You Can Paint!

By Sharon Brown (Sharon) on March 23, 2010

You want to paint and don't know where to start? Let's consider three basic rules: Paint from the top to the bottom. Paint from the back to the front. Paint in layers.......and even more important...... Paint like you're having fun!

So many times I've been asked this question: "Can I learn to paint, or do I need to have talent?"

It's the big folks who ask that question, little people already know they can paint. They don't have a single doubt. But my answer has always been the same, "Yes, you can."

You can learn techniques, you can learn methods, and you can learn all that paints will enable you to do. You might not become another Van Gogh...I doubt the world needs another one anyway, but I'll bet you will enjoy painting.

Here's a little lesson that might help you get started.2010-03-23/Sharran/c7c8f8

I live near Kentucky Lake, so a lake scene is where we'll start. I'm using Liquitex Basics, a tubed acrylic paint. Acrylic paints are quite versatile and can be used much like oil paints, and to a lesser extent, can be used like watercolors. They are, however, pretty rough on brushes. For this reason manufacturers have produced a nylon filament brush which is much more resilient with acrylic paints. So for our purposes, we have acrylic paints, nylon flat brushes, a cup of water and a coated paper plate (think disposable palette). Oh, and add a few paper towels. I'm also using an inexpensive water color paper since this is just for fun.  

First, we'll tape the paper to a flat surface (you can see the blue painter's tape in the photo edges), because paper will ripple when wet. The tape will help it retain its shape as it dries. Now I'll think about the lake scene I see in my memories. Starting from the top to the bottom, I see the sky with the water below, and that's what I'll paint first. 

I have small amounts of paint already squeezed onto the plate, both blue and white. And I have a clean flat damp brush ready for use. Barely touching the white with the brush will give me a good base on which I'll add blue as I brush across the paper. It's important to remember to always start with2010-03-23/Sharran/5d1465 your lightest colors when mixing paint, and we will be mixing right on the painting itself as we go. It's much easier to darken light colors than to lighten dark colors, so we're starting with a small amount of white and an even smaller amount of blue. 

Let's start by brushing it across your paper, a little white, a little less blue, brushing in a horizontal motion and blending as you go. Keep more white on your brush, just to tame the blue. Now cover your entire page with the combined white and blue brush strokes, always in a horizontal motion, and be careful to not create stripes. Just blend smoothly as you go. Keep in mind that we are painting a lake and a sky, and since the lake reflects the sky, it's a sure bet you can use the same shades throughout. Don't try for an even shade of blue, uneven will be more realistic. Just be sure you blend out any possible stripes! Paint from the top to the bottom. 

Take a break now, and let your paper dry for awhile. You've completed the background, and it's time to think of the middle ground. What's between you and the horizon line? Trees in the far distance? In my instance, yes, because I can see the far side of Kentucky Lake and there's nothing but trees. It is so far across the lake I can't really see details, but I can see shapes and subtle shades in color. So that's my next step, the middle ground. 

The horizon line is straight, unless there's something between you and it, but that's another step, so we'll paint those trees in the distance on a straight line. On my palette now, I've added yellow and a touch of red. I'll need tan to draw the horizon line, so mixing a bit of yellow and a tiny drop of red to the blue I already have will give me tan, if there'2010-03-23/Sharran/41e820s white mixed in. This is a good time to remind you to clean your brush thoroughly when you begin to use another color, and once it's clean simply absorb some of the water on a paper towel. You don't need a drippy paint brush for this type of painting. 

Holding your flat brush horizontally, gently drag it across your page with the tannish paint trailing. Don't worry about keeping it perfectly straight, just get a horizon line in a pale tan color. Keep the bottom of the line straight, but allow the top of it to vary in height, just as a row of trees will grow. You can do that by pushing your brush upward from the horizon line, but you should turn it to the side so that the lines are not so broad, and less pressure will create a light touch with the paint. You can vary the shades of tan by adding more or less of the tannish brown mixture you created by mixing the basic colors, red, yellow and blue plus a little white. A touch of green (yellow+blue) wouldn't hurt either. Short choppy strokes are best. If you look at land from across a lake, you'll see shades of browns and greens, even blacks and grays, but it's unlikely you'll see2010-03-23/Sharran/e14915 details. Now you've completed the middle ground, going across the page from one side to the other. 

Once that's finished, move on to the foreground, the land at the bottom of the paper, right where you are standing as you view the scene across the lake. This will require more detail because it's closer to you. Again, just make a rough sketch of a bit of land protruding into the water, and fill it in again with the tannish color shades. I made two sections of land, a bit protruding into the lake on the right, then again the part where I would be standing across the bottom. 

Here we'll consider a little more detail, but not too much. I made the land grassy, covered in weeds, and I did this by stroking the brush sideways and upward. Little pressure on the damp brush, and just small amounts of paint work much better. Weeds and grass come in all colors, so I used a combination of colors on my brush as I painted, tans, greens, even reds and whites. I also used the same upward brushstroke, but holding the brush flat this time, to create a small tree. 

Lots of colors go into the tree, so it does not have such a solid appearance. Look closely at trees and you'll see many colors on its bark. No more brown tree trunks for you, experiment with adding shades of tan and grays, maybe a touch of blue as well to your tree trunks. I also added a touch of white. The branches were created using the sideways and upward brush stroke, but if you feel you need to use a tiny bru2010-03-23/Sharran/c397a2sh, then do so with a light hand. 

On the lowest level, the area where I am standing and looking across the lake, the grass and weeds will be much more detailed, but you can finish this area in much the same way you did the land on the right. The weeds will be taller, the tree will be bigger, but the process is the same: upward strokes of the brush held sideways. Another trick I learned to get the appearance of rough branches is to dip the edge of a torn piece of stiff paper into paint, and touch it to your painting adding one last detail. Most of the white weeds you see in this painting were done with the edge of a piece of paper. 

I wanted the look of a white tree trunk, perhaps a birch or a sycamore, so after painting the trunk initially with tan and gray, I added the white detail in a curved motion of the brush. I always tell my students to draw or paint following the contour of a surface, if the surface is rounded, then the brush stroke should be rounded too. 

Finally the tree is in place, with a small amount of detail, enough to suggest to the viewer that it is a white barked tree, so now it's time to add weeds and grass as the final touches to the foreground. Again using the brush sideways and with an upward stroke, add the grass. Use lots of color in tiny amounts on your brush. Weeds, like bark on trees, have many colors. You already have tan, and green, so add a touch of red and a tiny touch of blue to some yellow, and y2010-03-23/Sharran/a817c2ou'll have brown. Yellow with red in it gives you orange. You should by now have the entire palette covered in splotches of color. Clean your brush again and start adding the weeds, dead branches, and other debris you might find around the edge of a lake. The important technique here is to paint in the direction that weeds grow, upward. 

It takes time and patience to paint dozens of tiny weeds, so if you get tired, then take a break. Clean your brush, let it soak in water, and cover your palette with a plastic wrap. If you are using a small paper plate, just slide it into a ziploc bag and seal it. It'll be ready when you return. Now stand back and take a look at what you've accomplished. You've painted a scene, from top to bottom and you've done it in layers of color. You don't have all the details added yet, but you can look at it now and see what else needs to be added. Think of the areas where very little light touches. Are they dark enough? Do you need to go back in with a darker shade of the color you were using? Perhaps a heavier hand? Analyze your painting. Can you do more to create a realistic scene?

2010-03-23/Sharran/d27eb1To me the first step to painting realistic work is to be able to see. Look closely around you. If you want to paint a subject, you need to really look at that subject. Look for colors. Sit looking at a tree and list all the colors and shades of color you see in one single tree. You might be surprised with your final list. Very rarely are things in nature the same shade of color. The light on a blade of grass could very easily turn it's green color into white, or mint, or even lemon yellow. Be very observant of line, too. The bottom edge of the paper is the ground you are standing on, and from that vantage point, things will appear upright just as you are, or they might lean to a degree, or they might lay flat against the ground. Those are the directions your brush will aim for. 

After giving your painting a good look, you're ready for final details, grass, limbs, maybe a white ripple or two in the water. Little strokes with a light hand and very little paint on your brush. The final weeds can be done with the edge of the paper trick again, and it's often a good way to add skinny limbs to trees. 

All finished? Or are you so happy with your painting you want to add a sailboat in the distance? I hope so. 

Don't be afraid to try and try and try. If those first brush strokes are too fat, then let them dry and paint right over them. Take all the time you need. The beauty of learning with acrylic paint is that on2010-03-23/Sharran/1d4898ce it's dry, you can simply paint over it without risking a thing. 

You've just completed a lesson in acrylic dry brushing. You've kept a light hand, and not pushed on your brush. You've used very little paint and no water except to clean your brush and keep it damp. When you paint using this technique, you are in control. And I think that's very important. You can do it, you can paint, and you can create your own masterpiece. 

Don't you ever let anybody tell you that you can't.  Yes, you can!

Now it's your turn. I'd love to see what you can do with acrylic dry brush. Please share your work in the comment section. 

I added a thread within the Art and Artists Cubit so that you can see more photos of this painting in progress. Here it is:

Thanks and have fun painting!

This article and the photos therein cannot be reproduced without permission from the author. 




Related articles:
acrylic paint, basic colors, basic painting, dry brush painting, painting, painting techniques, painting tutorial, paintings, perspective, teaching painting

About Sharon Brown
Sharon is a retired art and humanities teacher. She is also a writer and has a deep love for gardening. She has written a series of articles about the history and medicinal value of Kentucky wildflowers, and they tell of growing up in the mountains of southeast Kentucky with her Aunt Bett. She currently lives in western KY.

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Comments and discussion:
Subject Thread Starter Last Reply Replies
Just to spur some of us along..... Trish Apr 23, 2010 5:08 PM 1
This is a great article. Gourd Mar 25, 2010 8:17 AM 3
So cool! adinamiti Mar 24, 2010 8:23 AM 2
How fun! Boopaints Mar 23, 2010 11:42 PM 1
Yipee!!!! Seray Mar 23, 2010 11:41 PM 7
Wow! How you have inspired me! Katg Mar 23, 2010 11:31 PM 1
I am in awe shirley Mar 23, 2010 5:20 PM 5
A Happy Day!! Trisha_S Mar 23, 2010 5:16 PM 1
You are the Greatest!! Ridesredmule Mar 23, 2010 9:00 AM 1
excellent tutorial. 77sunset Mar 23, 2010 8:59 AM 2
awesome article! 1AnjL Mar 23, 2010 1:06 AM 1

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