How To Become A Self-Taught Painter

Last year, I wrote a post about a watercolor class that I took. It was amazing and I learned so much, but there is so much more that I want to learn. 

To be honest, I haven’t done much to improve my skills this last year. I want to, but the cost of classes adds up quickly. 

There are so many great resources out there that I could use to teach myself, but I had no idea where to start.

So I turned to Sharol, a talented, self-taught painter who still practices on a daily basis. She kindly assented to participate in my very first Q&A post! 

Sharol has all the advice you need to get started from materials to framing your finished work.

Check out Sharol’s answers below, and let her know which of her tips helped you the most by sharing in the comment section at the end of this post.

Happy painting!

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          What sparked your interest in painting?

           “Pablo Picasso said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” I’ve always had a love and appreciation of art as far back as I can remember. I didn’t have the courage to try painting until I was 36 years old, when most of my kids were in school and I realized I had no hobbies. I felt like I needed to do something for me so I started researching how to teach myself how to paint.”

          What supplies would you recommend to someone who is just starting out?

           “I started out with an inexpensive acrylic paint set, a kit that included inexpensive brushes, a pallet knife and a tabletop easel that I found on Amazon. I also got myself some masking tape and a pad of canvas paper. When I started watercolors I bought a set from Target that included paint and two brushes, which was perfect for a beginner, in my opinion. I don’t recommend kid’s watercolor paint or brushes. Watercolor paper is a must. I picked up a pad of cold press watercolor paper also from Target.”

          What medium is your favorite? Why?

           “I paint with acrylics, watercolor, and gouache. It’s difficult to say which is my favorite. I love the creamy feel of moving the acrylic paint across the rough canvas. It's so satisfying and painting with acrylic challenges me more. Watercolor is so soft and light and I feel like it’s been easier for me to learn. It’s also more portable so I can bring my watercolors and paint just about anywhere. And then Gouache is like the best of both worlds. It all depends on my mood which is my favorite at the time.”

Some of Sharol's acrylic flowers. The watercolor paintings at the top of this post are hers as well.

          What is the most helpful tip you have found?

          “Study some basic colortheory before you start out. It can make a big difference when you’re learning to paint.”

          What learning sources have been helpful?

          “For me, as a visual learner, I’ve learned so much from watching people paint on YouTube and Instagram. Sometimes I would paint along with the artists. Other times I would just observe. I also found some artist blogs helpful. Additionally, for watercolor, I bought a book that shows how to create basic, loose designs step-by-step. I also love just studying images and paintings of other artists.

          On Instagram, some of my favorite accounts are: @nikolwikmanart, @watercolor_guide, @sweetseasonart, and @juliemarriottart"

          Do you have a special place reserved for painting? 

          “When I started, I painted at my kitchen table, and when the weather is nice I enjoy painting outside on the patio. My husband and I have now turned our home office into a space the two of us share for our hobbies. Most days it’s my painting studio but it’s also where he practices guitar.”

Sharol's studio/ home office

          How do you find time to paint?

          “I could spend the whole day painting... if I didn’t have other responsibilities. For me painting is my hobby, not my job. I have to be mindful of what I want to do vs. what I should spend my time doing, so I don’t get carried away. In order to keep balance I’ve come up with a system of rewarding myself with painting time when I’ve gotten my daily to-do list done. I think I’ve been more productive accomplishing said list because painting is a powerful incentive for me.

Also, my daughters both love to paint and my youngest is home during the day with me and she loves painting almost as much as I do. We’ll get her washable paints out and she’ll create right alongside me. It’s fun to have shared interests.”

Sharol paints while her husband practices guitar in their home office

          What keeps you motivated?

          A passion for creating keeps me motivated as well as my drive to improve. I know practice can get me to a higher skill level so I keep practicing and studying. I love putting a lot of energy and time into something I can visually measure my growth in. It’s very rewarding.”

          Which painting of yours is your favorite?

          After looking through some of my paintings from last year I came across my painting of the whale and her calf. I feel like I have the strongest emotional connection with it. I’d only been painting for less than two months and felt drawn to photography of whales and their calves at the time. They seemed so graceful and beautiful. That maternal instinct of a mother protecting and watching over her young is something I relate to very personally. Especially as my older kids are growing up and don’t need me in the ways they used to. On a technical level I was interested in learning how to paint water experimenting with showing the way light passes through it. It’s a very simple painting but creating it was a very positive and fulfilling experience.”

Sharol's favorite of all her paintings to date.

          Which is your least favorite?

          Ooh, ok… I’m going to be brave and share one I absolutely HATE but there’s a moral to the story.  It was my very first canvas painting. I wanted to learn to paint flowers SO badly. I felt like the artists in the tutorials made it look easy, but I couldn’t do it. It frustrated me to no end. I can’t bear to look at it most days. I didn’t throw it away because when I do look at it and compare with what I’m able to paint now I’m reminded that I’m growing and improving. I get down on myself all the time… until I stop comparing myself to other artists and compare myself only with my past self.”

". . . compare myself only with my past self."

          If you had to start learning all over again, would you do anything differently?

“I wouldn’t compare myself to others. I still consider myself a beginner and I unfairly compare my paintings to professionals or people with more natural talent than I have. It’s something I have to repeatedly remind myself not to do.”

Where do you find frames for your work?

“I’ve only framed a few of my paintings for my kids’ rooms, but I think I found all of them at Target and Home Goods.”

What advice do you have for aspiring painters?

“Failure is natural. Don’t let a fear of failure hold you back. It’s okay if something you’ve painted doesn’t work out. No one should expect to start out painting masterpieces right away. It takes practice and dedication to develop any skill. I hear professional artists who’ve been painting for many years say that they still fail and are continuing to learn from their failures. I say mistakes can be superb teachers. Don’t give up! (I say all of this to myself on a regular basis.)”

Hi! My name is Kait. Follow this link to learn more about me and my blog.


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