Free Painting Guide



This guide attempts to simplify important aspects for learning to paint what you see.

Determine Your Goals

Landscapes, Portraits, Still Lifes or Other? Do you want to be exclusively a landscape painter? Do you wish to paint all of them? This is a personal choice for you to decide. Are you painting for fun and personal enjoyment or do you wish to get into galleries or sell your work? Another personal decision.


Find artists and paintings that inspire you. Get inspired. Look at some old paintings and find some dead artists. Here’s a list of some of my favorites [I have so many, it’s impossible to list all]:

Edouard-Leon Cortes

John Carlson

Isaac Levitan

John Singer Sargent

Joaquin Sorolla

Thomas Hill

Edgar Payne

Frederick Church

Claude Monet

Arthur Streeton

Willard Metcalf

William Chase

William Wendt


Learning the technical aspects of your materials is a basic foundation for learning to paint. Techniques like blending, scumbling, glazing, layering & more. Best way to learn is to play around, have fun and experiment. The more paintings you create, the more you’ll start to understand how the paint reacts.

Methods of Painting

Every artist paints differently and has different methods for painting. Below are just a few resources I’ve come across over the years that have helped me the most:

Edgar Payne’s Composition of Outdoor Painting – One of my favorite books for painting.

John Carlson’s Guide to Landscape Painting – Another one of my favorite books for painting.

Richard Schmid DVDsOne of my favorite living artists – learn a lot from his experiences

Dan Gerhartz DVDsSame as above.

Carder Method Mark Carder has an interesting way of dealing with color and learning to truly see color using a color checker.

Virtual Art AcademyI have not bought this full course and have only watched a few free clips they put up on Youtube. I enjoy how they have explained the foundation needed for creating an appealing painting. Very useful. Here’s an image: building_blocks

Fine Art TipsRun by artist Lori Mcnee [another favorite living artist of mine]. Great inspiration and full of information for artists.

Scott Christensen DVDs – Same as Schmid and Gerhartz.

Now I’ll talk a little bit about what I try to keep in mind when it comes to creating a painting. It can get complicated quite quickly but I’ll try to keep it as simple as possible.

Composition – This is a tough subject to teach. There are a lot of ‘rules’ [more like guidelines] to follow to create an interesting painting but interesting paintings can also be created by breaking these ‘rules’. My experience is that you should first know the rules in order to break them. This insures that you have full control over your image and creation.

Value – Probably the most important thing when it comes to painting. If your values are off, the colors are off and your painting suffers. Edges, along with color, are controlled by value to some extent. In general, the hardest edges will be where the most contrast in value lies. The softer edges appear where there is less contrast.

Color Temperature – After value, this is what I try to think of the most while painting. You could actually get the hue [basic property of color like red, yellow, blue] a little off but if you get the temperature correct, it will most likely still work in your painting. Getting these relationships correct and determining if a color needs more heat [reds, yellows] or needs to be cooled down [blues, greens] will improve your work.

Drawing – Basic foundation and is the ‘bones’ or structure of your painting. If you get this wrong in the beginning, it can sometimes be difficult to correct later on – so do your best to get it right when it counts. Sketch more often in a sketchbook to increase your hand-eye coordination skills.

Brushwork –¬†This is a personal choice. Deciding if you’d like strong brushstrokes to show through in your work or if you’d like none at all – or a mixture of both. Every artist uses their brush in a different manner and brushstrokes are a way to show some personality in your work. Many artist’s paintings can be identified by looking at the brushstrokes and colors used. Over time your own style will start to develop in your work.

Concept – The main idea of your painting. Could be simple. Could be deep and meaningful. It’s all personal preference but having a concept will tell you when your painting is finished. It helps in a lot of ways. For example, one concept could be simply showing the brilliance of an orange in a still life. Showing the vibrant color of the fruit and toning down the rest of the scene, but making it work together. Ideas are endless.

Here’s some animated images showing my paintings being done in 7-8 steps [below]. Notice that I tend to start with large shapes and move to smaller and smaller shapes and details as the painting progresses.

Painting #01

Painting #02

Painting #03

Painting #04

Painting #05

Color Theory

Color-Mixing –¬† Here’s a video lesson I did showing some simple color mixing:

Pure Color & Dirty Color – Pure color [Saturated color] is paint straight from the tube. Most colors in reality are not this strong, so we must mix them together to create some dirty [neutral] colors. Having an understanding of this is quite important.

Limited Palette – Using a limited palette saves money, creates harmony and simplifies the painting process and color-mixing process. I suggest using a limited palette of something similar to: Titanium White, Cad. Yellow Light, Alizarin Crimson [or something close to it], Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Umber. You can mix Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Umber together to create a real dark black, more brown for warm black, more blue for cool black.

Learn more about color theory by watching some of my videos in my Color Theory Series Playlist.


Types of Light – Light, Mid-tone, Shadow, Accent & Reflected. Having the knowledge and awareness of these types of light is quite important to realistic rendering. Don’t overdo any of them, but most importantly the accents and light areas. These are easy to overdo and will kill the realism of your work. Generally, there is more color [& life] in lower key [darker] paintings. Adding white to colors kills the color. Of course, there are plenty of great high key paintings but I’m just giving you some general information.

So next time you look around your house or go outside, start to truly study and see these lights and how they react in different situations.

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