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How to read a painting

Art is a great status symbol in society, and sometimes, it can be quite intimidating to the inexperienced viewer. For many of us, the first impulse is to blow it away, to see it as a no value plaything for the annoying and rich. This is regrettable. Art is an excellent source of satisfaction and enjoyment in our lives. Even casual acquaintance with art can improve and deepen the understanding of the world, and is not so difficult. Some people today indeed devote their whole lives to studying the minutest particulars of a musicians’ job, but there’s no requirement to become a professional to have a meaningful relationship with art. All it requires is moderate attention to detail, a bit of patience, and a willingness to reflect on your feelings. That is how the process of reading art works.

Here, I will show you a quick method to approach and enjoy a painting. The ideas here could be implemented not only to reading wall art but other mediums too (sculpture, drawing, also design, and style ), and quite easily. There’s no shortcut to this; great art rewards the tenth viewing as much as the first, and you may devote a life considering the choices an artist made in a painting. Instead, let’s provide you a process to follow, which can help you to get the most from artwork the first time you see it.

Pablo Picasso on reading art works said that if you want to tell a great painting from a bad one, consider looking at thousand paintings. There are, naturally, standards that matter within the professional art world; however, don’t fret too much about what they think qualifies as “good.”

So, how to read a modern painting?

Have a Look

Art should attract you through your perceptions. That does not mean that a painting has to be beautiful to be good, but it should grab your attention in some manner. Give the piece a minute to do its thing — some works are intriguing in subtle ways. A job might grab your attention through its subject matter; the use of color, an interesting juxtaposition of objects, has a realistic look, a visual joke, or any other aspects.

Reading Art works through Topic or Subject

Once you’ve gotten a general look at the painting, then ask yourself, “what’s this all about?.” That is the subject of the painting. The topic might be a scene, an individual or group of people, a scene in the story, a construction or town scene, an animal, a lifetime, a fantasy scene. Some paintings won’t have a topic — a lot of the work of the 20th century is subjective, playing with shape and color and even the quality of the paint rather than representing reality. However, real masters of the abstract would deliver significance.

How to read a paintingBritish Diplomacy (2015)

The painting above, by the British artist Gheorghe Virtosu, represents British Diplomacy, as the title suggests. Scenes from the Bible or by mythology are famous in elderly work; In the modern world, we search for indications or visual symbolic associations. If you understand the story, you’re one step ahead of the game, but it’s possible to enjoy the work without knowing the story it exemplifies.

What Is That About?

Look for media and symbolism. A symbol means something. Don’t trap yourself in trying to work out “what the artist intended”; concentrate instead on what the work says to you.

How Would They Do That?

The next consideration is style, which is fundamentally the mark of the artist’s creativity in the picture. Some artists follow well-established fashions — several Renaissance portraits look almost exactly alike to the casual viewer, for instance — while others go out of their way to be different and hard. Some artists produce intimately detailed, finely controlled works, and others smack paint around almost haphazardly, creating a wild, ecstatic effect. You can get this from the artist’s biographical information.

It may not look as bright as the subject and symbolism, but the style may also communicate meaning to some viewer. For example, Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings convey the motion and freedom of the artist in the act of production. Picasso, on the other hand, is noteworthy for unbelievably deconstructed work, imparting a sort of modernity to the simple act of the subject matter.

How to read a painting

Anyone Can Do That!

A large part of the value or appeal of art is emotional — some artists go the way to inspire strong responses which range from awe and excitement to anger and disgust.

Knowing that an artist might be deliberately evoking an emotional reaction, it is worth taking a moment and question our immediate response. If a job makes you angry, ask yourself why. What is it about the work that disturbs you? What purpose would the artist have in upsetting you? What is it about the painting that makes you happy? And so forth — take some opportunity to examine your feelings in front of the art.

How to read a painting

This is not a complete introduction to reading wall art, let alone a comprehensive course, but it may help get you started in appreciating art as a casual observer least. Remember, the more you know, the better the experience. But you do not have to know much to get at least something from a painting. These four concepts — topic, symbolism, style, and self-examination will help you. Pay a visit to the local art museum or gallery, and see if you can find something worth your time. This article shall serve you as a starting point on how to read a modern painting.

If you plan to use a painting as the focus for a class project, learning to ‘read’ a painting is a good place to start. There are certain techniques that can help your class look at, and engage with a painting.

Reading a painting is similar to reading a book:

  • The reader decodes symbols to establish meaning
  • The reader uses inference and deduction (e.g. body language) to deepen understanding
  • A reader’s previous knowledge and experience affects their personal response

You could take the connection further:

  • The reader refers back to what they’ve read to explain their opinions
  • As understanding grows, the subject comes to life in the reader’s imagination, in a way that reaches beyond the page or frame

However, there are two important differences between reading a book and reading a painting. With a book we have to imagine the scene, whereas with a painting it is created for us (as it is with a film). Secondly – and this is where a painting differs from both a film and a book – the artist has only one frame through which to communicate.

So when we read a book, we convert, via our imaginations, what is black and white on the page into multicolour images. When we read a painting, the potential barrier of text is removed and we can leap straight into multicolour.

In this way, the visual image is immediately accessible and engaging. Secondly, due to the artist’s distillation of the subject matter into a single image, a painting requires a longer look than is usual in our digital culture.

By looking closely and then exploring what is seen together as a group, we can make a raft of shared and personal connections.

Spending time looking and exploring with pupils is rewarded by a depth of engagement and a sophisticated level of understanding about a painting’s context, which provides a platform for confident and committed oral and written work.

How to read a painting

Art is a great status symbol in modern society and because of that it can be quite intimidating to the casual viewer. For many the first impulse is to blow it off, to see it as a worthless plaything for the rich and boring. This is too bad, not only because art can be a great source of pleasure in our lives, but because even a passing acquaintance with art can enrich and deepen our understanding of the world around us.

Fortunately, developing a casual understanding of art is not all that difficult. It is true that some people devote their entire lives to studying the minutest details of an artists’ work, but there’s no need to become an expert to have a meaningful relationship with art. All it takes is a moderate attention to detail, a little bit of patience, and a willingness to reflect on your own feelings.

Here, I’ll show you a quick way to approach and appreciate a painting, although the ideas here can be applied to works in other mediums (sculpture, drawing, even architecture and fashion) quite easily. There’s no shortcut to understanding I can give; great art rewards the hundredth viewing as much as he first, and you can spend a lifetime pondering the decisions an artist made in one painting. Instead, I’ll try to give you a process to follow that will help you get the most out of a painting the first time you see it.

While I’m on the subject, a word about “great art”. Andy Warhol said that if you want to tell a good painting from a bad one, first look at a thousand paintings. There are no hard and fast rules about what makes a piece great, mediocre, or bad; remember, Van Gogh’s work was once considered amateurish and forgettable. There are, of course, standards that matter within the professional art world, but you don’t owe the professionals anything, so don’t worry too much about what they think qualifies as “great”.

Take a Look

Art should appeal to you first through your senses. That doesn’t mean a painting has to be beautiful to be good, but it must grab your eye in some way. Give a work a moment to do its thing — some works are intriguing in subtle ways. A work might grab your attention through its subject matter, it’s use of color, an interesting juxtaposition of objects, it’s realistic appearance, a visual joke, or any number of other factors.

How to read a painting

Once you’ve gotten an overall look at the painting, ask yourself “what’s this a picture of?” That is, what is the subject of the painting? The subject might be a landscape, a person or group of people, a scene from a story, a building or city scene, an animal, a still life (a collection of everyday items like a bowl of fruit, a pile of books, or a set of tools), a fantasy scene, and so on. Some paintings won’t have a subject — much of the work of the 20th century is abstract, playing with form and color and even the quality of the paint rather than representing reality.

The painting above, by the Dutch artist Breughel, represents the Tower of Babel. Scenes from the Bible or from classical mythology are popular in older work; since the end of the 19th century, scenes of everyday life have become more common. If you know the story, you’re one step ahead of the game, but it’s possible to enjoy the work without knowing the story it illustrates.

What’s That All About?

Look for symbols. A symbol, very simply, is something that means something else. The Tower of Babel is a well-known symbol in Western society, representing both the dangers of pride and the disruption of human unity. Often a painting will include very clear symbols — skulls, for instance, were often included in portraits of the wealthy to remind them that their wealth was only worldly and, in the grand scheme of things, ultimately meaningless. But just as often the symbolism is unique, the artist’s own individual statement. Don’t get caught in the trap of trying to figure out “what the artist meant”; focus instead on what the work says to you.

How’d They Do That?

How to read a painting

The next consideration is style, which is essentially the mark of the artist’s individual creativity on the canvas. Some artists follow well-established styles — many Renaissance portraits look almost exactly alike to the casual viewer, for instance — while others go out of their way to be different and challenging. Some artists create closely detailed, finely controlled works, others slap paint around almost haphazardly creating a wild, ecstatic effect.

It may not seem as obvious as the subject and symbolism, but style can also convey meaning to a viewer. For example, Jackson Pollock’s famous drip paintings convey the motion and freedom of the artist in the act of creation, despite being completely abstract. Vermeer’s Milkmaid, on the other hand, is notable for it’s incredibly fine detail and careful application of thin glazes of oil paints (which doesn’t come across in a photograph, alas) which create a luminous quality, imparting a kind of nobility and even divinity to the simple act of a servant pouring milk.

My Kid Could Do That!

A large part of the appeal of art is emotional — some artists go out of their way to inspire strong reactions ranging from awe and lust to anger and disgust. It’s easy to dismiss work that upsets our notion of what art could be, and any visitor to a gallery of modern art is likely to overhear at least one person complaining that “any three-year old with a box of crayons could do that!”

Knowing that an artist may be deliberately evoking an emotional response, it pays to take a moment and question our immediate reactions. If a work makes you angry, ask yourself why. What is it about the work that upsets you? What purpose might the artist have in upsetting you? Likewise, if your feelings are positive, why are they positive? What about the painting makes you happy? And so on — take the time to examine your own emotions in the presence of the painting.

This is by no means a complete introduction to art, let alone a complete course, but it should help get you started in appreciating art. The more you know, the better the experience will become, but you don’t need to know much to get at least something out of a painting. Keep in mind these 4 concepts (I’m trying not to call them the “Four Esses”) — subject, symbolism, style, and self-examination — and pay a visit to your local art museum or gallery and see if you don’t find something worth your time.

Artwork courtesy of Nicholas Pioch’s WebMuseum.

How to read a painting

What happens when you look at art?

Do you intellectualise or go straight to the feels? Do you like to know who made it before you engage? Do you read the blurb next to a painting in a gallery, or on an artist’s website, or do you prefer to have a ‘pure’ experience without any extra information?

I recently received the following question along these lines in my inbox:

“Quite often I look at paintings and think, I really like that, but I don’t know why. What criteria do you typically use for determining whether a painting works or not, especially in abstract art?

Of course there is how it feels. But can we become more explicit – why do we like or dislike a painting, why does it look and feel right or finished, what kind of things would your [creative] thinking muscle be checking out?”

… and in today’s post I’m sharing my response.

I think there are facets to experiencing art. Of course each of us brings a unique experience to viewing a single work, so no two people will ever be looking at exactly the same thing, even when they’re looking at the same thing.

Our beliefs, preferences, histories, and how we feel in a given moment will all have an effect on how we experience a work of art. We might even respond to the same piece differently at different times.

One part of ‘reading a painting’ is about the technical language and skills used by the artist. Their choice of palette, marks, subject matter, composition and so on all weave together to create that initial impact.

So the first touch is with the eyes.

Eyes like to roam and brains like to make sense of things. If they can be kept occupied doing this, the soul can simply enjoy the experience of looking at a piece of art.

As much as the soul wants to and must connect, it most often happens through the eyes first.

So a skillful painting will show the eyes where to go, and help them to truly see, so the soul can connect.

As a sidenote, being able to read a painting makes it easier to create one, because you can cultivate the work to help the viewer with the experience of engaging with it.

Among the artist’s main tools are colour, values, marks and composition. An artist might use one or all of these to express themselves.

Colour can be used not just for an emotional response, but also to direct the eye. In this still life by Diebenkorn, colour creates a frame around the main ‘action’ in the painting, guiding our eyes towards the cups:

How to read a painting

Colour isn’t everything though. A monochrome piece can be every bit as powerful as a boldly colourful one. Look at Franz Kline’s chair paintings, for example.

Likewise, leading lines can guide the eye to the main story of the painting – its focal point. Photographers use this compositional device a lot, but painters too can use it, as in this painting by Van Gogh, called The Sower.

How to read a painting

The focal point itself might be a detailed image or a splash of colour or even an empty space.

James Turrell’s Skyspaces, while not paintings , have as their focal point an opening to the sky.

How to read a painting

Highlights in a painting help the eye to travel around it, again, keeping it busy and amused and sending messages to the soul about it.

The types of lines and marks an artist uses – swirly, sweeping, jagged, stop/start, luscious and thick, stark and thin – will also serve to connect eye to heart/soul.

Emily Ball’s paintings do this for me. I find her mark making absolutely exquisite.

How to read a painting

Emily Ball – Swim, Shimmer and Float

Look out for repetition of shapes and colours for emphasis, and other visual links around the painting that help to hold it together.

If these various elements are not immediately obvious, squint, and you’ll see the bones of the painting – the key elements the artist used to express themselves.

So there are all these technical, surface elements working together, and once you have some language for them you can start to see not just what they are, but how they’re working together in some kind of harmony to give you an experience.

And then there’s THE FEELS.

All of these things can make an impression so fleetingly you don’t even realise, because as soon as you look at the painting, all you’re aware of is the emotional impact it’s having on you.

Mark Rothko’s colour field paintings often do this. On screen we might find them powerful or beautiful, but standing in front of one many times your size is an altogether different, all encompassing experience.

One element of the feelings aspect of experiencing art is the subject matter chosen by the artist.

It might resonate because it reminds us of something, be it a feeling, a person, a memory, or an experience. How we feel about that thing will affect how we experience the painting in front of us.

Same for colour palettes and marks. It all generates a feeling response that connects in with our uniqueness on the inside.

But there is one element of experiencing a painting that can’t be pinned down by technical details.

There’s the invisible alchemy that is what makes art, art.

It’s the part we can’t explain or describe, the part that makes us lost for words standing in front of a certain piece of work, so consumed are we by feelings and emotions – a visceral, wordless response.

For me, understanding the technical side, the surface visuals, is like a scaffolding for, or a doorway into, the full body experience of art.

A skilled artist can guide and suggest, and then after that it’s for us to jump off the cliff of knowledge and let go into the wordlessness.

Does this resonate for you? How would you answer the reader’s question? What does it mean to you to ‘read a painting’? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

How to read a painting Enjoy a good art discussion? Join me in the Happy Artist Studio, where you’ll find a wide range of courses and other tools to help you dig deep and take your art to the next level. Whether that means exploring your own process and practice for greater self expression and joy, finally getting to grips with loosening up and creating the expressive, free art you’ve been longing to make, or creating a cohesive body of work to take the leap into a career as an artist, the Happy Artist Studio is designed to support you in diving deep and making the art only you can make. Click here to learn more!

This course will teach you the ways of looking at the works of old and modern masters of Western European art.

Overview

How does one ‘read’ a painting? How does a picture work? What materials are paintings made of? What do images mean? What are the subjects of paintings? All these questions will be answered and explored by looking at the works of old and modern masters of Western European art.

This course will be delivered online via Zoom. All participants will receive information in advance about how to access the course before it commences.

What you will discover:

• Understanding of the evolution and innovations of materials and techniques

• Ability to analyse images and engage with the subjects of Western European Art

• Knowledge of key artists and masterpieces

Please note a recording of the course will be sent to you after it has been delivered.

Academic Profile

Aliki Braine

Born in Paris in 1976, Aliki Braine studied at The Ruskin School of Fine Art, Oxford, The Slade School of Fine Art, London and The Courtauld Institute where she was awarded a distinction for her masters in 17th century painting. Aliki has been a regular lecturer at the National Gallery since 2001 and also teaches at the Wallace Collection, Courtauld Gallery and for The Arts Society. She is an Associate Lecturer in the Department of Fine Art Photography for the University of the Arts London. Aliki is also a practicing artist who regularly exhibits her photographic work internationally.

Contact & Additional Information

Read our Frequently Asked Questions to find out more information about short courses.

Video available to watch for 7 days after broadcast – Interactive Q & A with the academic, delivered over Zoom

Contact us

For any queries about this course please contact

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Teaching activities: videos, activity ideas and information about objects

How to read a painting: Human Frailty by Salvator Rosa

Salvator Rosa, ‘Human Frailty’ (c. 1656)

Painting with a limited palette, inspired by ‘Human Frailty’

  • Sustained investigation of an artwork.
  • Understanding composition, perspective, symbolism and artist narratives.
  • Learning technical language and communicating appropriate responses.
  • Reflecting on reasoned understandings of cultural context and historical timeframes, and cultural, moral, spiritual context.
  • Reflecting on how this artwork inspires students’ own artwork.

Each resource provides a set of learning materials to support these elements:

  • Close Encounter: critically examine
  • Discuss: think and discuss ideas
  • Create: develop their own artwork through artist-led virtual workshops
  • Reflect: reflect and evaluate their work

In 1655 a devastating plague swept Naples. Salvator Rosa’s son, Rosalvo, his brother, his sister, her husband and five of their children, all died. The transience of human life was a recurring theme in 17th-century painting and thought, but for Rosa, in the year he made this painting, the subject had
a tragic immediacy. A letter to his friend Ricciardi makes clear the effect this multiple bereavement had upon him:

This time heaven has struck me in such a way
that shows me that all human remedies are
useless and the least pain I feel is when I tell
you that I weep as I write.

References to antiquity, colours and palettes, symbols and composition.

Find out more about ‘Human Frailty‘ with this factsheet.

Let’s start by thinking about the physical size of this painting: height 199.1cm x width 133.1cm.

Your first challenge is to find something this size in your classroom or at home! You’ll need a long tape measure…

This painting is almost exactly the same size as a double bed, wardrobe or large cupboard.

Imagine or act out the pose in the same position as the woman or skeleton in this painting. You can use friends to help you – this can help you work out the scale. It might help if you take a ‘selfie’ when you are in position. When a painting of this size includes people, we can think about scale – if they are life size, smaller or larger?

Now measure a wall in your own classroom or home. Imagine the size of the room that a painting this size could hang in – what sort of house might have rooms that size? What does that tell us about where this painting might have originally been displayed and the status of the owners?

Ask the artist

In a pair, one of you is an art journalist; the other is Salvator Rosa. Devise a set of questions to find out more about the painting.

Here’s a question to get you started: “Signor Salvator, tell us, who is that mysterious lady and why is she so sad?”

How do you think the artist, Salvator Rosa, would answer?

Find it, list it

As a class make a list of as many actual ‘things’ you can find in the painting. Aim to list around 15 ‘things’. We’ll start you off: a bubble.

Look very closely into the background of the painting. Did you find a fish? An old man’s face? A hippo?

Turn your attention to the foreground , the ‘front’ of the painting. Did you find a knife? A bubble? A spent firework?

Why do you think the artist, Salvator Rosa, included these in his painting? These act as a code called symbolism – when an object stands for something else. Can you decode the symbols?

  • Fish : think about what an old dead fish might smell like.
  • Face of an old man : he is the Roman god Terminus, the god of endings.
  • Hippo : often a dangerous and unpredictable animal.
  • Bubbles and fireworks : how long does a firework illuminate the sky? How many seconds does a bubble float in the air? Can you capture these and keep them?
  • Knife : which way is the blade facing? What could this knife symbolically cut apart?
  • Owl : the companion animal to the ancient Roman goddess of wisdom, Minerva.

Colours and Symbols

Create a set of symbols to represent:

  • chaos
  • everlasting
  • impermanence
  • love
  • hope
  • life

Put together your own paint palette that matches this painting. You can mix colours together to create a range of tones and hues. Discover how to paint using a limited palette in this video with artist Nathan Huxtable:

Experiment with matching your colours and symbols.

Make a set of notes that reflect on the following:

  • What is your initial emotional response to this painting? Then, think about whether your understanding of the artist’s personal story changed your emotional response? Do artworks always require an emotional response?
  • How does understanding the symbols help us understand the story of this painting more deeply? How does the artist use colour to heighten the visual emotive response to the image?
  • Which ancient historical era does the artist refer to and how does this relate to his own culture? Then, reflect on how this might influence our contemporary understanding?
  • Which aspects of this painting might inspire and inform your own artworks and how can you expand these?

Download our How to Read a Painting scheme of work as a PDF.

This resource has been designed for teaching within your classroom and is not to be used for any other purposes without the express permission of the Fitzwilliam Museum.

To identify artist signatures on paintings, locate the signature or the monogram on the painting, and note the painting type. Use John Castagno’s signature directories available from Scarecrow Press or as an online database on the Artists’ Signatures website to verify signatures or identify symbols, monograms and illegible signatures. If the artwork is of local origin, contact a local art gallery owner, museum curator or historian.

To locate the signature or monogram of the artist, check the painting’s margins or backside. Sometimes, the name of the artist, the title and the year are printed on the painting’s reverse side. In case of framed artworks, remove the backing to access this information.

John Castagno’s 12 signature directories include a list of monograms, indiscernible signatures and signatures of illustrators, abstract artists and artists from Europe, America and Latin America active from the 1800s till the present times. To purchase these directories, access the Scarecrow Press website, and type Castagno in the search box on the top right corner.

The Artists’ Signatures website is a database containing 55,000 signature examples that correspond to 50,000 artists. To use this site, type in the artist’s name. Filter the search using the options under Featured Categories. Click on the name of the artist from the list, and log in to your account to view the full profile of the artist.

To identify symbols, illegible signatures and monograms on this database, click on Reverse Lookup, and choose the appropriate option from the drop-down menu. View the database examples arranged alphabetically, and match with the one being researched.

On the Artists’ Signatures website, preliminary access is free. A nominal payment is required to access particular signature examples and artists’ names.

This article was co-authored by wikiHow staff writer, Eric McClure. Eric McClure is an editing fellow at wikiHow where he has been editing, researching, and creating content since 2019. A former educator and poet, his work has appeared in Carcinogenic Poetry, Shot Glass Journal, Prairie Margins, and The Rusty Nail. His digital chapbook, The Internet, was also published in TL;DR Magazine. He was the winner of the Paul Carroll award for outstanding achievement in creative writing in 2014, and he was a featured reader at the Poetry Foundation’s Open Door Reading Series in 2015. Eric holds a BA in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and an MEd in secondary education from DePaul University.

There are 12 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.

This article has been viewed 199,859 times.

Learning more about a piece of famous art is easy, but identifying an unknown or obscure painting can be kind of tricky. There are so many paintings in existence that the odds of finding information about a specific image can feel insurmountable. Luckily, you can dramatically narrow down your search by assessing the composition, subject matter, and style. Start by using an image recognition app and reverse image search. Museums and art historians are in a perpetual effort to upload and catalogue paintings and artists online, so it may be easier than you think to find the information you’re looking for!

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How to read a painting

How to Read Paintings

How to Read Paintings provides a fascinating analysis of fifteen paintings made in the Western tradition. From works by Raphael to Klimt, Dürer to Monet, this wide-ranging book looks at what the pictures actually show, including their symbolism, stories and composition.

“How to Read Paintings is an excellent book. Christopher Jones style of writing is engaging and inspiring. A very interesting book – highly recommended!” ★★★★★ recent reviewer

“In a very clear language the book guides you to look at art from a new perspective. It is like having a storyteller for the paintings. ” ★★★★★ recent reviewer

How to read a painting

How to Read Paintings is available as a PDF download.

Making Sense of These Types of Paintings

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How to read a painting

People often misunderstand abstract art because they are looking for something real and concrete with which they can identify. It is natural to try to name and make sense of what we experience and perceive in the world, so pure abstract art, with its unrecognizable subject matter and unpredictable shapes, colors, and lines can prove challenging. Many people see no difference between the art of a professional abstract painter and the art of a toddler, making it that much harder to find meaning in it.

Recognizing the Difference Between Children’s Art and Abstract Art

While there may be some similarities between the marks made by children and those made by professional abstract artists, the similarities are superficial. There are several reasons why children paint (and some of those same reasons no doubt continue into adulthood for those people who become professional artists), but by that time there is more thought, planning, and understanding of the visual elements and principles of art. This understanding gives the professional work greater complexity and a visible structure that is often perceivable by even the non-artist.

Since abstract art is primarily about the formal elements of design, rather than necessarily based on recognizable images, it is very significant how the artist has used the elements of art to convey particular principles of art, for this is what gives the painting its meaning and feeling.

Being Familiar With Past Work, Culture, and Time Period

Professional abstract art is often about much more than what you see on the surface of the canvas. It may be about the process itself, the artist may be using symbolism, or the artist may have reduced something visible to its abstract essence. Therefore, it helps greatly to be familiar with the whole body of the artist’s work — his or her oeuvre. That way you know what paintings have preceded the one you are seeing, which will help greatly in making sense of it.

Every artist is also a product of his or her culture, place, and time period. If you know the history relevant to the artist you will also be able to better understand his or her painting.

Piet Mondrian

For example, Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) was a Dutch artist most well-known for his minimal geometric abstract paintings in primary colors. Seeing these paintings, one might wonder what is so special about them. But when you realize that “he radically simplified the elements of his paintings to reflect what he saw as the spiritual order underlying the visible world, creating a clear, universal aesthetic language within his canvases,” you are inclined to appreciate more the apparent simplicity of his paintings.

He started out painting traditional representational landscapes but then worked in series, in which each subsequent painting became more abstract and reduced to lines and planes until reaching the point where his paintings became the abstractions that are most familiar to the public. The Grey Tree (1912) pictured above, is one such painting of a series.

As Mondrian himself said: “The emotion of beauty is always obscured by the appearance of the object. Therefore the object must be eliminated from the picture.”

See the article Piet Mondrian: The Evolution of Pure Abstract Paintings to see examples of Mondrian’s progression from representation to abstraction.

Abstract Art Takes Time to Absorb

Part of our problem in appreciating abstract art is that we expect to “get it” immediately, and don’t give ourselves time to sit with it and absorb it. It takes the time to absorb the meaning and emotion behind a work of abstract art. The Slow Art movement that is popular worldwide has brought attention to the fact that museum-goers often move through museums very quickly, spending less than twenty seconds on an individual artwork, and thereby missing much of what the artwork has to offer.

How to Analyze Abstract Art

There are three basic steps when analyzing any work of art:

  1. Description: What do you see? State the obvious and then dig deeper. Identify the elements and principles of design that you see. What are the colors? Are they warm or cool? Are they saturated or unsaturated? What kinds of lines are used? What shapes? Is it visually balanced? Does it have symmetrical or asymmetrical balance? Is there a repetition of certain elements?
  2. Interpretation: What is the artwork trying to say? How do the things you see and describe contribute to its message? How does it make you feel? Is there rhythm or movement? Does it make you feel happy, or sad? Does it convey energy, or does it convey a sense of stillness and peace? Read the title of the painting. It can give you some insight into its meaning or intent.
  3. Evaluation: Does it work? Are you moved by it in any way? Do you understand the artist’s intent? Does it speak to you? Not every painting is going to speak to every person.

As Pablo Picasso said, “There is no abstract art. You must always start with something. Afterward, you can remove all traces of reality.”

Most abstract art starts with a common human experience. You might just have to spend some time with a painting to uncover what that is and what it means to you. A painting represents a unique conversation between the artist and a particular viewer. Although you don’t have to know anything about the artist in order to be moved by a painting, it is likely that the viewer with the greatest knowledge of the abstract artist and his or her background will most appreciate and understand the artwork.

By Maxwell K. Hearn

The Chinese way of appreciating a painting is often expressed by the words du hua, “to read a painting.” Because art is a visual language, words alone cannot adequately convey its expressive dimension. How to Read Chinese Paintings seeks to visually analyze 36 paintings and calligraphies from the encyclopedic collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art in order to elucidate what makes each a masterpiece. Author Maxwell K. Hearn’s elegantly erudite yet readable text discusses each work in depth, considering multiple layers of meaning. Style, technique, symbolism, past traditions, historical events, and the artist’s personal circumstances all come into play. Spanning more than a thousand years, from the eighth through the seventeenth century, the subjects represented are particularly wide-ranging: landscapes, flowers, birds, figures, religious subjects, and calligraphies. All illuminate the main goal of every Chinese artist: to capture not only the outer appearance of a subject but also its inner essence. Numerous large color details, accompanied by informative captions, allow the reader to delve further into the most significant aspects of each work. Together the text and illustrations reveal many of the major themes and characteristics of Chinese painting. To “read” these works is to enter a dialogue with the past. Slowly perusing a scroll or album, one shares an intimate experience that has been repeated over the centuries. And it is through such readings that meaning is revealed. Also included in this volume is a map, dynastic chronology, and further reading suggestions.

By Maxwell K. Hearn

The Chinese way of appreciating a painting is often expressed by the words du hua, “to read a painting.” Because art is a visual language, words alone cannot adequately convey its expressive dimension. How to Read Chinese Paintings seeks to visually analyze 36 paintings and calligraphies from the encyclopedic collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art in order to elucidate what makes each a masterpiece. Author Maxwell K. Hearn’s elegantly erudite yet readable text discusses each work in depth, considering multiple layers of meaning. Style, technique, symbolism, past traditions, historical events, and the artist’s personal circumstances all come into play. Spanning more than a thousand years, from the eighth through the seventeenth century, the subjects. See More

  • Publisher: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Author: Maxwell K. Hearn
  • Pages: 184
  • Illustrations: 175 in full color
  • Format: Paperback
  • Dimensions: 9 1/2” x 12”
  • ISBN: 9780300141870
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It can be difficult to visualize the size of a painting without physical inspection. Accurately reporting the size of your painting is important. This guide will give you the tools to accurately measure your painting. Before handling your paintings, make sure your hands are clean and dry, and use gloves if you have them.

The standard format for reporting measurements of a print is as follows: Height x Width. For a framed artwork, use this format: Height x Width x Depth.

If your work is not framed, our experts need to know the size of the Canvas.
How to read a painting

If your work is framed, our experts need two measurements for your painting: Sight and Frame.

    • Sight: The area of the artwork that is visible inside the mat or frame.
    • Frame: The overall size of the frame

How to read a painting

Basic Types of Measuring Tools:
How to read a painting

  • Seamstress tape: soft and flexible, good for measuring circumference, three- dimensional objects, or curved objects
  • Measuring tape: rigid, can be hooked onto a frame or canvas, good for measuring straight items that are longer than one foot
  • Ruler: rigid, good for measuring straight items smaller than one foot, particularly small items that can be laid directly on the ruler

How to Measure:

  1. Place the “Zero” end of your ruler at the end of your painting (this is usually on the left side of the ruler)
  2. Make sure the end of your ruler is flush (in line) with your painting
  3. Adjust your ruler so that it is aligned with your painting
  4. Move to the opposite side of the painting you are measuring and read the ruler

How to read a painting

How to read a painting How to read a painting

Hi There!

How to read a paintingMy name is Tracie Kiernan, artist and creator of Step By Step Painting, LLC. I am a self taught painter, a certified Elementary Art Teacher and have taught visual arts to all ages for over ten years. I have a profound passion for the arts and art education. You can learn more about me and my artistic journey here!

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Tracie Kiernan is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

Copyright & Use Policy

В© 2021 Step By Step Painting With Tracie Kiernan, All Rights Reserved.

The art and tutorials on www.stepbysteppainting.net are intended for noncommercial personal use. Read more about policy here.

Learn about how to obtain commercial use license for one of Tracie’s designs for a paid event (small business single employee only).

You might be surprised by how easy it is

Marion Boddy-Evans is a professional quilter, artist, and writer with 15 years’ experience specializing in quilting and painting. She is a commissioned artist at the Isle of Skye Art Studio located in Scotland, where she also teaches workshops.

How to read a painting

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

When you decide you would like to paint, you may encounter the myth that it takes talent. Don’t believe it. The desire to learn to paint coupled with enthusiasm is what you need more than anything else. You can even learn to paint without being able to draw realistically.

Deciding Which Paint to Use

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The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

The first step is deciding what paint you are going to use. The four main choices are oils (traditional or water-soluble), watercolors, acrylics, and pastels. It is a very personal choice: If one type of paint doesn’t suit you, be sure to try another.

  • Oil paint is a traditional artist’s medium. It is pigment mixed with such oils as linseed, safflower, or poppy, and thinned with turpentine. It should be used on supports that have been primed with gesso to protect the surface—which can even include paper—from the acid in the oil. Oil paint is slow-drying, so the paint can stay wet on the palette and workable on the painting for many days, making it easy to blend. Cleanup requires solvents such as turpentine or mineral spirits. Water-soluble oils have been introduced in recent years, requiring only water to thin the paints and clean the brushes.
  • Watercolor paint is another traditional medium and uses pigment mixed with a binder made of gum arabic and additives to improve solubility and flow. It is water-soluble, transparent, and comes in a tube, pan, and liquid form. Watercolor paint can be reactivated with water when dry and reworked, even years after you finish your painting. The characteristics of watercolor—its convenience, portability, and easy cleanup—make it a very popular medium for both finished works as well as sketchbooks and visual journals.
  • Acrylic paint is a more modern choice—it only recently became commercially available for artists in the 1950s. In acrylic paints, the pigment is suspended in a plastic polymer. It’s most notable for its quick drying time and can be used on almost any surface without priming. It’s water-soluble, making cleanup much easier (all you’ll need are soap and water). Acrylic dries into a durable, flexible, water-resistant surface. It is very versatile and can be used thinly like watercolors or more thickly like oil paints, depending on the desired effect.
  • As a budding pastel painter, you will likely develop your own preferred brands, but until then, a few stand out or at least are worth a try. John Hersey’s handmade Unison pastels are perfect for beginners. With almost 400 different pastels—sold individually or as color-coordinated sets—you can add colors as you need them. Schmincke makes the most beautifully soft pastels available: With an almost buttery texture, they glide onto the surface of the paper, even over already heavily worked areas. Rembrandt soft pastels are excellent for line work and early layering in of color: These are probably the best pastels for starting a painting.

Learning to Mix Colors

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The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

Beginners often shy away from color and color mixing (especially when it’s labeled “color theory”), but the basics of color mixing aren’t particularly complicated. Color and pigment provide so many different painting possibilities and nuances that an artist could spend a lifetime exploring color, color theory, and color mixing. Indeed, color mixing is something that often overwhelms beginners because it can be complicated, but color mixing can also be pared down to some fundamental tips.

So, embrace the challenge, learn, and soon you’ll be mixing just the right tints, tones, and shades. And, if you don’t want to waste the paint by throwing it away, use it with some white to do a monochrome painting or value exercise. Value is another term for tone, which refers to how light or dark the colors are. A value exercise, then, involves working to create lighter or darker tones in your painting.

The Steps in Making a Painting

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The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

The steps in the creation of a painting vary from artist to artist and develop over time. Many artists lightly sketch out the composition on a canvas, then block in the main areas of color across the canvas. You can start with the larger shapes and work toward the smaller ones, gradually working on the detail. Some artists work in layers and others work alla prima (all at once) to complete their painting in a single session. Artists often do studies (small versions) or multiple sketches for a painting. There is no right or wrong approach; ultimately you must find what works best for you.

Finding Ideas for Paintings

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The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

Some days you will have more ideas than you can get down; others you may find yourself hunting around for inspiration. This is why a creativity journal can be very useful. And don’t despair if you make a “mistake” in your painting: Those can be what artists call “happy accidents,” resulting in something beautiful. If you’re still struggling to come up with concepts, take an enjoyable hour or two to scan the top books for painting ideas and inspiration.

Safety Tips

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The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

The No. 1 rule regarding safety and art materials should be obvious—sloppy work habits can be dangerous. Avoid eating a sandwich with paint on your hands, for example. Know what you’re using and what precautions you need or want to take.

Want to start painting now? Head to https://aframe.io/a-painter! Make sure you have a WebVR-enabled browser. In Chromium, enable the flags for chrome://flags/#enable-webvr and chrome://flags/#enable-gamepad-extensions . Firefox support is coming soon. (Don’t have a headset? No problem – you can still view paintings from any device!)

How to read a painting

We on the Mozilla VR team are hardcore fans of Tilt Brush. It’s a wonderful example of the power of VR as an expressive medium. In the last few weeks, we have been experimenting with our own Web-based interpretation of Tilt Brush. We wanted to show how easy is to produce and share your creations on the Web across platforms with no software installations.

To browse paintings, you just need a browser with WebGL, but to fulfill your artistic urges you need a system with hand-tracked controllers. Today, that means only with the HTC Vive on Windows (though we hope this changes soon!).

What can I do with A-Painter today?

  • Paint in 3D using hand-tracked motion controllers. Use both hands to paint!
  • Share drawings with the world simply by copying and pasting a URL.
  • View 3D drawings anywhere both with and without a headset.
  • Paint on top of other people’s drawings and make them your own.
  • Drag and drop images and OBJ models from your desktop to the browser, for a template or starting point to paint over.
  • Save and load local binary files of your drawings.
  • Over 30 brushes with a custom A-Painter Brush API to easily create new ones.

How to play with it

It’s easy! Go to the A-Painter web site with a WebVR-enabled browser (with Gamepad Extensions enabled in about:config ) and put on your HTC Vive headset. Grab your controllers, hold the trigger button, and start painting!

If you don’t have a headset, you can still view other people’s creations using mouse and keyboard or mobile.

Controls

How to read a painting

  • Trigger: Hold down to paint (it’s pressure sensitive).
  • Thumbpad: Slide up and down to change the brush size.
  • Grip: Squeeze to undo the latest stroke.
  • Menu Button: Press to toggle the main menu.

Once you open the main menu, you can modify the color, size, and brush type by pointing the other controller to the desired option and clicking using the trigger (and the controller being used to point and click is the one is the one that receives the new settings).

How to read a painting

  • Color history: The latest seven colors used will be saved in these swatches.
  • Clear: Clears the painting. Use with care!
  • Save: The whole painting will be saved and uploaded to a server in a binary format, and outside of VR (but still in your browser) you will get a URL that you can use to share your painting and resume your work later.
  • Copy: The current brush settings (type, color, and size) of the controller holding the menu will be transferred to the pointing controller.

How to read a painting

A-Painter is extensible

To create a new brush, implement the following interface, and register it by calling AFRAME.registerBrush(brushName, definition, options) .

And, from within your AFRAME.registerBrush call, define the following:

The only required method to implement is addPoint. With addPoint, you should do something with the point, orientation, and pressure data returned from the controller (i.e., create or modify a geometry), and return true if you’ve added something to the scene and false otherwise. If you want to add dynamic behavior, implement the tick method, which will be called on every frame.

Here is the code for a custom spheres brush:

How to read a painting

Perhaps we could…

While developing this tool, we got plenty of interesting ideas to implement. The future of A-Painter depends on you and its general acceptance and feedback, but here are some ideas of features we would like to add:

  • More and better tools, such as a color picker and eraser
  • More and better brushes
  • Save screenshots and GIF animations
  • Audio-reactive brushes
  • Multi-user painters and spectators
  • Import glTF models
  • Export to standard 3D file formats, such as OBJ and glTF
  • Dedicated web site with gallery of users’ submissions
  • Post-processing filters
  • Performance optimizations to existing brushes

Two sleuths — a curator and a librarian — in New Paltz, N.Y., helped the F.B.I. track down 200-year-old paintings that were stolen from a historical society in 1972.

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How to read a painting

On a Wednesday evening in February 1972, as police officers and emergency responders in New Paltz, N.Y., flocked to a fire, somebody snatched a pair of 19th-century portraits of a wealthy local couple from a historical society elsewhere in town.

The theft also resulted in the loss of dozens of objects, some three centuries old, including a prayer book, a powder horn and antique guns and swords. At the time, the president of the society estimated the items to be worth about $30,000, a figure he said was dwarfed by the sentimental value they offered the historic community, which is about 85 miles north of New York City and was settled in the 17th century by the descendants of French Protestants.

Many of the items were recovered at a Manhattan thrift shop several weeks later, but the paintings from the 1820s — sullen portraits of a rosy-cheeked man with a puckered mouth and a woman holding a snuff box — were not among them.

This month — more than 50 years after the theft — the F.B.I. announced that the portraits had been returned to the society, Historic Huguenot Street, thanks in part to the persistent detective work of two local sleuths — a curator and a librarian.

Immediately after the crime took place, it was infused with intrigue. Local officials speculated that the fire, at a Veterans of Foreign Wars building, was linked to the theft, a theory that gained traction in a local newspaper. While the police responded to the fire, “the robbers had a free hand on Huguenot Street,” The Daily Freeman of Kingston, N.Y., reported.

The paintings were done in oil by Ammi Phillips, a famed 19th-century portraitist, and they depicted Dirck D. Wynkoop and his wife, Annatje Eltinge, key figures in the history of New Paltz. Mr. Wynkoop owned farmland that had helped feed the American colonists during the Revolutionary War. He had a darker history that was also entwined with that of the fledgling country: He owned slaves.

To Carol Johnson, a librarian at Elting Memorial Library in New Paltz and a society trustee, the theft of the paintings deprived local residents of a chance to learn how their history connected to the broader story of America, warts and all.

As the coronavirus pandemic took hold in 2020, Ms. Johnson joined up with Josephine Bloodgood, the curator of the historical society, to create an exhibit about a man named Jacob Wynkoop, a New Paltz carpenter who was among the first Black men in the community to vote and who fought in the Civil War. Jacob Wynkoop’s father had been enslaved by Dirck D. Wynkoop.

Their mutual interest in Jacob Wynkoop led Ms. Johnson and Ms. Bloodgood to take a crack at solving the mystery of the missing paintings.

Ms. Johnson and Ms. Bloodgood were armed with a black-and-white postcard image of the stolen portraits that had been distributed to art dealers shortly after the theft. They compared notes and records but quickly hit a roadblock: The paintings, to their knowledge, simply had not surfaced in the half-century since they were taken.

A break came around June 2020, when they spotted the paintings in an online catalog of works by Mr. Phillips. The catalog said that the portraits were of unidentified subjects and that they were sold at auction by Sotheby’s in 2005.

“There was shock that they were out there in plain sight,” Ms. Bloodgood said.

After purchasing a Sotheby’s catalog from eBay, Ms. Bloodgood confirmed that the paintings had, in fact, been put up for auction in 2005, and that they had sold for roughly $13,000, a paltry amount compared with some of Mr. Phillips’s more famous work.

With their research in hand, the two women contacted the F.B.I., which has a team dedicated to art crime. It subpoenaed Sotheby’s and discovered the name of the buyer, who was unaware that the paintings had been stolen, according to the F.B.I. and the researchers. The buyer agreed to turn over the paintings, the researchers said, though it was unclear whether the buyer received money in return.

“It’s so rare to have portraits of individuals from this early period, especially for New Paltz,” Ms. Bloodgood said. “We’re so pleased to have the Wynkoop portraits back in the collection, where they can again be interpreted to tell a fuller story of our community and how it relates to the rich and complicated history of our country.”

The researchers never contacted Sotheby’s for help. The couple’s names were on the backs of the paintings. Ms. Johnson said that should have been enough information for the auction house to know the paintings were stolen.

“We could not understand why Sotheby’s did not do their due diligence and look up these paintings,” Ms. Johnson said. Sotheby’s did not respond to messages seeking comment.

A lack of transparency among auction houses and a desire to protect the privacy of art buyers and sellers create a culture in which art theft can flourish, said Erin Thompson, an associate professor of art crime at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Dr. Thompson says auction houses like Sotheby’s and Christie’s argue that art is often sold under sensitive circumstances — the “three D’s” of death, divorce and debt. According to Dr. Thompson, these are the circumstances that the auction houses contend beg for privacy.

“From the perspective of me — suspicious, cynical art critic — it creates opportunity to launder stolen or looted objects, as seems to have happened with these,” she said, adding that it was unclear what paperwork Sotheby’s received with the paintings. “Who knows how convincing that paperwork is or what the auction house asked for?”

The F.B.I. could not be reached. Ms. Johnson and Ms. Bloodgood said that an agent told them that the statute of limitations had passed. Even though the paintings are back in the historical society’s hands, which was Ms. Johnson and Ms. Bloodgood’s main goal, the women have still not solved the mystery of who took them in the first place.

They plan to keep exploring that question as they try to locate other items lost in the theft.

Lessons to Develop Your Painting Skills

How to read a painting

How to read a painting

Have you ever wanted to learn how to paint but were too intimidated to get started? Most beginners will benefit from easy step by step painting tutorials that can teach them helpful techniques and help them refine their skills.

Painting tutorials are also a great place to find inspiration for original works of art. We gathered several easy painting tutorials for beginners, along with some more advanced classes that will teach you how to paint like a pro. Each art project is complete with clear instructions and photographs.

Start With Some Basic Shapes

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It might be tempting to gather your paint supplies and paint directly on the canvas to create a piece of art you can hang on your walls. If you are a novice painter or haven’t painted in a long time, consider some painting practice in a sketchbook first. This painting tutorial will teach you how to paint a basic sphere. You can apply the lessons you learn here in creating depth for many future painting projects.

Watercolor a Pear Still Life

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If you want to learn how to watercolor, start with a simple still-life object that doesn’t have too many details. This step by step painting tutorial from Elise Engh Studios will explain some helpful watercolor techniques and walk you through the process of recreating this pear. Once you’re done painting, you can hang this chic painting in your kitchen.

Find Out How to Create Soft, Whimsical Flowers

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Flowers are another frequent subject for watercolors, but mastering a soft watercolor flower takes practice. Head over to The Postman’s Knock to learn how to create fantastical flowers that will look amazing on greeting cards, artwork, or even as an accent in a bullet journal.

Take This Course to Add Drama to Your Oil Paintings

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Watercolors are great for beginners, but oil painting is something else entirely. Most artists will tell you that art courses are beneficial when you’re first learning how to mix colors and work with the medium. This online course from Layne Johnson will teach you how to create realistic-looking clouds. You’ll learn what brushes to use, helpful techniques, and more. Also, if oil paintings are too intimidating, this course can work for acrylic paints, too.

Create a Solar System with Spray Paint

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This next tutorial is ideal for any person that likes to craft whether or not they have discernible painting skills. Ananda from A Piece of Rainbow offers this free painting tutorial on her blog that is beyond creative. This guide will show you how to recreate a solar system painting using spray paint and recycled cans.

Paint a Galaxy Using Craft Paints

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Galaxies are relatively easy to paint because anything goes. You’ll have success with this painting as long as you have several washes of colors and some stars. Check out how The Artisan Life uses inexpensive craft paints to create this beautiful galaxy canvas.

Learn How to Paint Like a Master

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Most online oil painting courses will cost you money, which makes sense, given how much time and effort goes into a realistic oil painting. However, if you want to try your hand at oil painting without the upfront cost, check out this free lesson from Brianna Lee. She shows you the essential steps to creating a luminous still life of backlit oranges. Sign up for the lesson by clicking the link below.

Hide The Northern Lights Inside a Word

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People who enjoy typography and painting will love this painting tutorial from Ink Struck. You’ll learn how to mask off a word and create a beautiful northern lights scene inside. One great thing about this tutorial is that you can change out the word to be something that resonates with you.

Use Gouche and Poster Colors for This Painting Tutorial

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Gouache and poster color are both amazingly versatile mediums, but people tend to quit before they master the mediums and unlock their potential. This course is ideal because it will help you troubleshoot common issues and increase your confidence. If this is a medium you have tried and failed at, make sure you invest in this tutorial from prolific artist Justin Donaldson.

Figure Out How to Paint Lavander Like a Pro

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You’ll find a lot of free acrylic painting tutorials on the internet, but some are much better than others. Some will leave you with a painting you want to hang on the wall, and others will leave you with a picture that ends up in the basement. This tutorial from Feeling Nifty is so well done because the result is beautiful and entirely attainable for beginners. Read the tutorial to find out which four acrylic paint colors you’ll need to get started.

Spend Some Time on This Cherry Blossom Painting

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Here is another free acrylic painting tutorial that is so popular because of how fun it is to make. You’ll learn how to paint with cotton swabs and four paint colors. We recommend creating a grouping of four smaller tree paintings and hanging them as a gallery wall.

Learn Some Different Splatter Paint Techniques

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This tutorial can be great for adults that want to let loose on a canvas, but kids will have the most fun with this painting project. Find some huge drop cloths, head outside, and try your hand at some of these splatter painting techniques.

Pair Together Several of These Agate Slice Paintings

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The final tutorial is popular for crystal lovers and watercolor lovers alike. You’ll learn how to create a crystal geode using watercolors. Once you practice a few of these geodes, you’ll be able to develop original geodes from scratch using colors of your choosing.

For a professional-looking paint job, do what the experts do.

How to read a painting

Tips on how to paint interiors like a pro.

Photo by: Shutterstock/kitzcorner

Related To:

These top tips will make your next paint job a smashing success, whether you’re painting all your walls or just one.

1. Wait for Dry Weather

Humidity means drips and slow drying, so avoid painting on a rainy day. If you must paint when it’s humid, take your time — and take advantage of slow-drying paint to correct your errors before moving on to the next coat. But don’t overwork or it will show when you’re finished.

Foolproof Paint Colors That Will Sell Your Home

Find out the best interior and exterior paint colors to sell your home in 2021.

2. Do a Thorough Visual Inspection and Prep

Any cracked, flaking or peeling areas need to be lightly sanded or scraped (and then thoroughly rinsed) before applying new primer and paint because the weight of the new coat will pull the old paint loose. “You’ll just end up wasting your time and money if you don’t tackle that first,” says Tom Lee, Senior VP of Consumer Marketing for Behr. Greasy spots may also need a bit of washing with soap, followed by a rinse with clean water. Otherwise, wipe down with a damp cloth so that paint will have a clean, dust-free surface to stick to.

How to Repair Drywall

A well-placed piece of art may be the quickest way to disguise a hole in drywall, but for a professional fix, follow our tips for a smooth, finished surface.

3. Buy High-Quality Brushes, Roller Covers, and Painter’s Tape

If you’re splurging on great paint, you definitely don’t want to pinch pennies on the application. Good brushes and roller covers give excellent coverage so that you don’t waste time and paint on re-application, and high-end painter’s tape is the real deal when it comes to sealing out drips and blurs.

Paintbrushes and Applicators 02:28

4. Know Your Nap

The more texture your walls have, the thicker the nap you’ll want on your roller cover so it can reach into crevices and give complete coverage. For example, you’ll want to go with a thick nap if you’re painting concrete walls. But for drywall, a thin nap is preferred. If you go with a nap that’s too thick, you might actually create texture where you don’t want it, so be prepared to give the salesperson details about what you’re painting when you’re buying your painting supplies.

All About Paint, Color and Tools

Learn what type of paint to use, which tools will work best and the basics for picking color schemes.

5. Protect Anything You Don’t Want Painted

You will never regret the time you spend covering floors, furniture and hardware before you begin a paint project. Drop cloths are a must and small plastic sandwich bags secured with tape are an easy way to protect doorknobs.

Read This Before You Paint Your Front Door

Take note of these helpful hints before you pick up your brush.

6. Remove Light Switch and Outlet Covers

If you’re impatient, you’ll be tempted to skip this five-minute step, but don’t.

Paint Your Ceiling a Bold Color

Goodbye bland, hello bold!

7. Use Primer

Paint-and-primer combinations are fine if you already have a clean, smooth surface. But if there are any issues with the wall or it’s been more than eight years since you last painted, bite the bullet and go with a separate primer. If you need to cover an especially challenging surface (say, glass or high-gloss paint), use a bonding primer such as Benjamin Moore’s Insl-x Stix Waterborne Bonding Primer or KILZ Adhesion Interior & Exterior Bonding Primer.

8. Box Your Paint

Get the paint salesperson to help you with a realistic estimate of how much paint you’ll really need so that you can buy it all at once. Then, instead of using one gallon at a time, combine all the paint into one large container and mix it thoroughly. This is known as “boxing” your paint, and it keeps your color consistent from beginning to end.

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How to read a painting

How to read a painting

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Transient effects can seem somewhat mysterious. Especially when it comes to figuring out how to paint fog and mist! However, like most things, painting fog and mist is figure out-able. This article will illustrate how to approach the transient effects you encounter in nature. This, along with other helpful tips on how to create a realistic painting, will help bring your painting to life.

Contents of this Article

Subtlety is very important in painting fog and mist

First of all, subtlety is so important when it comes to painting fog and transient effects. The degree of subtlety with which you approach a work can make or break a painting.

When you look out at a landscape on a misty day there is much less distinction between things. A tree will no longer stand out from the rest of the landscape as a veil of fog covers everything.

For example, look at the painting below by Monet:

How to read a painting

Monet, Parliament building

One of the first things you will notice in the painting above is its subtlety. For example, The transition between where the ‘parliament building’ ends and the reflection in the water begins is nearly imperceptible. There is a very soft transition. All of the colors in the painting are very similar and are of a similar tonal range. Learn more about tonal range in this introductory guide to tonal values.

This is exactly how to paint fog and mist – by paying close attention to subtlety. Fog and mist inherently make everything less clear and distinctive. In addition, fog and mist creates less distinctive differences in terms of color and value between different parts. It is just as if a veil came over something and made everything closer together in value and unclear.

Creating Atmospheric Space

Atmospheric space is a technique of rendering depth or distance in a painting by modifying the tone, hue and distinctness of objects. So, in other words everything far off in the distance is less clear – and what is closer to the foreground is more clear. This can be manipulated with color, temperature and edges.

In a painting depicting fog, this is all exaggerated. So, what is far off in the distance is even softer than usual. You can see this at play in the painting below by Turner.

How to read a painting

The Thames above Waterloo Bridge, J.M.W. Turner, 1835, Tate Art Museum, London

How to paint fog as shapes

When looking at fog it is easy to think of it as an ethereal visual phenomenon that cannot be solidified into a geometric form on your painting. However, I believe everything has a geometry and can be measured – even fog.

How to read a painting

Caspar David Friedrich, Wanderer Above the Sea and Fog

Caspar David Friedrich’s painting “Wanderer Above the Sea and Fog” is a great example of how to paint fog and mist. Notice the wanderer looking out at a vast expanse of space which is covered in mist and fog. The piece has a sense of mystery because of its use of fog and mist in the painting and is a quintessential romantic artwork.

How to read a painting

Detail, Caspar David Friedrich

In the detail of the fog painting above, I marked out the shapes of different fog ‘spots’ to show how each area has a distinct shape.

Just because fog does not have a solid shape in real life does not mean that we can’t ‘quantify’ it and create a specific shape for it in our fog painting.

How to paint edges in fog and mist

So, once you find specific areas that form geometric shapes – such as what I outlined above in Friedrich’s painting then you must think about the edge. What are edges in painting? Here’s an article I wrote which details all about edges in painting and everything you need to know.

You must create soft transitions in and around the fog areas. This means that the color and tonal transitions must be very subtle. The soft edges around the foggy and misty areas in your painting is what will make it feel like fog more than anything else. So, spend a lot of time mixing subtle color transitions. You can see all the many subtle color, temperature and tonal transitions in the detail below of the same painting. There is great care taken in regards to the subtlety present in the painting of fog and mist here.

How to read a painting

Detail, Caspar David Friedrich

Look and practice painting mist and fog

The best things you can do to help yourself understand more about how to paint fog, as well as painting mist. Is to simply go out and paint it from life with your plein air easel. There is no better teacher than nature itself. It might be a little frustrating during your first tries. However, after some time you will learn a lot about small shifts in tone and color and will become much more sensitive to the subtleties present in nature.

Also, you can copy portions of fog paintings that you find compelling. Doing this will help you learn how to handle painting fog and mist when you encounter it yourself!

If you’re looking for what’s next, here’s a look into how to paint a landscape to incorporate with your fog and mist painting adventures. As always if you have any questions or thoughts about how to paint fog and mist, would love to hear from you in the comments below!

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About DIY Painting Tips

My name is Ryan and I’ve been a professional painter for the last 19+ years. DIY Painting Tips is me sharing everything I know. How to do everything I’ve learned, tips to make things faster, and complete your projects easier with results that look professional.

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How to read a paintingMy name is Ryan Cunningham and I have been a professional painter since 2001. On DIY Painting Tips I give my real life honest painting advice based on 20+ years of experience. Feel free to leave a comment with your questions, I make sure to answer every one.

Helping DIY Painters Since 2015

Artists who sell original work will (in a sense) always be competing with the seemingly inexhaustible print market. Luckily for us, discriminating collectors appreciate the unique surfaces that signify a work is an original.

That’s the main reason why I like to give my paintings a lot of texture: so everyone can immediately see that they’re originals.

Quick announcement – EmptyEasel has created a quicker, easier way for artists to have their own art website. Click here to learn more and get a simple art website of your own!

The following paragraphs explain my three-step technique for adding unbelievable, thickly painted texture to any acrylic painting. There’s only one secret—the texture comes first.

Creating the texture

After drawing out a basic sketch of flowers on my canvas, I mixed together equal amounts of acrylic heavy gel and acrylic modeling paste. Then, following the lines I’d drawn, I sculpted the petals, flower centers, and leaves with a small palette knife.

How to read a painting

(NOTE: If you want a more abstract texture, here’s a great technique for applying modeling paste with paper.)

Painting over the texture

After drying for about two hours my textured flowers were ready to paint.

I like to paint quickly, use really vivid acrylic paint colors for my poppies, such as Cadmium Yellow Deep, Cadmium Orange, and Napthol Red, with deeper tones of Bordeaux Red and Violet for the shadowed areas.

How to read a painting

Working fast isn’t a problem because the texture allows me to correct any errors easily in the last step. I don’t usually find that a lot of detail is necessary, but simply let the texture (and vivid colors) do the work.

Glazing the painting for contrast

Once the paint was completely dry again, it was time to glaze.

I covered the entire canvas with watered-down burnt umber, then quickly lifted it off with a damp paper towel. This process allows the burnt umber to stay in the valleys and around the edges of the flowers while being removed from the raised petals.

How to read a painting

It’s amazing how a simple glazing technique over thick, acrylic medium can really make those flowers pop off the canvas. And after a final touch up to emphasize the edges of the petals, this painting was ready for its protective varnishing.

The finished textured painting

Here’s the final piece—you can see there’s more to it than the other photos showed!

How to read a painting

Remember, no matter what subject matter you like to paint it’s very easy to add texture and drama to your art using this three-step process.

To find out more about Carol’s highly textural paintings, visit her painting blog or website at CarolNelsonFineArt.com.

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How to read a painting How to read a painting

Build confidence in the paint color you’ll ultimately choose by sampling color choices at home.

Benjamin Moore Color Samples

How to read a painting

Display Chips: In-Store & Readily Available

Available for free from your local Benjamin Moore store, Display Chips are how most homeowners get started on their color search.

Tips for Using Display Chips

  • Pull and play Cut them, fold them, leave them on your walls…use Display Chips to narrow down which color family you’ll eventually choose.
  • Going darker? Lighter? Display Chips are great for seeing different color values, as they are typically organized by gradations of color.
  • Stack them up Layering and observing helps you compare nuances in warm vs. cool colors and undertones.
  • Graduate Once you narrow down a few favorites, move to Paint Color Samples, Color Swatches, and/or Peel-and-Stick samples.

While Display Chips may be Benjamin Moore’s smallest color swatches, they remain a vital starting point for narrowing down color.

How to read a painting

Paint Color Samples: Brush Them On

Benjamin Moore Paint Color Samples contain actual Benjamin Moore premium interior paint in the color of your choice. Details include:

  • Each 8 oz. plastic, screw-top jar covers approximately one 2’x2′, two-coat area.
  • Sample paint is interior, eggshell finish.
  • Samples are available through your local retailer or online.

Tips for Using Benjamin Moore Paint Color Samples

  • Brush out at least two coats. Two coats create the most accurate color depiction.
  • Consider brushing directly on your wall, especially if your wall is white or a light neutral—the new color won’t compete against your existing one.
  • Consider brushing on a white foam core board, so you can move the color around the room throughout the day to see how the color appears in different lighting.
  • For exteriors, use the white foam core board approach, because sample paint is formulated for interior use only.
  • Take your time: It’s important to observe your painted wall samples during different times of the day. Don’t rush your decision!

How to read a painting

Color Swatches: Tape Them Up

If you don’t want to paint, a Color Swatch is a great alternative to Paint Color Samples. A quick and easy way to view paint color, Color Swatches are…

  • Paper samples that are larger than Display Chips.
  • 4” x 8” in size with each swatch dedicated to one paint color.
  • Available in an eggshell finish.
  • For purchase online only.

Tips for Using Color Swatches

  • Use painter’s tape to safely adhere the Color Swatch to the wall.
  • Observe how colors appear in different lighting in both artificial and natural light sources.
  • Compare your color choices to one another in different light sources as well.
  • Keep your Color Swatches up for a while for a time-tested approach.
  • How to read a painting

    Peel-and-Stick Paint Samples

    Peel-and-Stick color samples provide a worry-free approach to selecting the perfect hue. An easy way to view large swaths of color on your walls, Peel-and-Stick color samples are…

    • Reusable and movable from wall to wall, and room to room
    • Available in every Benjamin Moore paint color
    • 9″ x 12″ in size
    • Available for purchase on the Benjamin Moore Online Store only (please note: Peel-and-Stick samples are not available at Benjamin Moore retail locations)
    • Produced by Samplize using Benjamin Moore paint

    Tips for Using Peel-and-Stick Color Samples

  • Move your sample around the room to see how the hue looks on each wall.
  • Wrap around edges to understand how the color looks in light and dark corners. This is a great way to view the color from multiple angles and in different lighting all at once.
  • MORE COLOR SAMPLING TIPS

    Get the Right Angle

    Add a White Border

    Amplify Your Color Samples

    MORE COLOR SAMPLING TIPS

    Get the Right Angle

    Don’t physically look down on Display Chips or Color Swatches—hold them up against the wall. Ceilings? Same concept—look up for the best color representation.

    Add a White Border

    Place your Display Chip or Color Swatch against a white piece of paper to make sure the existing color doesn’t influence how your sample color appears.

    Amplify Your Color Samples

    ADDITIONAL COLOR RESOURCES

    How to read a painting

    The Benjamin Moore Color Portfolio™ App

    Try out colors virtually with the free Benjamin Moore Color Portfolio™ app.

    Select paint colors and apply them to photos on your phone, see colors in real time with the Video Visualizer, browse interactive fan decks, and more!

    How to read a painting

    Fan Decks: Take Color Collections Home

    A fan deck lets you peruse hundreds of Benjamin Moore paint colors from the comfort of your home. In fact, each Benjamin Moore fan deck gives you convenient access to a world-class Benjamin Moore Color Collection, including Affinity®, Benjamin Moore Classics®, Historical, Color Preview®, Off White Collection and more.

    You can have fan decks shipped to your home, or opt to buy directly from your favorite Benjamin Moore retailer.

    Need more inspiration? Download a color brochure, sample our best-selling colors and Color a Room in any one of our 3,500+ paint colors. Check out our article on How to Choose Interior Paint for additional help.

    Want to learn how to understand abstract art? Let’s start with this quote from Jackson Pollock, one of America’s most famous abstract painters:

    “ “Abstract painting is abstract. It confronts you. There was a reviewer a while back who wrote that my pictures didn’t have any beginning or any end. He didn’t mean it as a compliment, but it was.” ”

    How to read a painting

    Abstract art allows the viewer to decide what the artwork is about, on a very personal level. Pollock’s critic didn’t know where to begin in terms of how to understand abstract art. There is nothing to hold onto in terms of interpreting the painting, so you have to open up your intuition and see where the painting takes you. You have to engage with the painting, because it won’t tell you what it’s about.

    If you want to fully appreciate an artwork, it’s important to understand the artist’s reasoning behind it. On the one hand, a large part of the beauty of art is that we, the viewers, can bring our own meaning and assign our own context to an artwork based upon our memories, personalities and life experiences. We don’t need to know exactly what the artwork is supposed to be about in order to feel a deep appreciation for it.

    On the other hand, knowing the artist’s thought process for creating a certain work of art adds a further layer of meaning and value to each of our individual interpretations of a piece. It might take a bit of extra legwork, but in the end it’s definitely worth the effort to read a bit about the artist’s intention behind a piece of art. This will further deepen your quest on how to understand abstract art.

    All art is created within a certain context. Artists, like their art, are shaped by the era in which they are working. They are influenced by what is happening in society, politics, and the current streams of intellectual thought – intermingled with everyday pop culture and their own daily lives. All of these factors leave impressions on the artist’s mind, knowingly or not, and in turn determine the form and direction of the artwork. Nothing exists in a vacuum, and that includes art!

    Abstract art has been around since we were cavemen, the earliest known works dating back 70,000 years. In that sense, there is nothing new or radical in contemporary abstract art as we know it. All cultures, from ancient to modern times, have a form of abstract art. Just think of African block-print cloths, intricate Tibetan beadwork, Navajo blankets, Islamic geometric designs – just to name a few. These cultures have been producing their abstract artworks for centuries, before Western art finally began producing its own version.

    How to read a painting

    A Transitional Navajo Woman’s Blanket

    It’s well worth the time to learn how to understand abstract art. Abstract paintings and drawings tap into a fundamental, primitive part of our existence – the part of us that experiences life without words, beyond language, transcending definitions. By utilizing the pure elements of form, color, line, texture, pattern, composition and process, abstract artwork allows artists freedom and flexibility in expressing their world views and inner realities.

    How to read a painting

    If you like my abstract art, check out my printable Abstract Coloring Book with 20 pages of intricate abstract line art to fill in with COLOR!

    Learn how to make your own oversized samples for the easiest swatching ever.

    If you’ve ever gone through the arduous of picking paint colors for your home, chances are that someone told you to buy a few sample-sized pots and go to town testing them on your walls. But according to pro stylist Eddie Ross, there’s a better way to swatch paint that’ll save you from extra prep work in the long run.

    Don’t paint on the walls.

    Yep, you read that right—don’t start by painting color swatches directly on the walls. “If you paint samples on the wall, you’re going to have to go back and sand down the edges and prime the area before you paint the whole room,” Ross says.

    How to read a painting

    DIY some giant samples.

    Rather than swatching on walls, Ross likes to tape up pre-painted samples—but not the tiny ones you get at the paint store, which are too small to accurately represent the color. Instead, Ross creates his own own oversized versions, painting two coats from a sample pot on a large piece of poster board or foam core. When dry, he uses double-stick tape to adhere them to the wall. Making his own paint samples also means he can test out different sheens, since the store-provided versions are usually only offered in a flat finish.

    How to read a painting

    Get moving.

    Another benefit of making your own giant paint samples: “You can move them around from wall to wall,” says Ross. “You get a much better idea of what the paint looks like that way, since the color change completely depending on the light in each different part of the room.”

    How to read a painting

    Create a color floor plan.

    Ready to see if your colors work together? Have an office supply store print out a poster-sized version of your floor plan, then paint color swatches on each room. “It’s a great way to visualize how the different shades will flow from room to room,” says Ross. (For more of his tips on how to pick the perfect palette, click here!)

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    How to read a painting

    If you’ve been searching for free lessons on how to paint a portrait, Artists Network has you covered! Discover 38 portrait painting techniques, explained in specific, sequential steps you can remember and repeat. From the positioning of the figure to the details of the background, this easy-to-follow process on how to paint a portrait will give you the discipline and focus that the difficult art of portraiture demands. See your portrait paintings come to life with the help of this free portrait painting techniques ebook. From the empty canvas to your completed masterpiece, this downloadable guide of watercolor portrait and oil portrait instruction is perfect for the aspiring portrait artist, whether beginner or experienced.

    What’s inside this free art lesson on how to paint a portrait?

    How to read a painting

    Learn key techniques to create stunning painted portraits from two expert portrait painters in this beautiful eBook.

    Whether you are a veteran at painting portraits, or simply want some basic oil portrait or watercolor tips, this free lesson is one you’ll turn to again and again. Discover why thousands of artists have followed both Rogers’ and Sanden’s guidance on how to pose and lighten their subject, and paint an accurate and satisfying painted portrait. The value of these instructions is in the way they systematically guide artists through the entire process.

    Portrait Painting Demonstration

    How to read a painting

    1. Sanden begins by establishing the size and placement of the figure’s head on a stretched canvas, and then he draws the elements of the model’s face.
    2. Once he is confident about his drawing, he masses in the warm shadows in the hair, along the side of the face, and in the neck area, gradually giving life to his oil portrait.
    3. He then paints the shadows in the lower third of the face.
    4. Sanden lightens the value of the flesh color and paints the middle third of the face; then he uses an even lighter color to block in the forehead.
    5. Before refining the painting of the face, the portrait painter blocks in the background and blouse to have references with which to judge the relative value and color temperature of the flesh tones.

    How to read a painting

    Watercolor portrait artist Janet Rogers makes the process of painting watercolor seem almost effortless in that she captures the likeness and personality of her subjects without laboring over all the details. She incorporates gestured strokes of transparent color, natural blends of warm and cool pigments and just enough detail to capture a person’s individual appearance. Rogers has developed advanced watercolor techniques, yet still understands what the rest of us are trying to learn and how much encouragement we need.

    Although Rogers’ techniques are not so easy to master, her demonstrations make it clear she can teach almost anyone to improve their skills in watercolor portrait painting. She emphasizes the need to practice, to start over when things fail, and to develop strong drawing skills. She connects with students by confessing that she shares the same need to constantly remind herself about the important steps that must be taken when painting portraits.

    How to read a painting

    Fellow artist John Howard Sanden as he breaks the process of oil portrait painting into detailed stages of development. Learn where to begin and how to prepare for achieving a masterpiece. Learn to capture the likeness of a person’s facial structure and features with hard edges that bring attention to the most important areas of the painting. What better way to learn than from following the steps of one of the most experienced portrait artists? Download your copy of these painting portrait techniques today and learn how to create painted portraits that are sure to get attention.

    Sanden’s career as a portrait artist has spanned three decades. He is widely regarded as one of the foremost teachers of professional oil painting methods, and he has toured the nation teaching his ideas and painting oil techniques to thousands of artists. He has been commissioned to paint more than 500 public officials, business leaders, and private individuals, and he is represented by several major brokers. In 1994, ASPA presented Sanden with their first John Singer Sargent Medal for Lifetime Achievement.

    This is just the beginning…

    This free oil and watercolor lesson walks you through specific steps to make portrait oil painting and watercolor portrait painting easier. In addition to 38 total portrait painting techniques, you’ll also receive visual insight from top portrait artists to guide you through how to paint a portrait.

    Follow the steps of generations of painters who have launched their careers by reading Sanden’s and Rogers’ advice. Learn these painting oil techniques, and expert insight to develop your own painted portraits. Can’t wait to start your lessons on painting oil portraits and watercolor portraits? Get your free eBook now!

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    Download Your Free Guide on How to Paint a Portrait Today!

    How to read a painting

    How to read a painting

    Deane Biermeier is an expert contractor with nearly 30 years of experience in all types of home repair, maintenance, and remodeling. He is a certified lead carpenter and also holds a certification from the EPA. Deane is a member of The Spruce’s Home Improvement Review Board.

    How to read a painting

    The Spruce / Margot Cavin

    • Working Time: 2 hrs
    • Total Time: 12 hrs
    • Yield: 1 small room
    • Skill Level: Intermediate
    • Estimated Cost: $15 to $25

    If you’re like most people, you probably hate painting prep. Putting down floor cloths and removing wall switch and outlet covers can feel like wasted time, but these are unavoidable steps if you want to prevent messy accidents and achieve clean results. On the other hand, applying painter’s tape alongside window and door trim, above baseboards, and below crown molding is considered optional prep work, and you may be better off skipping this masking work altogether.

    A painting technique often associated with professional painters and less so with DIYers promises to eliminate masking. It uses no gimmicky paint edgers, either. Involving only a steady hand and a brush, this technique is called cutting in. The practice involves using your paintbrush to manually apply straight lines of paint alongside elements that do not get painted, eliminating the need for masking tape or painter’s masking film.

    When and Why to Cut In

    Imagine that you want white trim around your windows, surrounded by darker colored walls. First, you paint the trim. Then, when you paint the walls you’re faced with the challenge of bringing the darker paint right up to the edge of the trim. You could mask off the trim with tape, but if you have a steady hand, you can simply draw the line of colored paint, freestyle. This is the technique of cutting in.

    Window trim is just one example. You can cut in along baseboards and other types of trim, as well as the corners where walls meet ceilings or where they meet walls of a different color. The benefits of cutting in include:

    • The opportunity to begin painting immediately with minimal preparations
    • The instant gratification of seeing the colors right away, allowing you to make adjustments, if necessary
    • Reducing your cost because you are not buying expensive painter’s tape
    • No time spent waiting for the paint to dry before you remove the tape

    The only specialty supplies you need for cutting in are a 2-inch brush and a cut bucket. Pros recommend an angled brush, often called a sash brush. A cut bucket is simply a paint bucket that has no inner lip to collect excess paint. There are small commercial buckets you can buy, usually equipped with a small handle for convenience, but any plastic bucket will work, provided it has straight sides.

    What You’ll Need

    Equipment / Tools

    • High-quality, 2-inch sash brush
    • Cut bucket

    Materials

    • Paint
    • Clean white rag

    Instructions

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    The Spruce / Margot Cavin

    Fill Bucket

    Fill a cut bucket with no more than about 1/2 inch of paint. Too much paint in the bucket makes it harder to avoid overloading the brush. Keep the sides of the bucket clear for wiping off excess paint from your brush.

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    The Spruce / Margot Cavin

    Load Brush

    Dab the tip of the brush into the paint, and drag the bristles against the edge of the bucket to remove excess paint. The brush should be relatively dry, since you’ll only be painting small areas at a time.

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    The Spruce / Margot Cavin

    Apply Paint to the Line

    Grip the brush loosely near the bristles, similarly to the way you grip a pencil. Place the bristles on the surface, forming a wedge shape with the bristles. Use the sharp end of the wedge to start the paint line. Draw the bristles along the line you want to paint. As you begin moving the brush, let the bristles press into a fan shape. The outermost bristles are actually drawing the line, not the entire bristle surface.

    As you learn the cutting in technique, start by drawing flat crescent shapes with the paint. These crescents will start slightly away from the line, move over and track along the line for a few inches, then gradually pull away from the “danger zone” (glass, trim, or whatever that is not getting painted) and toward yourself. You can cobble together a long straight line by applying several of these flat crescents.

    As you get more experienced, you will find the crescents getting fewer and flatter until you can draw quite a long line with a single linear brush motion.

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    The Spruce / Margot Cavin

    Broaden Paint Line

    If you’ll be painting the flat of the wall with a roller, you’ll need to broaden the paint line to give you a safety margin when you roll the walls. After painting a fine edge up to the line, follow this by widening the line to 2 inches or so, applying paint with the full width of the brush. Some people like to use a straight brush rather than the angled sash brush for this application.

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    The Spruce / Margot Cavin

    Clean Mistakes

    Use a clean, white rag slightly dampened with water to wipe off paint that gets onto unintended surfaces or to clean up a messy line. If you wipe the paint as soon as it’s applied, it will come off with no trouble. Waiting just a few minutes can make it harder to remove. For this reason, it’s a good idea to keep a damp rag handy at all times (because some errors are inevitable, at least while you’re learning).

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