11 Steps of Painting a Picture


November 17, 2015Blog1 Comment

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These are common steps most painters goes through when they are trying to depict a picture. Whether it’s describing a real scene (landscapes, portraits, etc.) or piece from their own imagination (abstract, action, drip paintings), these are essential steps of painting a picture.

Although, you can’t escape these steps, not all of them are mandatory in your painting process. It depends on your choice, painting ability or the painting style. So, you are free to paint the way you feel comfortable instead of following some rules. The listed steps are just guidelines.

1. Deciding a Subject

This is an obvious step but needs mentioning. Here artist decides what picture he wants to paint, a landscape, a bird or even a pen. The subject could be anything, but it will always fall into one of the six main types of painting, which are combinedly called as the Hierarchy of Paintings. These six types are the prominent types of painting and most probably your painting would fall into one of this types.

But, don’t worry too much of the hierarchy except just know about them. At the first step, just decide what subject you want to paint.

2. Deciding the Style of Painting

After you have decided your painting subject, you need to decide what style or genre you want to depict that scene in. You can depict a portrait in realist, impressionist or even in cubist style if you want. Or your landscape could be an impressionist art or a futurist one. Or you can depict a flying airplane in Suprematist style. You can even mingle more than one styles into a single art-piece. It’s your canvas, you can choose to do it in anyway – that’s the artistic freedom. You can decide it beforehand or you already have developed your own style.

Though, there is nothing wrong going with one of the established styles, we would encourage you to find out the most satisfying way for you instead of following one or two established styles. Because, most of the art movements in the history are made when an artist or a group of artist didn’t feel like following the rules and went ahead depicted in their own, then-new ways and thus developed new genres and styles of the paintings.

Also, it also depends what the art-work requires from you. If you are doing it for your own satisfaction, you can do whatever you want. But, if it is a project given by someone else, you need to understand their needs and select the style of the painting being realistic, abstract or any other well-fitting.

3. Deciding the Surface

In deciding the painting styles, you had a large pool of styles AKA art movements counting more than 200. At deciding the type of surface you would want, you have more than 10 types to choose from. You can read our article called Choosing the Right Surface for Your Painting.

Type of surface affects the overall feel of the picture, could represent color intensity and tone differently (which consequently would require you to recalculate the mixture of colors according to the type of the surface). Some surfaces also works best in some painting styles than others.

Also, different types of surfaces would need different requirements before you could star drawing it. If your chosen surface is wood-based you would need to ready the surface by cleaning it, making it smooth or if it is on leaf, you are totally required to recalculate your painting strategy as the already colored surface would display the colors differently.

For comparison, you can look at our collections woodblock prints.

So, decide the surface wisely. Try to understand which surface would be best for your painting by trying different surfaces first.

4. Deciding Your Tool

Again, most people paint with the conventional brushes, but some art styles includes the use of unconventional objects as the tool to paint. And these unconventional tools could be a knife, a sponge, an airbrush, or any other object which could be dipped into the color and applied on the canvas. But, such uses are rare. Most famous example being Jackson Pollock who used trowels, sticks and knives in some of his paintings.

Though, those are rare examples. More practical suggestion here would be to chose appropriate brushes according to style, type or genre of painting.

5. Deciding the Color Medium

This step also affects your painting similarly. Different types of color medium would generate different tones, feeling and atmosphere. For example, here is our collection of pastel paintings in which you can see the detail of the colors, tone, realism are far different than the paintings with oil, watercolor, tempera or pen paintings would consist.

It’s all about look and feel and that’s the one of the major feature of any painting. You should decide color medium for what type of impression, atmosphere and details you want in the painting.

6. Developing a Reference

This isn’t a mandatory step. It is required only when the art-piece is too big or is of a great importance to not err during the final depiction.

When depicting a large picture i.e. a fresco, a mural, a Trompe l’oeil or a Di sotto in sù, the artist needs a reference. Artist could create a vague picture or could depict a high-quality, smaller version of the final output with same colors and details.

During the renaissance such references were called as Cartoons – most famous examples being the Raphael Cartoons which were used for the tapestries of the Sistine Chapel famous for its amazing ceiling depicted by one of the Renaissance masters, Michelangelo. The subtypes of cartoons were called Modello, Maquette, Schizzo and Ricordo according to the art form they are used for.

7. Preparing the Surface

Preparing the surface depends on the surface type you have chosen. If it is wood based and you need a smooth surface you need to make it smooth and fill in the cracks. One technique to smoothen a wooden surface or a canvas or any other uneven surface is called ‘Gesso’. It is a layer of thick paint, which is used to smoothen the surface or to absorb the initial layer of colors, so the final colors don’t lose their intensity. Another technique is called ‘Imprimatura’ which is a layer of single color to provide an early desired tint or lessen the absorption capability of the surface.

Same goes with a fresco or a mural or any other wall or wood based paintings. In special surfaces using Lacquer would need its own preparing process.

So, prepare your surface before beginning.

8. Underdrawing

Underdrawing is the first outline of the picture you want to paint. It could be just a simple doodle-like outline of the picture acting simply as a guide, or a realistic drawing including shading which gives you much detailed pre-look and effects of your final painting in monochrome.

You can pick to skip this stage if you are confident or the style of your painting doesn’t require, or even asks you to not to have a pre-look of your picture i.e. Drip paintings or some abstract styles.

If you have chosen to underdraw, you can do it in steps or form of simple outline, heavy outline and shading. Shading includes different types like Hatching and Cross Hatching, Stippling, Scumbling or Back and Forth Strokes.

FYI: Such underdrawings could also reveal the alternation any artist has made during the creative process (such alterations are called Pentimento).

9. Underpainting

Underpainting AKA Dead Coloring is same as Underdrawing except it is done with colors to gauge the effect of the final colors prematurely. Underpainting is done with full, all colors but doesn’t include the finalization. Thus, it seems half or undone painting. Yet, it gives the painter an idea about how his colors were working practically on the canvas and whether any changes are required in different places of painting in colors, tones, shadows or other elements of the painting.

In short, it is just one step before the final painting.

10. Final Painting

Final painting is applying the final layer of paint. It also includes Glaze and Varnish if needed. After underpainting gives the artist the idea about how his selected colors will look on the final output and does necessary changes, the artist then proceeds with his chosen colors and gives the incomplete painting the completeness. It heavily includes adding details in every part of the painting. If it is a portrait, the artist applies more color on the underpainting, adds great details everywhere, especially around eyes, nose and lips to make it real (if realism is what he is trying to achieve). It also includes adding the finishing  touch for perfect execution of the idea. Final painting gives you the finished product.

11. Overpainting

There is one more non-mandatory and rarely-occurring step in the process which could come on the same day of a finalized product or even a century later when a time-worn art-piece is being restored. It is called Overpainting. It simply means the act of painting over a final painting as found some mistake in it by the artist himself or repainting the same picture over the original one (in parts or all over the surface) to restore it.


This step comes rarely in any painting process, but it exists, so we have to add it as it is linked in the process of painting the picture.

As mentioned above, not every step is mandatory. This is just an all-inclusive, comprehensive list of the process of painting. You can skip unnecessary steps and develop your own masterpiece in the way you want. Again, focus on what is satisfactory to you than what’s to other. That’s the real joy of painting.

Remember, a free mind is more able to ‘create’ something than an instructed mind.

One Response to “11 Steps of Painting a Picture”
  1. lol

    this is not real the steps to painting are way more soffisticated coming from a person with a full-time job as a painter

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