How to create your first painting

When you decide you'd like to paint, you may run into the myth that it takes talent. Don't believe it. The desire to learn to paint, coupled with enthusiasm, is what you need more than anything else. You can even learn to paint without being able to draw realistically.


Decide on the paint to use


The first step is to decide what paint you will use. The four main choices are oils (traditional or water-soluble), watercolors, acrylics and pastels. This is a very personal choice: if one type of paint doesn't work for you, feel free to try another.

Oil paint is a traditional medium of the artist. It is a pigment mixed with oils such as linseed, safflower or poppy oil, and diluted with turpentine. It should be used on surfaces that have been primed with gesso to protect the surface - which can even include paper - from the acid in the oil. Oil paint dries slowly, which means that the paint can remain wet on the palette and usable on the painting for several days, making it easy to mix. Cleaning requires solvents such as turpentine or mineral spirits. Water-soluble oils have been introduced in recent years. Water is all that is needed to thin the paints and clean the brushes.


The watercolor painting is another traditional medium and uses a pigment mixed with a binder composed of gum arabic and additives to improve solubility and flow. It is water soluble, transparent and comes in a tube, pan or liquid form. Watercolor paint can be reactivated with water when dry and reworked, even years after you have finished painting. The characteristics of watercolor - its convenience, portability and ease of cleanup - make it a popular medium for finished works as well as sketchbooks and visual journals.
Acrylic paint is a more modern choice - it was only marketed to artists in the 1950s. In acrylic paints, the pigment is suspended in a plastic polymer. It is most notable for its fast drying time and can be used on almost any surface without a primer. It is water soluble, which makes cleanup much easier (you only need soap and water). Acrylic dries to a durable, flexible, water-resistant surface. It is very versatile and can be used in thin layers like watercolors or in thicker layers like oil paints, depending on the desired effect.

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As an aspiring pastel painter, you'll probably develop your own favorite brands, but in the meantime, some stand out or are at least worth a try. John Hersey's handmade Unison pastels are perfect for beginners. With nearly 400 different pastels, sold individually or as color-coordinated sets, you can add colors as needed. Schmincke makes the softest pastels on the market: with an almost buttery texture, they glide over the surface of the paper, even on areas that are already heavily worked. Rembrandt soft pastels are excellent for line work and early layering of colors: they are probably the best pastels for starting a painting.

Learn to mix colors

Beginners are often afraid of color and color mixing (especially when it comes to "color theory"), but the basics of color mixing are not particularly complicated. Color and pigments offer so many different possibilities and shades that an artist could spend a lifetime exploring color, color theory and color mixing. Indeed, color mixing is a subject that often overwhelms beginners because it can be complicated, but color mixing can also be reduced to a few basic tips

So, take the challenge, learn, and soon you'll be mixing the right shades, tones and hues. And, if you don't want to waste paint by throwing it away, use it with white to make a monochromatic painting or value exercise. Value is another term for tone, which refers to the clarity or intensity of colors. So a value exercise is working to create lighter or darker tones in your painting.

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The stages of creating a painting

The steps involved in creating a painting vary from artist to artist and develop over time. Many artists make a light sketch of the composition on a canvas, then block out the main areas of color on the canvas. You can start with the larger shapes and work your way down to the smaller ones, gradually working out the details. Some artists work in layers and others work alla prima (in one go) to complete their painting in one sitting. Artists often make studies (small versions) or several sketches for a painting. There is no right or wrong approach; ultimately, you must find what works best for you.

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