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Learning to paint

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"Painting is not a challenge to render everything in sight. What matters both technically and artistically is the quality of what you do,not how much you can cram onto a canvas. A painting finished from edge to edge but poorly done is a waste of paint. An incomplete sketch superbly executed is power.

Once you start, think about what you are doing! Work with deliberate intent, as if you were executing a perfect premeditated crime. Stay in control. Work so that you know what needs to be done and where you are going with your painting (and consequently, when to stop). ... It is a matter of doing things in the right order.

First you must have the skills to control your actions, then you can cut loose and have fun. Doing it in reverse doesn't work. If you relax your grip without understanding what you are doing, you are in for trouble. Throw paint on with a shovel if that makes you happy (not recommended), but make sure it lands in the right spot. "

From Alla Prima, by Richard Smith


Lessons from this DVD production company are a great way for all to start or improve your painting skills

CPC Videos website

This is my preferred way, going "solo", from life and with a steep, long, hard learning curve.




When drawing and painting digitally you should seriously consider buying a pen tablet (Wacom Bamboo Pen Tablet).

There are many sizes and prices to choose from, see below


Then, you can put a photograph (or your own drawing) on the tablet and fix it with some scotch tape, and then simply follow (copy) the drawing in your computer. This is in the end the same (untold) technique used from the Renaissance (they would use a glass and paint what-they-saw-through-it) and onwards (e.g. many illustrators of the early 1900s-40s, many airbrush artists, etc..) oftne time to cut time and be more productive

The same applies to painting of course: have a photographs underneath (a separate "layer" in Photoshop, Painter or CorelDraw) and copy (with your artist sensitivity) the colors underneath...like int he following tutorial:

Melissa Clifton tutorial of coloring line-art

and these youtube videos


I was impressed by a simple method of learning to paint still lives in oil from real life: the carder method

The method teaches you all the basics, from tretching your own canvas, to reproduce correctly what you see, in the right proportions, and then, yes, how to paint what your eyes see and not what your mind think.


Of course, you won't be learning how to paint landscapes or in open air, but it's a good start. Moreover, I particularly liked the mixing of colors explanations. A method suitable for oil paint because of its long drying time. Moreover, I enjoyed the instructions on how to stretch and prepare the canvas.

First you prepare all the colors hues according to what you see (NOT according to what you think), then you slowly proceed to put each color where it belongs to.

The method is clever and absolutely directed to any beginners. It claims you don't even need to know how to draw...Well, in a sense it's true, you can learn how to put shapes in a canvas with the Carder method, too.


In learning to draw I would pick up a single phrase:

"...There are no hard or fast rules"

(p.63, Marie Angel, in her book Painting for Calligraphers, referring to painting fur





Excerpt from Alla Prima by Richard Smith, (highly recommended!)- There are more points in the book. Here a selection

  • Careless drawing (not measuring)
  • Too many sharp edges
  • Trying to paint things instead of color shapes
  • Working from photos taken by others
  • Poor working light
  • Too many highlights
  • Painting too fast
  • Aimless brushstrokes
  • Trying to paint what you don't want to paint
  • Too much distraction
  • Confusion, trying to do everything at once
  • Too many details



Rembrandt self portrait at age 34Rembrandt utilizes value contrasts to add interest. So called "lost and found edges" grab the viewer's attention and lead the eye.

lost and found edges in Rembradt selfportarit at age 34

hard edge soft edle, lost edge found edge

Lost and found edges tutorial (PDF to download)



Essay on Art
by A.Clutton-Brock, 1919, p.120

In every art there is a medium, and
the poet, like all other artists, learns from the
poets of the past
how to use his medium.
Often he does this unconsciously by reading
them for delight.

He first becomes a poet
because he loves the poetry of others. And
the painter becomes a painter because he loves
the pictures of others.



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