Checklist for Painting first time

Checklist for Painting First Time (15 Steps to Follow)

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Planning to bring your creative ideas to life on canvas? Explore our comprehensive checklist for painting first-time. From essential supplies to step-by-step guidance, ensure a smooth and enjoyable artistic debut. 

Embarking on your first painting journey is both thrilling and a bit daunting. To guide you through the process, we’ve crafted a simple checklist of 15 steps.

These steps cover everything from selecting your supplies to adding finishing touches, ensuring a smooth and enjoyable experience as you create your first masterpiece.

Let’s start!

1. Gather Your Supplies

Canvas or Painting Surface

Choose a canvas or painting surface based on your preference and the type of paint you’ll be using (acrylics, oils, or watercolors). Stretched canvases are common for acrylics and oils, while watercolor paper is suitable for watercolors.

Easel (Optional)

An easel is optional but can provide a more comfortable working angle for your canvas. It also helps to reduce strain on your neck and back during the painting process.

Paints (Acrylics, Oils, or Watercolors)

Select the type of paint you want to work with. Acrylics and watercolors are water-based, while oils require turpentine or mineral spirits for cleaning. Choose a basic set of colors to start.


A palette is used for mixing and holding your paint. Choose a palette with wells for each color and a mixing area. There are various types, including wood, plastic, or disposable paper palettes.

Palette Knife

A palette knife is used for mixing paints on the palette. It also allows for unique textural effects in your painting. Choose one with a flexible blade for versatility.

Brushes of Various Sizes

Invest in a variety of brushes, including flat, round, and filbert brushes. Different shapes and sizes are suitable for various techniques and details.

Palette Cups for Water or Thinner

If you’re using water-based paints like acrylics, you’ll need cups for water. If you’re using oil paints, you’ll need cups for thinner. These cups are used for cleaning brushes during the painting process.

Palette Paper or Disposable Palette

If you prefer easy cleanup, consider using palette paper or a disposable palette. These allow you to tear off sheets and start fresh with each painting session.

2. Set Up Your Workspace

Choose a Well-Lit and Ventilated Area

Natural light is ideal, but if that’s not possible, ensure you have sufficient artificial lighting. Good ventilation is crucial, especially if you’re using oil paints or other materials with strong odors.

Protect Your Work Surface with a Drop Cloth or Newspaper

Lay down a drop cloth or newspaper to protect your working area from paint spills and splatters. This makes cleanup much easier.

Place Your Canvas on the Easel or a Stable Surface

If you have an easel, set up your canvas at a comfortable height. If not, ensure your canvas is on a stable surface like a table. The idea is to have a comfortable and accessible painting position.

3. Choose a Subject

Decide What You Want to Paint

Consider your interests and start with a subject that excites you. It could be a still-life arrangement, a landscape from a photo, a portrait of a friend or family member, or even an abstract concept.

4. Prepare Your Canvas

If Using a Stretched Canvas

Apply a primer or gesso to create a smoother surface for painting. Gesso also prevents the paint from soaking into the canvas fabric. Apply it with a brush and let it dry before starting to paint.

If Using Paper

If working with watercolors, tape down the edges of the paper to prevent warping. This ensures that the paper remains flat and allows for better control of the watercolor.

How to Choose the Right Canvas Size for Painting Project

5. Sketch Your Composition

Use a Pencil to Lightly Sketch

With a sharpened pencil, lightly sketch the basic elements of your composition. Focus on shapes, proportions, and the placement of major objects. Don’t worry about details at this stage; the sketch is a guide for your painting.

Focus on Basic Shapes and Proportions

Break down your subject into simple shapes. This step helps you establish the overall layout of your painting and ensures that the proportions are accurate.

6. Select a Color Palette

Decide on the Colors You Want to Use

Take some time to decide on the color scheme for your painting. Consider the mood or atmosphere you want to convey. You can choose warm or cool tones, complementary colors, or a monochromatic scheme.

Consider Color Theory and How Colors Will Interact

Explore basic color theory principles. Understand how colors on the color wheel relate to each other. Consider the emotional impact of different colors and how they interact when placed side by side.

7. Practice Mixing Colors

Experiment with Mixing Colors on Your Palette

Before applying paint to your canvas, spend some time experimenting with mixing colors on your palette. This practice helps you understand how different pigments combine to create new shades. Adjust the ratios to achieve the desired color intensity.

How to Mix Colors for Oil Painting

8. Start with an Underpainting

Establish Basic Tones and Values

An underpainting is an initial layer of paint that establishes the basic tones and values of your composition. It serves as a foundation for subsequent layers. Choose a color that contrasts with your final color scheme to create depth and dimension.

9. Take Breaks

Remember to Take Breaks to Rest Your Eyes and Avoid Fatigue

Painting can be a time-consuming process. Take regular breaks to rest your eyes and prevent fatigue. Stepping back from your work allows you to see the overall progress and make more informed decisions.

10. Build Layers

Start with Broader Strokes and Gradually Add More Detail

Begin with broader strokes to block in the main elements of your composition. As you progress, gradually add more detail. Building layers allow you to refine your work, focusing on both the overall structure and finer nuances.

11. Pay Attention to Composition

Consider Principles Like Balance, Contrast, and Focal Points

Pay attention to compositional elements. Ensure a balance of visual weight, create contrast to make certain elements stand out, and establish focal points to guide the viewer’s eye. These principles contribute to a visually pleasing and engaging composition.

12. Don’t Fear Mistakes

Mistakes Are Part of the Learning Process

Understand that mistakes are inevitable and an integral part of the learning process. Embrace them as opportunities to grow and improve. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try new techniques. Learn from your mistakes and use them to inform your artistic development.

5 Common Watercolor Painting Mistakes

13. Allow for Drying Time

If working with acrylics or oils, be patient and allow layers to dry before adding more. This step is crucial for preventing smudging and ensuring that subsequent layers adhere properly. Drying times may vary based on the thickness of the paint and environmental conditions, so exercise patience.

14. Step Back and Assess

Periodically step back from your painting to evaluate your progress. Taking a fresh perspective helps you identify areas that may need adjustment. Assess the overall composition, color balance, and proportion. This step allows you to make informed decisions about the direction of your painting.

15. Finishing Touches

Add final details and make any necessary adjustments. As you approach the completion of your painting, focus on refining details and fine-tuning elements. This stage is an opportunity to enhance textures, sharpen edges, and add any last-minute touches that bring your vision to life.

16. Seal or Varnish

Once your painting is complete and thoroughly dry, consider sealing it with a varnish to protect the surface. Varnishing not only enhances the colors but also provides a protective layer against dust, dirt, and environmental factors. Follow product instructions for the specific varnish you choose.

How to Seal Watercolor Painting

17. Sign Your Art

Don’t forget to sign your painting once it’s finished. Your signature is a personal touch that adds value to your artwork. Choose a location that complements the composition, and use a brush or pen with a color that contrasts well with the background. Signing your art marks its completion and signifies your ownership.

Inspiring Artists Every Beginner Painter Should Know

Remember, the most important thing is to enjoy the process and not be too hard on yourself. Every artist has their unique style and journey, so embrace the experience of creating your first painting.

Celebrate the learning opportunities that come with each step, and let your creativity guide you through the artistic journey.

Key Takeaways (Checklist for Painting First Time )

  • Gather supplies: canvas, easel, paints, palette, palette knife, brushes, palette cups, and palette paper.
  • Set up workspace: choose a well-lit area, protect the surface, and place the canvas on an easel or stable surface.
  • Choose a subject: decide on a still life, landscape, portrait, or abstract concept.
  • Prepare the canvas: apply primer or gesso for smoothness or tape down the paper to prevent warping.
  • Sketch the composition: lightly outline with a pencil, focusing on basic shapes and proportions.
  • Select a color palette: decide on colors considering color theory and interactions.
  • Practice mixing colors: experiment on the palette to achieve desired shades.
  • Start with an underpainting: establish basic tones and values for depth.
  • Take breaks: avoid eye strain and fatigue during the time-consuming process.
  • Build layers: begin with broad strokes, adding detail gradually.
  • Pay attention to composition: consider balance, contrast, and focal points.
  • Don’t fear mistakes: embrace them as part of the learning process.
  • Allow for drying time: be patient between layers, especially with acrylics or oils.
  • Step back and assess: periodically evaluate progress from a distance.
  • Finishing touches: add final details and make necessary adjustments.
  • Seal or varnish: protect the painting once it’s thoroughly dry.

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