The Basics of Painting


Painting is a visual art medium that allows artists to communicate ideas through the use of color, line and form. The art of painting has been used throughout history to convey political, cultural, social and historical information and emotions. It is the oldest of all visual art forms and can be seen in the most famous examples of Western art – Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, Edvard Munch’s The Scream, and Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night.

Paint can be applied to various different surfaces, known as supports, including paper, canvas, glass, plaster, metal and even wood. To protect the support from damage, it is often covered with a layer of ground – a mixture of binder and chalk that acts as a non-porous barrier. Before applying any paint, a surface is also prepared by sanding and cleaning. This is done to create a smooth surface for the application of paint and to prevent any paint drippings from showing before they have dried.

As with any other form of art, the key to mastering painting is practice and experimentation. You should be wary of any’secrets’ or ‘rules’ that claim to make you a great artist, but instead focus on learning the fundamentals – colour mixing, value, composition and brushwork. A good way to learn is by watching other artists paint – there are lots of painting tutorial videos on YouTube, for example.

It is important to decide on the type of painting that you want to do before purchasing any supplies. It is often best to start with a water-mixable or acrylic paint as these do not require any special supplies to use and are relatively low maintenance. Oil paint is the traditional choice, beloved by the ‘Old Masters’ – but it is high maintenance and can be toxic to work with as it contains solvents. If you are considering using oils, be sure to take care to work in a well-ventilated area and keep the paints out of the reach of children and pets.

Once you have chosen a medium, it is helpful to create a sketch on the painting’s surface prior to beginning. This will help you to get the proportions of your subject correct and can serve as a guide for painting over it. It is also a good idea to use a light graphite pencil to create a rough outline of your subjects, particularly figures, as this will allow you to easily keep your lines within the confines of the painting’s dimensions.

It is also important to think about why you are painting. Perhaps you want to express an emotional or spiritual message in your paintings, or maybe you simply enjoy the feeling of working with paint and the joy that comes from creating something unique. Whatever the reason, it is important to recognise that a finished painting is rarely the result of one session – a typical work of art may take from hours to years to complete.