5 things I’ve learned about painting

The other day my husband asked me a really hard question: “Why do you like to paint?” He was asking out of curiosity, but he was also asking because in the hour prior to this conversation, he’d watched me literally tear my hair out because I was feeling blocked and devoid of any ideas about what to paint.

I’m in this weird limbo space where I’m practicing and trying to a) re-learn how to paint, b) learn how to use acrylics, and c) get a good grasp on color mixing and color theory. I’m reading Daily Painting by Carol Marine (affiliate link: I make a few cents; it costs you nothing extra), and in the first chapter, Marine mentions how things like color theory and the mechanics of HOW to paint weren’t really discussed as much in school as the WHAT of painting, what it all means. I had a similar experience myself. We actually went to the same school.

My whole reason for wanting to make art is to take what I see and translate it into something interesting for you. And one of the ways I want to do that is through painting. Only right now, I can’t paint what I want to paint until I figure out how to paint. It’s a journey, but a good one. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

avocado painting
  1. Use decent supplies. When I started I was painting on mixed media paper in a sketchbook. It’s ok in a pinch or if you’re traveling, but ultimately not ideal. The paper soaks up the paint and makes it really hard for the paint to flow. After a few attempts, I abandoned the mixed media paper for 140lb cold-pressed watercolor paper, and it’s so much better. Next up, a few gessoed panels I just picked up from the art store.
  2. Learn more about color theory and keep the palette simple. When I first started painting again, I would lay out every single color I owned (which all came in a handy boxed set!) on the palette, then lament how many colors I wasted because I didn’t even touch them. Find a good color theory book or course and learn more about how to make the colors you want. The little avocado painting above was done with Hansa Yellow, Ultramarine Blue, Cadmium Red Medium, Titanium White, and a little Yellow Ochre and Burnt Umber.
  3. Keep it loose/make it interesting. You can really dig down into some details and create something pretty lifelike. But at the end of the day, is it really all that interesting? Go for interesting.
  4. Action is the antidote to despair (Joan Baez). Sometimes – many times – I just need to get out of my own head, stop thinking so hard, and just paint. I will always need a subject, but right now, in this practice phase, I don’t need to think about selling or displaying or comparing. I just need to do the work. Which leads me to…
  5. Paint your own painting. I follow so many amazing artists on Instagram. They are the ones who inspired me to get back at it. But my reasons for wanting to paint again can’t be so I can paint like them. I can only paint like me. (There goes my backup plan as a professional art forger.) Right now, in this learning phase, I don’t even know what painting like me means. But it’ll come. I know it.

What are your best painting tips?

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