Choosing and Assessing your Subject

Choosing and Assessing your Subject

Novice students often ask me questions like:

How do I start a painting? What should I do first? What’s next? And so on.

So, I’m going to share with you today the very first thing we should do before we get our paints and brushes out!

The first step is to Choose and Assess your subject.

Sometimes, we have no idea of what to paint. Especially if you are a beginner, it might be hard to know what sort of level you are ready for.

Some subjects may look easier than they really are and if you take on a project that is too challenging at the beginning of your journey as a learner you may end up with frustration and disappointment.

So, reference pictures like these below, which have just a few shapes and not too much detail are ideal for a good start.


Examples of simple images for beginners

Examples of simple images for beginners

Or if you'd like to paint from a photo you took while you were on holidays, you may consider selecting a section within it and cropping the image to simplify it.

                   Full scene                               Assessing and selecting  the scene             Section cropped     

                   Full scene                               Assessing and selecting  the scene             Section cropped     

You can also create a simple composition with things you might have around the house and take photos of it. You don’t need to have a fancy gear to start doing that.

You just need a lamp, some items from your kitchen, like fruit or vegetables, colourful mugs, plates and other fun things you might find! Also some fabric and colourful stock cards. That will get you started.

You can photograph it with your iPad or fancy camera and crop the photos to give you a better composition. I like to position the lamp on the side of the objects to achieve nice and dramatic shadows. You can play around and experiment with different ways to suit your idea.

These are some examples of simple setups.


If you would like to learn more about the painting process and how to develop an oil painting step-by-step, check my new online course "How to Start a Painting - From Blank Canvas to Finished Work".

There, you will see how I broke down the painting process into eight steps to show you exactly how you can go from a blank canvas to creating an oil painting by following a traditional method of painting.

On the first part of this course, we are going to dive into the stages of a painting, based on the traditional method of the Grisaille to study tonal values and create a strong foundation to your painting.

You will learn how to mix colours by using the complementary colour concept and how to mix beautiful greys.

Then we apply the 'massing and simplification concept' to block-in the big shapes; work on the forms modulating value within colour and add final details to complete the painting.

On the second part of the course, you’ll move on to the next level as you work with the wet-into-wet method called Alla-Prima to create a loose, painterly approach to your painting.

Then, by watching the demos and doing the exercises proposed for you there, you'll learn how to apply all these techniques.  

You’ll also have lifetime access that enables you to enjoy all course content with any online device!

Click here to learn more about "How to Start a Painting - From Blank Canvas to Finished Work"