Choosing a subject for your first painting is difficult for some people.
Maybe you feel unsure as to what to paint because you haven’t really done any painting since childhood and you feel that your first try may turn out to be a disappointing image that puts you off from going any further… because you hold an idea that you are “not very good”.
OK: so you are unlikely to become a famous artist…. but there’s nothing wrong with making some decorative painting for your own pleasure and enjoying the process of putting colour down and arranging shapes on a piece of paper, or even a canvas, if you want to try oil paint.
Large books of paper and prepared and stretched canvases are available all over the place now at very cheap prices, so its no longer so scary to use a canvas as it used to be when they were very expensive.
I would suggest, however, that, if you have never painted anything before, you begin with simple, water based paint on paper.
This is going to be far easier to handle at first and not so intimidating as some, more complex, mediums.
Maybe you will find transparent watercolour a little difficult to handle as it requires a certain amount of practice to put down so that it looks nice on the paper – it is also relatively expensive if you buy really good quality pans or tubes and it is a alse economy to buy cheap paint, so acrylics or poster colour might be good choices to begin with as they are more sustantial and easy to use.
Very cheap paint has little pigment and a lot of filler, the result is poor and disappointing, so go for a reasonably priced, reputable brand.
Go to a proper art shop and ask, or research sites on the internet where there is quite a lot of information.
You may feel that you cannot choose a first subject matter, that’s a common problem and one answer is research. Fill your mind with images from other artists, look at paintings – there are millions on the internet to see, this will be inspiring.
Look at colour, in magazines, for instance: a lovely photograph in a magazine can provide a colour palette to use in a painting. Some people have difficulty with choosing a palette of colour and this is one way to find a successful one.
Remember that the proportion of colour that you see in the photo has a lot to do with why you like it: a dash of red in the photo might be the little highlight that makes it a great colour composition, if you use the same colours but with a great big red patch – it will be quite a different thing and it may have little appeal.
You could choose a photograph which you feel has beautiful colour, analyse the proportion of each colour in blocks on a piece of paper and use the colours in the same proportions.
Retaining a deliberately chosen harmonic selection of colour for a painting is a way to avoid one of the main reasons for a painting to be disappointing: that the colour is not pleasing and it can be hard for someone unused to painting to know how to control this witout a pre-determined set of colours.
You could try almost all the painting in blues, for instance; maybe blues with a red highlight. Making a decision about exactly which colours will be used and sticking to that choice can be extremely successful.
Use existing pictures of one kind and another to inform yourself about what you enjoy most in the way of colour, we are all different in our tastes and we educate those tastes by observation..
Still life, ie: the painting of objects placed together, is a way of beginning to paint and making it easy for yourself.
The subject matter doesn’t move about, can be lit with a lamp, so the light doesn’t change, can be endlessly studied before doing anything… and it doesn’t talk back.
Technique – which means the method by which you put colour down, the type of marks you make – is another of the difficulties that people have. The best thing is to look at how other people do it.
Have you seen Kaffe Fasset’s paintings ? These are mainly still life. On the internet: HERE …….. I mention his work purely because he shows a variety of styles and demonstrates that a painting can be of a recognisable subject without having to be ‘super real’. His paintings are decorative and the simple manner in which he paints is a great example to a beginner. If you look at the variety of compositions in his gallery, you can see that he has used the lovely patterns and colours in his subjects to create a decorative picture which clearly shows such things as bowls and shells in an appealing but relaxed way. Without the use of “literal representation”, he has taken the aspects that he enjoys the most and used those.
Of course, there are many artists who use simple techniques which would be an inspiration from which to develop your own style. The point of emulating an established method of painting is to give you a place to start, from which you can expand your ideas. Paint can be quite difficult to put down, so using it – as best you can – in the way that someone else has done can be a good guide.
Painting is a little like handwriting – we all begin with the same alphabet ( colour) and we evolve our own style of putting it down after a while.
Literal Representation ( by which I mean that it ” Looks like a Photograph”) is something that so many amateur painters are drawn to feel is the best thing they could possibly achieve. Actually, painting should really be about self expression rather than a technical exercise… about how you feel and being free to ‘say’ what you like through the medium of marks on a surface. To begin to paint with no experience makes it unwise to choose literal representation as a goal, better to start with something which is more easily achievable..
If you really want to produce highly technical artwork you must have excellent drawing skills.
Photography provides accurate representation very nicely and if very accurate drawing abilities are not your strength, then why distress yourself by attempting to paint something which will probably never work as well for you as you would wish?
At least at first, have a nice play about with some colour……. you can progress to something more complex later… and most people do so.
So, I am suggesting that you begin very simply, make an easy sort of composition and put the colour in slowly and carefully.
You can make a drawing – in pencil, maybe – on the paper to guide you as to the set of shapes you are creating.
Make sure that you are happy with what you see at this stage and don’t make the base drawing too heavy, keep it light in tone. Try to make a decision as to what you will do with the paint but leave your mind open to developing ideas.
Then paint within the shapes you have made, slowly and carefully, mix colour as accurately as you can – and mix enough for the area you want to cover, as you may find it difficult to get the exact same colour twice. Mixing colour is something that some people seem to understand by instinct and others have to teach themselves. There are many sources of information on this…. if it doesn’t come easily, then try to treat it as a new and interesting learning curve as a skill of itself, its easy to be frustrated when you mix red and blue, thinking you will achieve purple – only to find you made brown: well, good – now you know how to make brown and you will find out how to make purple. You can spend a day just finding out how to mix colour, give yourself time to learn – don’t be in too much of a hurry.
Keep in mind – painting is for pleasure, not frustration, you are setting out to make yourself happy through a creative act. The easier you make it for yourself on the the first occasion that you paint and the less you expect anything of yourself beyond a nice arrangement of colour, the more you will enjoy it and feel relaxed with the result and have sparked some new ideas about what you would like to do next.
So, now that you have had a look at some inspirational pictures of one kind and another, if you were feeling unsure – you feel ready to put paint to paper and you can prepare your area to work in.
Make a space large enough for you to work within and put things around you, within reach but not too close, that sounds obvious but if you arrange your workspace first, then you won’t be pushing things out of the way. Its not easy in some houses to clear a good space, so if you have a spare bedroom, then that is a good place, rather than the kitchen, which you will be needing to use in a short while. Lay an old sheet or plastic on the floor first before you do anything else, even though you know you can operate neatly and cleanly there is always the possibility of a spill. Some colours stain a carpet or floorboards quite badly.
Collect everything you need to paint – paper, board, brushes, two pots of water, one to keep clean for mixing paint, one to wash the brushes and, if you have one, a spray bottle of clean water. A spray bottle which once had a different purpose, washed, is good. A nice big white china plate to mix on (or a commercial palette) pencils, a rubber, a blade or sharpener, box of tissues or a cloth and a dry sponge. Make sure you have clean water to hand. Mucky paint water is not an asset.
You can make a drawing board with a good piece of plywood and prop it up on a book so you have your work at a slight angle to you, this helps you to draw without distortion.
However, when you paint, you may want it flat to prevent runs, it depends on the materials you are using.
Make sure your still life – if that is your choice – is lit in a way that the light remains fairly constant and that you can see it properly from where you have decided to sit.
If you set the room up in a way which is comfortable, then it will be more fun than if you have to keep getting up and moving things.
If you want to listen to something whilst you are working, make sure it is not providing you with cables to trip over.
Oh – and don’t, as once I did, look after a friend’s kitten at the same time as trying to paint or put a cup of coffee next to the paint water, I have drunk paint water several times and, once, memorably, some turps, when oil painting. Its not good.