How to Start Painting as a Beginner

Everything you need to create an art.
Tayler Tayler (46)
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When it comes to DIYing a new hobby for yourself, few are as straightforward as learning how to paint as a beginner because you don't really need professional training.

Over the course of the pandemic, I found myself trying to think of new ways to pass the locked downtime and cope with the chaotic dumpster fire that was 2020. Trapped in my shoebox-sized apartment, I scoured the internet for inspiration, which struck me when I stumbled across a Bob Ross quote compilation video.

We learn to work with what happens."

Bob Ross was a painter, art instructor, and host of the television show The Joy of Painting. The show, which aired from 1983 to 1994, featured 30-minute segments of Ross instructing viewers on how to paint and, more importantly, he taught viewers to paint authentically instead of perfectly.

Sequestered as I was, I found myself irresistibly drawn to the idea of creating imperfect art. So, I resolved to start painting. Of course, I'm not an expert, I've never had any training, but I did learn a thing or two along the way.

Grab your brush and some paint because here's how to start painting as a beginner.

Paint brush ×1
Paint palette ×1
paint supplies ×1
Paint canvas ×1
Paper TowelsPaper Towels ×1

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A painter.

If you've never painted before, you're going to need to stock up on a few supplies. Thankfully, there are plenty of brands that cater specifically to new painters by offering kits of small tubes of paint in many colors, small collections of brushes, and paper or a canvas!

Here's a basic beginner's list of painting supplies that you'll need:

  • Paint
  • Paintbrushes
  • Paper or a canvas
  • A palette
  • Paper towels
  • A cup
  • Varnish

This list probably looks simple at a glance and, the good news is that it is! But there are a few things to keep in mind as you set out to stocking your supplies!

Types of paint.

So, you have your list of painting supplies. Now what?

Before you take yourself to your local art supply store or start raiding Amazon, you need to figure out what kind of paint you want to use.

There are 5 different types of paint used for art, and they're all pretty different.

They have different drying times for starters and might require specific canvases or paper, different brushes, and different varnishes. So to make sure you're not wasting a ton of money buying supplies that won't work for your paint (like I did), let's spend time on different paint types.

Oil

Oil paints are very durable and provide a natural glossy finish when it dries. In addition, it's smooth to work with and, because it takes a long time to dry, you have more time to manipulate it on the canvas or paper. Something to know about oil paint before delving into oil painting is that oil paint requires solvent for cleanup. Water isn't enough to get the paint out of your brushes with oil paint.

Acrylic

Acrylic paints are extremely versatile. The acrylic formula is smooth and retains a lot of pigment, meaning the colors are bright and vibrant. However, it can be unforgiving if you're not used to painting with it because it dries within minutes.

Watercolor

Watercolor is more difficult to work with because it's technically a translucent color pigment that sits suspended in water on the paper. Once the water dries, the watercolor stains the paper. It's quick to dry.

Gouache

Chalkier than watercolor paints, gouache is an opaque paint similar to watercolor that doesn't allow the paper to show once it dries. Gouache can take days to dry, however.

Encaustic

Encaustic paint is wax-based with a powerful color pigment. Its unique paint formula isn't mixed with solvent, making it impervious to moisture. It's often called hot wax painting because artists heat the paint (or wax) to manipulate it on paper. This is the most challenging paint to work with.

Now that you have an idea of paint types, I'm going to break them down further into dry times and difficulty levels.

Paint Dry Time Difficulty
Oil Dries within hours to days Easy
Acrylic Dries within minutes Easy
Watercolor Dries within hours Moderate
Gouache Dries after a few days Challenging
Encaustic Dries (or cures) after months Extremely Challenging

I started with oil paint because I liked that I had more time to manipulate the paint on the canvas, but I switch to acrylic soon after because I found myself waiting days between layers on the acrylic paintings!

Once you've chosen your paint type, you're ready to start buying. Remember when I said you could find affordable sets of paints that are perfect for beginners? You can! Here are two of my recommendations:

Oil Paints - Castle Art Supplies Oil Paint Set

Acrylic Paints - Crafts 4 All Acrylic Paint Set

Kits like these make it really easy to add many different colors to your collection. Experienced painters will often only buy a few colors and create their own from color combinations, but as a beginner, kits like the above mentioned give you more versatility.

Canvases.

Now that you have a good beginner's grasp on the difference between paint types, you'll need something to paint on, like a canvas or artist's paper.

Canvasses have been used for centuries by masters and apprentices alike because their sturdy, and the canvas material is ideal for most paint types.

Choosing the perfect canvas for your paint medium is easy these days because they're often wrapped in packaging that will tell you which paint the canvas is ideal for. The same goes for painting paper, which is great for practicing on and cheaper than canvases overall.

Talent is a pursued interest." - Bob Ross

Types of canvas

Stretched canvas

A stretched canvas is just a canvas stretched taut over a wooden frame and pined in place. They often come coated in a primer called gesso that makes the surface easier to paint on.

Canvas rolls

A second and far less convenient type of canvas is a canvas roll, which is just a deconstructed version of the stretched canvas in that it's just a canvas without the frame. Because it's unstretched, you have some flexibility in that you can cut the fabric into any shape, resulting in some unique pieces.

Canvas pads (or paper)

Canvas pads are a good option for beginner painters because they're cheaper than their counterparts and are perfect for practicing.

When it doubt, read it out

When you find yourself in a craft store, staring at the wall of different canvases, make sure you read what the canvas is good for.

They're often categorized according to which paint type will best adhere to the surface. This means that you'll find different canvases for acrylic, oil, watercolor, and so forth.

Buy according to your budget and what size painting you want to work with. Start with a 4" x 6", which is considered one of the most standard canvas sizes if you're unsure.

Paint brushes.

Now that you have your painting medium and your canvas, you're ready for the most important part of learning how to paint as a beginner: You're ready to buy your brushes.

As a beginner painter, choosing the right collection of brushes can seem like an overwhelming task. There are 24 different brush types or shapes to pick from, but there are really eight you need to worry about to start with.

Before we jump into those different types of brushes, here's a handy chart of the bristle types that correspond with your type of paint. | Bristle type | Paint type | | --- | --- | | Natural | Acrylic | | Synthetic | Acrylic | | Polyester | Oil & Watercolor |

For the sake of this guide, we'll focus on Artists' brushes, which are commonly used for watercolor, oil, and acrylic paint. These brushes will work for you no matter what type of paint you work with.

Eight main brush types

  • Round: Round, pointed tip that is good for small detailed work.
  • Pointed round: A narrower version of the round paintbrush that is good for fine, delicate lines.
  • Detail round: The finest round brush that is good for your smallest details.
  • Flat: Square, blunt end is good for bold strokes and filling spaces.
  • Angular flat: A flat brush that slants at an angle is good for curved strokes and filling in small corners.
  • Filbert: Oval in shape, the filbert is good for blending and round edges.
  • Bright: A flat brush whose edges are curved, a bright brush is good for short, careful strokes.
  • Fan: Flat and with very spread hairs, fans are good for feathering.

Paint, brushes, and canvas in hand, you're ready for the final purchase as a beginner: a palette.

Palette.

A palette is a smooth surface upon which you deposit your paint and mix the colors. A palette allows you to mix, arrange, and have all of the paints you're using in one place.

Paints start drying the moment they're exposed to air. This makes working quickly and efficiently important. A palette cuts down on the amount of time spent getting more paint ready for your canvas.

Choosing a palette is the easiest part of learning how to paint. First of all, they can be made from just about anything, including:

  • White plastic
  • Glass
  • Acrylic plastic
  • Disposable palette paper
  • Wood
  • Scrap paper

The most common material type for a palette is white plastic, and you can find them in many different shapes and sizes, so it really boils down to personal preference! You can even use scrap paper if you find yourself in a pinch!

At the end of the day, painting is about sitting down in front of a surface and putting paint on it. Once you start painting, you're a painter! Whether or not what you paint is perfect is subjective. In the words of Bob Ross:

"I started painting as a hobby when I was little. I didn't know I had any talent. I believe talent is just a pursued interest. Anybody can do what I do."

Happy painting!

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