6 Beginner Painting Mistakes that are Easy to Make

This is part of my guide for beginners learning to paint in acrylic, based on my own experiences as a self-taught painter.  These are some mistakes I made when I was starting out, and how you can avoid them in your own paintings.

Mistake #1: Not modifying your photo composition

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I strongly recommend working from photos as a way to improve technical skill.  If left to my own devices, I would probably just paint the same landscapes over and over, but my work doing custom paintings from photos helped me learn new skills and find enjoyable subjects that I never would have tried.  However, it’s important to think of the photo as a starting point, not your end goal.  Many new artists get tripped up trying for photorealism. We have cameras for that.  Move things around, take things out, change the sky, make it your own.

Mistake #2: Cleaning your brush too often

Taking care of your brushes between painting sessions is important, but while you’re painting, resist the urge to clean your brush thoroughly between each color.  Instead of rinsing it off completely each time, just wipe off the excess paint on your apron or a rag, and let a bit of the color stay on your brush.  This will help tie together the colors in your painting, and help you to discover new combinations you may not have tried.

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Getting Started: Setting up your Painting Space

Welcome to my series for beginners learning to paint, based on my own trial-and-error experiences as a self-taught artist.  

Once you’ve got your paint, brushes, canvases and other supplies, you’ll need a place to set up.

While an easel is great for serious painters, it can take up a significant part of your budget, and you don’t really need one when you’re first starting out.  My recommended canvas size for beginners is something in the 9″x12″ to 16″x20″ range, and this size is manageable for working flat.   If you’re sitting at a desk or the kitchen table, try propping up one end of your canvas on some books (protected with a rag) to see if you prefer working at an angle.  If you do, you might want to invest in a table easel at some point.

Try to keep your most used supplies within easy reach, so you don’t set yourself up for back or shoulder pain.  This is my current setup in my garage where I paint:

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Getting Started: Your Supply List

Welcome to my advice series for beginners learning to paint, based on my own trial-and-error experience.  These are the basic supplies you’ll need when starting on a budget.  

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Paint

Buy small tubes of professional or “artist” grade paint in these colors:

  • Ultramarine blue
  • Cadmium yellow (or Primary yellow)
  • Cadmium or Naphthol red (or Primary red)
  • Carbon black
  • Titanium white
  • Consider adding Burnt Umber, Yellow Ochre, Quinacridone Magenta, Phthalo Green and Zinc White if you can

Brushes

  • Large flat or filbert
  • Small round
  • Medium angular bright

Canvas

  • Buy 5-6 canvas panels (recommended size 9″x 12″ or larger) to start
  • Then buy back-stapled or gallery wrap canvas (not side stapled) when you’re ready

Other Supplies (buy or find at home)

  • Masking tape
  • Disposable palette paper
  • Old apron or button down shirt
  • Rags
  • Big water jar or bucket

You’re ready to paint! Leave any questions in the comments or send me a message.

Next: Setting up your Painting Space

Getting started: Brushes

Welcome!  I’m posting a series of tips for beginner artists, based on my own trial-and-error experiences as a self-taught painter.  

1. Paints

2. Brushes

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I’m continuing my series on acrylic painting for beginners.  Again, you should be spending most of your budget on a small number of artist grade colors and brushes, avoiding the large “student” sets and unnecessary extras.  Quality paint and brushes will make the biggest difference in your results.

Plan on spending $5-10 for each brush. You’ll be tempted by the large, cheap, 12-piece bristle set for students, but don’t buy it. These brushes are not usually very good quality, and you won’t use all those sizes.  Nothing can frustrate you faster than bad brushes.

Brushes for heavy texture paints like acrylic and oil are stiffer than watercolor brushes, so make sure you’re shopping in the right section. You can choose from a range of natural (animal hair) or synthetic fibers.  Both work well in my opinion, but I really like the Princeton Best synthetic series for overall value.

My 3 Essential Brushes for Acrylic Painting

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