7 essential painting techniques for artists

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Art Tips, Painting

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Fundamental painting techniques to get you to create your own masterpiece.

Painting techniques: a sketch

Knowing some fundamental painting techniques and styles will help you immensely when you’re getting started on your artistic journey using paint. (Painting Techniques)

That means storing some knowledge of tone, color, texture, brushwork, and composition, as all this will help you to create your own masterpieces with confidence.

This article sets out seven essential painting techniques that will have you painting like a pro in no time. It’s also worth checking out the best how to draw tutorials, to make sure you’ve got the basics covered there. And if you want to learn more about art terminology, then see our piece on common art terms.


Painting techniques: foundation work

Work paint up from thin to thick, especially when using slow-drying paints

I never work from white when using oils or acrylics. Create an underpainting in burnt umber or a mix of burnt sienna and phthalo blues to establish shadows and values. Acrylics are probably the best medium to use at this stage as they’re quick-drying and permanent.

Work paint up from thin to thick, especially when using slow-drying paints. It’s impossible to work on top of heavy, wet paint. In the same way, work up to highlights, adding the brightest (and usually heavier) paint at the end. Have a roll of kitchen towel to hand to clean brushes and remove any excess paint.

Blocking in

Painting techniques: Brush types

Brushes come in some shapes and with different fiber types, all of which give very different results. The key is to try all of them as you paint. The most versatile is a synthetic/sable mix – these brushes can be used with most of the different paint types.

Brushes come in flat and round types and it pays to have a selection of both. Check out our guide to picking the right brush to learn more.

I work with a range of brushes. For most of the early work, I use a larger, flatter, and broader brushes.

A filbert is a good general brush for blocking in form and paint. It has a dual nature, combining aspects of flat and round brushes so it can cover detail as well as larger areas. I tend to use smaller brushes only at the end of the painting process.

Building up texture

Painting techniques: Texture

Have a dry flat brush you can use to blend and create smooth transitions

Have a dry, flat brush that you can use to blend your paint and create smooth transitions. I tend to like lots of texture and like to see brush marks in my own work.

Almost anything can be used to add texture to your paint. There are ready-made texture media available, but I have seen items such as eggshell and sand used to add interest to a painting.

One tip is to use an old toothbrush to spatter your image with paint. This can be remarkably effective at suggesting noise and grain.

Dry brushing

This is a method of applying color that only partially covers a previously dried layer of paint. Add very little paint to your brush and apply it with very quick, directional strokes.

This method tends to work best when applying light paint over dark areas/dried paint and is useful for depicting rock and grass textures.


Painting techniques: Less is more

Removing paint can be as important as applying it. Sgraffito is the term used when you scratch away paint while it’s wet to expose the underpainting. It’s especially useful when depicting scratches, hair, grasses, and the like.

You can use almost any pointed object for this – try rubber shaping tools or the end of a brush.


Glazing is the process of laying a coat of transparent paint over a dry part of the painting, and it’s used for intensifying shadows and modulating color. A light transparent blue over dry yellow will, of course, create green.

Painting with mediums

Painting techniques: painting mediums

Mediums can be added to paint to modulate its consistency, drying time, and texture. Mediums are fluids that can be added to paint to modulate its consistency, drying time, and texture.

In the case of acrylics, you get different mediums that make the paint matte or gloss. However, I tend to use the matte medium mainly to seal my paper or board, so the paint doesn’t soak into it.

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