Last Updated on February 1, 2023
Are you ready to start learning how to paint? If you are an absolute beginner to painting then this guide is for you. We’ll go through what equipment you need, what types of painting there are, how to start and provide lots of useful tips to get you started!
1. Motivation to Paint and Finding the Time
Before getting started, it is worth having an idea of what you want to achieve from learning to paint.
Are you looking to unwind and learn to paint as a new hobby for fun and to get creative?
Or are you looking for a new business opportunity so that you can take control of your own work time whilst also using your creativity?
Whatever your reason for getting started, I recommend being strict with yourself when it comes to allocating time every week to your new painting hobby or business.
It is so easy to just not get around to dedicating time to learning to paint as it is just too easy to prioritize other things and feel that you lack the time to paint.
The truth is that everyone has time to paint, even if it means cutting out two hours of TV every week or getting up an hour earlier each day.
If you make sure that you find the time, you will I am sure, not regret it.
Painting is relaxing, rewarding, great for the mind, and it can even turn into a source of income if you want it to!
2. Choosing What Type of Paint to Use
Once you have decided that you want to start learning to paint, one of the very first decisions you will need to make is to decide what medium you will use.
The ‘medium’ here basically means what type of paint and the main options you have as a beginner are:
There are some other options but the three mediums above are probably your best options for now if you are a beginner.
My recommendation is to start off with acrylic because acrylic is:
- Usable on most types of surface (i.e. canvas, paper, etc.)
- Easy to remove when you clean your brushes (because acrylic is water soluble)
- Almost odorless (so you avoid the strong paint smell in your workspace)
You can though, of course, start with whatever medium you wish and you might have a desire to stick with oil painting or watercolor as a beginner, and that is fine.
3. Getting Set Up and Buying Supplies
a) What Equipment You Need to Get Started
If you are new to painting or haven’t painted in a while, then I think you will agree that you will not want to invest too much money to start with.
In reality, you really need only a few basics, especially when you can learn much of what you need online.
The great news also is that, as a beginner, you can easily buy a painting set from an arts & crafts store, or sometimes a book/crafts store (such as ‘The Works‘ if you are UK based).
So to get started these things are what I recommend:
- Set of 12 paints – such as a set of acrylic or watercolor paints in different colors
- Nylon brushes – a couple of flat ones and a couple of round ones. Synthetic brushes can be good for acrylic painting as you want a brush that is not too soft and not too hard
- Palette knife – to mix paints, add marks in the painting or to move paint
- Canvas board – ideal for a beginner painting if using acrylic paint
- Sketching pencil – to mark out some main shapes to guide you in the painting, like you’ll see in the cow painting video we talk about later on
- Palette – for placing your paints in
- Easel – to stand your canvas upright on
b) Choosing What Material to Paint on
There are various options when it comes to what you can paint on. Generally, the choices though will be:
The choice of what you will paint on will partly be dictated by the medium you choose.
I recommend, as a complete and utter beginner painter, to start off with acrylic (as discussed earlier regards what paint to choose) and use canvas.
Acrylic paint and a canvas can be a great combination to start off.
You can easily and very cheaply buy a set of 5 or 10 pieces of canvas.
Even though there are eight main types of brush, you will need only a couple of paintbrushes to get started as a complete novice.
You will need a flat brush and a round brush.
Flat brush – A flat brush can hold lots of paint and it is ideal for long strokes and perfect for painting large sections and for blending. The thin edge of a flat brush though can also be used for adding delicate touches to the painting as needed.
Round brush – The end of the brush tapers at the end to create a pointed end to the brush. This brush is good for painting finer details and edges, and for bold strokes.
The size of easels (upright support for the material you are painting on) come in many different designs and styles.
The choice of easel really depends on the size of the canvas or other material you are choosing.
To start off with, you might want to use a desktop easel that comes in one of the starter acrylic painting kits.
You can easily though get a standing easel (stands on the floor) if you want something bigger. A good arts and crafts store will have a range of easels on sale.
e) Palette & Palette Knife
A palette for mixing paints and a palette knife can also easily be bought in most art shops or with a beginner’s painting set.
4. Setting up Your Workspace
Now that you have the supplies you need to get started, you will need to set up your workspace, that is, the place where you will do your painting.
Here are some tips for planning your workspace:
- You will need somewhere where you will feel comfortable, i.e. somewhere where you can stand up straight and where you have enough space for a table, easel, and chair.
- Ideally it’ll be a space specifically for your painting so that you can leave your equipment in place so that you can get painting quite quickly each time.
- You will also need artificial light. I say artificial lights because, if you rely on natural light, this will affect how you view your painting because natural light changes through the day and with varying weather conditions. With artificial light, you will be able to use a consistent lighting level. To start with, you could use an electric desk lamp (or table lamp) and point it towards the canvas.
If you are able to dedicate a specific space/location for your painting, you will tend to find that it will be much easier to be motivated, because getting started each time will be easier and will not be a drag.
5. Mixing Paints
When it comes to mixing paints, a common question we are asked is if it is necessary to learn color mixing.
Having a grasp of how to mix colors can be so useful because it is not realistic to have every color at your disposal, so you will need to create some colors.
Here are some examples:
- Blue mixed with red = creates violet
- Blue and yellow = combine to make green
The good news is that you can get color mixing charts to help you and there are ones available online or you can buy a chart from retailers such as Amazon.
6. Getting Started & What to Paint – Your First Painting
You will no doubt have your own ideas about what you want to start painting.
You might want to keep it simple or you might want to be ambitious from the start and just learn from your mistakes.
If having fun is what starting off learning to paint is all about for you, then my recommendation is to start with ‘Paint Alongs’!
A ‘Paint Along’ is a way that a painter of any level can learn to paint something by following along, step-by-step, as someone goes through the whole painting as they explain the whole process.
You can find some great Paint Alongs for FREE on YouTube.
They make learning to paint great fun and you might be surprised what you create quite early on.
Drawing an ocean view can also be something that is nice to create at the beginning (although it’s not easy), Katie does a great job of explaining how to do this in the video below.
If you want to start off something even easier, then this sunset painting takes less than 10 minutes to create and it looks great.
7. Our Advice on Getting Started
- Just get started – You just need to get started and today is as good as any. If you still need supplies i.e. the paints, then get online today and order them!
- No worries – It is important also not to worry about what other people think of your painting and art. Just get started and begin to learn. As long as you gradually improve it’s a win-win. You are not going to be Van Gogh in a year’s time and you don’t need to be.
- Avoid comparing yourself to others – As long as you improve one step at a time, then be happy and congratulate yourself. There will always be someone better than you so do not waste any time on comparisons.
- Experiment & Have Fun – Painting should be fun, relaxing, and therapeutic and bring out your creative side. Have fun.
- Consistency – The best results by beginner painters, in my experience, is when they are consistent in spending a set amount of time each week dedicated to painting.
- Get connected – It is easier to be motivated and inspired to paint if you network either online or offline. Join a few Facebook groups for painters, for example, or join a local art club (we list some of these in the ‘Further Resources’ section coming up).
- Sign and date all completed paintings – signing and dating your art will give you a chance to then see how you progress over time (which you will) and also it gives a very positive feeling to sign your finished art.
8. Basic Painting Tips & Principles for Beginners
These tips are useful if you are starting off with acrylic paint but most of these tips can also be applied to other mediums:
i) Wait until the paint is dry before fixing it – acrylic paint dries fast so it is best to wait and then you can paint over the mistake.
ii) Use different items to create different effects – you can make some interesting effects if you use a normal hair comb for example. Likewise, you can use the palette knife to create thin lines in your painting. Be creative with everyday items.
iii) If you can buy afford it, buy professional-grade paint but don’t worry if you can’t – as a beginner, by all means, buy student-grade paint if need be (it will say student grade on the tube).
If you can afford it though, buy professional-grade paint as the pigmentation in the paint will be better.
In paints with better pigmentation, the colors will be more vivid and better overall.
But please do not worry if using student grade paint as it is more than good enough to get started. The key is getting started.
iv) Ensure you clean your brush every time and lay it flat – make sure to clean your brushes after each session as otherwise dried bits of paint will stick to the brush and it’ll be harder to get it off. You do not want to ruin the bristles.
Laying the brushes flat, i.e. on some kitchen paper, will also make it easier for the brushes to fully dry, protecting the wood and the glue that holds the brush and head together.
v) Use a synthetic brush for acrylic painting – because synthetic brushes will be just the right firmness if you are using acrylic for painting.
vi) Get a different perspective – remember to take a step or two back from your painting every so often. You will gain a different perspective by viewing it from different angles and perspectives.
vii) Always have a spray bottle handy with some water in it – as this will help you to easily spray the painting if you need to keep it damp to continue mixing the paint.
viii) Use a reference to paint from – I highly recommend using some kind of reference from which to paint. By this, I mean that you find something such as a photo or painting that you want to replicate and use that as a reference when you paint.
Trying to paint purely from your imagination otherwise is very hard, particularly so as a beginner.
9. Creating a Reference Point from a Photo
This is a stage you do not have to do but you might find it useful.
i) Find a photo or image that you want to use as a reference. You can find tonnes of free photos and illustrations that you can use on these sites:
Search one of those two sites and find something you want to paint.
I like the look of this cow image, for example, and might use it.
ii) Add Gridlines – Next, add the gridlines. It will depend on what software you use but if you use Photoshop, for example, just open up the photo in Photoshop.
Then on the top menu select View –> Grid
Then print the image with the grid on it.
(Or if you have a photo already printed, just use a large ruler and pencil or pen and sit and draw out the grid over the photo).
Next, draw a grid on your canvas, matching the size of the grid on the photo you are using.
You can number each grid space and then start your painting, using the grid numbers to get an idea of the exact spacing between each element in each section.
Using a grid can really help you, especially as a beginner.
10. Protecting the Painting
Once you have done your first painting (and paintings thereafter), you will most likely want to protect the paintings.
Over time, sunlight can cause degradation to your painting.
Your painting will begin over time to fade, so, if you want the colors in your painting to be maintained, a varnish helps to seal the painting.
You can seal the painting by spraying or brushing the varnish over the painting.
11. Further Resources
It can always really help your motivation as a beginner painter if you are part of a painting group, as mentioned earlier. If you use Facebook, you might, for example, want to consider these groups:
Or to find a local group where you meet other beginners in person:
- You can check Meetup.com
You might also want to keep up to date with the latest posts we add every week for beginner artists. There are a few ways to do this and these are by following us on :
Is acrylic paint the best for a beginner?
Different people have different preferences but acrylic paint is certainly one of the easiest paints to get started as we’ve highlighted.
As discussed earlier, when we talked about choosing your paint, acrylic paint is good for beginners because you can quite easily correct mistakes, it dries quickly, and it’s easy to use.
Is one type of painting cheaper than another?
Generally speaking, you will find acrylic painting the least expensive.
Worth considering, as a beginner, is that it is fairly easy to correct any mistakes that you make if using acrylic paint and this can save buying new canvas or paper.
What parts of the painting should I start first?
Different people have varying views on this by my advice is to paint the:
- big areas first and then afterward focus on the smaller sections and details.
- darkest colors and then the lighter colors as you go, as it is easier to paint lighter colors into the darker parts than vice versa.
What are the Benefits & Reasons to Start Learning to Paint
Whether you are a complete and utter beginner painter or a more intermediate painter, painting can be:
- Great fun
- Relaxing and therapeutic
- and a potential revenue stream in the longer term
So I hope you do decide to get started and join us on your painting journey!