What are your favorite painting hacks?

The best way to learn painting is just to get out and actually paint.  I am no expert on telling anyone how to paint or go about painting because I am self-taught.  Because of that, I have learned many mistakes along the way which through experience has taught me some valuable shortcuts that I would like to share.  These are my “Top 5 Hacks” and hopefully they will be of some benefit to you, as they have for me, in your journey as an artist.

Use quality paint brushes for your detail work.

Use quality paint brushes for your detail work.

1. Use high quality brushes, paints and canvas.

You will want to use high quality brushes, and for detail work, you will want the best your budget will permit.  You will need to spend a fair bit of time cleaning these and conditioning them and if possible hang them upside down to dry.  Use poorer quality brushes for general paint work.  It is not necessary to spend a lot of time cleaning these brushes but make sure that you always clean your expensive, high quality brushes, after every painting session. I go into much more detail about cleaning your brushes in a previous article, what is the best way to take care of them, if you would like more information.

If possible, try to use artist quality paints and canvas.  I understand that this can seem pricey and we often wonder it it is necessary.  I promise, if you have the money, then ensure you are using top quality materials from a reputable art store, either locally or online.  There are several good ones that I use online: Dick Blick and Jerry’s Artarama. Look at Amazon also to compare prices from these suppliers, sometimes you can get the same brands and materials from Amazon with free shipping.

Use an easel when you paint.

Use an easel when you paint.

2. Use an easel when you paint

It is very important to use an easel when you paint.  Purchase one if you don’t have one.  I have learned through experience that trying to paint on a flat surfase is not only harder, but it throws off your perspective. You also tend to only focus on a certain part of the painting which is not good for the overall composition of your work.  When you have a painting on an easel, you can see it from many angles and allows better movement around your painting and much better perspective of what you are painting.  Upgrading to an easel will greatly improve your technique.

Undercoat your painting to give your composition a soft glow.

Undercoat your painting to give your composition a soft glow.

3. Never paint on a white canvas

I have had to learn this the hard way.  I thought because I had drawn my composition onto the canvas that I would lose my drawing it I painted the background or entire canvas.  I soon found, that if I use a watered down color such as burnt sienna, yellow ochre or raw umber, that it did not take away from my pencil drawing and what I gained was a warm yellow or brown underpainting that gave my painting more depth.  I have read that this was a common technique used by the early Masters in their landscape and portrait paintings.  So begin your painting with a light soft color as the underpainting before you begin painting your masterpiece.

American Staffordshire Terrier - aka Pit Bull Terrier sketch

Make sure your composition is correct.

4. Composition of your painting

Make sure that you are completely satisfied with your composition before you start painting.  I usually sketch lightly with a pencil on watercolor paper, cut to the size of my canvas, to ensure that I am completely satisfied with my composition before I start painting on my canvas.  If it is a complicated painting with buildings and such, then this step is crucial to the overall success of your painting.  Take time to get this right the first time.

5. Take “time out” from your painting

Lastly, take break with a “Time Out” to view your work…another reason to have it on an easel.  I like to view my painting in a room where I can see it from all angles and observe it in different light.  This is true for when you are actually painting also.  Take a break and walk around and look at what you are painting and evaluate what you see, again at different angles.  This enable you to see your painting from different perspecitives and spot issues you may have overlooked.


This list is not all encompassing and there are many other painting hacks out there.  These are just a few that I have found to be important to me as I have learned my lessons through trial and error and hope my hacks are helpful to you in some way.  If you are aware of any other painting hacks, please share them in the Disqus comment section below to prevent spam and unwanted ads on this website.  Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you.  Have an artful week!




  • Linda McCormack

    Great tips. I use them all except the “don’t paint on a white canvas” one. I’ll have to try that. p.s. I know you do this too…. Take a photo of your work in progress. It gives you a fresh perspective.

  • FayBecca

    Hi Linda! Glad you like my hacks! I learned about undercoating my canvas by accident. I tried it and was so surprised at how it brings more depth and softness to the painting! Try it!