Artistic expression has taken on many forms through the modernization of the digital age. Everything from content creation through video to publishing online magazines – art can be found everywhere on the internet.

If you’d like to learn to paint, guides like this one and inspiration elsewhere on the web can help you get started on your journey. Painters, instructors, as well as seasoned experts all have to begin by understanding the basics of a painting course.

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Why You Should Take a Painting Class

A Brief Digression on Skill in Art

Whilst we think of art as an exercise in creative expression, this is a sort of myth. A myth created, if I may be a little controversial, by a bunch of sentimental cry-baby poets and philosophers back in the nineteenth century.

These guys decided that art – by which they meant poetry, painting, novels, and drama – should be an exercise in creating, in letting feelings out to make something beautiful or sublime, tragic or rousing. These guys – because they were all pretty much guys – thought that this was what true art was about.

As one person said, under the influence of these guys living earlier, the practice of poetry is a ‘safety-valve’ for pent-up emotion, to get it out before you explode. Whilst the man that came up with this rather strange metaphor had an Oxford college named after him, pretty much everyone else forgot all about him (and good riddance, we might say).

However, because of influence of these thinkers in the nineteenth century, we’ve sort of been stuck with this idea ever since. It’s entered into common sense, and those few people that have challenged it – or just politely said something different – have been a little overlooked.

In this way, there’s not necessarily very much that is strictly ‘expressive’ about painting. And just about every painter that has ever lived, and has ever worked successfully, will tell you that ‘expressiveness’ is great, sure, but that means nothing if you don’t have the technical skill to back it up.

(By the way, before the nineteenth-century movement we’re referring to here – Romanticism – the ideas about the value of art were quite different. It wasn’t so much expression they were after as technical skill; not so much creativity as ingenuity, which is quite different.)

So, Learning Technical Painting Skill

Just as you will never write a good poem if you know nothing about metre – unless you write one completely by accident – and you will never take a nice photo if you don’t understand ideas about light and the actual object of the camera, there is not a chance that you’ll produce anything worth looking at with a paintbrush if you don’t have some sort of skill with one.

Simply put, you can’t break the rules if you don’t know the rules in the first place. And all your favourite painters and artists – from William Blake to Van Gogh, from Leonardo da Vinci to Francis Bacon – were all rule-breakers. The same applies to those in ceramics, portraiture, digital photography, representational work, and whatever: all the people from art history who have been remembered are those that have learned the rules of technical skill and then did their own things with them.

That is to say that, without these rules, you are nothing. As T.S. Eliot famously said, good art comes from learning the technique and the history of art and bringing it slowly forward.

The Role of a Painting Teacher

This is what painting classes will help you with. Painting teachers – in summer camps or weekly arts classes – will evaluate and give critiques to your work. They will introduce you to new art materials and techniques, from gouache to calligraphy and observational art. And they will encourage you to draw and paint until you have become comfortable with these new styles.

The encouragement is almost the most important part, because whilst teachers can demonstrate and critique, it’s on you to do the actual producing. You’re the one that has to sit in front of the various canvasses and practice and practice and practice. Without encouragement, you won’t really do this (we’re betting – as this is the way with most people) – and without continual reminders that, no, you haven’t mastered that technique yet, you’re just being lazy.

Because you won’t be the next Van Gogh unless you put the work in. Producing art is precisely not this ‘expressive’ activity. It’s pure labour, going over and over again on the same canvas, working and working the same few lines of poems.

As W.B. Yeats wrote, ‘A line may take us hours maybe;/ Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought,/ Our stitching and unstitching has been naught’. Whilst, again, he’s talking about poetry, these lines communicate the real perseverance that is art. Art isn’t about creative expression – it just appears to be so. Rather, it is about delicate, laborious construction. And it’s that the teachers are able to teach.

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How to Choose a Painting Class

So, whether you’re looking for an art class for beginners or are already in your last leg of a painting course, it’s always good to start by understanding what the different genres of painting are. If you can think back to your childhood art projects – which most likely involved dry pasta, glitter and hopefully very little glue-eating – you might only recall some very strange looking and crude pieces. This, however, marked the start of your art education.

While it may seem counter-intuitive to what happens to be a very technique-heavy subject, art begins when you are able to simply let go. In less vague terms, many of arts greatest movements happened because of rule bending and as a response to methods people viewed as perhaps too traditional. From Van Gogh’s experimental oil painting, to Cubism’s mixed media – if you want to learn to paint, learn how to paint with the same creative energy as when you were a child.

Okay, enough pep talk and down to business. Art is typically broken down into three categories: literature, performing arts, and the visual arts. While there tends to be a lot of crossover between the three, as a beginner you can differentiate the three by the subjects that constitute them.

  • Literature: poetry, prose, drama
  • Performing arts: music, dance, theater
  • Visual arts: drawing and painting, sculpture, printmaking, film, architecture

Painting, as you can see above, is classified under the umbrella of the visual arts. Within painting itself, there are a countless number of genres and mediums. Here, we will break it down into the ones you are most likely to encounter in any painting class.

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Oil Painting

I’m going to be frank, becoming adept at oil painting is not an easy feat. This medium is something you’re more likely to encounter after a couple of beginners painting classes. Oil paint essentially involves pigment that is kept from drying by the addition of oil.

Basic chemistry will tell you that clearly, mixing water to thin your oil based paint up will simply result in a mess. To remedy this, turpentine is normally used (and yes, it does smell horrible).

Oil painting is best for everything. From Van Gogh’s portrait painting to Klimt’s symbolism paintings, some of the world’s masterpieces have been made in oil paint.

Watercolor Painting

Watercolor is a medium you are more likely to encounter at the beginning stages of your painting career. The reason does not have to do with its level of difficulty and more because of its accessibility. Essentially, it involves pigment mixed in water based solutions and is used to refer to the artwork as well as the medium.

Watercolor was traditionally used best for landscape painting and figure painting. Today, however, painters using watercolor are continually pushing the boundaries. If you’re interested in taking art lessons in water color, check out Cheng-Khee Chee’s koi and Mary Whyte for some inspiration!

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Acrylic Painting

A favorite amongst many hobbyists, acrylic painting is faster drying than oil and involves water soluble pigment that has a bit more body than watercolor. While acrylic tends to be better for styles like the pop art of Lichtenstein and David Hockney, it also goes incredibly well with photographic, life drawing styles. If you’re interested, check out Sedona by Bob Petillo or Fleeting Beauty by Henry Bosak.

Lastly, it is important to mention that painting requires a great deal of basic drawing skills. While many painters sketch their preliminary painting in their medium of choice, taking drawing courses will enhance this skill. Whether you get involved in figure drawing or simply practice sketching on your own, painting and drawing are indelibly linked.

Good artwork can be done in any medium
The traditional forms of art can all be used to paint masterpieces

Painting Techniques

If you’re worried about arriving to your art class and being the only one unfamiliar with the lingo, no need to worry. Here are some of the more common techniques you’re likely to encounter when being introduced with the artists’ lexicon.

Whether you’re taking painting lessons, or want to move on to other mediums like pastel or digital media, there are a couple of basics you need to master.

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Color Theory:

While it may sound obvious, understanding how color works is vital to any successful painting. Color theory argues that there are three base color groups – primary, secondary and tertiary – that can be arranged on a color wheel. Whether you’re dealing with watercolors or trying to execute a still life, color theory can tremendously improve the composition of your painting.


This technique is typically used on canvases destined for oil and acrylic painting. Before you get started on sketching and shading in your initial ideas, it is important to create a base color to paint over your white canvas. This will not only create an added texture to your painting, but also provide you with richer color values.

Finishing up your artwork:

This step can apply to paint as well as drawing genres such as cartooning and sketching. If you’ve ever looked at some school notes written in graphite, you’ll understand the importance of protecting your artwork from smudging and other, general wear and tear.

Whether you’re painting a portrait, a simple human figure, landscapes or still lives – the glazing process for painting is the same. It involves painting a transparent coat of paint over your finished, dry painting. This protects the painting as well as intensifies the colors.

Art Supplies and Materials You Will Need

Now that you’ve gotten acquainted with all the basics, it’s important to understand the types of painting materials you will need. While art knows no bounds when it comes to creativity, buying new materials can be a financial strain.

If you’re a beginner, however, don’t worry. While art classes will typically require you to bring your own materials, your teachers should generally have some extra brushes and a palette or two you can borrow. Brushes range from the synthetic to the real with a wide variation in price. Keeping your budget in mind, you should also make sure to buy an array of brushes (small tipped to flat and wide).

Invest in your art future
Art material can be thought of as an investment

Caring for your brushes are equally as important as buying them, as not washing them in the proper solution or not washing them at all can lead to irreparable damage.

Don’t walk into your art supply store without knowing which class you will be taking or what kind of medium you’ll be working with. This will make it easier to decide what type of acrylic paint or watercolors you will need to buy.

It is imperative that you ask your teacher which colors they recommend for you to purchase so that you don’t have either stare at the massive color selection, dumbfound, for too long a time or end up wasting money on colors you don’t necessarily need. A general rule of thumb when it comes to buying colors is to stick with the ones you’ll be using the most for color mixing.

If you’re in it for the long haul, it will be worth investing in more expensive items like quality oil paint and even an easel.

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Where to Find Art Classes and Workshops

Luckily, you happen to live in a country where finding an art school or art instruction is just a quick google search away.

If you’re looking to take adult classes in painting, there are plenty of art workshops and courses you can take. Start by taking a look at some of the studio art in your town and see if some artists provide an open studio, where you can view painters in their element for free.

Next, if you don’t have any past experience with drawing, it might be a good idea to start by improving your drawing skills through self-practice or through some drawing classes. This will form the basic foundation to not just painting, but also other mediums such as illustration and design.

Next, enroll in a course either at your local art center, art studio, or college. These courses typically go from a couple of days to a couple of months. Some art centers even give some workshops across the UK, like Craft Courses or Class Art.

If your looking for classes that involve kids art for your child, start by asking your school’s administration. Elementary schools across the UK typically either house art workshops themselves every couple of months, or advertise for them. This is a great way for your child to express themselves and can even be a creative solution to after-school care.

Another great way to get started is becoming an instructor yourself. If you’d like to self-teach yourself, plein air painting is a great way to get started, as it doesn’t require you to utilize paints and other materials in your home as well while allowing you to have an outlet.

Let's take a look at the opportunities available in some cities for you to see what the options are like. Here are Edinburgh, Belfast, and Cardiff, at random.

Painting Classes in Edinburgh

Edinburgh is a particularly arty city - famous for its festivals in literature, drama, music, opera, and comedy. You'll notice that there is no painting there. But luckily enough there is a festival for that too (although it ain't quite as famous as the others).

The Edinburgh Art Festival is Scotland's largest visual arts festival - as well as one of the biggest in the UK. It brings artists from all over the world and takes over many of the city's art galleries, museums, public spaces and monuments. It’s a lovely time of year, and a great opportunity to learn painting from some of the biggest names in the contemporary art scene.

And so, Edinburgh is a nice and appropriate place to learn to paint. There are options for everyone – from the academic and full-time to the casual class for the hobbyist. Let’s take a look at some.

  • The Edinburgh College of Art is the place to go if you are committed to a life of painting. It’s a three year Bachelor of Fine Arts, meaning that you will either be in a painting studio perfecting your technique or in a lecture learning about how to perfect your technique full-time. It’s beautiful if you can manage it, in one of the most prestigious art schools outside of London.
  • Look and Draw Workshops provide technical painting classes across Edinburgh – and their focus is on supplying a good time alongside your painting. So, they offer classes in drinking and drawing, or painting out of doors.
  • The Art Club Edinburgh is a nice little institution offering painting classes to adults and kids and all the people in between. Kids can go to the zoo and adults away for a week in Morocco or France – to find the space to dedicate to their art.

Learn more about painting classes in Edinburgh here.

Painting Courses in Belfast

Belfast is an endlessly growing city whose cultural output is endlessly surprising, interesting, and important. As such, it’s a great place to learn the art of painting – as there are an astonishing number of galleries, museums, and creative spaces in which you can develop your talent.

We can start off with the mighty Belfast School of Art, an institution that makes up a part of Ulster University. Here you can dedicate yourself to your painting all year round – in a purpose-built centre for arts. You won’t just learn the skills of painting per se, nor the history and theory of the art. You’ll also be learning about how to survive in the art world: how to market your work, how to hold exhibitions, and how to make a little bit of dosh.

Then there are the painting classes for amateurs. The highlight of these is probably in the Crescent Arts centre at the north end of Queen’s Quarter. Alongside all the other subjects that you can imagine – from music-making to languages, from pottery to textiles – they offer beginner classes in painting. Of course, it is not as intense by half as an arts degree, but for those looking for a good time, you’ll find nowhere better.

Painting Lessons in Cardiff

The capital of Wales easily holds its own for its cultural output – and its educational institutions are pretty top notch as well. This gives it the nice condition of being a great place to go to learn – and a nice place to stay in to learn too.

You’ll know about the galleries and museums and all that jazz, but it’s worth saying that, if you are actually considering dedicating some time to painting, these are the first places to go to do a bit of learning. In the same way that only people who read can be writers, only people that look at paintings can be painters. So, your first step is this one.

After that, you could of course get yourself onto a painting degree at the Cardiff Met university.

Or, if you are feeling that you don’t have the time for that – if you are seeking painting classes between work and sleeping – get in touch with either the Art Workshop Cardiff or ArtSpace. The latter focus only on adults, but this makes a nice mature and dedicated environment in which to concentrate on your painting. Art Workshop, meanwhile, welcomes everyone – and hopes that you’ll find the passion you need to keep painting.

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