The Painting Lessons You Didn’t Know About

The Painting Lessons You Didn't Know About

Some things you have to learn the hard way.

Like painting skills that are not taught in the classroom or listed in the typical handbook. It’s not all about mixing colors and priming a canvas. Here are a few lessons that I’ve learned while painting, but are often overlooked and under-appreciated.

Lesson #1: Tape is your friend.

If you paint on paper or illustration board, you are going to have to learn how to use tape. Use it to create a clean border around your image. If you are leaving your edges messy or just letting the paint bleed off for no reason, you are severely hurting the final presentation of your artwork.

However, you will want to learn how to do it properly. If the paint bleeds through or you tear up your paper accidentally, you can get frustrated really fast. So, here are a few tips:

  • Use good quality tape. Try to find “white artist’s tape” at your local art store. It is more expensive than regular masking tape, but it is worth it.

  • Use good quality paper. This is probably the best thing you can do to prevent tearing. Some examples of some surfaces I’ve used and had good experiences with include Arches watercolor paper, Crescent illustration board, and Strathmore bristol vellum paper. In general, just avoid the really cheap bargain stuff.

  • Leave a good margin. I like to leave a space of about two inches around my image. It might feel like you are wasting paper, but trust me, it looks better.

  • When applying the tape, pay special attention to the inside edges and corners. Press them down firmly and rub with a hard edge, like a ruler or a fingernail.

  • When removing, peel slowly and away from your image. If you paint thickly, sometimes your paint will want to peel away with the tape, so be careful. If your paint is obviously stuck to your tape, gently separate it with an Xacto knife.

Lesson #2: Tracing is hard.

Many artists start their work with a drawing, then transfer it to the board or canvas through a projector or graphite paper. This skill is really more difficult than it may seem. After all, how hard can it be to trace a drawing? Well, if you find that your transfers often come out skewed, stiff, or simply not very good, here are a few things to consider…

  • Draw, don’t trace.

  • Be more concerned with preserving the integrity of your drawing, not duplicating it.

  • Have faith in your drawing ability.

Don’t think that you won’t get a good copy if you don’t follow your original drawing religiously. You can spend hours going over every single little line and still end up with a mess. Approach the transfer as you would any other drawing, using your original as a guide. If you’re concentrating more on “copying” the original, you’ll lose sight of the form and movement, which is really the essence of what you are trying to duplicate on your canvas.

Lesson #3: Dip with care.

Painting is not just a matter of choosing and mixing the right colors. You have to pay attention to the paint itself. How much paint do you load onto your brush before you lay down your stroke? What is its consistency? Keeping track of this will help you paint more smoothly and quickly.

If you are constantly reaching to your palette because the paint is drying/running out too fast, try thinning it with a little bit of water. If you are having trouble painting small details because the paint keeps running everywhere, your paint is too thin or you have too much on your brush.

So, in addition to your palette, brushes, and paint, always have these supplies handy while you are painting:

  • clean water/thinner

  • paper towel

Thinning your paint will help it run more smoothly, and wiping excess paint on some paper towel will prevent you from creating a blotchy mess. It really is an art in and of itself, and is probably not so obvious to a novice painter.

Lesson #4: Learn to use an Xacto knife.

You will need to learn how to cut paper, illustration board, mat board, and foam board, among other things. It will look really stupid if the edges are wobbly, the corners are dented, or the edges are torn.

Keep the blade sharp. Nothing will ruin your paper/illustration board/mat board faster than a dull blade. Even if you have used a blade a few times, it might not be sharp enough.

Use a sturdy, cork-backed ruler. You can’t have your straight edge slip-sliding all around while you are trying to handle a sharp implement.

Cut with the “good side in.” Position your ruler so that the side you are cutting off is on the same side of your cutting hand. This will protect the “good” side of your paper/board in case your hand should go astray.

You don’t have to do it all at once. If the material you’re using is too difficult to cut through in one stroke, don’t try. Just keep you ruler aligned and go over your cut again and again until it cuts through.

Follow through. When you’re cutting out a rectangle, don’t stop your cut when you’ve reached the corner. Keep cutting beyond it, and this will help keep the corner straight and sharp.

Lesson #5: Don’t be cheap.

Spend wisely, but don’t cheat yourself.

Buy good QUALITY materials…

USE your paint…

SCRIBBLE in your sketchbook…

Update your SOFTWARE…

Get a website. Buy your own DOMAIN name…

…and so forth.

Have any other painting tips/tricks? Have a question about this post? Leave a comment here on