Make Art, Not War: Painting & Drawing Tips

Megan Klak, Staff Writer
Edited by Victoria Chiu

Art is a crazy, insanely broad thing. It is also immensely frustrating when you cannot transfer an idea from your head to the canvas/paper/ginormous rubber band installation. So, here are some general rules and tips that should make things a lot easier.

  • First, in drawing: ALWAYS draw foreground to background. In painting, ALWAYS paint background to foreground.
  • Second, when you want something to stand out, pair contrasting colours—yellow with purple, red with green, blue with orange. Likewise with shadows—if you mix an object’s contrasting colour into the shadow, it will give the image depth. For example, try putting hints of blue in the shadow of an orange object.


  • While painting, learn to see each shape as something with depth. Usually, if you are looking at something that pops out, you’ll want to make its edges darker and the part that pops out lighter. Light colours pop out, dark colours recede.

A note on brushes: NEVER use the same brushes for watercolour paint as you do for oil or acrylic paint. Acrylic and oil paint clog the pores of the brush, which is fine when you are painting in those mediums, but watercolour brushes need those pores to pick up water to paint with. Always have a separate stack of brushes for watercolour and for acrylic (use the older, crappier ones for acrylic, and the nicer ones for watercolour; old watercolour brushes make great acrylic brushes).

Painting: Acrylic

  • Acrylic is fast-drying, so layering wet paint on dry will only cover over old work—it won’t blend. You have to work in an area until you are satisfied with it, or else you will have to come back to it when it’s dry and repaint.
  • With acrylic, you can be messy and blend paint right on the canvas instead of the palette.
  • Don’t be afraid of adding a ton of paint; loading it on can be a fun way to create texture.
  • Try to avoid using a black tube of paint as your only black—create more depth by mixing dark purples, grays, browns, blues, and even greens into your pre-made black (this also goes for any medium).
  • Remember—work background to foreground!

Painting: Watercolour

With watercolour, it’s easiest to use a styrofoam plate as a palette (sorry, every environment platform ever!) if you’re using tube watercolours (which I prefer). Put a little of the colour on the edge of the plate, then use a brush loaded with water to trickle the paint down into a puddle in the middle of your palette. The bigger the area you want to cover, the bigger the puddle. In watercolour, you only really have one shot as it hates to be touched a lot, so make sure you have enough in the puddle for your whole area. The more paint you add, the brighter the colour will be. Keep in mind that it will always dry two shades lighter!

This probably goes without saying, but ALWAYS paint watercolour on watercolour paper. Any other paper will pill or rip, and canvas will not work at all. Be sure to tape down your paper to a board with masking tap evenly covering the edges—tape it down tightly—to prevent the paper from becoming misshapen when you add water.

With watercolour, you can paint on wet or on dry. This means you can cover the paper with water from your brush and then do a wash of paint from your puddle or take paint directly from the tube with your brush and add it on the wet (this technique is especially good for dappling). You can also take paint from your puddle directly to the dry paper for a different look.

Always remember: 

  • Only wet the area you are working in, even if it’s only one small window or tree branch. If you wet everything, things will bleed into each other. Wait until it’s completely dry to paint the area next to it—a hair dryer is helpful if you’re a little impatient.
  • Once you’ve painted something in watercolour, each time you paint over it you risk tearing the paper; you also create a muddy look. Paint over it as little as possible.
  • White paper showing through adds sparkle to watercolour. Don’t cover everything with paint; leave small slivers of shiny paper out of clouds and other things to dazzle your viewers. Never use white! Or at least use it sparingly. The paper should be used as your primary white.
  • Remember: Background to foreground!!

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