Beginner's Guide to Acrylic, Watercolor and Oil Painting

Updated on June 3, 2019
Bella Shaikh profile image

Bella is an abstract artist. She enjoys creating intuitive floral paintings, and abstract landscapes and seascapes.

Liberate the Artist Within You

This is a topic very close to my heart. Art is an amazing tool that we should all explore without fear. The process of painting has so many benefits for our well-being, and it is a wonderful away to deal with our emotions.

In today's world, so many people suffer with stress and mental issues, and these tend to be pushed aside and ignored.

I believe that painting can help us deal with stress and calm the mind. I also believe that most people don't try painting as a hobby because they feel scared or do not know where to start.


Do It for the Process

Art can look overwhelming for a lot of people, but what we will concentrate on today is not the end result, but the process of creating artwork. It is within this process that the magic takes place. We can heal our mind, relax and connect to our inner child.

And so, let's start small and simple.

We will look at basic materials to get you started on your "art journey," and easy-to-follow tutorials suitable for beginners.

No Canvas and Easel Needed

So you want to paint, but you have no canvas, no easel, no brushes and no paint. What do you need to buy?

In my opinion, the minimum you need to get started is paint and paper. Sometimes, you don't even need brushes: just use your fingers.

And no, finger painting is not just for kids. Just have a look at artist Iris Scott for some finger painting inspiration.

Let's Start with Brushes

Now, I believe brushes are a personal choice. What I like may not be another artist's preference. So start with a set of assorted brushes, try it out, and with time you will know your favorites.

I suggest picking a set with different sizes so you have a good range to try. Do not worry about brands right now; pick something cheap and try it out. After you figure out what you like, then spend a bit more money buying a few select brushes.



We will cover the type of paints below, but the next item on your shopping list should be a canvas... or maybe not. Because canvases are lovely to paint on, but it can get expensive, and when you are a beginner, your efforts should be on trying things out and experimenting.

And so, I suggest painting on paper. But not any paper: good quality art paper does not need to break the bank.

I like to buy my paper in bulk, so I recommend buying a mixed media pad. I use Pacon for watercolors and acrylics paintings, and with a few extra steps we will discuss below, we can also use this paper to paint with oils by priming the surface first.

Prime the Surface

This technique is easy, and it means we can use paper to create art. You can also use this technique to paint on wood or plywood.

And we do not need an easel to paint with paper. But you will need a flat surface, like your kitchen or dining table. However, be sure to cover your carpet with a old towel or blanket, and also protect your table with an old cloth.

Then, using masking tape, tape the corners of the paper to the table. This will not only hold it in place, it will also create a nice white border around your painting.

Then we need white gesso. I use Liquitex White Gesso: it has a good consistency, and we only need to apply a thin layer, so one bottle will last a long time. This also makes it much easier to apply acrylics or oils later, meaning we use less paint.

Apply a thin layer of gesso directly and evenly to the paper and wait for it to dry. It usually takes an hour. Then apply a second layer and let it dry. This is known as priming the surface, and it is also done with canvases and boards.

Now your paper is ready to use.

Painting with art paper is very economical and perfect for practice. Once you feel confident with your painting, then try it out on a canvas.

Another alternative would be to use artist boards. These work well with acrylics and oils and many brands are already primed.

Let's Get Painting

So we have brushes and paper. Now we need paint. But which, what and how to paint?

Again it comes down to preference. I love painting with acrylics. They are easy to clean and my kids can use them too. But for a total beginner, I suggest trying watercolors first. Then try acrylics, and finally try oil painting.

There are many brands to pick from, and many sets. I suggest starting with a set of 24 colors; this is a nice range that will cover most art projects. Otherwise, a set of 12 colors is also good, as mixing primary colors will give you a range to work with.

What About Palettes?

Palettes are cheap and easy to buy; however, I do not always use one. You can use an old plate instead, and wash your brushes on an old jar. Other things to use as palettes include plastic lids from take-away containers.

One thing to consider buying is a palette knife. Not essential, but many artists use it not only to mix paint, but to actually paint with. It creates a nice effect when painting with acrylics or oils.

Fun with Watercolor

Watercolors are super fun and easy to use.

The way the paint flows and mixes with water is very relaxing. It is easy to learn, easy to clean, and overall, cheaper than other paints.

A good set of watercolors will last you a long time. I recommend Arteza's set of 12 to get you started. Watercolors are easier to mix together to get different colors and shades. We can get different shades just by adjusting the amount of water we use, like using little water for a vibrant red shade or adding lots of water to make a pink shade.

Three Easy Watercolor Paintings for Beginners:

This tutorial by self-taught artist Kirsty Partridge is a good place to start. In this video she shows how easy it is to create a galaxy night sky, sunset and snowy tree landscape, all using watercolors.

Friendly Acrylics

Now, this may be biased advice: acrylics are the best!

I love it! I have watercolors and oils paints too, but most of the time I will reach out for my acrylic paint. It is easy to use, and works really well on art paper. Grab an old towel and a jar of water to get started. Once you done, clean your brushes with soapy water.

When it comes to pick your brand, going for cheaper brands is false economy. With most acrylics techniques, we paint in layers, and I find that cheap paint don't create the same effect, meaning you need to add extra layers to get a good results. So pick a good brand, and as we add a bit of water to paint with, a little bit of acrylics can go a long way.

To get you started with painting with acrylics, check out this video by Katie Jobling:

Learn Step-by-Step:

Another great artist teaching how to paint with acrylics is Angela Anderson.

Angela's tutorials on YouTube are easy to follow, and perfect for beginners as she shows in details how to paint beautiful pictures. She also covers a variety of subjects in her tutorials, so there is something for everyone.

Mighty Oils

We can't talk about painting with oils for beginners without talking about Bob Ross.

Watching Bob Ross paint will for sure encourage and inspire you to paint too.

Oil painting is the most scary of all the painting methods because it's more expensive and a bit more complicated to learn. You will also need extra materials to get started, and oils take longer to dry. So for people that like to paint in layers like myself, it could take days or even weeks to complete one painting.

But with Bob's technique of wet on wet painting, you can have a masterpiece in 30 minutes. You will need to buy liquid white to start with, and there is even a Bob Ross brand for Liquid White.

What this does is create a nice wet surface for us to mix the oils on the canvas. With Liquid White, our colors will be much lighter; otherwise I will sometimes use Liquid Clear so I can keep the brightness of the colors.

Another thing to consider is where to paint. With watercolor and acrylics you can use your kitchen or dinning table, but with oils things tend to get a bit messy, so it's better to paint in the garage if you can.

For brushes, Bob does use the fan brush often; otherwise, those big 1" and 2" brushes from the hardware store are our tools of choice.

Sadly this amazing artist passed away in 1995, but Bob's videos from the Joy of Painting series are now on YouTube so we can keep learning with this great teacher.

The Artist in You

And so, once you have experimented a bit with watercolors, acrylics and oils, or even just one of these medias, you will find that the joy of being creative is in the process.

Getting in touch with our creativity is a fun way to relax and ground our minds. You will feel more centered and focused, you will find creative ways to solve problems in you life, and your confidence will grow with each new painting you create.

I truly hope that this guide will inspire and lead you towards new hobby, and that you create beautiful paintings to bring joy to you and others!

© 2019 Bella Shaikh


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