The Wonderful World of Painting

If you are new to painting, welcome.

Even pros have to do stuff they don't like
Painter Painting  Painter
Acrylic on canvas, 24×18″ 2014

So you want to know more about painting. Well, that’s a deep subject (Pun intended). I guess we need to find a starting point. If you are new to painting, welcome. If you’re already well versed in painting and have some skills, please bear with me as we tackle the basics for a few posts.


First, let me tell you how I got started painting pictures. I painted houses for 30 years, almost entirely in Toronto and Timmins Ontario. I finally got the nerve to start painting art in my late 30’s in the mid-’90s.

Oh, it wasn’t a driving urge to paint since childhood. Sadly I didn’t have any encouragement to be creative while I was growing up. Quite the opposite actually. In the 1960s art was barely acknowledged in Nova Scotia schools. It was deemed extracurricular entertainment and thus unimportant in school.

Yes, I painted as a child and had one friend of the family work with me on a few watercolors. It didn’t kindle anything much in me at the time. I didn’t like the look of watercolors but ironically, at the age of 10 or so, I remember saying to a friend that it must be nice to live off your art or hobby. Even at that age I was yearning to create but was convinced there was no way you could live off of art.

In my 30’s in Toronto, I befriended my mother’s friend Mildred. She lived near me and was alone in her 70’s. So we began going to art galleries and plays and movies and then out for dinner. We began to notice that people were scandalized by us, assuming we were a couple. So we, of course, hammed it up, snuggling and holding hands, just to see the shocked looks. We laughed a lot.


But my cultured friend introduced me to more than good food. Mildred took me to places of art. We hit all the usual spots like the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Royal Ontario Museum. We also visited the abundance of small galleries all over the city.

It was with her guidance I began to see art not only as beautiful but doable. After one outing to the AGO, absorbing the Group of Seven art of the early 1900s, we sat down at her place and took out her oil paints. She dared me to try to paint what I thought was doable. Specifically, I adored the very simple but complex works of Tom Thompson.

She told me what I tell all beginners, “take some paint and see how it works, draw or experiment and see how mixing it works.” Much to my surprise, a simple landscape with trees, house, wood rail fence and river, appeared as if by magic.

Beginning With Paint

Since there are so many painters and artists in the population, art materials are no longer specialty expensive items. Now they are consumer goods. Anyone anywhere can get them. I won’t bog you down with specific brands at this point. We are only going to talk in general terms for now.

There are countless books on techniques and materials. Again I will avoid specific books for now. You need to start where you think your strengths might be. Pencils and paper are cheap. Go to a dollar store and you get a great starter kit of sketch pad and pencils for under $10. You can even get cheap paint and canvases to start playing with.

Now don’t confuse crafter’s paints with art paint. But it is a place for kids to start. Craft paint is cheap and easy to clean up. It will help the novice understand how to mix colors and how to make shapes. Art student paint is low-grade artist paint. Again, cheap and wonderful for learning on and using by the gallon if need be.

Once you get serious about your art, then begin investing in higher quality paint. This is fuller body paint and nonfading, intended to last for many decades. Then when you are skilled, selling and can afford it, you move up to professional quality paint. But let’s get back to basics.

The Ugly Word in Painting

Regardless of how much experience you have, you need to PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE. Sorry about that, but there it is. When I teach children, I drill into them the need to ask their parents to let them practice weekly at least, or more if possible. The reason is I want them to create the habit of creativity early in life.

Are you still here after I swore at you with the P-word? Good. Now as you begin to create something from nothing, you will experience a wide range of emotions. None of them are true indicators of your progress. You will experience joy, happiness, impatience, frustration, sadness, jealousy, embarrassment, triumph and more.

But the farther we proceed into creativity in general and painting in particular, we get more philosophical about it. But it still comes down to practice, especially when you don’t feel like it. As we mature, we learn from our mistakes and we grow as we correct. The same thing applies to creativity. If you only learn how this color reacts with that color, or how to make the brush stroke that gives you what you want, you progress.

The Learning Process

Sometimes we like a part of a failed painting. Learn from it and move on. Very, very few people are fantastic painters from the start. It’s a Hollywood myth to move a storyline along. Yes, there are terrific natural painters, but even they have to practice. If anything, they practice more than the rest of us.

Learning theory, reading, watching videos on YouTube and researching styles on Google is a great pastime. But sooner, we hope, you sit down and practice what you see.

What happens with creativity is the better you get, the more you love it. When that happens, you mind the effortless. You begin to look forward to it. The easiest thing in the world sadly, is LIFE GETS IN THE WAY OF PAINTING.

There comes a time when schoolwork and teachers can drive the desire out of you. Or making a living and providing for the family becomes all-encompassing. DON’T let it happen. Carve out time in the week to keep up the painting. I won’t insult you by saying it’s easy. It isn’t. But don’t wait until you’re retired to start painting seriously. You will kick yourself. Hard. If you spend decades practicing, you WILL produce great works of art.

A Warning

But if you wait until everything is convenient or for once you retire, how many decades do you think you have left to paint? From what I see around me and from what I’ve read, you don’t have as much time as you think. As they say, the graveyard is the saddest place on Earth, because there is so much unfulfilled potential in there. Think of all the unwritten books, unwritten music or unpainted pictures, or simply so much untapped creativity buried there. And mostly because of fear of failure. So, will your creativity be buried with you?

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