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Teaching Tips

Beginning Painting

by Barry Stebbing
      Many students who are comfortable with pencil and paper seem intimidated when it comes to color. However, painting, like drawing, is a learned discipline.
      The more a student understands color theory and painting, the more he will enjoy it. Therefore, with beginning painters, do not be as concerned about creating masterpieces as with teaching the fundamentals.
     The Color Wheel & Color Theory
     Beginning to Paint
     Making a Color Chart
     Copying the Impressionists
     Life Studies
     Teaching Art Series


      Start with only the three primary colors (yellow, red, blue) and white. We recommend a pure pigment acrylic paint. Paints that are not a pure pigment make muddled colors when mixed.
      You should have little problem with "mess" if you teach students how to paint with control, hold a brush, and mix colors on a palette. Give them guidelines for preparing to paint, caring for materials, and cleaning up.
      Even though acrylic paint is permanent, it will come out of clothing if you tend to it before it dries.
      An ideal paper is 8.5" x 11" poster board or heavy card stock (110 lb. or 140 lb.), which can be purchased at office supply stores.
     Other materials for beginning painting are:
  • Styrofoam picnic plates (for palettes).
  • Three acrylic or watercolor brushes (small #1, medium #3, large #5).
  • Two water jars (one for cleaning brushes and one for mixing water with paints).
  • An old cloth or paper towel (for cleaning brushes).
  • A container for holding brushes.

The Color Wheel & Color Theory

      A color wheel is a circle divided into pie shapes used to teach students more about color theory. For example, in between the primary colors (yellow, red, and blue) are the secondary colors (orange, violet, and green).
      Secondary colors are made by mixing the primary colors on either side of them: yellow and red make orange, red and blue make violet, and blue and yellow make green.
      You could put more pie shapes on your color wheel in between the primary and secondary colors to make tertiary colors.
      Tertiary colors are made by mixing the primary and secondary colors on either side of them. Yellow and orange make the tertiary color yellow/orange. Other tertiary colors are red/orange, red/violet, blue/violet, blue/green, and yellow/green.
      Complementary colors are colors directly across from each other on the color wheel. For example, red is the complement of green, blue is the complement of orange, and violet is the complement of yellow.
      Complementary colors are mainly used for three purposes: backgrounds, dulling, and shading.
      Suppose you have painted a red apple and do not know what color to paint the background. You could always use green, which is the complement of red.
      You can also use complementary colors for dulling. Suppose you have painted a bright orange balloon and you want to dull the color down. You could add just a speck of its complement (blue) to dull the color.
      Finally, if you wanted to shade a yellow banana, you could use a touch of the complement (violet) in the shaded area.

Beginning to Paint

      First, draw your picture with a light colored pencil on heavy stock paper. Make sure that there are not a lot of details in the picture, since smaller areas are more difficult to paint.
      Pour out your paints, about the size of a nickel each, on the outer edges of your palette. This will give you an ample area for mixing colors.
      With a brush, pull your colors out from the side of the puddles to mix with other colors; this will keep your main puddles of color pure.
      When mixing paints, pull out the lightest color first, then add just a touch of the darker color. For example, if you are making green, pull out the lighter color (yellow), and add a little of the darker color (blue). If that is not the green you desire, add a little more blue.
      Make sure to mix a lot of paint, painting with plenty of paint on your brush; otherwise, you will scrub paint, creating a scratchy, uncontrolled effect.
      When mixing your paints together, keep the newly mixed puddles small and thick instead of large and flat. This will save space on your palette and give you more paint on your brush.
      Many students have the tendency to choke up on their brushes. We recommend that you hold the brush a few inches from the hairs.
      Do not leave your brush on the palette. This will prevent paint from adhering to the handle and spreading to your hands and clothing. Keeping your handles clean will cut down on 85 percent of the mess.
      Paint with clean brushes. Clean your brush in the dirty water container and wipe it dry. The clean water container is for adding water to a color to have it spread out further and thinner. However, in the beginning, refrain from adding water to the colors.
      Have students take their time, learning to paint with control. Good artwork takes time, effort, and practice.

Making a Color Chart

      A key to learning the academics of painting is making use of a color chart.
      Take a sheet of heavy stock paper and place rows of small squares on it. Then, see how many colors you can create by mixing colors together. Underneath each new color print the colors used, starting with the color used most and ending with the color used least.
      If you wanted to make a dull green, you may want to use a lot of yellow (Y), some blue (B), and a speck of red (R). This would be printed as Y + B + R.
      Some interesting colors to make are pink (W + R); light blue (W + B); violet (W + R + B); brown (Y + R + B); yellow/green (Y + G); and black (B + R + Y).
      See how many colors you can make. Then, when you are painting, refer to your color chart to select colors to use in your picture.

Copying the Impressionists

      A great exercise for students is to copy colorful reproductions of paintings by the Impressionists.
      Copying this style is beneficial because students will not have to concern themselves much with detail, realism, or drawing skills and can be more concerned with making bold brushstrokes and mixing colors.
      Two good Impressionists to copy are Claude Monet and Vincent Van Gogh.
      First, lightly copy the picture on heavy stock paper with a light colored pencil.
      It may be good to do a preliminary colored pencil study of the picture first on another sheet of paper, which will help with laying in the composition and planning colors.
      Finally, see if the student can mix the colors correctly from the painting which they are copying.

Life Studies

      Studies from life are objects that are in front of you. Studying objects from life will teach students more about light, structure, form, and color.
      Keep your subject matter simple in the beginning. For example, you may want to paint one piece of fruit, a flower, or one leaf.
      Framing will enhance your paintings. A good idea is to purchase inexpensive frames at yard sales or thrift shops, and then do your paintings to fit the frames.
      In conclusion, make sure students understand that, like drawing, painting is a learned discipline.
      Along with practicing the fundamentals of painting, students should also develop their drawing skills and learn more about color theory. Then, in years to come, everything will merge together and they will be able to create their masterpieces.

Teaching Art Series

      This is part 3 in a series in the Teaching Home magazine by Barry Stebbing, author of the How Great Thou Art instruction materials.

      1. Art History (Jan./Feb. 2000)
      2. Beginning Drawing (Summer 2000)
      3. Beginning Painting (Jan./Feb. 2001)

      Coming in future issues:
      4. Penmanship/Journaling
      5. Nature Studies

      How Great Thou Art, 1-800-982-3729, Box 48, McFarlan NC 28102,


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