My Personal Guide for the Beginning Artist

What makes something “art?” Can you draw a face with a sideways eye and call yourself Picasso? What about different mediums? Where do you even begin? This all can leave us a little overwhelmed, but I assure you, taking up a hobby that has this many options and interpretations is a good thing! I took up art seriously about three years ago, and so many awesome things have happened since. From learning about the effects of different paints, to framing styles, to persevering through multiple revisions, art - for me - has been my outlet and affects how I see everyday life. If you find yourself wanting to get started but don’t know where to begin, here is my personal guide to creating pieces you’ll love.

Getting Started

One of the first things you’ll need is a little arsenal of supplies. There’s a common misconception that the more expensive the supplies are, the better they’ll be—this isn’t true! You make the quality of your piece, not your supplies. There are lots of affordable brands to choose from that will allow you to create quality pieces without breaking the bank. My go-to paint brands are Blickrylic student acrylics ($5.32/pint) and Winsor & Newton Cotman for watercolors ($10.87/set of 6 tubes). Also, if you know anyone who has some brushes, paints, mixing palettes, or anything that they would be willing to lend you, that is a great place to start when you don’t want to invest too much just yet!

Once you get going, it can be difficult to branch out and try something like sculpting if you’ve just found your flow with watercolors. From personal experience, I would encourage you to develop your skills in a variety of mediums all at once. This will help with a couple of things:

1) You’ll be less likely to get burned out with one thing.

2) The skills you develop with one medium may help with aspects of another that you didn’t even realize translated. For example, after taking a drawing class, I was more aware of the fine details within my reference photos. I began incorporating more of them within my acrylic and oil paintings where I would have usually been more focused on colors and blending.

Style

Beginning with technique, I got my start by utilizing my high school’s art department and learning as much as I could from my teachers. If this isn’t an option for you, no problem! We are extremely lucky to be living in an era where we have access to information on just about anything, so if you’re a visual person, type something into YouTube. If you’d rather read about various techniques, there are thousands of books at your fingertips. Like anything in life, never believe that you’ve learned all there is to know, or the opposite, that learning is hopeless. I’ve heard countless people say things like “Oh, I’m just not artsy.” Anything can be learned and refined if you want to put in the work. Decide, commit and take off!

When it comes to the painting, drawing, or sculpting itself, my biggest tip would be to not have any fear. There is no wrong way to create; beautiful art is the kind that makes you happy when you walk by it every day. If there is a subject matter or combination of mediums that maybe you haven’t learned in an art class, but want to try, go for it! I remember playing around and putting ink on wet paper and watching how beautifully it spread out in feather-like patterns across the page. I never would have discovered that combination if I was consciously working toward the “piece of a lifetime” and avoiding failure. Some of your best work will come just like this—mindlessly following instincts and finding that “it” factor within a sea of mistakes and try again. Let your mind go wild, get in the zone, shut out the rest of the world for just a little bit, and I promise you’ll be left with something beautiful.

The Process

Now for a few tips when you’re in the trenches, mid-painting, mid-brush stroke. First, patience. Watching fast-forwarded videos on Instagram and YouTube can make us believe that “real” artists must get it right the first time. Nope. While you should try to be tedious and catch details your first time through, it is inevitable that you will look back and see things that you don’t like, that aren’t quite right, or that you missed altogether. I spent nearly four months on one piece just because of its detail and unique color combinations. This brings me to a second reason for patience. With painting at least, about 70% of your time will be spent mixing colors. This can be exhausting, but it is so important to evoke the right mood so make sure you don’t neglect it.

Next, create exactly what you see. Obviously, this doesn’t apply to abstract work, but in terms of realism, this is still something that I have to remind myself. Since we were kids, we’ve seen and been told how certain things should look—the typical structure of a house, the classic grass, tree and corner sun picture. Throw all of those out of your mind! The great thing about art is that all you need is exactly what’s in front of you, whether that be a still-life, a plein air landscape, or a photo. Follow the lines exactly as they appear and create the shadows right where they fall. The closer you can get to depicting things without influencing them, the closer you’ll get to realism.

“Perfection” Doesn’t Exist

Remember that there is no such thing as a perfect piece. No matter how clean the lines seem, how on-par the texture of an oil painting appears, all you have to do is talk to the artist to hear a list of things that didn’t turn out quite right. You will come to love your work not because it is perfect, but because of the personal fulfillment and satisfaction that it brings you.

Put Yourself Out There!

Lastly, and this isn’t necessarily true for everyone, but I have found that a lot of my joy from art also comes from others’ reactions to it (their interpretations, what it reminds them of in their own lives, etc.) Some see their art as a personal expression of some of the deepest, most inexplicable parts of themselves, so they shutter at the thought of exposing that to others. However, art has a strange, wonderful way of uniting us. You would be surprised how many people can identify with your work and see the world the way you do. With this comes the possibility of changing someone else’s life for the better, whether that means giving them inspiration, affirmation or just good vibes. Art has power. As a mode of social reform or simply a vehicle of happiness, its power over feeling can completely change our outlook.

Starting something new, especially something as all-encompassing as art, can be a little intimidating. However, taking advantage of your resources, gathering a few supplies, and letting your mind run with the rest is a guaranteed recipe for success. Your unique perspective will always be your most powerful tool, so to the beginning artist—jump in!

Image Credit: All Personal Photos