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Break Your Inhibitions and Learn How to Paint: A Proven Method

Break Your Inhibitions and Learn How to Paint: A Proven Method

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How Painting Quick Studies Lead You to Becoming a Better Artist

It’s all fun and games to joke about being a procrastinator, but overthinking some things, such as how to paint a subject, can be a serious roadblock. Sometimes it’s best to just jump in and see what happens when you begin sketching your composition or start putting paint onto the canvas. Craig Nelson, who filmed four DVDs on how to paint, explains that painting quickly is the best way to practice—and improve—your art.

“After teaching at two prestigious art schools for the last 26 years, I’ve realized that one avenue of improvement is studies done in short periods of time–quick studies,” says Craig. “Quick studies allow for no overworking or overthinking, but bring basic knowledge to a more intuitive state.

From Craig Nelson’s book, 60 Minutes to Better Painting, the following infographic highlights six ways to quickly enhance your artistic skill sets.

Break Inhibitions

Painting is often intimidating. The concept of taking a blank surface and creating a finished, pleasing image on it can be overwhelming. It may paralyze the painter and lead to a tentative approach without confidence.

Deal Confidently with Mistakes

Whenever doing anything, you will make mistakes. In sports, music or any other endeavor, you must go through some growing pains in order to become proficient or to excel. To be afraid of making mistakes should not keep you from attempting something. That is how we all learn.

Discover the Differences Between Line and Mass

From our earliest memories, we have all drawn with pencil, crayon or pen. Generally when we draw anything, we start with lines. This, however, is not how we see. We see mass and form; therefore, we must paint mass and form. Lines are a shorthand for painting.

Learn Brushwork

The way in which a painter wields his brush is much of the beauty of a painting. It may be energetic, careful, soft or crisp. Brushwork often is like handwriting—very distinctive.

Understand How to See

You must learn how to see in stages. You must not see the detail first but must see the larger, more basic images before studying the smaller, and often more interesting areas. It is important to train your eye to see in the proper order so your subject can be approached as if it were a painting.

Get Started

The evil word “procrastination” is the constant enemy of all painters. That blank canvas and the concept of a finished painting can be a burden. The study, as opposed to a finished painting, can eliminate any burden. It’s stated as a study; to learn, to improve, to try something, not a precious final piece of art! When procrastinating on what to do, how big, etc., do a study. ~Craig

Scroll down to read Craig’s advice for deciding what to include and what to edit when you’re practicing how to paint with your next quick study.

Whether your advanced or beginning your oil-painting journey, everyone can benefit from going back to the basics! Check out this free ebook download on fundamental oil painting techniques!

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How to Paint: Deciding What Is Important by Craig Nelson

The most important aspect of a quick study is the editing that each artist makes. This requires rapid and confident decision making. You must decide what is important to the subject as well as what is important to you. For example, the accuracy of shape and size may be important to the subject, while the mood and lighting may be important to you.

How important is something within a given setting? In a quick study, if something is not essential to capture the subject, then it can be left out. When painting in this abbreviated style, you must leave out unnecessary details. The best way to approach this is to think of your strokes as rapid indications of shapes, values and colors—not details.

Simplify the Scene

The powerful design of sky and architecture is simplified from the photograph. Within the short time frame of the study, enough detail is indicated to give believability to the scene. In the study, the perspective is important and relatively accurate while much of the detail is understated or deleted.

**Written by Cherie Haas, former senior online editor for, with contributions by Maria Woodie

Want More Art Instruction from Craig?

In the video, below, Craig shares different characteristics of acrylic and oils. From comparing scumbling techniques to washes and thick to thin lines, learn how to use these mediums to achieve a layered look.

About the Artist

Known for his figures and landscapes, artist Craig Nelson’s art hangs in several public and private collections. He teaches numerous workshops and has won more than 200 awards, including the Grand Teton Natural History Award. Learn more about Craig and his artwork by visiting his website,, and stream his video workshops at

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