The digital age has transformed the way we create, learn and practice art. Not only can we get a glimpse of famous paintings and sculptures in any location in the world, we can also study art through online courses, videos, and even coursework. A variety of digital media art forms have also emerged through the internet, as well as social sharing platforms like Instagram that enable us to create our own personal galleries of our work.

Another advantage aspiring artists have now is the ability to search and compare art schools without ever making a phone call. Articles and guides like this one can help you start thinking about how you want to proceed in your artistic journey. While it never hurts to speak to a career counsellor or program administrator, you can probably get a lot of information on the topic of art school that will enable you to be better informed about your education. Let’s focus on understanding the basics of art education and what you can expect to find when looking for an art class in Canada.

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Why You Should Take a Painting Class

Art often gets thought of as an exercise in creative expression, which is only part true. Art is not only a creative practice but a technical endeavour as well. Taking a class helps you to build these skills so you can express your ideas in the best way possible.

The belief that art - poetry, painting, stories, and drama - should be an exercise of expressing one’s emotions, was popularized by the Romanticism movement in the nineteenth century. The Romantics felt that true art was about letting your feelings out to create something beautiful, tragic, rousing, or sublime.

The influence of Romantic thinking on art - that creating art is primarily a practice of releasing pent-up emotion - persisted for years, overshadowing the fact that art may also refer to a set of technical practices as well. In reality, most visual artists will assert that creativity requires a degree of technical skill to be truly effective.

The best way to gain technical skills as an artist is to practice alongside experienced artists that already have them, in a class or studio environment. Yes, you can certainly grab some paints and freestyle your way through a painting, but taking an art class can give you an opportunity to learn a skill set that will likely help you to improve your craft.

Learning Technical Painting Skill

Just as you will struggle to write a good story if you know nothing about narrative or character development, or seldom take a great photo without an understanding light and composition, you’ll find it hard to make a great painting if you haven’t learned any painting techniques.

Some of the most famous artists, like Van Gogh and Francis Bacon, were innovators of art that broke from tradition to create their best work. These artists mastered technical skills and went their own way with them. Whether you work in ceramics, portraiture, or even digital photography, it’s important to understand technique and tradition first so you can break those rules and innovate the art form.

The Role of a Painting Teacher

A painting teacher can provide quality art instruction and feedback. Source:

Painting classes essentially help you to learn proper technique so you can continuously improve your work. Instructors and peers will evaluate and provide constructive critiques to your work, and introduce you to new materials, tools, and mediums. They will push you to draw and paint and compel you to experiment with new styles.

Having encouragement and feedback from actual teachers is important because it keeps you motivated in your art production. It takes discipline to become a strong artist: long hours in front of different canvases, constant sketching, and practicing. Without feedback or encouragement, it is less likely you will put in the time it takes to become a skillful painter.

Simply put, you won’t be the next Van Gogh unless you put in the time and work in. Producing art is actually less “expressive” and more about repeating the same brushstrokes on canvas until you get it right. Painting, in this way, is much like learning a new instrument: without regular practice and training, you won’t learn how to perform more challenging music.

The great poet W.B. Yeats wrote: ‘A line may take us hours maybe;/ Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought,/ Our stitching and unstitching has been naught’. In other words, it takes perseverance and time to create art that will provoke thought in viewers; artistic creation is so much more than simply expressing a thought or emotion. 

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How to Choose a Painting Class

Choose a painting class in the medium you like best. Source: Pexels

Choosing the right painting class can be a challenge if you haven’t created art since childhood. Many people have a craft based perspective on art developed during childhood, where art usually involved glitter, paint kits, collages, and other dollar store pieces. The art class you will choose as an adult will likely involve fewer materials, but having the same enthusiasm for getting your hands dirty will take your art a long way.

Balancing technique and creativity is essential when you enter a painting class, where you are bound to receive exposure to traditional and modern ways of creating art. Let’s take a closer look at the three main mediums you will likely encounter: oil, watercolour, and acrylics.

Oil Painting

Oil painting has a reputation for being one of the more difficult mediums to work in, in spite of what many artists think. Many of the masterpieces you’ll find in any art history textbook were composed in oil, from Van Gogh’s self portrait to Klimt’s symbolism paintings. Perhaps this is what makes oil an intimidating medium to work in: in any event, most students in an oil painting class usually have had a few other courses under their belt before signing up.

Oil paint contains pigments that are kept from drawing with the addition of oil. It is one of the more expensive mediums to work with, and typically its cost will correlate with the amount of pigment it contains. The higher the pigment content, the more expensive the paint will be. Strong smelling turpentine is used to thin oil paint, which makes oil paint somewhat more challenging to use. Water is not an alternative: oil and water do not mix, so if you are sensitive to strong smells you might want to choose a less volatile medium.

Interested in art classes in Vancouver? Check out our article!

Watercolour Painting

Watercolour is likely one of the first paints you encountered as a child, and is often a top choice for people starting a painting hobby. Do not be deceived by its apparent simplicity: watercolour painting techniques have the same level of difficulty as any other medium. However, it is a highly accessible and affordable medium. 

Watercolour has a tradition in landscape and figure painting. Painters today are constantly pushing the boundaries of this medium to create spectacular effects. Check out Cheng-Kee Chee’s paintings of fish to see some inspiring examples of what watercolours can do when applied with a high level of skill.

Acrylic Painting

Acrylic paint is a favourite among hobbyists as it is faster drying than oil paint and has more body than watercolour. It is water soluble. Acrylics have more body than watercolour and lends itself well to modern styles like the Pop Art of Lichtenstein and David Hockney. You can also find lots of acrylic inspiration in works like Sedona by Bob Petillo or Fleeting Beauty by Henry Bosak.

It’s worthwhile to note that drawing skills will deeply strengthen your painting abilities, so it may be worthwhile to take an introductory drawing course or self-train if you are not already confident with your drawing abilities. Painters often sketch out their preliminary painting in the medium they are using, so having drawing skills will enhance this part of the painting process. Drawing and painting are strongly linked, so grab a sketchbook and get drawing as soon as you can.

Learn more about painting classes in Calgary.

Painting Techniques

Avoid feeling confused in your classes by familiarising yourself with the terms associated with painting techniques before you start. Here are some of the more common terms you will likely encounter when your classmates and teachers start talking shop. 

Colour Theory:

Colour theory is a fundamental art concept that you will undoubtedly apply in any painting class. Though it seems easy, understanding how colours complement each other and mix can make a critical difference in your work.

Colour theory posits that there are three basic colour groups - primary, secondary and tertiary - that can be best represented on a wheel. The primary colours of blue and red, for example, combine to make the secondary colour of purple. Tertiary colours are created by mixing secondary colours. Understanding how colours compose other colours will help you to mix the right shades for your work.


Underpainting is a technique usually used on canvas intended for oil and acrylic painting. Prior to getting started on sketching in your preliminary ideas, it’s important to set the foundation for your work. This is done by painting a base neutral colour over the blank canvas. Doing this will add texture and depth to the colours you will add in next.


Glazing is a final step you can take in protecting and enhancing your painting once you are done. Just as you might spray a fixative to graphic or pastel work, you would glaze a painting to prevent smudging and wear and tear.

The glazing process involves painting a transparent coat of paint over a finished, dry painting. Glazing can also entail intensifying the colour of your work with the glaze itself - for this reason, you will benefit from having an experienced teacher show you how to do it effectively.

Thinking about taking classes in Edmonton? Read our article for more information.

Art Supplies and Materials You Will Need

A sketchbook is important to have when taking painting classes
Get the right art supplies before you take your first painting class. Photo by @timarterbury from Unsplash.

OK, so you’ve now got the basics and you’re all signed up for your first class. What do you need to bring on the first day of school? 

It’s important to understand the types of painting materials you will need to be successful in your classes. Though your potential as an artist is limitless, there may be some very real limits on the amount you can spend on art materials.

Beginner students typically don’t have to worry too much. Most of these classes will supply palettes and brushes if they haven’t asked you to bring your own materials. Should you be required to bring your own gear, make sure you get an array of brushes in different sizes (small tipped to flat and wide) as each brush will serve a different purpose in your painting.

You can save yourself a lot of future spending by caring for your brushes after every class. Make sure you wash your brushes in the appropriate solution or you may end up having to buy a new set.

Art supply stores often have a vast selection of supplies and brands. Avoid spending endless amounts of time browsing and googling every product by preparing your shopping list in advance. Know what medium you will be working in and don’t be afraid to ask questions to staff or even other shoppers: there is nothing better than an actual testimony to learn how well a product performs in use.

When it comes to colours, make sure your teacher tells you what kind of palette you will need or you may end up purchasing too much or worse, buying colours you don’t need. A general rule of thumb is to simply buy colours you will be using the most for mixing: you will almost certainly need black and white.

If you feel like you are ready to make a long-term commitment to painting, invest in higher quality supplies and paints. You will probably look forward to using the materials more and feel extra motivated in your class.

Learn more about taking classes in Surrey.

Art Classes and Workshops in Canada's Major Cities

In a large, prosperous country like Canada you can feel confident and lucky knowing you can find art schools and instructors easily through a quick Google search.

Canada’s major cities are also arts hubs, with major galleries and strong arts communities. Take Toronto, with its famous Ontario College of Arts and Design, perched famously in the heart of the city’s downtown. There, you will find courses and degree programs where you will learn from some of the country’s top artists. In fact, many of the country’s major universities offer strong visual arts programs where students can take a deep, meaningful dive into art history, theory, and studio practice.

If a degree program is not in your plans and you are looking for an adult class in painting with other recreational painters, most communities have neighbourhood art studios that can be charming and inspiring places to work. Meet other painters, sip coffee or wine, and enjoy being a student in an interactive atmosphere. The best part of joining a neighbourhood art centre or studio is that you will likely meet people in your own community with similar interests and hobbies.

For a budget friendly approach, search your local community centre for adult art classes. While you may be working in a studio space shared by other community classes and groups, you can gain access to a series of classes for a relatively low cost. In Canada, many of these centres are run by the municipality you live in and you will likely have to prove you live in the area of the centre to sign up.

Next, if you lack past experience in drawing, make sure you take time for self-practice, drawing classes, or even YouTube videos to learn drawing basics. Drawing skills are not just for painting: you can also apply these skills to illustration and design.

If you’re looking for kids classes to enrich your kids’ learning, check first for after school or supplementary programs being offered in their school. Then, they will likely be learning with their friends or meeting new kids they can play with at recess. As with adults, you will also find private neighbourhood studios that offer kids classes or after school and weekend programs at your local community centres. Enrolling your kids in a class may also give you a precious hour to shop, squeeze in a workout, have a coffee, or get some reading done while they are in class.

Another great way to get started is to find private instructors online through sites like Superprof. This is a great solution if you have a difficult schedule to work with or want to enjoy a personalized approach. 

Let's take a closer look at the opportunities available in three major Canadian cities. Here are some options available in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver.

Painting Classes in Toronto

Find a paint night or a college class to learn painting in Toronto
Whether it's a Paint Night or Studio Classes, you'll find a painting class that works for you in Toronto. Photo by @impatrickt on Unsplash.

Toronto is an arts and culture hub - festivals like Nuit Blanche showcase installations all night long, and there are countless other arts festivals and parties happening in the city on a regular basis. The Art Gallery of Ontario hosts world-class exhibitions where you might be able to catch Frida Kahlo, the Impressionists or Vincent Van Gogh. Book far ahead: Toronto is full of art enthusiasts that pack the gallery when a famous painting is in town.

Just north of Toronto is the McMichael Gallery, famous for its collection of paintings from the iconic Canadian art collective, the Group of Seven. Known for their paintings of quintessential Canadian landscapes, the gallery houses hundreds of Group of Seven paintings alongside Indigenous artists in a tranquil setting.

With its strong arts community and exciting galleries, Toronto is a uniquely inspiring city to learn painting. There are options for everyone at any level of interest, from serious painters immersed in the academic study of art to individuals looking for a unique activity on a Friday night. Let’s take a look at some options in the chart below.


VenueType of SchoolClasses OfferedLocation
Ontario College of Arts and DesignUniversityGraduate/
Undergraduate degree programs
Downtown Toronto
ArticulationsStudio and Art StoreWorkshops and Classes for Kids and Adults in Watercolour, Acrylic, Sketching, and moreJunction (Toronto West)
Toronto School of ArtIndependent Art SchoolCourses and workshops in Painting, printmaking, drawing, and moreDowntown Toronto
PaintloungeSocial Painting EventsSingle session painting eventsAll over the Greater Toronto Area
Art Gallery of OntarioGalleryWorkshops, courses in Painting, Drawing, and MoreDowntown Toronto


Painting Courses in Montreal

Montreal is a city that is both European and North American with a diverse population and sophisticated arts scene. There are numerous galleries, studios, museums, cafes, and institutions that showcase the city’s artistic talent, which ranges from the traditional to avant-garde. Montreal is an incredible place to develop as an artist.

The Montreal Museum of Fine Art, housed in a large, beautiful historic building downtown. Here you can find a variety of workshops and class series aimed at artists of all skill levels, as well as art therapy for people looking for alternative forms of healing. The museum also organises field trips for young students, concerts, and conferences.

Montreal is also home to a variety of neighbourhood art studios that reflect its eclectic and bohemian energy. The Pointe-Sainte-Charles Art School is a non-profit art school that offers classes to students of all ages and skill levels. If you are a more serious illustrator even looking to build a portfolio, Syn Studio might be a better choice. The options certainly do not stop there: there are plenty of art studios that cater to painters of all levels and mediums.

Painting Lessons in Vancouver

Vancouver skyline. Source: Unsplash

Canada’s quintessential West Coast city rivals its eastern counterparts in cultural output – Vancouver is also home to some of the best art schools, studios, and galleries. Accessibility to learning, along with a laid back and natural coastal vibe, make Vancouver a great place for artists to learn and live. Vancouver’s art scene also has roots in Indigenous art and design, providing a unique inspiring atmosphere sure to influence any artist.

Like Canada’s other major cities, Vancouver is home to a large downtown art gallery, the Art Gallery of Vancouver, which hosts regular exhibitions and school programs. For classes, you may want to look into the city’s art studios, like The Luminous Elephant or the ArtWay, which offer recreational courses for kids and adults. Serious art students can find degree programs at Emily Carr University or the Vancouver College of Arts and Design. 

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Colleen is a Toronto-based educator, mom and freelance writer who believes in lifelong learning and strong coffee.