you want to begin painting art

Are you eager to begin painting art but unsure where to start? The world of art is awesome!

In this guide, we'll walk you through the essential steps to start painting, from choosing your subject and selecting the right painting materials.

And very importantly, pro tips on how to use watercolor and oil paints.

Before you begin painting, get answers to frequently asked questions about painting art.Enter the exciting world of painting art.

Answers to your questions about how to start painting:

  1. You may be wondering what should we paint?
  2. What paint do we need to begin? 
  3. Is it expensive to start painting art? What colors do we use?
  4. How do we use oils? What about watercolor?
  5. Do we have to draw? How do we store leftover paint?
  6. You can do it! Start Painting

what should we begin painting?

Deciding what to paint is one of the most important steps.

Choose subjects that truly inspire you. Paintings are personal. They are like a part of ourselves. Our feelings show through in a painting and they help us paint.

The best place to start painting is with the things around us. When we see something often, we have a better idea of its form and colors.

Start painting simple things. It may be a piece of fruit, our coffee cup, a chair or pet, etc.

Do we Start painting from life or photos?

When we can actually see the subject, we can do a better job of painting it.

Experienced artists enjoy painting from life. But the birds and bees don't stay still long enough for us to paint them. So, we can also paint from photos.

Paint from your own photos or copyright free images.

Look for public domain images or creative commons images have no copyrights attached. Pixabay.com is a good place to find public domain and CCO images.

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What Paint do we need to Begin painting?

Quality paint makes it easier to produce good paintings.

Artist paints are the best. They give full coverage and better color because they contain more color pigment and less fillers. Even students should use "artist paint", if possible.

What medium should we use? The three most common art paints are oils, watercolor and acrylic.

One type of paint is not better than the other.

What we use is a matter of personal preference. A good idea is to try out the different kinds of paint and then choose our favorite.

Good light and ventilation are a must for painting art with any type of paint.

oil paint

The classic paintings of the old masters were painted with oils. Oil paints have their colors mixed with linseed oil. So, that's why they are called 'oil' paints.

Do your paintings from your own photos or copy free images.Oil painting from my photo

How long do oil paintings take to dry? Temperature and humidity affect the drying time.

Thin oil paint can dry to touch in 2-12 days. We may use various mediums to speed the drying time such as Liquin or Galkyd. However, thick layers of oil paint may take up to 6 months to dry thoroughly.

Oils are traditionally painted on a canvas.

Choose either traditional stretched canvas or gallery wrap canvas that is stapled on the back, so the finished painting does not require a frame.

Canvas boards are great for learning to paint.

An often-overlooked modern painting support is "ad" Gessobord made by Ampersand. It has a smooth surface that's ideal for portraits and detail paintings.

Oil paints are thinned and cleaned-up with a solvent. Odorless mineral spirits "ad" Gamsol is considered the best for painting indoors.

modern alkyd paint

Alkyd paint has its color pigments combined with alkyd resin. The resin speeds up the dry time to overnight or within 24 hours.

Alkyds paintings look just like beautiful oil paintings.

Use the same brushes, solvents, painting supports and techniques as oil paint. I switched to using alkyds because of their short dry time and I am very pleased with them.

acrylic paint

Acrylic is a fast-drying paint. It dries in minutes. You may slow the drying time with extenders.

Acrylics are popular with beginning artists. They are economical and widely available.

They dry to a flat finish, so the finished painting may be varnished.

Acrylics are painted on the same surfaces as oils, plus rocks, paper, etc. They require synthetic brushes and clean-up with water.

choosing watercolors

Watercolors have their color pigments mixed with gum arabic, sometimes glycerin.

Tube watercolors have glycerin and other additives that keep the paint flexible in the tube. They produce more brilliant colors because we don't have to add so much water to use them.

Pan watercolors are a dry cube placed in a pan. They are portable and are favored for painting on location.

Watercolor is often painted on "ad" 140# watercolor paper. Watercolor paintings on paper need to be matted and framed under glass for protection.

We can also paint "ad" watercolor on canvas.

Make sure the label says it can be used for watercolor.

Before painting, brush on a good amount of water to the entire face of the canvas to break the surface tension.

Let the water soak in before you start painting. This will prevent the paint from beading up or sliding around.

After the paint is thoroughly dry spray the painting with a "ad" protective UV resistant spray.

The painting may then be framed without a glass covering.

Watercolor painting of a Broadbilled Hummingbird on canvas by Carol MayWatercolor on canvas

What is Aquabord?

Aquabord is a wonderful archival watercolor support made by Ampersand. "ad" Aquabord is textured like cold pressed watercolor paper.

The colors are more brilliant than many watercolor paintings done on paper. It's easier to correct mistakes, than on paper.

Seal the dry painting with UV resistant fixative (as above) and display without a mat or glass.

Is it expensive to start painting art?

Painting is inexpensive compared to many other ventures, like a horse. Yikes!

We can learn to paint with just a few supplies. Gather the essential supplies and don't be concerned about getting more without some experience.

It's easy to begin painting with:

  • Brushes: #8 and #12 flats for oil or acrylics / #8 round and a 1" flat, labeled for 'watercolor'
  • Paint: Red, yellow and blue paint (see below)
  • Palette: an old kitchen plate or a Styrofoam plate
  • Painting support: Canvas or paper labeled for your paint type
  • Cleaning: Water for acrylic and watercolor / Gamsol mineral spirits for oils and alkyds

What colors do we need?

All colors originate from the three primary colors red, yellow and blue.

Painting with a limited palette of the three primary colors enables the artist to mix most any color. It is easier to begin painting with only three colors.

  • Cadmium Yellow Light
  • Cadmium Red
  • Ultramarine Blue
  • White for oils, alkyds or acrylics / Watercolor uses the white of the paper.

Check out this step-by-step painting with a limited palette.

how do we use oils?

Alkyds and acrylics use the same steps as oils.

Phthalo Blue or Prussian Blue and white are used in this demo. You could also use a dark brown.

Oils are painted thin to thick and dark to light:

  1. Thinly underpaint the dark colors.
  2. Paint the medium values.
  3. Highlights and details are painted last.

A good way to paint a landscape is to start at the top of the canvas and paint down toward the bottom. This enables the closer items to overlap those behind them to create distance in the painting.

Portraits or other paintings may be done in a different order.


sketch the large shapes

Start an oil painting with a sketch.

Outline the large shapes with thinned paint.

Thin the paint with solvent.

While you're outlining, it's easy to make a change by wiping off the thin paint.

1. start painting the darks

Paint the mountains from the back to the front.

Paint the mountains from the back, forward. Each one is darker to create distance in the painting.

They are darker at the top and lighter at the base to simulate the mistiness.


2. medium values + more darks

Paint the medium values in the landscape.

Lay in the sky, darker at the top and lighter toward the horizon.

Paint the reflections in the water. The dark reflections are slightly lighter and the light reflections are a little darker.

3. highlights and details

The last step in oil painting is to paint the highlights.

Finish painting the sky and make any other final adjustments you desire.

Load your brush with thick, light color for the highlights on the water. Stroke the highlights on horizontally.

How to begin painting watercolor

This example uses the primary colors of yellow, red and blue.

Watercolor is painted light to dark:

  1. Start with light washes of color.
  2. Paint the dark colors and glaze the washes darker where applicable.
  3. Detail and finish; scratching out highlights, darken where needed, any small brushwork, etc.

do a light pencil sketch

Lightly sketch the composition with pencil.

In a landscape painting, it is not necessary to draw every little detail.

Go for the big shapes. Good composition places the waterline above or below the center.

Sketch the outline of the two big rock formations. The fore-ground rocks are painted in later.

1. start with light washes

Start watercolor paintings with light washes.

Wet the entire paper except for the big rock.

A. Turn the paper upside-down. Start painting at the horizon line with yellow, red, then blue.

B. Turn the paper upright and paint yellow, red and blue down to the bottom edge.

The wet paper blends colors as you paint.


2. paint the darks

Start painting the dark colors.

Mix a dark rock color with a combination of red, blue and yellow.

The three primary colors always mix to make neutral colors that harmonize with the rest of the painting.

3. detail and finish

Darken the rocks and the water where desired.

Glaze dark colors on the rocks and in the water. More about glazing watercolor.

Mistakes can be corrected. I pulled some yellow off the distant water with a damp brush and then added a bit of blue.

do we have to draw?

Drawing is a part of painting. Our paintings turn out best if we have a good idea of what and why we are doing the painting. That includes drawing.

The book classic by Betty Edwards "ad" Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain is inspiring.

Many artists consider this an essential book on drawing. It is a powerful book for fortifying artistic confidence and building our drawing skills.

how do we store leftover paint?

Paints keep very well in their original manufactured containers. Out of the sun and in regular household temperatures, the paints are good for years.

Keep any open, unused paint in a covered palette box between painting sessions. You may put single colors in small sealed containers.

Oil and alkyd paints will keep for days in an "ad" Masterson palette.

Alkyds dry overnight, so my Masterson palette box of alkyds goes into the freezer between sessions. It comes out of the freezer to thaw, about an hour before painting time.

Tube watercolors may be kept in an "ad" Quiller covered palette. Before painting, give the colors you intend to use a spritz of water to freshen the paint.

you can do it! start painting

You now have the knowledge and tools to begin painting art. Don't be afraid to experiment, make mistakes, and embrace the creative process.

  • First, get the basic supplies for your selected medium.
  • Practice painting a step-by-step tutorial.
  • Then paint another tutorial and another. The more we paint, the faster we learn.

painting oils

watercolor painting

begin painting and enjoy!

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