How to Get Started in Painting

Painting is an art form that involves the application of pigments to a surface, traditionally a canvas or other flat “support” with a brush or other tool. Paintings can be abstract or representational, and may express a mood or idea rather than a specific scene or object. The act of painting is also considered a medium, in that it can be used alongside other techniques to produce other forms of visual art.

A good paint job transforms a room, adding value to your home and making it look a little more put together. But if you’re a newbie to the world of painting, it can seem daunting—and there’s a reason why many people leave the task to professionals.

To avoid making a big mess, start with a clean slate. Wash and dry your walls from floor to ceiling, removing any extra-grimy areas (that one corner of the wall that always seems to have a cobweb, or a streak from a window you opened and closed, for example). If you’re using a roller, cover the floor with paper or fabric drop cloths to protect it from paint splatters and spills. Masking tape is also a must for keeping a straight line and protecting against those telltale drips and spatters.

Once your space is prepped, set up your materials on a table or easel at the right height for the child you’re working with. Choose a small selection of paint colors to work with—a tube of red, yellow and blue and a tube of white, for example. By mixing these primary pigments, you can create all the other hues you need for your paintings. You’ll also need a palette to mix your colors on and a rag or paper towel to wipe off the brush as you change colors.

Unlike drawing, which has a more linear quality to it, painting is a fluid, expressive process that often involves multiple layers and multiple applications of the paint. Creating a painting requires both technical and emotional skills—the former to master the mechanics of color, application, and technique; the latter to find a unique visual style that communicates something about yourself.

Novice painters are often their own worst critics, fixating on their mistakes and berating themselves for not being as good as the pros. Learning to recognize and celebrate your successes is a crucial part of becoming a better painter. Whether it’s a confident brushstroke or beautiful interaction of colors, taking note of these details will lift your mood and provide motivation to continue improving.