1. Home

Absolute Beginners to Painting: 15 Commonly Asked Questions

Answers to questions that may arise when you decide to learn to paint.


Looking at a great painting it can be hard to remember that every artist was an absolute beginner at some stage. But it's true, no-one is born with a paint brush in their hand, everyone learned from scratch at some stage. This list of commonly asked questions will help you get started on your creative journey as an artist.

1. Do I Have to Know How to Draw Before I can Paint?

Image © Marion Boddy-Evans
Traditionally if you were training as an artist you'd spend a year or two learning to draw before you touched paint. The thinking is that you're not distracted by color while still mastering techniques such as perspective. But I believe that if you don't like drawing, for whatever reason, there's no reason not to jump straight into painting. Ultimately, it's the creation of art that's important, not the road you take to get there.

Find Out More:
Sketching for Painting: Is there a Right or a Wrong Way?
Do You Paint or Draw with Pastels?
10 Drawing Mistakes Beginners Make(From About.com's Guide to Drawing)

2. What Kind of Paint Should I Use?

Image © Marion Boddy-Evans
The most common types of paint used are acrylic, oils, water-mixable oils, watercolor, and pastel. None is better or significantly easier to master than the other. Which one is right for you depends to a large extent on your personality (take the Paint Personality Quiz), whether you're allergic to solvents, and how long you're prepared to wait for paint to dry.

My personal recommendation is to start with acrylics because they dry quickly, mix and clean up with water, and it's easy to paint out and hide mistakes. Acrylics can also be used on just about any surface, so you can paint on paper, canvas, or board.

Find Out More:
The Pros and Cons of Different Types of Paint
Getting Started with Acrylics

3. What Brand of Paint Should I Buy?

Image © Marion Boddy-Evans
It depends on what your budget is. I'm a great believer in buying the best quality paint you can for a price that you still feel able to experiment and 'waste' it. Try various brands and see which you like using. You'll find differences in consistency for example, as well as the smell of the paint.

Color mixing with very cheap paints can be frustrating as the results turn out dull. This is because there is less pigment in such paints and more extender or filler.

Find Out More:
Should You use Student or Artist's Quality Paints?
Assessing a New Brand of Acrylic or Oil Paint
Which Brand of Acrylic Paint is Best?
Which Brand of Oil Paint is Best?
Which Brand of Pastels is Best?
Which Brand of Watercolor Paint is Best?

4. Can I Mix Different Brands of Paint?

Mixing brands of paint
Image © Marion Boddy-Evans
Yes, you can mix different brands of paint and artist's quality and student's quality paints. Be more cautious mixing different types of paint or using them in the same painting. For instance, you can use oil paints on top of dried acrylic paint, but not acrylic paint on top of oil paint.

Find Out More:
Can You Mix Water Soluble Oils With Acrylic Paints?
Can You Mix Water Soluble Oils With Traditional Oil Paints?
What is Mixed Media?

5. What Paint Colors Should I Get?

Image © Marion Boddy-Evans
For acrylics, watercolors, and oils, if you want to mix colors, start with two reds, two blues, two yellows, and a white. You want two of each primary color, one a warm version and one a cool. This will give you a larger range of colors when mixing than just one version of each primary.

If you don't want to mix all your colors, also get an earth brown (burnt sienna or burnt umber), a golden earth brown (golden ocher), and a green (phthalo green).

Find Out More:
Basic Colors for Acrylics
What Colors Do I Need to Start Painting with Oils?
How To Select Suitable Pastel Colors

6. Do I Really Have to Learn Color Theory?

Color Mixing for Painters
Image © Marion Boddy-Evans
Color is one of the fundamentals of painting and the more you know about the colors you're using, the more you can get from it. Don't let the word "theory" intimidate you. The fundamentals of color mixing aren't particularly tricky to understand.

Find Out More:
What You Need to Know About Color Theory for Painting
How to Paint a Color Theory Triangle
Online Color Mixing Palette for Painters

7. Should I Paint on Paper or Canvas or What?

Painting on raw canvas
Image ©2 Marion Boddy-Evans
You can paint on practically anything provided the paint will stick and provided the paint won't rot the surface (or to use art-speak, the support).

Acrylic paint can be painted on paper, card, wood, or canvas, with or without a primer being used first. Watercolor can be painted on paper, card, or special watercolor canvas.

A support for oil paint needs to be primed first, otherwise the oil in the paint will eventually rot the paper or threads of the canvas. You can buy pads of paper primed for oil paper, which are perfect for doing studies or if your storage space if limited.

Find Out More:
Canvas: What You Need to Know
How to Prime a Canvas For Acrylics or Oils
Paper for Watercolor Painting
Painting on Hardboard

8. How Many Paint Brushes Do I Need?

Paint brushes
Image © Marion Boddy-Evans
As few or as many as you like. if you're painting with oils, you can have a different brush for each color as the paint won't dry in the brush in a hurry.

I mostly use just one brush, a specifically a No.10 size Filbert with bristle hairs, rinsing it clean regularly as I'm painting. I've used the same shape and size for years now, replacing it as it wears down. I've become very familiar with exactly what it'll do that I don't have to think about it.

Find Out More:
An Introduction to Art Paint Brushes
How Many Brushes Does it Take to Make a Painting?

9. Where Do I Put the Paint I Intend to Use?

If you're going to be mixing colors before you use them, you need some surface for squeezing out your paints and mixing them. The traditional choice is a palette made from a dark wood with a hole for your thumb in it that makes it easy to hold. Other options include glass and disposable paper palettes, some designed to hold and some to be on on a tabletop.

As acrylic paints dry rapidly, you can't squeeze out a whole row of colors on a traditional wooden palette and expect them still to be usable an hour later. You'll need to use a water-retaining palette, or only squeeze out paint as you need it.

Find Out More:
How to Use a Moisture-Retaining Palette for Acrylics
Advantage of Wooden Palette for Oils

10. How Thick Should the Paint Be?

Image © Marion Boddy-Evans
As thick or thin as your heart desires. You can change the consistency of paint with a medium to make it thinner or thicker.

Find Out More:
Oil Painting Mediums
How Much Medium Can You Add to Acrylic Paint?
Types of Mediums for Acrylic Paints
  1. About.com
  2. Home
  3. Painting
  4. Painting for Beginners
  5. Commonly Asked Questions by Absolute Beginners to Painting

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.