prepared, painting can commence. When painting, artists can get as realistic or as abstract as they want. If painting a scene realistically, it is recommended that many colors be pulled out of the scene, rather than just the obvious colors. For instance, when painting a brown purse, colors like yellow, red, and purple may be added, rather than just using a plain brown (Bryce Vinokurov, U.C. Davis).

Helpful Tips for Beginners

When getting ready to paint, it is often helpful to set up the whole area first. It may be a good idea, especially if one is especially messy, to cover up the floor or table with old sheets or newspapers. Also, it is often a good idea to wear old apron or very old and ruined clothes. Paint can simply ruin good clothes, so it is important to never wear a favorite outfit while painting.

Also, for mixing “perfect” colors, a painter should squeeze a little bit every paint color out on his or her palette before beginning. This way, one can use all colors that he or she sees in a scene without having to squeeze out more paint every time a new color is needed.

When painting as a hobby, the most important thing to remember is to have fun. A painting does not have to be perfect. It can be anything that the artist wants it to be.

History of Artist’s Watercolor Paper

Papermaking has an ancient history. Traditional paper manufacturers such as Fabriano and Arches produce watercolor paper for painting.

The creation of images is an ancient practice. Marks and pictures were scribed on cave walls, clay tablets, bark, papyrus, and vellum. Watercolor paper is a relatively recent surface for painting and creating art. The history of the watercolor paper begins with the story of papermaking throughout history.

Papyrus and Parchment

The English word for paper comes from the Greek term for papyrus, the ancient Egyptian material for keeping written records. Papyrus was made from strips of a reedy plant beaten together to form a smooth wide sheet. It was produced in Egypt as early as 3700 BC. Papyrus was exported to both Greece and Rome. The ancient Greek term papyros led to modern word paper.

The papyrus plant only grows in tropical regions. When papyrus from Egypt became scarce, northern regions needed to find a replacement. As a result, parchment was developed as another kind of writing material. Also called vellum, this material was made of processed sheepskin or calfskin.

Paper is Invented from Rags and Fibers

China is credited as the birthplace for the first true papers. It was considered one of the Four Great Inventions of Ancient China. Although there are some earlier examples, the papermaking process was developed in China during the early 2nd century. Supposedly, the paper was inspired by the nest materials of wasps and bees. The paper was created from old rags, mulberry plants, and other plant fibers.

Paper and papermaking slowly spread to areas beyond China. First Japan and other East Asian cultures adopted it, then it moved into the Middle East. Finally, it was introduced into Europe in the 13th century.

Artist’s Watercolor Paper Production

In Europe, the paper quickly began to replace the use of parchment. It was lighter, easier to make, and cheaper to use. Paper and papermaking arrived in Italy around 1250. The papers were made from recycled linen rags as the pulp. Some of the first papermakers in Europe are still making fine artist quality watercolor papers.

  • 1283 Fabriano, in Italy
  • 1492 Arches, in France
  • 1557 Canson, in France

These companies all produced fine artists papers, mainly for drawing. Papers for watercolor painting originated in the 18th century with the development of a very fine wire screen that was like a wire cloth. This new process allowed a very even surface to form in the pulp fibers.

This fine art paper became suitable for watercolor painting with the addition of a “hard size” to the fibers. Sizing is essential to watercolor paper because it allows the color to stay on the surface as the water sinks into the paper. This is what makes watercolor paint so brilliant and allows the surface colors to be lifted and reworked.

Early paper was all made by hand. Paper production entered the Industrial age in the late 19th century with the first companies to use a cylinder mold to make the finest art papers. Machine-made papers create the consistent quality and texture sought by fine artists. Although handmade watercolor papers are still available today, they are harder to find and generally more expensive.

Paper, in history, has strong sociological connections for record keeping, information storage, and communication. Paper that is stored properly and taken care of lasts a very long time. Some of the world’s most beautiful artwork is maintained in images on paper.

How Art Will Save the World

Visual art has inspired incredible cultural transformations in the world.

Many things about the world are all too often taken for granted, particularly in terms of human capabilities. Walking, for instance, is a basic function that usually doesn’t cross one’s mind until someone else’s misfortune becomes painfully obvious. Many important capabilities of a psychological nature are often taken for granted as well, particularly in terms of images. The ability to perceive, process, and analyze images is a crucial right-brain function which defines the most basic aspects of life, and perhaps more than anyone realizes possesses the single greatest potential for harmony in the world.

A Visual Basis for Learning

In the past hundred years, unbelievable strides in art, literature, science, and human rights have taken place, and such progress has coincided with the availability of images of the outside world. Before the advent of photography, television, and most recently, the internet, a person was not able to conceive of a world outside their immediate surroundings; therefore, exploration of foreign lands and especially other planets was never a priority because, even if it were possible to read about such places, the lack of visual evidence created widespread apathy in terms of the rest of the planet.

Consider, for example, what kind of relief efforts would have been made for the victims of the earthquake in Haiti this winter if no one had seen photographs of the damage and destruction; or what sort of movement would have erupted in the absence of photos coming back from Vietnam; or what the state of space exploration would be now without the iconic image of Neil Armstrong on the moon.

The increasing awareness of the world (and beyond) has had another significant impact on cultures all over the world: the emergence of visual art. Prior to these relatively modern technologies, painters and sculptors were typically expected to create portraits, or at the very least stay strictly faithful to the human form. There have obviously been artistic movements in the past, the Renaissance is the most important example, but even in such masterpieces as Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, humans resemble humans and nature resembles nature.

Artistic Freedom Leads to Creating the Future

It was not until the late nineteenth and early twentieth century that artists were truly free to explore the possibilities of their respective media. Artists such as Vincent Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dahli, M.C. Escher, and Georgia O’Keefe continuously redefined the possibilities of visual art, and have since inspired hundreds of thousands of ethereal works of art.

The landscape of visual art is, of course, much greater than the works of painters. More artistic uses of photography, sculpture, architecture, and the newest addition to visual media, the cinema, have been redefined post-industrial revolution and have infused incredible beauty into the world, and thus into the scope of human consciousness. The power of past artistic movements such as cubism and surrealism is simpler yet more important than any artist could have realized at the time: the act of simply looking at a work of art inspires the viewer to think abstractly, to potentially look at the sky and think not of the basic star-studded landscape the eyes first perceive, but of Van Gogh’s swirling colors in his masterpiece, “Starry Night.” One might also look at Picasso’s “Crying Woman” and, perhaps subconsciously, consider the sadness of women all over the world. Such abstract thought is the basis for action.

Naturally, art has not single-handedly transformed the world into a magical, peaceful place, but the boundary-defiance and emotion it encourages in its viewers have aided political movements all over the world: Civil Rights, the Women’s Movement, and gay activism just to name a few. Given the changes that have happened in the past hundred years or so, one must wonder what the world will be like in another hundred years, and what role art will play in creating the future.