Beginner Mistakes and How to Avoid Them (Part 2)

Beginner Mistakes and How to Avoid Them (Part 2)

In the first part of this blog series, we discussed a few of the many mistakes that a beginning painter might be susceptible to.

While making mistakes while painting isn’t a bad thing (we all make them), it’s so helpful to know what those mistakes are— and how to avoid them!

Knowing what to avoid in your painting process is a great way to jump-start your painting process and get ahead of the game, especially if you are new to painting. It can save you a lot of time, frustration, and confusion. 

Painting and creativity is a growing process, and learning to counter these habits can actually give you a head start in your painting journey.

It allows you to grow in other areas while still enjoying the learning process of painting!

You Don’t Have to Paint All You See

Another mistake painters sometimes make is painting everything that they see. This is different than painting every single detail. Although the two are very similar and go hand in hand, it’s good to know the difference and avoid both of your paintings. 

How are they different? One is painting every detail of everything in sight, while the other is simply painting every object in sight.

It’s very possible to be adept at not adding an overwhelming amount of detail, but feeling as though you have to put every object into the painting. 

For example, if you’re painting a specific scene at a mountain lake, don’t feel as though you have to add every tree, ripple, or cloud.

Painting is still about creativity, and even when you are painting from life, you can overwhelm and bog down your piece with too many things.

You can exclude some things, and your composition and painting will be stronger for it. It’s more important to capture the essence of what you are seeing than to capture the technicality of it. 

The same can apply to illustrative scenes that you create in your imagination. If you’re creating a very detailed illustration of children in a deserted, cottage kitchen, you don’t have to add everything that you might “see” in such a kitchen. Leave space for the imagination.

Paint just enough to indicate to your audience what you want them to see, but give them room for their imagination to embellish it as well. 

Now, there are exceptions to this rule, especially if a painter is supposed to create a still life painting— or if their style is realism.

A professor or teacher might assign you a project that is exact and technical, and it might require you to paint every object and every detail. 

There is always a time and a place for these exercises, and they help us grow— but they aren’t good regular habits since it overloads our work with too many things.

Painting Detailed Backgrounds

A good composition in art revolves around a focal point. It draws the viewer into the central figure or action, and then it directs the viewer’s eyes to the proper areas that are important to that painting. 

A good composition won’t add elements that distract from these focal points; adding too many details in the background distracts from a solid focal point.

There’s an easy way to avoid this mistake in our paintings, though, and it is painting in vague shapes and forms to imply what is there in the background. 

The leaves in the background trees don’t have to be painted. We can imply that they are there.

Painting the leaves in the background might overwhelm the composition; making it harder for viewers to distinguish trees that are the focal point and trees that are in the background.

Using Black Paint to Create Shadow

Using black or grey paint to create shadows is a common mistake. It makes sense to our minds to simply slap on some black to create shadow and shade, but it also muddies up the colours in your painting. 

Instead, try using cool, muted blues or purples to give depth, shadow, or shape to your paintings. 

The use of blue (or purple) to create a shadow in our paintings seems unthinkable or crazy— until you look at master illustrators and painters, realizing they actually used those cool tones on their work. 

It is an incredibly challenging learning curve, but it is one that pays off so much in the long run. It improves the overall look of your paintings almost immediately.

Instead of dingy, muddy, and bleak, the colours in your painting will be rich and vibrant. 

Since handling various blue colours as our shading tool might feel odd or foreign, experiment with using blue to shade your paintings. There are nuances and a knack for mixing the paint and applying the blue layers just right.

Practicing before you plunge into an actual painting will help you figure out the right way to find that balance of colour in your work. 

Sometimes, even differences in your style and someone else’s style is key. 

A style that uses bold, enhanced and vivid colours might use vivid blues for shading, but those vivid colours would feel inappropriate for a more subdued painting pallet. 


These are just a few of the potential mistakes that beginning painters might make, but it’s a great place for us to begin growing.

It’s also important to know that making these mistakes (or other painterly mistakes) doesn’t make a beginning painter a failure. 

It’s simply a part of the growing process that comes from creating art. But of course, knowing to avoid pitfalls is incredibly helpful, and that is when we begin to form good habits that benefit our painting process. 

Not only will your paintings look more advanced and professional, but your process will become tighter and more proficient.

The development of good habits in your painting routine and practices is just as important as the final results of the painting itself!


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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