Graphic Designer & Illustrator


A place to share my point of view on the arts and entertainment. You can also catch me on Twitter @emerycmiller

5 Tips for Beginning Painters


I never took a painting course in college. Just didn't think it would be relevant to my career.  But after 10 years in the field of design and illustration, I can say without a doubt that traditional painting skills are extremely important to today’s artists and designers. The tools may be digital, but the fundamentals of art such as line, design, and color, never change. Last year I decided it was time to brush up on my painting (pun intended). I’ve focused on quick watercolor/gouache landscape studies that can be accomplished in under an hour pretty much anywhere. Learning from books, videos, and friends over the past 12 months, I’m pleased with the progress I’ve made. Here are several often overlooked tips that will help any beginning painter.



1. Start by Drawing

I spent 6 years drawing outside before I ever picked up a brush. 6 years walking around San Francisco in my free time drawing buildings, residences, vehicles, and parks. Sketching before work and on lunch breaks in Burlingame. I sketched when I traveled to other countries. And I sketched in airports. I could probably fill a book with those sketches. The thing is, I developed a sense of the design of landscapes and cities by observation. I experimented with positioning the horizon line in a drawing. I experimented with framing and foreground elements. Played with detail and depth. Modified elements to improve my compositions. I confronted my greatest fear: perspective! You can fake perspective. But it's more fun and rewarding to master it. If you are eager to get started painting, at least sketch several thumbnails before you begin.


2. Experiment with Materials

Mess with all of the materials. Don't limit yourself to just one because people in the “industry” prefer it. Gouache is great. But acrylic is cool too. Sometimes watercolor is nice. Remember that watercolor behaves like gouache when it’s applied thickly. I tried oil a few times. My point is, don’t avoid certain paints because your classmates or colleagues dislike them. If you really love to paint, you’ll be able to identify the pros and cons of different materials. Often the results far outweigh the costs and cleanup.


3. Buy Supplies on eBay

I know that landscape painting requires a significant investment. If you want to save money, check eBay. No kidding. Search for "paint lot" and filter by "used". This will get you more paint than you can probably handle. I’m talking about tubes that were opened and used once. Try to avoid “student grade” paint, but don’t rule it out if you can get it for half-price!


4. Find a Painting Buddy

It's like going to the gym. You and your buddy keep each other consistent. And it's more enjoyable. It's fine to paint alone too. But if you start out solo, you're probably going to get discouraged and quit. Also you can have more than one painting buddy. My East Bay painting buddy is Tony Weinstock. Some of his awesome paintings can be found on his Google Plus profile: Then I have my work buddies. Which brings me to my next point.


5. Use Instagram

You are not alone. There are probably a hundred thousand people of all skill levels posting paintings to Instagram every day. Follow your favorites. I’m @emerycmiller :) Then screenshot your favorites and move them over to a reference folder on your phone to refer to while you're painting! It's what you'd do on the computer, so why not do it on the go? Figure out what you see in your peers’ work that is missing from your own. Then give back to the online community by sharing your paintings.


In conclusion, there is much crossover between traditional and digital visual arts. Obviously digital painting and drawing tools are mere imitations of traditional tools. It doesn’t end there though. Photo editing is informed by an understanding of color and light in nature. Logo design is informed by wet and dry media techniques. The process of color picking and paint mixing has also vastly improved my color choices across all of my art. If you follow my advice, I think you’ll be happy with your rapid growth. See you on the battlefield! I’ll be the one wearing the yellow hat.