How To Start Painting For Beginners

how to paint for absolute newbies
You don’t have to be Vincent Willem Van Gogh, Oscar-Claude Monet, Andrew Wyeth, or John Singer Sargent to enjoy painting. Anybody who has the desire can start painting. It may not be Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa or Grant Wood’s American Gothic, but it is your unique creation, your masterpiece.

With the right type of paint and brushes, you’re halfway there. If you’ve been around an artist, you’ll know the precision with which they choose their paint supplies. Working with the right material is almost as important as painting the masterpiece.

It’s fascinating to watch artists select the right brush. For a novice, the variety of brushes are overwhelming. Most beginners have no idea why the one brush is different from the one next to it on the shelf; to a novice, the brushes look the same.

Have you wondered how many potential artists never painted their masterpiece, because they crushed the idea without even trying? Perhaps they walked into an artist’s shop highly motivated to turn around and run away confused and overwhelmed with all the paints, brushes, and artist supplies on the shelves.

If you have a desire to paint but have no idea where to start, then this guide should help you get started.

What Do I Need To Begin Painting?

All artists, including beginners, need necessary art supplies. Many novices mistakenly buy the cheapest and purchase one of everything. Refrain from buying the whole spectrum of inexpensive items; instead, buy quality and the few essential basics.

The quality of the paint, brushes, and, paint surface influence the outcome of the painting. An established artist who paints with inadequate quality supplies will have a masterpiece that won’t last. The paint could crack, fade, or shift color; brush strokes may be mediocre and streaky, or the painting surface could crack or warp.

If you’re uncertain if you want to paint, and want to experiment first, keep in mind inadequate quality supplies may be more challenging to control. It may even put you off painting for life. It doesn’t mean you have to buy expensive art supplies; there are enough inexpensive alternatives to experiment with for a beginner painting.

Start with these art supplies and expand as you gain experience. Experiment with different paints and brushes while you’re learning how to paint. Then gradually add the items you prefer using.

  • The popular four types of paint are oil, acrylic, watercolor, and Gouache. Each type of paint has its characteristics.
  • Brushes come in different shapes, sizes, and handle length. Each type of brush as its function from broad strokes, applying wash layers, to round brushes for intricate details.
  • Painting surface. The secret of painting surfaces is if it was primed or not. The type of paint also limits what surface to use. Canvasses work well with oil and acrylic, for example, but not with watercolors.
  • Palette and palette knife. It’s good practice not to work directly from the paint tube or jar, but to squeeze the paint onto a palette. Use the palette with a palette knife to mix colors.
  • Paper towels. Use paper towels to clean the palette knife after mixing colors. Paper towels absorb paint and are very handy to quickly clean paint from a brush, to dry the brush between dips, remove excess paint from a surface, or to blot paint.
  • Paint thinning solutions. The type of paint prescribes the thinning solution used to dilute the color.
  • Protective clothing. Painting could be messy, and some paints may be tough to remove from clothes. Wear an old coat or shirt over your clothes.
  • Cleaning materials. It’s vital to work with clean paint brushes. Each type of paint requires different cleaning solutions. Here’s info on cleaning up after using acrylic paint.

The type of paint prescribes the paint supplies required. It influences the surfaces to paint on, the tools to apply the paint, and the cleaning methods.

Paint Supplies for Beginning Oil Painting Artists

  • Oil Paint. Compare colors in different brands. You’ll notice color tones differ. Start with primary colors and mix the rest of the colors needed. You could start with: Titanium White, Payne’s Grey, Cadmium Red, Cadmium Yellow, Burnt Sienna, Raw Sienna, Ultramarine Blue, and Viridian.
  • The palette for mixing the paint. Use a palette with disposable pages, a glass surface, or a ceramic plate. Make sure the surface is large enough to mix all the required colors.
  • Initially, round paint brushes in small, medium, and large sizes will suffice. Later experiment with different brush tips and purchase the ones you prefer. Natural hair brushes maintain their shape after multiple uses but are expensive.
  • Painting Surface. Although canvas is the traditional choice for oil paintings, hardboard or any other surface work too if primed correctly. Purchase a primed canvas or prime the surface with gesso.
  • Turpentine or mineral spirits to clean the paint brushes. Paint thinning solutions are toxic and should be kept away from children. Avoid using turpentine in a closed environment; make sure there’s ample air flow.
  • A jar with coil inside for cleaning the brushes. Fill the jar with turpentine and swipe the brush against the coil to remove the paint.
  • Newspaper or old rags. After cleaning the paint brush, wipe it dry with newspaper or old rags. Keep the bristles of the brush together and wipe from the back of the brush forward.
  • Linseed Oil. To thin oil paint without losing its vibrant color, use linseed oil. It’s the equivalent of using water for acrylic and watercolor paints.

Paint Supplies for Starting To Paint in Acrylic Paint

  • Acrylic Paint. The paint comes in various sizes and containers. The 2 oz tubes or jars are adequate and a nice size to test multiple brands. You could start painting with these ten colors: Titanium White, Ivory Black, Burnt Sienna, Dioxazine Purple, Phthalo Blue, Phthalo Green, Alizarin Crimson, Cadmium Red, Cadmium Orange, and Cadmium Yellow. Alternatively, buy a set of Acrylic Paint instead of individual colors.
  • Novices may start with mid-sized brushes and expand as necessary. Use round pointed paintbrushes for detail and the flat rectangular brushes to cover large areas and blend paint. Synthetic bristle brushes clean easier than natural bristles and work well with acrylic paint.
  • Palette Knife. Use the palette knife to mix the colors and to clean the surface of the palette. A palette knife is also a painting knife that creates a specific texture with acrylic paint.
  • Paint surfaces. Acrylic paint works well on most surfaces prepared with acrylic gesso: canvas, MDF (medium density fiberboard), heavyweight paper for acrylics, or watercolor paper. Student grade watercolor paper is an expensive surface for practicing.
  • Artist Palette. Gone are the days that a wooden palette is the artists only choice.  An artist palette should be comfortable to use and big enough to squeeze out the required paint.
  • Jar with water. Acrylic paint dries quickly. To keep brushes subtle wash the brush with water after use. When taking a break, insert the paintbrushes in a jar to avoid the paint drying between the bristles.
  • Old rags or paper towel. Dry the paintbrush thoroughly when you’re finished painting.
  • Spray bottle with water. Mist the paint to keep it moist and prevent it from drying too quickly on the artist palette.

Necessary Paint Supplies for Watercolor Painting

  • Watercolor paint. The paint is inexpensive and is available in tubes, pans, or liquid. For beginners, a watercolor paint set provides a range of colors.
  • Watercolor brushes are synthetic, soft, with long hairs. Use a flat brush to lay the wash and round brushes for painting detail.
  • Watercolor paper. The heavier the weight of the watercolor paper, the thicker the sheet and the more water it absorbs before buckling. Use a 90lb paper when experimenting with paint and techniques. Generally, 140lb watercolor paper works well after stretched. The 300lb paper is as thick as cardboard, the priciest, and best quality. Cold press paper isn’t completely smooth but creates texture that is popular for watercolor paintings.
  • Two large water containers. Painting with a clean brush is of utmost importance with watercolor painting. Clean the brush after each color. Use the second container to wet the brush before applying the color.
  • The colors dry differently than how it looks on the palette. Apply ample paint to the palette for laying washes and for mixing purposes.
  • Water and soap. When done for the day, wash brushes with soap and running water.
  • Paper towels or rags. Dry paintbrushes thoroughly with a paper towel or clean cloths. Reshape the brush tips before storing it in an upright position.

Paint Supplies for Gouache Painting

  • Gouache paint. Black, white, red, blue, and yellow are the essential primary colors. All other colors and variants can be mixed, combining these colors. The six- to twelve-color painting for beginners’ kits may benefit novices who want to focus on how to paint and don’t want to mix too many colors initially.
  • Synthetic watercolor brushes are soft enough to paint with Gouache. Start with a broad brush for painting large areas and applying washes. One fine round brush and a larger round brush would be enough in the beginning to paint detail.
  • Painting surfaces. Watercolor paper, thick drawing paper, Bristol boards, wood, and illustration boards are great painting surfaces. Although gouache paint works better on canvas than watercolor paint, it’s not an ideal painting surface.
  • Water containers. Use water to clean brushes. Keep brushes in water to prevent drying of paint while painting.
  • Mix Gouache paint on a palette using a palette knife. A disposable paper palette or ceramic plate is an inexpensive option for beginners learning how to paint. For lighter colors, mix the paint with water or white pigment.
  • Paper towels or rags. Dry brushes thoroughly after cleaning before storing. Use paper towels to dry brushes after dipping in water and before applying the paint.

What Type of Paint Should A Beginner Start With?

Each type of paint has its benefits and disadvantage; one kind of paint isn’t better than the other, only different. Beginners painting should experiment with oil, acrylic, watercolor, and Gouache to decide which medium they prefer.

Watercolor paint is probably the cheapest of the four types of paint. Dry layers of oil and acrylic paints, however, aren’t disturbed when painted over.

Oil Paint and Acrylic Paint

Oil paint colors are intense, giving you a rich, lustrous result. Oil paint takes weeks to dry. In cold, wet winters it may even take longer. For beginners, a slow drying paint gives them ample time to experiment. They have enough time to change aspects of their painting.

Additional care is needed to transport oil paintings during the drying stage. The art takes up space while drying. Acrylic paints, however, dry quickly, within minutes or a few hours, which is convenient for storage and transport purposes.

Fast drying acrylic paint requires working fast and accurate. There’s not much time to rectify mistakes, whereas oil paintings you have the freedom of time. Both allow for painting over the dry paint.

Despite the variety of paint colors available, most artists find they mix specific colors to create the right nuance.  Oil paints blend easily. The slow drying oil pants allow artists to use the same paint days later or to mix a slightly darker or lighter shade you need. It’s not as easy with acrylic paints.

Acrylic paints cost less than oil paints. Oil paints tend to be expensive but may last longer. Acrylic paint is an excellent choice for beginners who paint fast and aren’t interested in mixing too many variations of color. Oil paint may be more expensive, but it is more flexible to use. Novices may linger over their painting and take their time in mixing the paints. There’s less wastage. While learning how to paint, beginners may miscalculate how much paint they need. The slow drying oil paint gives the artist time to use the excess on another canvas.

Acrylic paints are versatile and mimic oil paints and watercolor paints. Over time acrylic paint colors grow darker.

Watercolor Paint and Gouache

Gouache is also called watercolors with chalk or opaque watercolor paints. Although both, Gouache and watercolor paints are water-based paints with gum Arabic as the binder agent, the addition of white pigments changes how gouache paint reacts.

When painting over a dry layer of oil or acrylic paints, the lower layers aren’t affected. Gouache and watercolor paint layers, however, may lift or blend when painting over a dry coat.

The transparency of watercolors allows light through, which reflects off the white paper. The layers of transparent colors create the intricate beauty of watercolor paintings and textured effects not possible with gouache paint. Gouache paint contains white pigment or chalk, causing an opaquer color than watercolor paints. The light is absorbed and doesn’t reflect in the same manner as with transparent watercolor paint. Gouache paintings have a matte finish that photographers like.

Where watercolors are famous for its washes, gouache paints have larger pigments and in higher concentration than watercolors, creating the opaque effect. Gouache washes aren’t as transparent as watercolor washes.

Unlike watercolors, if an artist changes their mind painting with oils, they can easily scrape off the paint or paint over an area. Once the watercolor is applied on the watercolor paper, the section is no longer white. Although watercolor washes off, it is challenging to control the flow of water. Watercolor painting requires some planning to decide which areas of the paper stay white. The white of the paper is used as “white paint” instead of white colored paint.

Gouache paint is thicker than watercolor paints and easier to control and to cover up mistakes. The thicker paint with more pigments results in stronger colors than color washes created with watercolor paint.

Both use water to mix and dilute the paint colors. Gouache also uses white paint for mixing lighter colors. Lighter colors require more water (or white paint) than the darker shades. Where watercolors are always painted from light layers to darker, gouache paint is versatile.

Painting with watercolor is an inexpensive option for beginners. Correct mistakes by applying a wash layer or start over by rinsing the paint off under running water. Watercolor paint is water-based and dries the fastest of the four kinds of paint. The paint pigment stains the paper and isn’t easy to remove when dry. Gouache paint isn’t absorbed into the paper but deposited as a layer on top of the paper.

Illustrators and the graphic artist may prefer Gouache paint to watercolors. It’s easier to control and can create solid color blocks that aren’t always possible with watercolors. Gouache, however, dries fast like watercolor paints, limiting the artist’s painting time.

Gouache paint works well with watercolor and acrylic paints. Use watercolors to create translucent washes and acrylic over the Gouache paint to accentuate a detail.

Miscellaneous Tips For The Beginning Painter / Artist

Clean Your Brushes

Clean paint brushes after each paint session. Fast drying paints like acrylic, Gouache, and watercolor paints should be washed off the paintbrush immediately. Acrylic, Gouache, and watercolor paints rinse off with water. Oil paint, however, requires turpentine for cleaning the brushes.

Mix Colors

Buy primary colors and mix the rest. Although you’ll prefer specific colors, each painting has its unique nuances and tones. It’s impossible to possess all the colors displayed in nature, but it’s easy to mix all the variants with primary colors.

When mixing colors, avoid mixing more than two or three colors. Too many colors create a muddy hue. When the color looks right, stop mixing.

Palette Paint Order

Always lay out the colors on the palette in the same order. It saves time, which is vital when painting with fast-drying paints. With the vast array of mixed colors on the palette, it’s easier to find a specific color without becoming frustrated with the holdup of searching for a color.

Student versus Artist Grade Paint

Student grade paints are inexpensive compared to professional or artist grade paints. Artist grade paints, however, contain a higher concentration of pigments and last longer. Student grade paints use more fillers and often lower grade pigments. The artist-grade paint could be double to three times the price of a similar color in student grade.

Acrylic paint becomes slightly darker in color when it dries. The reason is the binder, acrylic polymer which is white and becomes translucent when the paint dries. Student grade paints contain more white filler than the artistic grade, hence the more significant color shift. Cheaper brands use more fillers and less pigment resulting in more considerable changes of color.

Brands Differ

The same color may slightly differ from brand to brand; it could have a more yellow or blue undertone. Test the various brands and decide which you prefer.

Posture Care

Paint brushes with long handles are ideal for painting on an easel. Painting from a distance don’t overexert your posture, and it allows you to see the whole canvas while painting. Short handled brushes work ideally for a closeup, detailed and precision strokes.

An easel fixed at the correct height will support your posture and avoid unnecessary forward bending. A stand-up easel allows the artist to sit and paint if standing becomes too tiring.

Protective Clothing

No matter how neat and tidy you are as a person, painting is messy. Wear an artist overcoat or other protective clothing, like an old shirt or coat, to avoid paint stains on your clothes.

Avoid Caked Brushes

Some paints dry quickly. During a painting session, soak brushes in the appropriate solution to avoid dry paint sticking to the bristles. Caked paint may transfer onto the painting surface or to paint on the palette resulting in brownish, dirty looking colors.

Reuse Paint

Reduce waste and reuse excess paint on palettes. Store palettes with oil paints in the freezer for reuse. Water-based paints will last longer with lids; add water when ready to use.

Protect Watercolor Paintings

Watercolor needs glass to cover it when hanging. Avoid hanging watercolor paintings in direct sunlight; the colors may fade faster. Gouache paintings also require protective glass or layer of varnish.

Primed Canvas

Avoid working on unprimed canvas. You’ll waste paint that soaks into the canvas and weakens the canvas. Priming your canvas saves costs and allows the artist to create a texture they want.

Beginners Painting Fun

Learn the basic techniques of how to paint, but don’t let it limit your creativity. Painting for beginners should be fun. Be patient. Like any other skill, practice improves technique. Experiment with paint types, brushes, and paint surfaces; versatility is part of the attraction and pleasure of painting.


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