How to Paint
Ricky Allman is a Professor of Painting and Drawing at the University of Missouri–Kansas City. He earned an MFA in Painting from the Rhode Island School of Design. His paintings have been exhibited in such American cities as New York, Miami, and Los Angeles and internationally in London, Beijing, and Edinburgh, among other cities. His work has also been featured in many publications, including the Los Angeles Times and Harper’s Magazine. He has received the UMKC Trustees’ Faculty Scholar Award and Charlotte Street’s Visual Artist Award.
01: The Painter’s Toolkit
Begin by learning how to embrace the physicality, messiness, and freedom inherent in the earliest stages of a painting. Professor Allman demonstrates how to practice loose, dynamic paint strokes using your entire arm—not just your fingers and wrist—and also goes over some of the basic supplies you will use when starting out.
02: Getting Started: Surfaces and Brushwork
You have your (acrylic) paints and your brushes, now what? First, learn what kinds of surfaces are best for beginning painters and how to choose the one that works for you. Then, follow Professor Allman as he walks you through a demonstration on creating gradients, and get to know the kinds of brushes you will use to achieve different lines and effects.
03: Fundamentals: Establishing Value
Value—the spectrum of light and darkness in an image—is crucial to the way our brains translate images into meaning. See why understanding value is more important than understanding color, and develop your ability to pinpoint value differences in your subjects. Follow along with a demonstration on how to break an image down into its fundamental values.
04: Fundamentals: Building Volume
This lesson opens with a brief look at the rendering of three-dimensional forms using light and shadow, known as volume, and why it is easier to achieve than you might think, once you know how to look at the effects of light. Paint geometric objects using your new understanding of light sources, cast shadows versus form shadows, and reflective effects.
05: Fundamentals: Basics of Color Theory
Understanding color is about discerning the subtle differences in value, hue, and saturation. Professor Allman introduces practical color theory and shows you how to break colors down into a simple matrix so you can create the shades you need. Learn how to directly mix paints and the principles of optical mixing as you create your own 12-step color wheel and value scales.
06: Fundamentals: Creating Color Palettes
Why is color like musical notes? In this second look at color, learn how context and interaction is key, and why a limited palette of four or five colors can be surprisingly powerful. Create a quick painting from a monochrome reference image, using just four colors, while utilizing ratio, value, and temperature to do the heavy lifting of the piece.
07: Fundamentals: Compositional Choices
Step beyond the basics and explore broader elements of painting. Look at arrangement and composition, exploring ideas of symmetry, hierarchy, dynamics, and more. Discover why traditional approaches like the Golden Ratio aren’t the only options for arranging your work, and end with a sketching session to explore how to plan your work before you start painting.
08: Putting It All Together: A Simple Landscape
Apply everything you have learned so far and paint a simple landscape with acrylic paints, based on a photographic reference. Professor Allman goes over all the tools you will use and leads you through the process of sketching, beginning with mapping major, medium, and small value areas and finishing with details.
09: Creating Linear Perspective
Like value and volume for objects, linear perspective will help you create the appearance of architectural space on a 2-D surface. Though it can be challenging for even experienced artists, the principles are actually fairly simple. Master elements of linear perspective and then put them into practice as you follow along with Professor Allman‘s demonstration.
10: Creating Atmospheric Perspective
Explore the ways you can create the illusion of large distances using the techniques of atmospheric perspective, including making objects more or less distinct and creating contrast between the foreground, middle ground, and background. Practice creating a grand sense of space with a simple landscape of hills and mountains.
11: Putting It All Together: A Still Life
Hone your observational skills and develop your personal creative perspective as you tackle a still life composition. Professor Allman’s demonstration will help you bring together all the techniques you have learned so far while still allowing you to arrange your own subject and to make crucial decisions about value, proportion, and more.
12: Working with Oils
Oil paints have been the most popular painting medium since the European Renaissance. Transition from acrylics to the traditional realm of oil paints, exploring the many benefits—blending and transitions, texture, the rich pigments—while also learning how to deal with some of the more challenging aspects, such as varied drying times and toxicity.
13: Traditional Oil Techniques: Grisaille
Continue your foray into oil painting, starting with the versatile, monochromatic underpainting technique known as grisaille. Create an underpainting from a reference image, utilizing paint that has been thinned to create a smooth surface for the overpainting. After your underpainting is complete and dry, progress to adding thin, luminous layers of color.
14: Working with Acrylics
Return to acrylics to explore their advantages and disadvantages and how to use techniques that are particularly suited to them: glazing, sanding, and masking. Explore different mediums you can incorporate to slow drying time or change paint consistency, and watch Professor Allman as he begins work on a street scene in acrylics.
15: Playing with Mediums
If you don’t touch paintings, why is surface texture so important? As it turns out, the visual surface quality of a painting can trigger the area of the brain that processes tactile sensations. Experiment with mediums you can incorporate into your acrylic paints to create a variety of textures, from high-shine glosses to gritty pumice to the watercolor-effect of absorbent ground.
16: Painting Water and Clouds
Dive into the challenging diversity of the natural world, starting with bodies of water and clouds. First, identify common elements and look closely to determine color temperature and value areas. Then, work from simple structure to finer details as you build up your painting. Finally, add shadows and highlights to capture shape and atmospheric conditions.
17: Painting Trees and Bark
Take advantage of the immense varietyies of trees to create natural compositions and experiment with various shapes and textures. Professor Allman leads you through a demonstration focused on building up different types of trees from basic shapes to foliage and bark texture, including techniques to suggest leaves and needles without excessive detail.
18: Painting Rocks and Mountains
It’s not what you paint that makes an interesting work: It’s how you paint it. Even something as mundane as a rock can be compelling; as you will see as you undertake a study of rocks using chromatic grays. Learn how to create shades of gray from complementary colors as Professor Allman captures the variety and complexity of stone in a simple landscape.
19: Painting Light
You have looked at the interaction of light and shadow, now broaden your look at the effect of light through the lens of the four main aspects you should know: type of light source, brightness, color, and direction. Professor Allman’s demonstration focuses on several strategies for painting light using a candle as your source and subject.
20: Painting Glass
Engage with a subject that can intimidate even seasoned painters: glass. Learn how to focus on what can be seen through glass objects, rather than on the glass itself, to capture its unique properties. Undertake a simple glass still life, using highlights and shadows to suggest shape rather than outlining or blocking.
21: Painting People
In the age of instant photography, why paint portraits? Professor Allman discusses the amazing ability of portraits to capture truths about both the subject and the artist, as he introduces you to the proportions of the human face and then demonstrates how to “build” your portrait in much the same way you have tackled previous subjects.
22: Getting Creative: Composition
Up to this point, Professor Allman has focused on the tools and techniques of representation. Now, turn your attention to the ways you as an artist can explore new ideas and techniques to tap into your own creativity. Consider how to find and use a variety of references and materials, closing with an exercise in painting using tape to explore the figure-ground relationship.
23: Getting Creative: Surface and Texture
Further stretch your creative horizons as you leave traditional tools behind and explore new materials and techniques. Featuring four different demonstrations, this lesson will show you how to utilize unique painting surfaces, paint with palette knives instead of brushes, incorporate other media into your paintings, and add collage to your repertoire.
24: Getting Creative: Space and Dimension
Conclude your lessons by freeing yourself from the boundaries of realistic space and, with some guidance from the work of M. C. Escher, use perspective in inventive ways. Learn how to let go of the constraints of realism and transform the two-dimensional surface of your painting into a space where your imagination can take flight.