The Basics of Painting

The most basic of all art forms, painting is a way of creating an image on a surface with pigments and a brush. It is an extremely versatile medium and is used in many different styles and techniques. Some painters use only one method while others may change methods regularly, combining them as they learn and grow. Painting is also a very portable medium since it can be done on any surface such as canvas, paper, board, or wall. Artists can also use food or other natural materials such as berries, tea emulsions, ashes, egg-paint, or even a simple finger print on the canvas to create interesting effects.

The three key skills in painting are technique, observation, and design. A good painting combines these abilities into a harmonious and aesthetically pleasing result. For the beginner painter, simply trying to reproduce what is seen in nature or a photograph is an excellent way to gain some basic skill with color-mixing, brushwork, and composition. However, this is quickly found to be unsatisfactory for most painters who wish to become more creative and expressive with their painting.

To get to that point, a painter must understand what they want to communicate through their work. This will help them decide how they want to arrange the lines, shapes, and colors to best convey that message. This arrangement is called the design of the painting. A great painting has a sense of inevitability in its formal arrangement that gives it a strong presence and sense of self-sufficiency.

Another aspect of a good painting is its ability to hold attention. A well-made painting doesn’t immediately “tell” you what it is, but invites you to return to it again and again. It is this quality that makes a painting memorable and desirable to own.

A painter must be aware of the light sources in the scene they are painting. They must be able to decide how much light is needed and where the shadows will fall on the surface. This will dictate the amount of contrast in the finished piece, whether it is high or low.

Developing an individual style is a long process and can only happen over time with a lot of practice. Until then, it is important to focus on the fundamentals of painting–color, value, composition, edges, and brushwork. By focusing on these areas, every stroke becomes more productive. It is also useful to study the works of past masters and try to understand their approach to painting. Be careful, though, not to get stuck in a particular method or gimmick that can be just as bad for a painter as it is helpful. Only through constant learning, review, and improvement can a painter hope to improve and achieve their artistic goals.