Andrew Bracey

How can you start painting when you don’t know anything about it?

Starting out in painting, or any other artistic activity, it’s always full of questions that jostle in our heads. As I researched this article, I realized that the subject had already been covered many times… but not in a way that satisfied me! I then wanted to have a different approach, and above all one that would also allow you to progress in your personal journey.

Because let’s not hide it, art is about expressing your “I” visually, and ideally without a filter. It is therefore not simply an artistic activity, it is a personal and intimate path to our inner Being.

Boom, I may have already lost a few of them on the way. Oh yes, by the way, to simplify the text, I’ve been using the feminine in my articles for some time now. But of course, this has no discriminatory value and you should know, gentlemen, that you are also considered in my remarks.

I also recently wrote an e-book entitled “Dare to become the Artist in You! “: you can get it for free by subscribing to my website.

But let’s get back to our business.

Starting painting: what you think you should do

Let’s get to the heart of the matter: this article could have been a simple list of the basic materials needed to start painting… For example, for the easel, which can represent a higher cost, go see in the second hand.

With advice like:

– Start with acrylic paint, it’s easier;
– Learn how to copy some of the paintings you like;
– Watch tutorials on YouTube, there are tons of them
– Sign up for art classes to discipline yourself;
– etc.

So, here it is, the article would already be finished.

And you would have the whole basic kit, you would have subscribed to a lot of great YouTube channels, you would even have started taking a few classes, and then after a while, your kit would have gotten dusty while your painting would have stayed indefinitely in progress.You would then be part of that countless number of people I meet at each exhibition who tell me: “Ah, I started painting a while ago, I like it, but I don’t really have any talent” or “I don’t have time or space”…

Would you like to try another approach? Let’s try to go further together by giving you a glimpse of what long-term attitude to have to start painting for good!

If you were an artist, what type would you be?

That is a very important question. Because painting, as I said at the beginning of this article, is not just a hobby: it is a path to oneself, to one’s own creativity. Why then do we never ask ourselves the question of who we would be (we are) as an artist?

We all have a different personality when we are painting: perfectionist, player, dreamer, colorful, black and white etc. And of course, we are not locked into this or that category, because art is a space of freedom. We can therefore be in turn perfectionist, dreamer or both.

To simplify the exercise we will do here, however, I will describe two predominant categories:

1. the perfectionist Artist for whom hours of trial-error-modification do not count as long as the final result is beautiful;
2. the player Artist who wants to have fun, be in the “Do” and does not care about the result, if it is beautiful, so much the better, otherwise, it does not matter, we start over!

Quickly without thinking, in which category do you fall?

There is no wrong answer, there is only YOUR answer. There is also a good chance that you will be a sweet mix of these two categories. Personally, I do. But again, to simplify my explanations, I will keep these two categories quite distinct and develop these completely opposite approaches.

And even if you consider yourself to fully belong to only one of these categories, I invite you to read the description of both approaches. This is to avoid locking yourself into what you believe to be and thus, to let the artist in you express himself without limits imposed, even by you (especially by you). And also because there are many interesting things I will write in the first chapter that are valid for both categories.

Beautiful – the perfectionist Artist (category 1)

In this category we find our perfectionist, ordered, realistic side, but also that part of us that needs recognition in the eyes of others. Because most of the time, doing good looks gives us a certain recognition of our work.

But let us leave this last aspect aside. I will focus here on our “realistic” side in particular.

Prelude – Prepare the work before painting

When you start painting, it is necessary to have reference points. And our first reflex is to want to reproduce something that we love, therefore, that we find beautiful. It’s a good reflex. Who would want to learn painting to reproduce something she finds ugly?

First, look for the subjects you would like to deal with: landscapes, animals, portraits… I leave the abstract aside, because it will be difficult to reproduce accurately the abstract at first. If you think you are in category 1 and it is the abstract that attracts you, I will disappoint you by telling you that you will have to make an effort to get closer to category 2.

So let’s say you decide to choose animals as the starting point. Search the net for images of animal paintings.

Yes, paintings! Because it will be easier to reproduce a painting rather than a photo (beware of copyright: we are talking here about a practice for oneself, so not to sell or then give a work inspired by someone else’s work without their consent!) Avoid paintings that are too realistic, as this would be at the same level of difficulty as reproducing a photo.

If you are good at drawing, reproduce it directly, and if you are not good or lazy like me, just trace it (or use a projector). Cheating doesn’t exist in art!

I repeat:


Only copying without consent to sell, give or promote is prohibited.

So here you are with the outlines of a drawing, your tubes of paint, your brushes, water, a palette, an apron (don’t forget!!!!), an image to reproduce and no idea of what to do next!

And that’s it, you’re an artist, because that’s exactly how any artist feels when she starts a painting! Even after years of practice!

All the flafla of the vision, the approach, all the blablas about the reasons, the explanations… these are just words to reassure us, to share with others. But when we are in front of our canvas, none of this exists.

The artist is like a child who will draw a picture.

Continuation of the operation – Painting a masterpiece….

But let’s go back to our category 1 artist, perfectionist, realistic and who wants to make something beautiful. So you have a challenge: to reproduce something so that it comes as close as possible to the original.

First mistake: start on a canvas.

Let me explain: imagine that you are not a runner at all, nor a top sportsman, and that you want to take up the challenge of running a marathon in the near future. It turns out that the next morning, a marathon leaves for your city and you can still register.

Are you going to do it? No. Step one: you will make a training schedule (which you will more or less respect depending on your level of discipline) and practice as much as possible before you probably register for a half-marathon. Then maybe the marathon will come. And even if you are the type to register directly for the marathon without going through the “half”, you will train first…

So why on earth when someone wants to start painting she buys a canvas?

Habits to develop – Painting for the long term

Do you buy training paper: canvas paper or “mixed technical” paper (media mix). And the good news is that if it is successful, you can always put it in a photo frame or stick it on a blank canvas.

But be careful not to leave with this idea in mind when you start, because it would be like running 5 km in the evening after work, and say “oh hold on to that look good, I’m going to do 42 km after all”…

Example: In my class today with my students, we worked on the eyes of the animals. I chose simple eyes, like owl / eagle, and instead of making an owl or eagle, we made lots of eyes on paper. And the funny thing is that when I took out my models, one of my students said,”I could have sworn you wouldn’t make us make owl eyes, it looks so simple!”

But as the practice progressed, she no longer found it simple at all! And yet, it was just a 5 km training run, hihi….

So, if you want to make a particular painting, first deconstruct the subject in several sections: the background, the animal’s colours, the eyes, the beak, the feathers, the legs… and work these elements on your paper before doing it on your canvas. Make trial and error. Move your canvas forward gradually.

Step 1: background tests on paper until you get something you like; Step 2: background on canvas; Step 3:tests for the animal’s colours (mixtures or pure colours); Step 4: applying the animal’s basic colours to the canvas; Step 5:
eye training; etc…

These steps can be done the same day or not, depending on the time you have, the time you also take to do your tests. But remember, we are in category 1, the category of the perfectionist Artist who wants to have a beautiful result: the price to pay is how long it will take!

You may then sometimes be tempted to become a category 2 artist. Or take a canvas and try the masterpiece right away. Do it, but whatever the result of the races, don’t get discouraged for the rest. Because remember: it would be like running a marathon after only two or three weeks of training…

Let’s move on to category 2.

It’s beautiful to do – the Artist Player (category 2)

We find in this category our game more playful, childish, dreamy, carefree. The child draws a drawing entirely in the same colour because he likes it, and he loves the gesture. It doesn’t matter if the result is just a green doodle.

He puts his hands full of it, and often, when we paint with the little ones, it is quite quick to spot those who are in the “Do”: they paint with their brush on the sheet, but also on the table, on their arms, even on the faces of others…

Very young, they are all like that: We’re all like that. But with age comes the desire to do something beautiful (and therefore to get closer to category 1.).

Prelude – Painting like a child

If you were still sufficiently connected with your inner child, you wouldn’t really need advice to start painting: you would already have taken a sheet of paper and pencils or paint and started smearing.

So, if you are reading this article and think you are in category 2, it is because you would love to do abstract painting, or have fun painting without waiting, but your inner child is in a small prison that you have made with the help of social codes… Don’t worry, we are all the same!

So the first step is to recognize it: work on yourself to get rid of the desire to do something beautiful, and accept the fact that if you just want to have fun, your painting will look like nothing (personally, I still do them regularly like that, and I LOVE it).

The best way to do it (at least it’s my way, and it works great for me): paint with children up to 3-4 years old… if you don’t have a child under 4 years old within reach, look online for inspiration, and use one of the following techniques..:

– if you are right-handed, paint with your left hand, and vice versa;
– play funny painting games with other non-artists adults, like you, like “Pictionnary” but with paint, or exchange sheets every 10 minutes in class; – have fun
closing your eyes regularly during your painting;
– Turn your sheet of paper over every 5 minutes;
– Paint by holding your brush with your feet, or with your mouth, or simply by holding it at the tip with just two fingers;
– Incorporate unusual elements;
– Make traces with everything that falls into your hands;
– etc

And of course, as I wrote in the previous chapter, don’t try to run a marathon when you’ve never run before. Use canvas paper or mixed technique sheets to train instead of taking a canvas right away!

Continuation of the operation – Learning from your pictorial experiences

Well, then, what are we doing with all these smeared leaves?

We do the sorting: look at them closely, and surround or cut out the places you liked to do, those whose result you like, and those, if you are lucky, that meet both these criteria at the same time (which is very rare, don’t worry).

They will be your guides for the rest, you can display them on one of your walls and be inspired by them.
Also look on the net for abstract or semi-realistic paintings that attract you and print some of them to inspire you too.

You will also probably notice that there are times when you can have fun in this way: personally, I prefer the morning before doing anything else, or on the contrary in the evening once the day is over.

It seems that during the day, my logical brain is too well connected to put me in this state of light play. Then write down your favourite moments of painting and try to free yourself from time at those moments.

Habits to develop – Painting for the long term

As you go through your tests, you will therefore end up with a list of gestures/colours/textures/effects that you like to do and, at the same time, a set of small tips whose results you like and that you can display at home.

Learn to control (more or less because chance is always interesting and present in the abstract) all these gestures/colours/textures/effects that give you so much pleasure in doing them. Then, sort out what is “showable” or not. Indeed, you are in it, so have fun and think about it later!

Creations that have a beautiful aesthetic, which are therefore “beautiful”, you can then frame them or stick them on a canvas (marouflage).

And then: be careful not to fall into the trap of copying yourself all the time and don’t forget to have fun! You can also take inspiration from the many different techniques that exist in painting and that can be found on YouTube by the tonne: pouring, inks, gluing, etc.

If you think you belong to this category of artist, I strongly suggest that you consider meditation just before painting, to help you clear your mind and erase your expectations of results. Be careful, meditation does not necessarily mean sitting in a suit. You can dance to crazy music, coloring for kids, washing dishes, taking a shower, or any other automatic activity that you like and clear your brain.

Let’s move on to a more common category of artist: a gentle mix between the child player and the realistic perfectionist.

Category 3: I want to have fun AND the result to be beautiful

In other words, “I want it all”!

And why not?

I fall into this category.

Alternating realistic-perfectionist period and playful-dreamy period

I often have alternating periods: for 1 or 2 months, I only paint realistic things, then, for the next 2 months, the abstract comes back… At first, I thought it meant that I didn’t know who I was as an artist, that I hadn’t found my style!

On the contrary, it’s the opposite: I am these two artists at the same time. I have to accept it and live in balance with it. I cannot force things and lock myself into a purely abstract or purely realistic process, because it is not me. And the advantage of this period alternation is the enormous learning potential.

I strongly advise you to try to alternate your realistic projects with abstract phases: you will always grow out of it!

Balance between realism and abstraction in the same creation

For some time now, I have been able to let myself be carried by who I am as the work evolves, from the very beginning of a canvas, and my two artistic facets coexist. This is my preferred process. Some people achieve this balance very quickly, and for others it takes longer.

This has nothing to do with your experience in painting, but rather with your inner journey.

If, like me, you have many expectations about “who you want to be”, your resistance will be all the greater and so will the time to reach balance. If you practice letting go instead and are almost a Zen master, you will reach this balance much faster because you are surely someone who listens very much to “what is” and not to “what you would like to be”.

A recipe for finding this balance?

In my experience, here is how to allow these two parts of our “Inner Artist” to express themselves on the same canvas:

Stage 1Nose glued to your canvas, or on the contrary, the brush held with the tips of your fingers and the eyes wrinkled, you are in it 100%! Colors and textures are your guide, the result does not count. You forget to eat or even take a breath, hihi. You must interfere in category 2.

Step 2When you feel your first moment of “play” is over, put down your brush, step back and analyze the situation. What does your intuition/ envy tell you then: I should go back to something more realistic, I could add this or that color, I could draw the outline of a bird…? Work on your logical mind. You have returned to category 1.

Step 3Time: Spend time on the decision you made just before. Search on the net, offset, drawing and painting of the element (category 1 always).

Step 4: Step back again, and see if you have a space in your canvas that needs to be worked on again, and if so, in what way: play or reflection? Category 1 or 2?

Next steps : Navigate between these 2 ways of alternating painting. This can be done over several days / weeks.

Last step: accept failure!

100% of successful people failed just before. So, if you fail: CONGRATULATIONS, you are on the road to success! Oh yeah yeah!!!!!

Failure is abandonment, and if you knew how many people gave up just before they succeeded, they would bite their fingers! Don’t be part of it and keep failing with a smile.

Congratulations, you’re painting!

And yes! As you progress through this process, you will want to discover new tools and try them out. And this is how you will develop your technique: through your curiosity.

And as you paint, your “personality” as an artist will evolve, change, grow. From perfectionist to player through black and white periods, you can’t know in advance what awaits you, because it’s not really up to you, it’s the brush!

So don’t wait for someone to do everything for you to start painting, because everything is in you! Remember the child you were and who only needed a little pea purée to create a whole 3D green work on his face, table, floor and sometimes even reach the ceiling…

You want to start painting even if you don’t know anything about it? Take some paint, and start! Your brush will guide you in one of the directions described in this article, and it is up to you to recognize which one to adopt the right attitude next.