How to start painting

what do you need to start?

  • Learn to confidently start a painting.
  • Get ready for the how to painting lessons.

These are the basic steps to start start a painting. Use them to start your own paintings to do the how-to paintings.

The how-to painting pages have painting techniques for either oils or watercolors. You will find paintings of landscapes, animals, and flowers.

During the painting, I snap photos. Each step is carefully explained with what and why of what I am doing.

choose your subject

What do you want paint? A good place to start is to choose something around you.

We are familiar with our surroundings. We do a better job of painting things we know and understand.

You may have photos you took on your vacation, a photo of your pets or your flowers, etc.

I was getting ready to move and Road-runners live where I was going. It was fun to paint, "Going Places".

That's you - you are "Going Places" with your painting!

How to painting checklist on how to start a painting by artist Carol May"Going Places"

a word of caution

If you use a photo from a postcard, a calendar or a magazine, they are covered under copyright laws.

You cannot copy them directly without giving credit to the photographer.

Artist's paintings are covered by the same copyright laws.

get your supplies ready

choose your paints

Choose your painting media (watercolor, oils or acrylics).

Professional artist grade paints have more pigment and cover better than student grade paints.

Choose brushes suited for your paint.

what size will you paint?

Small things like hummingbirds or butterflies, I put into small-scale paintings.

Most of my landscapes and critters go into larger sizes.

what will you paint on?

Choose the painting support for your media - paper, canvas or panels.

Monarch on Daisies watercolor painting by artist Carol MayWatercolor painting of a Monarch


select your colors

Don't use all the beautiful colors on your palette.

I normally use only three to five different colors in a single painting.

A painting with too many colors is disconcerting. The viewer's eye doesn't know where to go.

Using a color scheme give cohesiveness and punch to your paintings; that's how to painting commonsense.

Select your painting colorsChoose Your Painting Color Schemes


do you have everything?

  • Your subject
  • Drawing paper, pencil, eraser and graphite paper
  • Paint and brushes for your media
  • A support to paint on
  • Clean-up materials for your media, including a rag or paper towels
  • Good light and ventilation in your painting area

pick a time and a place

  • Set aside time to paint. Painters make the most rapid progress, when they paint regularly. There is a new trend of Daily Painting. Actually dedicated artists have painted daily for generations. It just like learning to play the piano. The more we practice the better we get.
  • Have a special place to paint. It's possible, have an area where you can leave your paintings things out. If you don't have to put them away between sessions, you are more likely to paint.

draw your subject

After you get the idea of what you want to paint, do some thumbnail sketches. Small sketches about the size of a postcard are fine for starting a painting.

Sketch the large portions of the painting to lay out the composition and values.

A subject with intricate detail will require a drawing to scale.

Transfer the detail drawing to the painting surface with graphite paper.

watercolor drawings

Do your drawing on a separate piece of paper.

Alternately, if you are good at drawing, you may lightly sketch the drawing on the watercolor painting surface.

Use a graphite pencil and do it without erasures, so you don't damage the surface of watercolor paper.

Erasures on the watercolor support may damage the painting surface.

watercolor painting of Leafy Sea Dragons by Carol MayI did this drawing on a separate paper first.

drawing for oil paintings

If there is a lot of detail, do the drawing on paper first.

If there is not much detail, sketch directly on the canvas.

Thin yellow paint and do an outline sketch.

If you don't like a line you made, rub it out with a rag or a paper towel.

Yellow lines are easy to paint over with other colors. They will not show in the final painting.



start painting

The groundwork is laid. Now comes the fun part - the joy of painting a picture!

how to painting - landscapes

Paint the background first. This would include such things as the sky, distant hills or water.

Then come forward in the painting and paint the middle ground.

Lastly paint the foreground and the details.

how to painting - portraits

When you are painting anything close up like birds, flowers, etc., paint the main subject first.

Then paint the background around the main subject.




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 to paint? Actually it has taken a lifetime and I am still learning.

Follow these how to painting steps to start all of your paintings.

I enjoy sharing my knowledge and experience with you.

Try some of the paintings on the how to painting pages.

Get your painting supplies ready.

Watercolor Supplies ------ Oil Painting Supplies


Have lots of fun - Paint and Enjoy!

Easy Freedom a horse watercolor by Carol MayLearning to paint is FUN!
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