Impressionism for Beginners


Firstly I recommend you paint with oil colours. Why oils you ask? because this is the best, most flexible, and forgiving medium, which is especially important for beginners. This is because, as it dries very slowly, you can change or modify your colours as you go along, which as you learn to paint you will realise is very important as colours are relational, that is they change their character when placed next to other colours. e.g. a grey next to a black looks light but the same grey next to a white looks dark etc. Also, unlike other media, they remain the same vibrant colour when they have dried, as opposed to say acrylic which dries very quickly, changes colour, often darker, and looks very flat. We paint with an Impressionist palette, or in other words, a limited palette of only 6 colours plus white. Why is there no black? Firstly, all the other colours including tints and shades can be created using this limited palette. Secondly, black tends to deaden colour and produces rather muddy, dull paintings. Also by having to mix your own colours it also forces you to look more carefully at the colours you´re depicting and create more spontaneous and original colour compositions.

What do I need to learn?

How to lay out a palette. A palette is like a keyboard & there is a logical order in which the colours go. Like a piano player you need to know where all your notes are quickly in order to play beautiful music.

Colour theory and how to mix colours. Colour has a logical structure which once understood will enable you to mix any colour you see without having to learn/memorise some complicated formula or such like. You also need to learn how to modulate your colours, (make subtle changes/steps between colours), which is how one represents the subtle changes one sees in nature.

How to go about making a painting. Nature doesn´t tell you how to paint it, for this, we need to look at other artists as models. Not all artists are good models however, such as photographic realism, which mystifies the painting process with its invisible brush strokes.

To simplify and abstract. Making a painting is like building a house. We don´t start with the door knobs but need to start with a solid foundation. Painting likewise goes from the general to the specific, and as mentioned above, regarding the relational nature of colour, this is also important when one has to constantly modify one’s original colour impressions.

To see colour. Yes, one has to learn how to see colour. If you think clouds are white, grass is green, skies are blue or that the colours of a face can be faithfully reproduced by a ready-made selection of “skin tones” bought from the local art shop…think again. You will also develop a more experimental approach to colour. Colours are often fleeting and change before one’s very eyes and quite often one simply has to invent them.

Learn to draw through painting. Often students think that one has to learn how to draw before one can paint but paradoxically the opposite is true. Drawing is an abstraction, we don´t see in black and white or in contour lines. Contour lines are where we separate one colour from the next. We see in colour. We discern one object from the next through it´s colour differences to other objects. This is the fundamental difference between painting and drawing. This is the modern approach to painting as opposed to the “chiaroscuro” ( light-dark) technique/approach of the pre-modern era which is rather drawing with paint. When one gets the colours and their relationships right the painting will have all feeling of light, space, atmosphere, and “reality” automatically. Although there are overlaps, drawing for painting is different, and you need to learn how to draw with the brush along with some fundamental techniques and concepts such as the picture plane and how to do “sighting”.

Learn the secrets of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism from a qualified art teacher with over 8 years experience at Kensington and Chelsea College. For more information plus student examples and testimonials see my website: or email Richard at

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