5 Ways to Become a Better Painter

painting sample

For the past few years, I have dedicated a good deal of my time and effort toward improving my skills not only as a photographer – but as an artist, in general.  One of my favorite tools is Corel Painter and its ability to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary.

Unlike a Photoshop filter that simply applies a fake effect all over the image, a painting created with actual brushstrokes has the feel of a real oil and canvas painting.  The downside is that there is a kind of steep learning curve to doing it right.  If you are serious about getting good at Painter (or even traditional oil painting), here are a few of the best things you can do to improve your skills:

1.  Study Color – When you are painting, color is your friend.  It will make the difference between a so-so image and one that shines!  In painting – and in photography for that matter – you need to have a good grasp on color theory.  Luckily there are hundreds of books on the subject available, but you can start by just purchasing a color wheel.  Once you understand how colors work together you can use them to add life to your painting- such as using complimentary colors to make certain parts of the painting stand out.

2.  Try “Real” Painting – One of the things that helped me to be a better digital painter was to take a traditional painting class.  I spent several months learning how to paint with oils and acrylics- and it wasn’t easy.  Out of the dozen or so paintings I completed, there are only a couple that I would even dare show anyone… but they still helped me to understand the process.  This allows me to create digital paintings that are more realistic, because they are true to their original media.

3.  Visit Museums – Go to a museum and study actual paintings.  Don’t do like I used to do- where you just wander up and down the halls, trying to take in the whole exhibit in 5 minutes.  Pick a painting that interests you and camp out in front of it for a while.  Force yourself to look at just that one painting for 5 or 10 minutes.  The longer you look, the more little details you will notice.  Its just a matter of filling your brain with all those little nuances so that you can incorporate them into your own work sometime down the road.

4.  Study With A Master – It probably won’t be cheap, but you need to find someone who is good at painting and hire them to train you.  It will take years off the learning curve.  I had the pleasure of studying with a brilliant artist in Louisiana named Darrell Chitty.  You can find out about his workshops HERE .   As great as books and online lessons can be, there is really no substitute for working side by side with someone who really knows their craft.  If it is something you are serious about learning, you need to find the time and money to do it.

5.  Play – Maybe the most important part of improving as an artist is just to play.  Take some time to try something that you’ve never tried in Painter.  You may be 99% sure that it will be a disaster, but it will likely still be a good learning process.  Unfortunately, there are few better ways to grow than to make mistakes… so just embrace the mistakes and try again.  At least you won’t be wasting tons of money on expensive oil paints and canvas.  Just click File/New and start over…what do you have to lose?

For more information, visit Photo Education Online.


  1. Larry, What you wrote were pretty interesting. But I cannot really agree upon some points. We all know that Raja Ravi Varma or JW turner never went to museums and analyse works to improve theirs. But that well is an added advantage for the present day painters. As you said there are also a lot of books available for study. But art, whether it be display or performance , it is the inception of he artist that is important. These are just my views. I know, i am no one to say about painting. Anyways you could use the fancy zoom plugin which enables the visitor to click on the image to zoom it. I missed that here.

    • Larry

      Thanks for your comments Nikhil. This is by no means meant to be a list of the “only” ways to improve, but rather some suggestions that have helped me. Art will always be a combination of creativity and technique. For me personally, the more I can absorb and process, the more tools I have in my artistic toolbox.

      Keep in touch!

  2. pebble beach estates

    Hey Larry,

    Thanks for your tips! I will surely keep these in mind. You know when I was a kid, I always wanted to be able to draw well, and I regret not being to take the time to practice it. I do have a lot of fun drawing/painting until now, I think that is the best part of it. Having fun. :)

  3. Judith

    Hi Larry: I just watched your amazing webinar at Digital Art Summit and it was excellent. I couldn’t be there for the live presentation, but just wanted you to know how your work as an artist was just fantastic and your post processing method of embellishing the canvas was great. Thanks so much.

  4. Jessi Art

    Hi Larry, cool tips here. I am a beginner in this field. I recently visited an art museum and it was really inspiring me to paint better. I agree completely with your point.

  5. Jolynn

    im 17 and my grandma bought me a set of acrylic paints and i expected that my drawing skills would reflect on my painting. (boy was i wrong) im just going to have to paint on construction paper until i get good enough to actully use the canvas… because this is what i want to do and i need to learn!

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