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Things To Decide Before Starting to Paint

Updated on December 22, 2017
Robie Benve profile image

Robie is an artist who believes in the power of positive thinking. She loves sharing art tips and bringing people joy through her paintings.

Article: Things to Consider as you Get Ready to Start a Painting
Article: Things to Consider as you Get Ready to Start a Painting | Source

Planning Your Painting - Not as Easy as It May Seem

Having a subject to paint is only the beginning.

If you jump into a painting with no planning at all, you may find yourself stuck with a bad composition, wrong colors, or wrong values and spend much time fighting to make it better.

From drawing thumbnails, to planning colors and values of your composition, the prep work will make a huge difference on how your painting turns out.

Furthermore, you have to deal with what I call head-hand disconnection. Most of us have a "vision" of the final result in our head, but somehow, going from the mind to the canvas, through the arm, the hand and the brush, the outcome gets distorted and we end up with a painting very different from the initial idea.

There are so many variables decisions in the process of mixing colors and applying paint to the canvas, that it's really a great idea to do some prior problem solving and make things a litte easier through planning.

A Good Results Require Prep Work

From drawing thumbnails to planning colors and values of your composition, the prep work will get you ready to start your painting and make a huge difference on how your painting turns out.


If you have the tendency to be very detailed, planning your painting can take a long time, but it is a great habit not to start painting until your composition is carefully planned.

Planning Your Design

There are so many decision to be made thoughout the painting process. You are better off if you are able to start with a clear plan in mind.

These are some of the things you should think about before you even touch any paint.

  • What will your subject be?
  • How are you cropping the scene?
  • What is your focal point?
  • What color scheme will work the best?
  • Are there elements you want to move around or eliminate from the picture to improve the composition?
  • Are you starting from white canvas or a ground color?
  • What ground color would work best?

Some thumbnail drawings on my sketchbook
Some thumbnail drawings on my sketchbook | Source

Quick Thumbnail Drawings Help Planning Values and Composition

To help you make these decisions, draw several thumbnails with possible solutions of different composition crops. Draw the thumbnails on paper, few square inches in the same proportions of your support.

Pay special attention to how dark and light masses are placed in the composition of your drawings.

Value is more important than color when it comes to visual artwork. Make your values guide the eyes of the viewer moving around the painting. Arrange darks and lights so that they don’t compete with your focal point.

Plan the strongest contrast, with the darkest dark and lightest light to be on your focal point.

Your Painting Needs a Color Scheme

Decide the color scheme you want to use.

If you don’t start a painting with a specific color scheme in mind, you may end up using colors that fight with each other, instead of working together for a successful picture.

When in doubt, paint from a limited palette and mix all the colors you need from those you have available. At the end you'll have a painting with a more harmonious look than using a different tube for each color.

Beautiful color palette and composition in this painting by Monet.
Beautiful color palette and composition in this painting by Monet. | Source

Tinted Canvas

When you are ready to start painting, I recommend toning your surface first. Pick a color that complements your color scheme. When in doubt, you can use burnt sienna or yellow ochre. Once the ground paint is dry, draw your composition on that colored base.

I like to leave bits of the ground color being seen here and there throughout the painting, it will unify the whole painting.

You can tone your canvas with acrylics and then paint with oils on top.

Why toning?

Painting on white canvas is more challenging than on colored ground.

The white of the canvas is the lightest value you can possibly have in your painting. At each brushstroke the value of your paint is competing with that initial white, potentially throwing off your value composition because the comparison scale is off.

Also, a colored ground will make your painting feel finished sooner. You'll avoid the problem of having blank canvas peak through between brush strokes, telling you that you are not done yet. You can stop when you please.

Before You Start: Things to Consider

What Do You Want Your Painting to Look Like?

How your painting will look depends on what brings you to start this particular painting.

In fact no matter what the subject of your painting is, you can make it look the way you want.

Before embarking in a new painting, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Why am I painting?
  • Am I trying to express my creativity experimenting new techniques or a new style?
  • Do I want to represent a place or objects that I love?
  • What kind of mood am I trying to convey?
  • What style paintings do I love to look at: realistic, impressionistic, cubist, abstract, or other?
  • What kind of colors do I want to use?

Depending on the answers to these and more questions that you may have, your painting will look a lot different.

Painting Is an Expression of Your Inner Self

If you are able to relax and fully enjoy the process, it is already a success, no matter how the artwork turns out.

Happy Painting!

Don't forget to have fun! Enjoy your process, the enjoyment of painting is all about having a fun trip, no matter what the destination might be.

Even if you end up not liking the final painting, if the process has been fun and maybe you learned something on the way, it is all worth it.

© 2013 Robie Benve


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    • Robie Benve profile image

      Robie Benve 4 years ago from Ohio

      Hi Neinahpets, Thanks a lot for your awesome feedback and your support. :)

    • Neinahpets profile image

      Stephanie 4 years ago from Canada

      Hi Robie, thank you for this great article. There isn't anything else I would add to it, and there are great things to take from it. I'm saving it for future reference and sharing it with others when I begin putting up articles about art (I am an illustrator). Thank you for sharing with everyone. Voted awesome ,useful, beautiful and up! :)

    • Robie Benve profile image

      Robie Benve 4 years ago from Ohio

      Thank you Dbro for reaching out with an email and letting me know this hub did not have a comment box. You're awesome! :)