Paint Your Numbers

17 Proven Painting Exercises for Beginners (Practical Tips)

Are you a beginner eager to enhance your painting skills? 

Similar to how exercise helps build strength, learning and practicing painting exercises can significantly improve your technique and boost your creativity. 

To build your painting skills, several painting exercises have been proven to help beginners like you speed up their painting skills, including practicing color mixing, timed painting, painting an all-white/all-black object, painting a gradient wash, and practicing painting specific subjects, etc.

These exercises are helpful for beginners because they offer a structured approach to learning and improving your fundamental painting skills. By engaging in these exercises, you'll gain valuable hands-on experience, develop your eye for color, learn to create depth and dimension, and refine your brushwork. 

In this post, we share 17 proven painting exercises to help you develop your skills, build a strong foundation as a painter and take your painting to the next level. 

Let’s delve in!

1. Practice color mixing

Practice color mixing

Painting artwork can be overwhelming for beginners. But it is a great way to challenge yourself and boost inspiration even when feeling uninspired.

One such exercise, recommended for beginners, involves taking a paint chip and attempting to match that color with a paint mix you mixed yourself. 

This is a fantastic exercise because:

  • It helps you stay focused as you immerse yourself in the process of color mixing. 
  • It can boost your confidence, as successfully matching the desired color can be incredibly satisfying.

Even when you don't quite achieve the exact color, you still learn a lot about color mixing in a low-pressure and enjoyable manner.

It is important to note that color mixing is a fundamental skill for painters. Hence, take the time to practice mixing different ratios of colors, observe how they interact with one another, and in the process, learn how experimenting with colors can add life and vibrancy to your artwork.

The next time you find yourself lacking inspiration, grab a paint chip and have fun exploring the wonderful world of color!

2. Paint an all-white/all-black object

Painting an entirely white or black object might seem challenging, but it’s an excellent exercise for artists. When everything has the same local color, it becomes crucial to rely on subtle changes in value (lightness and darkness) to depict form and create a sense of depth.

In the case of an all-white object against an all-white background, you will need to carefully observe the subtle variations in value within the object itself. Look for areas of shadow, reflections, or any other tonal changes that can help indicate the form of the object. 

By skillfully manipulating these values, you can convey the three-dimensional shape and volume of the object.

Similarly, when painting an all-black object against an all-black background, the challenge lies in accurately capturing the value variations within the object. Observe how the light interacts with the object, creating areas of highlight and shadow. 

By mastering the interplay of dark values, you can effectively represent the form and create a sense of depth.

Through these exercises, you will develop a keen eye for subtle tonal variations and train yourself to rely on value to convey form rather than depending solely on color. 

3. Try out timed painting

Try out timed painting

An exciting painting exercise you can engage in is setting up challenges for yourself, such as timed painting.

In this exercise, you commit to making marks and putting down paint for a set amount of time, like 20 minutes. The goal is not to create a finished piece of art that you necessarily like, but rather to keep going and continuously work through any resistance or pushback that may arise.

This is an excellent exercise to engage in because often, as artists, we become overly focused on the outcome of our paintings. We worry about whether we or others will like it, which can sometimes hinder our creative process. 

To practice this painting exercise effectively, don’t worry about perfection; embrace spontaneity and learn to trust your artistic instincts.

By setting a timer and working within a specific time limit, you develop a sense of urgency that pushes you to make decisions more quickly. You improve speed, decision-making skills, and brushwork efficiency on the canvas.

4. Learn how to paint a gradient wash

Learn how to paint a gradient wash

One of the first  exercise and essential skill for beginners in painting is practicing gradients to achieve soft and sharp edges. By mastering this technique, you'll be able to create smooth transitions between colors, resulting in beautiful skies, sunsets, and atmospheric effects in your artwork.

To start, begin by painting simple squares to practice your brush strokes. Focus on filling in the square using three brush strokes. Once you have mastered this basic skill, you can progress to practicing gradients.

Start painting a gradient wash with two colors. When practicing painting a gradient wash with two colors, there are a few steps to follow.

  • Firstly, slightly tilt your paper at a 45-degree angle, using an easel or propping towels behind your paper. This angle helps the colors blend seamlessly. 
  • Then, mix your starting, in-between, and ending colors with a palette knife on your palette.
  • Next, begin at the top of the page and slowly move downward in a side-to-side motion. Use your brush to push the first color slowly downward, covering about one-third of the section. 
  • Next, pick up your in-between color and add it to the edge of the wash, allowing the colors to mingle. Continue pushing downward, gradually transitioning to the in-between color.
  • As you reach two-thirds of the section, pick up your last color and add it to the edge of the wash, again allowing the colors to mingle. Push downward, finishing the gradient smoothly. 

Practicing gradients can be challenging, but it is an exercise that will refine your brush skills and contribute to the realism of your paintings. Take this exercise seriously and strive to create the smoothest gradients possible.

5. Add in reflections and highlights

Add in reflections and highlights

Once confident in your ability to paint gradients, you can take the process further by adding reflections and highlights.

Reflections and highlights add a touch of realism to your artwork. Experiment with capturing the way light interacts with different surfaces and objects. 

Practice painting reflective surfaces like glass or metal and observe how they reflect their surroundings, and practice depicting these reflections and highlights in your paintings.

6. Practice painting specific subjects

Practice painting specific subjects

To develop your painting skills further, experts suggest dedicating time to practice specific aspects of a given painting repeatedly. 

For instance, if your landscapes include figures, set aside an afternoon solely for painting the figures, separate from practicing the landscape painting as a whole. Doing this allows you to focus on one element at a time. 

This approach is beneficial because it removes the pressure and risk associated with incorporating people into your paintings. Adding people to your picture can often feel intimidating and stressful, especially if you’re a beginner.

By practicing painting figures in isolation, using a reference photo and a blank piece of watercolor paper, you can experiment freely without the weight of a complete artwork.

This focused practice also helps enhance your ability to accurately capture each subject’s essence (unique characteristics, textures, and colors).

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7. Painting from yellow to white

Painting from yellow to white

In this exercise, you are challenged to paint a gradual transition from yellow to white, with yellow serving as a substitute for black. 

Yellow, being the lightest hue, presents an interesting opportunity to compress the entire value scale into a narrow range.

This exercise is valuable for painters because creating realistic forms in a narrow range of values necessitates carefully arranged values. This exercise teaches an artist to recognize even minor changes in value across a surface.

8. Single light still life

Single light still life

The single light still life is a classic drawing exercise that involves setting up a simple still-life arrangement with a single light source.

This exercise serves as a foundation for understanding the complexities of rendering form and creating a sense of depth and dimension in your artwork. 

Here are some pointers for this exercise:

  • Use 1-5 objects and play around with the composition. As a beginner, stick to fewer objects with simple shapes.
  • Avoid using reflective or transparent objects (like glass) in the beginning, as they can be challenging to render.
  • After drawing the composition once, change the direction of the light and draw it again. Repeat this process several times to gain a thorough understanding of how light and shadow work.
  • Set up your still life in the corner of the room to study reflected light.
  • Keep the background as simple as possible.

9. Experiment with painting grass

Experiment with painting grass

Painting grass presents a unique challenge due to its intricate texture and color variations. To tackle this subject, it's beneficial to practice painting different types of grass while focusing on brushstrokes and color choices. 

A practical approach to painting grass involves taking an indirect route to creating its texture. Instead of attempting to create realistic grass from the start, begin by toning the background with a dark color. 

Dark layers can be made using a mixture of black, brown, and deep green to represent the small irregular shadows formed by the negative spaces between the grass blades.

For this exercise, you can use oil paint for the grass blades but acrylic for the background. This choice allows you to paint over the dry layer of color without waiting for days, as oil can be applied on top of acrylic (but not the other way around).

Practicing this exercise will enhance your ability to depict texture and add realism to your landscapes.

10. Try painting from an unusual angle

When we look at objects, we often carry assumptions about their appearance based on familiarity. However, these assumptions can hinder our ability to represent what we see accurately.

An excellent painting exercise that can help you move beyond such limitations is to try painting an everyday object from an unusual angle.

For instance, you can paint a candle from a directly overhead viewpoint or at a sharp angle, looking down. Engaging in this exercise will train your eye to see familiar subjects in a new way and improve your composition skills. 

This exercise will also encourage you to break away from preconceived notions and draw what you truly observe rather than relying on what you think the object should look like.

11. Practice painting a grape

Practice painting a grape

Painting grapes goes beyond focusing on a specific element of art; it delves into the captivating realm of creating the illusion of translucency. To achieve this illusion, replacing the cast shadow with light is essential.

When painting a cluster of grapes, it is essential to focus on capturing their round shape, translucent skin, and subtle color variations. This exercise will refine your observation skills and enhance your ability to render organic forms with realism and depth. Remember to experiment with different techniques and color combinations. 

12. Experiment with blind contour painting

This is a classic exercise that improves hand-eye coordination. Look at something and draw it without looking down at your drawing. It's a lot more complicated than it sounds, so start with simple objects and concentrate on the contour rather than the tone.

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13. Try painting by numbers

Painting by numbers is a fun painting exercise with therapeutic benefits. It is an excellent painting exercise, especially for beginners that don’t know how to paint. 

This exercise involves using a pre-drawn outline with numbered sections, each corresponding to a specific color. You can focus on practicing color application and precision by following the numbered instructions. 

You can purchase custom paint by numbers made from your photos from our website.

14. Upside-down painting exercise

Challenge yourself by taking an image and turning it upside down before painting it from that orientation. Start with a simple object like a vase or a candle, allowing yourself to gradually progress to more complex subjects such as a chair or even a person. 

If you're seeking an additional challenge, you can even attempt to draw from life and mentally flip the object in your mind.

This exercise encourages you to detach yourself from preconceived notions and instead focus on capturing shapes, values, and relationships with accuracy. 

By flipping the reference image, you train your observation skills to perceive abstract shapes rather than recognizable objects, fostering a deeper understanding of form and composition.

Also, as you embark on this exercise, set aside concerns about capturing tones and instead concentrate on the object's contour. 

15. Negative space drawing

Negative space drawing

Negative space refers to the area surrounding an object. For this exercise, try drawing or painting the form of an object in negative space by drawing only the negative space (not the object itself).

For example, if you were doing a negative drawing of a chair, you would block all the spaces the chair does not occupy.

This exercise will enhance your understanding of using positive and negative space correctly (negative space is frequently overlooked) and help you create more balanced and dynamic artwork.

You may also like: Ideas To Help Avoid Artists' Block.

16. Create a value scale

Create your own value scale, aiming for an even jump between each value. The most common value scales have three, five, and nine values. This is perhaps the most basic exercise, but it can be surprisingly tricky to master.

To create your own value scale, draw a template on a piece of paper or canvas and fill in the values from pure black to neutral gray to pure white with equal value jumps in between to create your own value scale. 

It makes no difference whether you do this with paint or pencil because the technique is not the point of this exercise. The only thing that matters is your ability to render values.

When you're finished, compare your value scale to one you know is correct and see if you can get all the values roughly correct on your first try.

17. Mimick another medium

The ability to manipulate one's chosen medium to such an extent that it emulates a different medium altogether is a testament to true mastery.

Engaging in this exercise offers multiple benefits to the painter and allows painters to push the boundaries of their skills and explore new possibilities within their medium. 

A particular focus is placed on achieving the illusion of transparency, which demands precise control over values and colors.

For instance, when translating a watercolor painting into a different medium, such as an oil painting, the challenge lies in recreating the optical mixtures that occur when one color is painted over another.

In watercolor, recreating the optical mixtures happens naturally, but in oil paint, the artist must physically mix the third color on their palette and then apply it directly to the shape formed by the overlapping colors.

During the process, it's essential to employ brushwork to soften edges where needed, creating a sense of blurriness or blending colors to achieve gradual transitions in both hue and value.

Takeaway: Master the art of painting

In this blog piece, we have listed 17 fantastic painting exercises beginners can engage in and improve their painting and drawing skills. 

Whether you aim to refine your technique, develop your understanding of color and composition, or gain more confidence in your abilities, incorporating these proven painting exercises into your practice routine will help you develop essential skills and expand your artistic capabilities.

Ready to start putting your painting skills into practice? Start by ordering our Custom Paint-By-Numbers Kit today!