The Basics of Painting

Painting is a visual language, combining lines, shapes, colours, tones and textures into expressive patterns that communicate a mood. It’s a complex art form, but it can also be simple, playful or even spiritual. It’s the art of engaging in the present moment and listening to what the paint wants to do, allowing it to lead you.

Having a solid understanding of fundamental painting techniques is essential to developing your skills as an artist. This will allow you to express a wider range of ideas and emotions with paint. Having a good grasp of composition, brushwork and texture will greatly enhance the effectiveness of your work.

When beginning a painting it is a good idea to work from a photograph as a reference. This can be a useful way to get proportions, frame and composition right first time, especially when working with oil or acrylic. It can also help to get a feel for working from light to dark, as well as a general sense of the tones and colours that will be used.

Once you have a sketch or photo of your subject, it’s worth spending some time looking at it in detail. This is where you’ll start to work out what you want to paint, where to crop it and which details are more important than others. Spending a little time here can make the difference between an average painting and a master piece.

You can use a variety of materials and techniques to add texture to your paintings, including adding sand or egg shell to the surface. Another fun and easy technique is scumbling. Scumbling is a technique in which you apply thin layers of paint with a dry brush, leaving some of the underpainting exposed. This style was often used by Turner, and can create a lively effect in your work.

Other common techniques include using an underpainting (usually burnt umber or a mix of burnt sienna and phthalo blues) to establish shadows and values, then applying a second layer of paint on top of that. This method allows you to work fast, and was favoured by Monet and Van Gogh. It can create a very vibrant finish, but be careful not to over do it or your paintings will look flat and unreal.

You can create a lot of texture in your paintings by changing the amount of paint on your brush and the type of stroke you use. For example, shorter little strokes can create a furry effect, while longer smoother strokes can flatten and dull the paint. Embrace happy accidents as well – sometimes mistakes can look very interesting and add a lot to the overall effect of your painting!