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So You Want to Become an Artist?

Updated on June 4, 2013

Learn the ins-and-outs of becoming a painter.

HAVE YOU EVER WANTED TO PAINT A PICTURE? Have you ever tried to? Whether you feel you're a mere beginner who wants to paint for pleasure, or advanced in your career, there is always room to grow and learn how to get better at what you do! That's what this Lens is about...learning to become the best artist you can be with the raw talent God gave you. It happened for me and it can for you too - no matter your goals - no matter the skill level you THINK you are.

What Does it Take to Start Painting?

Lots of Patience With a Dash of Humor

MOST PEOPLE, including myself, are anxious to get into something and expect instant results. Instant mashed potatoes, instant pudding: using a microwave rather than a crock pot. The difference? One is of lesser quality, is gone in a second and thirdly, not enjoyed by the chef or customer.

There are shortcuts to doing some things, even in painting. That is why I am here. But no matter how much you learn by reading, it's all in the doing that counts. Practice, perseverance, patience with yourself and a touch of laughter in there too...for those times when things just don't go the way you hoped they would.

I wrote an article, So You Want to Take an Art Class? that you can read at your leisure. I have studied art for a lifetime both on my own and under master painters. Both methods are important, but which to choose and when? I'll help you through the maze of instructors, what to study, how to study, how to develop good practicing skills.

The goal? Is for YOU to reach YOUR goals. I am a painter. I will always be one. But I continually grow and learn with each painting I create. The day I don't learn a new way of achieving the look I am after in a painting is the day I will put my brushes or pastel sticks away.

My point is...I am here for you. Yes I teach workshops and privately, and have done so for many years. Nevertheless, there is much I hope to give here to kick-start your painting efforts or help you off that plateau you may be on.

So let's get started! What say you?

Top Five Things to Learn First

Foundations to Painting

IN ADDITION TO READING the article posted above for selecting an art class that is right for you, you also need to have a plan. A plan?? Yep. Especially if you have never painted before, there are my top five things recommended to get you off on the right foot. I will add one each day until five are listed.

Meanwhile, do all you can to fill your mind and eyes with paintng. View art magazines, the art in your local galleries, museums, art hanging in homes or offices of family or friends. Fine art paintings are everywhere, so keep your eyes out and alert! Particularly identify the type of art YOU like and would like to do. There is something for everyone.

[BTY, I will be creating some video clips as days go by to accompany this listing. So if you'd like, please bookmark this page and return for not only text but some real action:) ]

Drumroll.../\ /\ /\

Yes, drawing. Many students come to me wanting to dig right into painting, and sometimes we do. However, there are huge benefits to learning how to draw before applying paint to canvas, paper or board; thus, preventing getting the cart before the horse.

Without good structure in your painting, it will fall apart. You've seen this yourself. You walk into a shop and see a nicely painted but weak-looking barn, garden, kitten - whatever. What you observe is weak drawing skills. No matter how much you learn about color, no amount of paint can substitute for sound, strong structure in your work.

Therefore, it behoves you to draw. Draw when you are watching TV, at the doctor's office waiting room, in the park...anywhere. Take a small tablet with you wherever you go. Simply observe and capture what you see using a pencil.

I know that sounds simple, but, you can learn so much through your own observation. Yes, a class is a grand idea for studying drawing. But, many times folks rely heavily on classes rather than good old-fashioned practice. It is amazing what you can do if you just start! Start with simple, single objects, say, an egg. You'd be amazed at the nuances and interest there is in one egg. Draw things first that are free from surface designs which can confuse you. As you get more comfortable with one simple box, put two boxes together, two shoes, then create more complex groupings as you grow.

By the way, you will never stop drawing. You will draw as you paint, you will draw for as long as you work at being or becoming an artist.

WHEN I STARTED LEARNING TO PAINT, I bought and tried virtually, every type of paint known to man! My studio drawers are filled with crayons to professional-level oil paint; acrylics to pastels, and on it goes.

You don't need to do what I did! Better to visit artist studios, galleries, museums and the like to get an eye-full of styles and media that you enjoy viewing. Chances are, the painting you choose will not only tell you what kind of paint you would like to use but also the type of painting you want to do...portraits, still-life, landscapes or all three.

So, first, see what looks good to you. Is it watercolor? Is it oil? Something else?

Second go to your local art supplier and look at the paint you think you'd like to work with. Ask the clerk to allow you to experiment with the paint. If they don't allow this; then buy one brush and one tube of paint along with the appropriate type of paper, canvas, etc. you need and a how-to book.

Third, play. Just experiment and play with the paint. See how it feels when you move it around with a brush (or in the case of pastels, how they drag across the paper - pastel is a whole other subject. There are many lenses addressing pastel and I will do so myself. As a member of the Pastel Society of America, I have a pretty good idea about using this particular media.) Anyway, does this paint feel good to you? You can't go on feel alone but it is a start.

Fourth, if you like this paint, go back to the store and purchase just four colors: white, cobalt blue, alizarin crimson and cadmium yellow medium. That's it! Don't be tempted to buy every color of the rainbow just yet. That is a marketing thing art suppliers do...we are so wowed by all the art supplies that we are tempted to drop hundreds of dollars every time we go! But, only get what you need right now. You can always buy more later.

Now go on to...

Next, with paint in hand, you must learn the basics of color. I cannot go through all the ins-and-outs of color here as it is a lifelong study. Nevertheless, there are four essential things you must learn about color in order to paint successfully...particularly if you wish to paint realistically.

1. Hue

Simply put, "hue" means "color" - name the colors you have. This is the easiest of the four to get your hands and head around.

2. Value

This is the darkness or lightness of any given color.

3. Intensity

This relates to how dull or brilliant a color is.

4. Temperature

Colors are either warm or cool, relatively speaking. When you think of cool colors, think of green grass, blue sky, aqua water, etc. When you think of warm colors, think orange fire, yellow sun, red lava, etc.

The above four color properties are the bare bones definitions. You MUST either take class or get a great book on color or both in order to learn how to study (especially the last three) how your paint operates and how to mix color. Most of the colors you will need can be created from the three plus white that you purchased. However, some colors cannot be made from these alone. You will at some point need to move on to a six-color palette, then perhaps onto twelve. That aside, let's just stick with what you have now and learn how to mix your colors.

A good painting instructor can privately or through a workshop teach you the principles of color and you will then be prepared to...

Painting is not just mixing colors, it is a combination of your drawing skills, combined with mixing, plus learning how to compose, and capture the subject.

1. Two Dimensions

The first concept you must realize, and you found this when you were drawing, that you are attempting to translate and put a three dimensional subject, like a tree for instance (which has height, width and depth) onto on onto a a two-dimensional surface (paper, canvas, etc. which has height and width only). Your painting surface is flat! Simply put, the challenge is to use techniques of perspective, foreshortening and more to emulate what you see in reality.

What are these things of perspective, foreshortening and more? Just a couple principles of art. You can find them in any book or learn at a workshop. I hate to keep saying this, but study is what it takes to be a painter.

2. Keep it Fun

It's one thing if you want to become a professional painter. You must train hard, study with the best instructors you can find and practice. If you want to paint for personal pleasure or as a hobby, you still need to learn the same things a pro does, but perhaps not to the same degree or depth. Either way, keeping painting fun is important for success. If you get discouraged, you may be taking it too seriously.

Art is a solo show and endeavor. It is very personal and we who paint really take everything to heart. Why, because it is visual. It's hard to judge something you cannot see. But everyone seems to be a critic and "expert" when it comes to painting. Therefore, keep focused on painting for yourself and surround yourself with folks who are an encouragement to you.

Instructors are the ones who can really tell you what is good or needs correcting in your work. So...

3. Seek Out An Instructor

If you are serious about learning to paint, secure the best instructor you can afford for private or workshop lessons. Again, here's the link to my article to assist you in identifying just the right teacher for you: So You Want to Take an Art Class?

4. Practice

There's no substitute for practice. Even with an instructor, you MUST practice. They will offer and give you a lesson. However, it's when you get home and have time to implement that lesson you that you really learn! And the more you paint, the better you will become...

5. Learn to SEE

The key element to drawing OR painting is observation, and translating your observation onto the painting surface. The better you can observe and train your eyes to see color, see shapes, see proportions, then be able to put them on the painting surface, the greater progresss you will make. Paint what you SEE, not what you think you see...

6. Look at Things As Shapes and Masses

Learning to see means looking and translating real things like a mug, apple, etc. not as what they are but as what they are doing. Is the shape of the object slanted, is the object fat, thin, moving, etc. If you can in your mind take the name of the object away and look at it as shapes and draw/paint those shapes, the more like that object it will look!! Seems silly, but it's true! Then, once you have painted for a time, step back from your work, to evaluate it. Now think to yourself, "is this apple correct? What does it need? What did I do well?"

I know this one sounds strange as number five. Painting is not like a microwaved pizza, it takes time. And you must be patient with yourself as you are learning. The word "quit" should not be in your vocabluary, "patience" should be.

1. Take Your Time

Learn each concept well every step of the way, so you won't have to learn it over and over again. As a teen I learned how to drive a stick-shift car. Then I drove an automatic. When I went back to using a stick, I had to learn it all over again. Why? Because I did not spend enough time the first go-around for it to become a part of me! When painting or drawing, take the time to let each thing you learn become a part of you, then the next steps will be easier.

2. Drink Coffee

Take frequent breaks. Pore over your paintings. If you don't like coffee then have some tea instead. When you are not painting, read about painting. When you are not reading about painting, look at paintings. Surround yourself with good art and information to reinforce your own efforts.

Below are among the best resources I have found on the Web for beginners to advanced artists. I hope you will take advantage of these free services. There is more info today than ever before. And there's no reason why YOU cannot learn how to paint!!

Go gettum!

My Top Picks for Artist Development and Enrichment

Books are among the top way folks learn about any given subject. There is something to be said for hands-on learning in art. However, without building a solid resource library of the best books you'll have nothing to refer to or absorb when not creating. Even if you only need a volume for one concept, it's worth everything to your creative efforts.

Composition of Outdoor Painting
Composition of Outdoor Painting

There is no image for this book but it is by far the classic book related to painting strong compositions. Get a used copy if you must or purchase direct from the publisher. A must-have for your library.


Please let me know your comments, questions and general thoughts. I'd love to hear from you!

What do you think?

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    • profile image

      farwa khan 

      4 years ago

      i want to become a painter

    • LDianeJohnson profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago

      @mokocoko: mokocoko,

      Know it's been a year since you last posted here. How is your painting venture going?

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      i love this type of lens because this gives me inspiration to became an artist

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Great lens, great tips and very comprehensive! a pleasure to read. Art Supplies

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Insightful advice for creatives. Thanks for posting! Westland Place Studios

    • LittleLindaPinda profile image

      Little Linda Pinda 

      6 years ago from Florida

      I love art.

    • junecampbell profile image

      June Campbell 

      6 years ago from North Vancouver, BC, Canada

      Wonderful lens. I fool around with mixed media art and I love doing it. You are very accomplished in your art. Great lens.

    • LDianeJohnson profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      @Nanciajohnson: Thrilled to hear you are getting "back in the saddle." It is not easy and takes courage like you are showing - but it is soooo worth it! Best to you in your new artistic journey:) -Diane

    • Nanciajohnson profile image

      Nancy Johnson 

      6 years ago from Mesa, Arizona

      Great tips to get me back on track to being the artist I wanted to be out of high school. Thank you. I am sketching again every week and plan to pick up acrylics real soon. I plan to review your other lenses too.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Really good info for budding artists. Very nice lens!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I found this very informative, very hepful to me, and apparently i am not alone.

      Thank you so much.i am in fashion and i am constantly drawing, but i don't think of. Myself as a good drawer and now i think i have to draw more, and more.

      All the best to you.

      Thanks again

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Hi Ms. Johnson, Enjoyed reviewing your lens...for me, the simple act of painting is a form of stress, no expectations...HOWEVER, as my kind mother in law reminds me.."the grass still needs to be mowed!!"

    • yano jl profile image

      yano jl 

      7 years ago

      Fine art and painting is, of course, wonderful; but not not the easiest field to earn a living. I often work with artists who do freelance graphic designs for print and web in an effort to supplement their income. If you cultivate your talent, as advised by this informative lens, there will be opportunities... I see them everyday!

      Thanks for Sharing: 1 SquidLike for you!

    • LDianeJohnson profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      @yano jl: Thanks yano! You make a great point. I did 35 years (and counting) as a graphic designer to facilitate my painting career. You can have both, and it is worth the effort. All the Best, Diane...and thanks for the SquidLike vote of confidence:)

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Most useful information. Blessed!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Great stuff!! I like your lens; itâs very informative and engaging. Iâm also building a site Drinking how much is too much which is really useful for drinkers.

    • Joy Neasley profile image

      Joy Neasley 

      7 years ago from Nashville, TN

      My grandmother painted with oils, and always wanted to learn. Now that I have learned to draw though, I seem to have developed a passion for developing the drawing skills. Who knows, maybe later I will want to learn color. Right now, I really love the drawing.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      This is a great lens. Thanks for making it. Very informative. I gave you a thumbs up

      cause I like your lens.

    • lovemybob profile image


      11 years ago

      Congratulations and thank you for creating a thorough lens on becoming a painter. Welcome to The Painting Group!

    • GoodInfo LM profile image

      GoodInfo LM 

      11 years ago

      You are undoubtedly an excellent teacher, as evidenced in this lens. Great job!

    • KarenC LM profile image

      KarenC LM 

      11 years ago

      Definitely right down my alley.

    • Casey van B profile image

      Casey van B 

      11 years ago

      *cheers wildly, welcoming the fellow Mac user with five stars, faves and a lensroll or three* Come join a few of my groups too :)

    • GypsyPirate LM profile image

      GypsyPirate LM 

      11 years ago

      You've got great information here - quite a good resource. Good job!

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      Great job on this how to become a painter lens!

    • sonia simone profile image

      sonia simone 

      11 years ago

      Love this lens!


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