how is painting formed?
January 23, 2023 8:17 PM   Subscribe

I want to paint and I don't know how or where to start.

I want to paint. As in make art, not paint my walls. When I have done so in the past I've found it relaxing.

Problems are: limited space in my studio/office, not wanting to make a mess, not knowing what supplies to buy.

I know I don't want to use watercolors. Too fiddly.

Any suggestions on how to make this happen? Is there like a dummy proof starter kit for aspiring painters out there?

I'm not looking to become a famous painter, I just want a chill hobby.

posted by nayantara to Media & Arts (15 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Do you want to have a recognizable image at the end, or just have fun with paints and colors? Both are admirable and fun, but it depends on what you like.
posted by The otter lady at 8:30 PM on January 23

My dad was of the latter school; a brilliant and hardworking and serious physicist, his doctor suggested a hobby, and he got some cheap canvas and a big tube of white and a few colors and just had fun blending color to white. Us kids all have retained a painting of his and cherish them; they're vague enough to go with anything but you can see his patience, meticulousness, appreciation for subtle nuance and hidden depths in every brushstroke.
posted by The otter lady at 8:40 PM on January 23 [6 favorites]

Gouache (opaque watercolor) is a bit more forgiving than watercolor, and it suits paper so you don't have to worry about canvases.

Himi/Miya gouache sets are popular at the moment, there are so many tutorials on Youtube, and they come with a palette and brushes. The quality is fine for a beginner.

A step up would be Winsor and Newton or Holbein gouache. You don't need to spend a lot on a whole set of tubes, with red blue yellow and white plus black / dark brown you can mix almost any color you need.

For paper, it's nice to have over 200gsm, 300 gsm is better. I like to practice on postcard sized pieces of paper, you can buy different types pretty cheaply.
posted by Sar at 9:07 PM on January 23 [6 favorites]

I'm a big fan of painting pads. You can go really far with a basic acrylic paint set (I think my first set was Liquitex and it was solid) and some painting paper. I'd also get a basic palette (though you can also find palette paper) and a couple of synthetic brushes to start.

The paper is nice because it feels a lot lower stakes than a looming canvas. You can play around with colour mixing or whatever you want to do and if you hate what's happened - just crumple it up and start again.

And if you're having a hard time thinking of what to start with, my teacher had us literally paint the colour wheel. It was super helpful.
posted by thebots at 9:12 PM on January 23 [8 favorites]

Seconding thebots on the paper suggestion - I took a painting class recently, and they had us start off on mixed media paper for our initial exercises in mixing paints (starting with just the primaries and black and white), and then a monotone copy of an image to start learning how to depict form and shadow.

But that's another suggestion - if there's an adult art school in your area that offers classes, they might provide materials for students to use in class, so you can see what the real basics are with what you're using there; or they'll have a list of things to buy if supplies aren't provided, and that would basically comprise your starter set. I also have a general acrylic painting book that has some interesting 3- and 5-color palette suggestions besides just the basic primaries - you can do a lot with not too much.
posted by LionIndex at 9:33 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]

I know you said no watercolors due to it being too fiddly, but I highly recommend this free beginner painting course playlist on YouTube. I just started it a few weeks ago as a total beginner and it is super clear and easy to follow. I'm only on lesson 7 and have already created a few little paintings I'm quite proud of - I just did this one a few days ago! I actually find watercolors more forgiving than acrylics, since I'm forced to focus more on the overall impression and less on trying to get individual details right. I also like that the instructor starts you out with minimal materials, only 3 paint colors (all other colors are blended from those), 2 brushes and a few other items.
posted by platinum at 10:38 PM on January 23 [26 favorites]

The Art Sherpa has a bunch of youtube videos, including beginner courses for both acrylic & watercolor as well as other images where you do a "paint along" and learn the process. She will tell you exactly what colors to buy for those projects.

If you prefer books, Learn to Paint in Acrylics with 50 Small Paintings has a lot of good info on technique & basic skills. (I got it from the library & read it, but haven't had time to actually do the projects.)

As far as supplies go, I picked up a Liquitex Basics starter paint set & a few other individual colors I liked, an assortment of brushes, and some cheap (10/$10) canvases. Canvas boards or painting paper are also inexpensive options, but I find actual canvases more satisfying. All the paints & brushes fit in a plastic shoebox-sized bin, so it's easy to put away when I'm done.
posted by belladonna at 3:39 AM on January 24 [2 favorites]

Medium--as an alternative to other suggestions, I am a fan of oils. They are forgiving. They are fun to work with. I've painted indoors in a small space with no problems, just need to be careful about keeping things tidy. I use a small fan to help mitigate the smell, but I actually like the aroma!

Materials--You need some kind of paint thinner, a set of paints, brushes, and a surface to paint on. I'd start with a size in range of 10"x12" can buy canvases, but you can also paint on other stuff--cardboard, for example. There are beginner style sets of oils and brushes that you can start with. Eventually you can move on to buying individual tubes in sizes and colors you like.

You can paint flat on a desktop or buy an easel. A small desk-top easel is a good option if you are short on space.

I use old jars for holding the brushes and thinner, and things like disposable pie pans for a pallette..... There are items you can buy such as pads of palette paper, or an actual palette, which might be appealing, but not a requirement. I also have rags around for wiping brushes, etc..

One challenge with an oil painting is that take a long time to dry. This is great for working on a piece across several days or weeks, but the piece will need a place to sit unbothered while it dries. (There is stuff you can buy to speed up the drying process, I never use it.)

Acrylic paints do not offer the sensory glory of oil that I enjoy, but they might be less intimidating--you use water, they dry quickly.

Classes and videos can be great, but there is nothing wrong with just messing around with paints on your own.

Hope this was useful. Good luck!
posted by rhonzo at 4:54 AM on January 24

I think oils are actually less messy than water based paints such as acrylics, which dry permanently so fast. Oils are just luscious to blend and more enjoyable to work with, but itsvalso fun to experiment with different paint mediums. For oils, I reduce drying time by blending mine with cold wax. I paint abstracts mainly, and use scrapers and rollers, rarely brushes. Also, I never use paint thinner to clean up, I use inexpensive vegetable oil, and paper towels. Get a cheap easel to start, and some 12x12 canvases or boards to start, and a cheap cloth tarp underneath and covering your work table. Experiment and have fun!
posted by j810c at 7:03 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]

I'd second gouache. It has the immediacy and ease of watercolors, but they feel less fiddly and more...painterly? That sounds dumb but they handle more the way (I think) oils do. They're forgiving because of the opacity; if you don't like something, you just let it dry and paint over it. It's easier for me to loosen up with them, whereas with watercolors sometimes it feels like you have to know everything you're going to do before you start.
posted by yeahlikethat at 8:25 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]

I recommend this book: The Artist's Manual by Angela Gair, Chronicle Books publisher, $25. This book is a fabulous materials and techniques guide for artists. Gair describes every painting media in very practical detail, with lots of beautiful pictures and clear, concise applications. Each media has pictures of different applications of the media in different styles which range from very detailed to completely abstract, so the reader can see the type of effect they want to achieve and adapt it to their own artwork. The book can give you a really useful guide to the type of technical effects you want and help with purchasing the right media, ground, brushes, et cetera.

If you have limited space, watercolor is really useful since it is the most compact, dries rapidly, doesn't have concerns about fumes, and cleans up easily. Gouache is watercolor with a very dense pigment load, and will cost more as a result. There are a lot of mediums that can be added to watercolor to achieve different effects. The fiddly reputation ascribed to watercolor is a relic of painters who think of it as this tortuous medium for perfectionists, but that's really a limitation of the artist's thinking and not the medium.

Student grade ranges are less expensive because the pigment load of the tube color is generally less, but they are fine until you learn; nowadays most brands student and artist ranges are very similar in quality. Just don't buy a kids' set or a two dollars for forty-five color set since those have very little pigment, a lot of chalk as filler, and not very good binders. I hope this is helpful information.

Take a look at the book and the different styles of different artists and I think you will find some inspiring works to get you excited about starting a project. Happy painting!
posted by effluvia at 8:55 AM on January 24 [2 favorites]

I know you said "no watercolor" but that is what I and the people I know use. So maybe it will transfer - especially to gouache, as mentioned above.

Anyway, we do a ton of painting just in the living room chair or, say, while out camping, or at the airport while waiting, etc. The minimal kit needed is very small - say 3-4 brushes, a pallet, and a pad with watercolor paper. And for watercolor, a little cup or container of some kind with water. You can get started for $30-$40 easily, or less if needed. You just hold the pad in your lap, or something like a lapdesk if fancy, and paint away.

You can start with that and then add more if interest and room allows. Just for example, you can paint/draw straight in the sketch book but if you have a flat board just a hair bigger than the paper and you mount the paper to the board while painting it (just tape it in place with masking tape), that can be a nice yet simple improvement. The "flat board" is something you could find at your local home improvement store or if you're really hardcore, an art supply store.

One thing I do like about water color is it dries pretty fast - a least enough that you can close the sketchbook after letting it dry 2-3 minutes (or say 5 at most) without ruining anything. So you can paint for 5-10 minutes, close it up, come back 30 minutes or 2 hours or 2 weeks or 2 months later and just pick right back up where you were.

Here are some examples - minimalistic setup, 5 affordable simple setups.

P.S. It is an excellent chill hobby. I should paint a lot more.
posted by flug at 1:27 PM on January 24

I really like working with acrylic paint. Straight from the tube it covers extremely well and dries fast. So if something doesn’t work out on the first try you can just go over it again and rarely have to wait. It can be thinned with water, so fumes are no big deal unless you use a ton of paint. You can paint on just about anything: paper (unless super thin), cardboard, canvas, wood, foam, fabric. And if something is too smooth for the paint to stick you can just go at it with rattle-can primer and make it paintable.
After it dries it basically becomes plastic, you don’t need any finish to protect it.

Basic craft paint is fine for acrylics, I think it’s better to spend some money on good brushes. A pallet is also not necessary, I usually use the glossy paper of a magazine cover and throw it away after a couple of paintings.

I use DaVinci synthetic brushes and Golden Maple sable brushes, as well as some super cheap ones for rough work. For paint I use a mix a cheap craft paint and Arteza acrylics.

Arteza makes this starter set which is probably great, but a little pricey. I got started on a much cheaper no name set, but the brushes were pretty terrible.
posted by the_dreamwriter at 2:00 PM on January 24 [1 favorite]

If I were to gift a set to a friend starting out I'd get this easel and Acrylic set from Blick. Its nice because you can store everything in the easel. Also painting upright is a great way to paint. I'd add a pad of Canson watercolor paper and this set of brushes.

As for learning how to paint Id suggest going to your favorite place to get books and flip through beginner books and get what looks interesting to you. There are so many to learn from. Another option would be a local class to get you going. A good class will go over basics and not just drink wine and copy this sunset. Nothing wrong with that kind of class ,they are fun but for your first go something more tailored to starting out is way more informative.
posted by ljesse at 2:57 PM on January 24

Oh! There's also the whole "Paint & Sip" thing, I think they supply all the materials and so forth, you could try a few of those in different mediums and see what you think before buying supplies of your own.

Edit: I see the post above and agree but I think it depends on your own comfort level, both are fun! Me personally I'd rather rip my own eyebrows off than attend something social, and am more the "buy cheap supplies and mess with them in private" sort.
posted by The otter lady at 9:39 PM on January 24

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