I used to find that starting a painting was a daunting exercise. What paint should I use, what surface should I paint on and then seeing all that white space was quite scary – what would I cover it with; where should I start; and worse still what would I do if I made a mistake!! My aim here is to give you a brief overview of some of the tools and methodologies that I use and which I shall be blogging about in more detail in the future.

Before reading further I want to stress that it’s very hard to make mistakes that you can’t fix or at the very least learn from. It really is true that you learn something new every time you make a new drawing or painting. So – the most important thing is to try – just put pencil to paper or paint to the canvas and go for it.

You can buy everything that I list below on line from:


 A simple table top easel bought from a craft store is all that you need to get started. Anything that holds your painting surface in a near vertical position is best.

Colour pallets

Do not feel that you need lots of tubes of paint to start painting. Begin with a few tubes that, when mixed together, will give you a wide range of colours. Buying an Artists Grade paint means that it has less binder (the stuff that holds the colour pigments together) than cheaper tubes of paint and means that you can use them straight from the tube without loosing the vibrancy of their colour. I do try not to thin my paint with solvents or mediums for two reasons: it can loosen the paint too much and for health reasons as the solvents can smell and give people headaches.
My typical basic colour pallet contains quite a lot of Windsor and Newton (Artists Grade) paint e.g.
• Titanium White – very opaque so covers the canvas and strongly tints other colours
• Ivory Black – a deep rich colour with a green shade to it and good for tinting
• Raw Umber – a cooler strong transparent brown good for glazing and shading
Plus primary colours such as:
• Ultramarine Blue – a very strong colour with a lot of tinting impact
• Cadmium Red – a rich vibrant red
• Yellow – a strong yellow
• Sap Green – a transparent green which is great for shading
From these basics colours I can mix almost any colour that I want. There are some excellent colour mixing books, YouTube videos and courses that you can attend to help you learn colour basics. I do, of course, use other colours depending on what subject I am painting and will cover colours in more detail in the future.
Windsor and Newton have a colour card that you can choose paint from. See below.


To clean and thin your paint you can use odourless solvents like Gamsol or Zest. Don’t thin your paint too much otherwise you will end up with a thin puddle of paint that is hard to work with. You can also use these solvents to clean your brushes as well as using artists soap at the end of a painting session.

I don’t use many mediums but when I do I use a little linseed oil. It does not tend to yellow with age, it helps to remove paint brush marks and makes the paint easier to manipulate when painting details.



Painting surface

I use Belle Arte canvas covered, gessoed panels to paint on. They come in different sizes, are rigid, have a nice smooth surface and are relatively inexpensive to buy. As you can see from this photo, they are a few millimetres thick and are nice and sturdy.


I use some good quality brushes from Rosemary brushes and cheap ones from my local craft store. I like some large brushes ½ to 1 Inch wide to lay down large areas of colour and small brushes with flat edges or points to add detail.

Other materials:

• QTips – for wiping small areas of paint on or off the canvas
• Paper towels or old rags (watch they don’t shed fibres though!)
• Disposable tear-off paper pallets, reusable glass or wood pallets or even some old plates or pieces of plastic make a good mixing surface (anything clean)
So – you have easel, paint, solvents, mediums, canvases and brushes – now what? 
What is your big idea?
Obviously, you need to have a painting in mind – a portrait, landscape, still life or an abstract. Try and paint from life if you can but if not use a good quality reference photograph. I will address in another blog how to paint from photographs as there may be some distortion issues that you need to compensate for when using photographs. Choose a subject that you like that will give you pleasure to paint. It will be more fun and more likely to be a success if you like what you are painting.

Starting Methods

 Over the years I have met many artists and they all have different ways to “start” their paintings. I thought you might find it helpful to read about some of their starting methods which I’ve listed below. If you would like to study these methods in more detail, then I recommend you read “Alla Prima II” by Richard Schmid, a famous living American artist.


Starting Method 1

The easiest way to get rid of the “white” surface is to colour your canvas with an all over even tone. To do this take a little Burnt Umber mixed with solvent and then roughly paint it onto your canvas. Take a clean rag or paper towel and then rub the mixture all over the canvas till most of the mixture comes off leaving a faint stain of colour. It gets over the problem of painting on a brilliant white, scarily perfect surface. Let it dry and then you are ready to paint over it.

Starting Method 2
The wipe out method is favoured by many artists and not only tones your canvas but sets up your painting with effectively a tonal study. Start with the Raw Umber and solvent mixture (as above) but make it a bit dark and wetter and then paint it onto your canvas. Get a rag or paper towel and start to wipe out areas where you want a light patch in your painting or a highlight. If you were painting a face a forehead might be very light but the hair might be very dark. You can also use brushes to “lift” the paint off the surface of the canvas and QTips are really useful for removing small areas of paint. Don’t worry if you make a mistake. Add more wet paint in the area you want to fix and then start to remove paint again until you get the value distribution that you want. Some artists start to paint colour onto their mixture straight away called “wet in wet” or direct painting others wait till the surface is dry and then paint on to the dry surface called indirect painting. Do whatever you prefer.

Starting Method 3

If you are feeling a bit more adventurous you could try a selective start point painting where you either observe the model/still life/or photograph very carefully and then start in a particular place and paint it as finely as you want e.g. an eye, a building, a flower. You work out from the chosen area finishing each part as you go along trying you best to finalise drafting, value and colour. Not perhaps a technique for the faint hearted or inexperienced but still worth experimenting with.


Whatever method you use I urge you to “go for it”. Even if it goes wrong you may still like the effect, and you will have learnt what works and what doesn’t. Happy painting!

P.S. Please feel free to navigate back to to see examples of my work and info about my workshops etc.