you have a subject, paint and brushes, the question is, how to paint a painting?

  • You want to learn how to paint a painting.
  • You chose your subject and have all your painting supplies.
  • You put the drawing onto your painting surface.

Now comes the joy of painting a picture!

how to paint a painting

Start with easy subjects. When I was giving my sister a painting lesson, we painted her goldfish. Lots of fun!

Use these guidelines when you are learning how to paint. After you are comfortable with painting, you can bend the rules.

How to paint a painting with artist Carol MayPaint the background first, then come forward.

painting landscapes

  • The logical order of landscape painting is to paint things behind or underneath first. Paint from the background to the foreground.


   1. Paint the background things like the sky, distant hills or water.


   2. Come forward in the painting and paint the middle ground items. They are closer than the sky or distant hills, so they overlap the background.
   3. The water needs to be painted before the buildings, boat or bushes because they all come up out of the water.
   4. Next the buildings are painted. Note how they overlap the background foliage of number 2.

your main subject

   5. The boat and its reflection is painted on and into the water.


   6. Paint the foreground foliage on the sides of the painting. They overlap the water.

detail and finish

   7. Lastly paint the details and make any corrections. For example, the base of the grasses would be in shadow. So you may want to darken the base of the grasses.

The rule of painting from back to front is a good way to start painting landscapes.

After you are more experienced and you know how to paint a painting, you may approach each painting differently. For example, the sky may be the last thing you paint.

painting close-up subjects

  1. When you learning how to paint a painting of anything close up like butterflies, flowers, people, etc. - paint the subject first.

  2. Then paint the background around the main subject.

When painting a portrait, I like to paint the subject first.Paint the subject first.
Painting the background around the subject.Paint background around the subject.

This is my preferred method of painting a close-up subject. If the subject is painted first, then I have a better idea of how to use values and color contrast to highlight the subject.

Many artist do it the other way around. And, sometimes I do paint the background first and the subject second.

Either way is correct. It is just a matter of personal preference.

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how to paint a painting with oils

Paint fat over lean.

The first layers you paint may be mixed with medium or thinners like mineral spirits or turpentine. This makes the paint lean, thinner.

The top layers of the painting are painted with little or no medium or thinner. Oil paint contains linseed or other oils, that's the fat.

Paint dark to light.

 It is fairly easy to paint light colors over dark paint.

However, it is difficult to paint a dark color over a light color. Especially, if the color has been mixed with white.

It is not impossible, but difficult. You may let the light color set up awhile, then paint the dark color on with a very, very soft touch.

When you are painting with oil paints, paint the darks first.Paint the dark colors first.
If you are painting a picture with oil paints, paint the light colors after the darks.Then paint the light, white colors.

watercolor painting tips

Watercolors normally are painted light to dark.

The light colors are painted first. Then paint another layer on top or around the first layer.

You may use transparent colors painted on the top of the first colors. This a traditional way of painting watercolors is called glazing.

Watercolors are layered on from light to darkPaint watercolors light to dark

It took a second layer of paint the get the butterfly wing tip dark enough.

Use less water to make your colors darker and/or more vibrant.

Watercolors are often painted light to dark.Layering darks onto the light colors.

The light flower colors were painted first.

While the colors are still damp, add darker or different colors. Then the colors will softly blend together.

what makes a good painting?

Values are the backbone of strong, attractive paintings.

Choose colors for harmonious paintings.

Composition is easy using the rule of thirds.

Create a focal point to attract the viewers.

learning how to paint is a journey

  • Painting is not a one-time adventure.

The more you paint, the better you will be. And the more you will enjoy it.

How long did it take me to learn how to paint a painting? Actually it has taken me a lifetime and I am still learning.

It is a privilege and I enjoy sharing my knowledge and experience with you.

You can learn to paint anything from flowers to butterflies and giraffes to ocean with the how-to step by step tutorials.

enjoy your painting journey!

learn more about painting

  • How to Start A Painting

    Learn how to start a painting with five easy steps. Use these steps to start your own individual painting creations and to practice the how-to tutorials.

  • Begin Painting - FAQs

    Begin Painting with answers to frequently asked questions. Find answers about selecting paints, colors, supplies, drawing, what to paint and other questions.

  • How to Oil Paint

    How to oil paint, answers to frequent questions about what you need to oil paint, how to use oils, best paints, brushes, colors, drying time, cleanup and more.

  • How to Watercolor

    Learn how to watercolor with confidence and knowledge. Paint a Rufous Hummingbird with a daisy step-by-step. Watercolor is clean and easy, good for beginners.