Feed The Beast: Painting 101

March 11, 2016

Today’s post is the second in a series, Feed The Beast, where we encouraged our readers to connect with their creative side.  Painting 101 is described by Emily Rivers, a gifted painter (check out her animal portraits here) and a wonderful friend.  Emily was one of the first people I thought to ask to contribute to the series, her passion for art, and easy laid back attitude makes her the ideal person to guide you toward a painting practice.

Have you ever observed the meditative state a child enters when coloring? It’s a wonderful thing to watch. There’s a sense of extreme concentration, but the child’s body language is relaxed and comfortable. Often times, you’ll hear humming or singing because art activates the pleasure sensors in our brains, making you feel euphoric. We experience happiness in a variety of other ways as adults but we rarely return to the joy of creating art as we did when we were little, especially if our careers aren’t centered around it.

adult coloring

Art is therapeutic, we all know this. And that blissful feeling while sitting down at a table with colored pencils or paint can be achieved whether you’re 5 or 95 years old. However, if you’ve ever been inspired to create art again as an adult, you most likely have encountered the dilemma of not being able to find the time or not knowing where to start. Take painting, for example. Starting a project can be a daunting task and if you haven’t picked up a paint brush since kindergarten, a trip to the art store will leave you with your head spinning.

You: “Do I buy acrylic or oil paints? Synthetic or bristle brushes and how many do I even need? What size canvas should I buy – linen stretched or cotton? Where in the world am I going to put all these supplies? How am I going to find the time?”

It might seem a bit overwhelming at first, but setting aside just an hour a week to try something new and tap into your creative side (we all have one!) can be incredibly rewarding. I’m here to help you get started on your artistic journey by preparing you with the basic tools you’ll need. Start channelling your inner Bob Ross.

Step one: Create your space.

  • Before you buy supplies, you’ll need to determine where the creativity will happen. No need to spend $500 a month on studio space. A small spot at your kitchen or dining room table will do just fine. I live in a 700 square foot apartment in Cambridge and I’ve managed to create multiple large acrylic paintings using the space at my tiny kitchen table and a clamp light.
  • Make sure you’re in an area where if paint splashes (and it might!), you won’t be entirely heart-broken. Although paint won’t be flying left and right, sometimes accidents happen and I wouldn’t want your best decorative pillow to get ruined.
  • Buy a plastic table-cloth from your local party store for $1.99 and cover the table you will be using. If the lighting isn’t great or you’re not by a window, a cheap clamp light will do the job.


Step two: Buy your supplies.

As a beginner painter, you only need the basics. I’ve included a list of the things you need, and a link that will take you to the best places to buy them. If you’re anything like me (i.e. a human being) you buy every item in your life on amazon, so all the art supplies I’ve listed can be found there.

  • Paint brushes: No need to get fancy, these 3- in-one brushes (used for watercolor, oil or acrylic painting) will do the job.  Plus, if you’d like to experiment with another medium, you have the tools!


  • Canvasses: You can buy individual canvasses, but it’s better to buy a pack of 5 or 10. This way, you won’t have to run out to the store for more every time you feel the creative itch. I recommend this pack of 5 canvasses from Art Alternatives.  If you don’t want to order off Amazon, any basic economy, unbleached canvas will do.  Just make sure they’re primed with gesso.  Fun fact: Gesso is paint pigment, chalk and binder.  A layer is always needed on canvas to create an absorbent surface for your paint.  Buy your canvasses pre-primed, and save yourself the hassle of doing it yourself.

  • Acrylic Paint: This basic, primary color paint kit is all you need to get started.  It probably won’t last you more than 2-3 paintings, but you can always buy more as they are relatively inexpensive.  You’ll find a wide variety of starter kits for acrylic paint, but I’ve found Liquitex has the best color and quality.  You do not need more colors than red, blue, yellow, white and black (for some reason Liquitex gives you a bonus blue-green) because all shades can be made with these 5 primary colors.  You knew that!

  • Tabletop Easel :There are hundreds of tabletop easel options but this one is by far the best option.  I’ve been using them in my job as an artist for Paint Nite for years, and they’re easy to set up and very sturdy.  You’ll find cheaper options, but they’re likely to fall apart.  This model will last you a long time.

  • Paper plates for the paint, plastic cups for water to wash the brushes and paper towels – I’ll just assume you know where to find these.

If you buy everything on my list (not counting the basic household items), your total will be just about $71. I can think of many other hobbies or pastimes that are much more expensive!


Step three: Begin

Once you have all your supplies, set up your station, cue up your favorite Spotify channel and just start playing around with the colors. Not sure what to paint? Start with a sunset. Each element in a sunset is fairly straightforward – purple/pink sky, blue water, bright yellow sun, white clouds. Google “beach sunset” for inspiration.

When I’m not working on a project for a client, I try to paint at least once a week to keep my mind clear and my ideas fresh. Block off a day each week in your calendar, or wake up early on a Sunday for a little time for yourself. Once you get started, you’ll find yourself relaxed and happy, just like when you were a carefree kid, humming along to music while drawing at your mom’s kitchen table.



Emily Rivers studied Studio Art at the University of Vermont and currently works for the company Paint Nite as a Private Events Manager. She initially joined Paint Nite as a Master Artist where she taught groups how to paint a beautiful piece of art step-by-step, while creating a fun and relaxing environment. Emily balances her love of art with her love of animals, and on the weekends, Emily teaches Therapeutic Horseback Riding lessons at the BINA Farm Center in Lexington.  Check out her beautiful animal portraits here.


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