how to paint a painting

you have a subject, paper, paints and brushes
now how do you start your painting?

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

You may want to review these first steps of getting ready to paint.

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!

  • These guidelines are a good place to start when you are learning how to paint.

After you are comfortable with painting, you can bend the rules. There are many different ways to paint a painting. But for now, here are some simple guidelines.




painting landscapes

The logic of landscape painting is to first paint the things that will be behind or underneath.

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

the background

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

the middle-ground

   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.

the foreground

   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 or painting from back to front is a good way to start with landscapes.
  • However, 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.



oil painting tips

There are two guidelines to follow for learning 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 thinner (lean).

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 part).

  • 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 paint 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.



painting portraits

  • Paint the subject first, when you learning how to paint a painting of anything close up like birds, flowers or people.
  • Then paint the background around the main subject.


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

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 value 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.




watercolor painting tips

  • Watercolors normally are painted light to dark, layer after layer.

The light colors are painted first, let them dry.

Then paint another layer on top of the first layer. You may use dark colors or other colors added over the top of the light colors.

This a traditional way of painting watercolors, called glazing. Learn More

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?

  • While you learning how to paint a painting, have you thought about what makes your paintings attractive?

use the art lessons to create attractive paintings

  • Creating a Focal Point In Paintings

    The focal point is the main emphasis of a painting. It is what attracts the viewer’s eye. What tools do artists use to create focal areas in their paintings?

  • Easy Composition for Appealing Paintings

    Easy composition tips take the stress out of painting. Use the rule of thirds and other tips in your art to create appealing paintings that draw the viewer in.

  • Color Schemes for the Painting Artist

    Master your art painting color schemes with the secrets of color selection. Artists can take the stress out of choosing the paint colors for their paintings.

  • Using Values in Our Paintings

    It’s fun painting color, but values are the backbone of successful paintings. Use the light and darkness of colors to create strong, attractive paintings.




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.

I am privileged 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 tutorials.

enjoy your painting journey!

  1. Home
  2. >
  3. Start A Painting >
  4. How to Paint a Painting

step by step paintings for your practice

  • Daisy Painting with Oils

    Confidently do an easy daisy painting of white daisies with oils. Speed up your art journey while learning how to paint daisies with this step-by-step tutorial.

  • Paint a Giraffe

    Three ways to paint a giraffe with watercolor. Express yourself with a traditional, an easy or a fun, colorful giraffe painting - step-by-step instructions.

  • How to Watercolor

    You can learn how to watercolor. Watercolor doesn't have to be scary. You can paint with confidence and knowledge. Paint a hummingbird and a daisy step-by-step.

  • How to Paint a Wave

    Most seascape paintings include a transparent wave. Join the artist Carol May and learn how to paint a wave step by step with five easy steps for the beginner.

  • Painting Watercolor Flowers

    The most important thing about painting watercolor flowers is - watercolor is fun and exciting! Learn how to paint watercolor Iris, Poppies and Echinacea flowers.

Recent Articles

  1. How to Paint a Painting

    Jul 13, 20 10:04 PM

    You will amaze your friends when you learn how to paint a painting! Use the basic steps of painting a picture plus, get tips on painting watercolors and oils.

    Read More

  2. Happy Easter Everyone!

    Apr 12, 20 09:30 AM

    A prophetic watercolor painting by artist Carol May Today is a special day to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This prophetic painting the "Rose of Sharon" is from a few years ago. But it is timeless, it still applies to today. Look up, J…

    Read More

  3. How to Paint Ocean

    Feb 25, 20 11:01 PM

    Learn how to paint ocean. Understand what makes waves. Follow simple steps to create your own seascape paintings. Then you can enjoy the beach at home anytime.

    Read More

Recent Articles

  1. How to Paint a Painting

    Jul 13, 20 10:04 PM

    You will amaze your friends when you learn how to paint a painting! Use the basic steps of painting a picture plus, get tips on painting watercolors and oils.

    Read More

  2. Happy Easter Everyone!

    Apr 12, 20 09:30 AM

    A prophetic watercolor painting by artist Carol May Today is a special day to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This prophetic painting the "Rose of Sharon" is from a few years ago. But it is timeless, it still applies to today. Look up, J…

    Read More

  3. How to Paint Ocean

    Feb 25, 20 11:01 PM

    Learn how to paint ocean. Understand what makes waves. Follow simple steps to create your own seascape paintings. Then you can enjoy the beach at home anytime.

    Read More