Beginner Mistakes and How to Avoid Them (Part 1)

Beginner Mistakes and How to Avoid Them (Part 1)

Without a doubt, we all know there are common mistakes we can avoid when we set up our work space and begin to paint.

But what are those mistakes? And how do beginning painters avoid those mistakes? The first step is knowing what to avoid and how to avoid common mistakes. 

There are several key, common mistakes that many first time painters make, and we’re here to help you avoid them in your growth as a creative!

Adequately Prepare Preliminary Sketches & Concepts

Painting very rarely benefits from “jumping right in” without any sort of plan. There are a few exceptions, but those are rare.

Painting requires thought, effort, planning, etc. It’s a little bit like mapping out a quest, and the end goal is a wonderful, creative piece.

Preliminary sketches, concepts, and thumbnails direct you to that point.

You don't often go on an adventurous quest without first preparing for it, and painting is no different. It’s an obvious mistake to just grab our painting tools, paints, and canvas to jump right into the painting.

Now of course, the results can vary—and might even be brilliant; but in my opinion, it’s always better to prepare and plan!

Every good painting begins with concept and preliminary sketches. It seems like it’s a lot of extra work and hassle just to paint, but sketching out our ideas is incredibly important for so many different reasons.

And if you’re new to painting, knowing this sooner rather than later will save you a lot of time and needless frustration.

When you scheme up the right concept for your new painting, work it out through thumbnails.

It’s a test drive that allows you to get a feel for your concept. This is especially important if the concept is still a bit hazy in your mind. Work out the thumbnails and explore the various ways you can approach your painting.

Some artists create up to 50 thumbnails for every piece. While not every artist has to be that prolific in their thumbnail game, the point is that thumbnails help you sort out the elements of your concept. 

Thumbnails aren’t supposed to be neat, perfect, large, or worthy of an audience.

Most of the time they are just little scribbles that help you understand where to place objects, perspective, distance, composition, and the point of view for your audience.

A 2x3” sketch with rough shapes to fill in for your objects (or characters) is good enough. It only has to be readable to you.

Work through enough thumbnails until you are satisfied with the final composition, and then begin working on a slightly larger sketch of that thumbnail.

This larger sketch will allow you to flesh out the details that the thumbnail obviously lacks. It tightens the concept even more, and re-sketching it in a larger format is also helps your hand become familiar with the movements involved in creating the final painting.

Once you’ve resolved any issues in the smaller sketches, you can begin the final, finished sketch. It’s always a good idea to have a final, finished sketch that lets you add every detail in the right size.  

It might seem like a great deal of extra work, but in the long run, these practice sketches will save you so much potential frustration. You won’t have to stress about whether or not the composition, perspective, and point of view is right.

You already saw that it worked out in a sketch, and it will also save you the hassle and fear of wasting valuable paint. The chances of redoing your painting for compositional reasons will go way down, too!

Not Having Enough Brushes

Sometimes it’s a matter of not having the right sized brush. When painting, the size of the brush matters— especially for the different elements of the painting that you’re developing. Have the right assortment of large, medium, and small brushes.

Each of these brushes have distinct uses. When you begin painting, don’t use the smallest brush and begin adding the details immediately.

It’s better to begin with the larger brushes, blocking in the background details slowly. Not sure which paintbrush is right for you? We've got a set of watercolour brushes that might be calling your name.

And as you add elements (and eventually the details), you work from using the large brushes, gradually work down to the medium and the small. The smallest brushes can be used for the details.

You’ll develop an intuitive knack for knowing when you should switch brushes after practicing this several times.

Don’t Paint too Many Details

It’s a huge temptation to go overboard and paint every detail we see (or imagine). Not every petal, leaf, or texture has to be captured. In fact, the beauty of painting is implying that it’s there.

There is a perfect balance when it comes to how much detail you add. Sometimes, less is more.

Of course much of this depends on individual style and taste, but not being bogged down by adding every single detail will improve the outcome of the painting.

It’s time consuming to paint in every little thing, and if you’re not careful, it can muddy your painting in a way that makes it feel overworked. Leave room for the viewer’s imagination.

There’s something incredibly pleasant about viewing a painting that allows us to explore and tap into our imagination. 

Of course there are many other common mistakes beginning painters should avoid, and this is just the beginning!

Painters can use too many colours, have too many hard edges in their work, using black paint to create shadow, having a background that is just as detailed as the foreground, or using paint right out of the tube.

The list could go on, but in the second part of this article, we’ll take a look at these mistakes and how you can avoid them in your own paintings! 

Ellie Tran is a freelance illustrator and writer soon to be based in Anchorage, Alaska. She uses watercolours to illustrate her own stories; and when not illustrating or writing, she enjoys being out in nature.



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