Since the earliest cave paintings were drawn by ancient humans, artistic expression has flourished and continues to evolve in radical ways. Digital media, for example, has given us the ability to view artwork and galleries in any location, and has also given rise to new forms of art that would not have existed - video, digital photography, graphic design, and more.
Despite rapid technological development in the arts, painting is still one of the most popular art forms. There is something special and tactile about taking a brush to canvas and using a free hand to create something new.
Getting started in painting would seem to involve little more than some paint and some instructional YouTube videos, but there is much more fun to be had learning with others and joining an arts community. But how do you get started in Edmonton, and where can you find classes?
Edmonton is a growing and diverse city that has plenty to offer painters at any skill level. Not only is there a thriving arts community, the city hosts the The Works Art and Design Festival, the largest free outdoor art and design festival in North America.
If you are looking to sign up for basic drawing or painting workshops to get your art hobby started, it’s useful to start building your understanding of the mediums you will likely encounter in class and the techniques that go along with them.
Choosing the Paint Medium that's Right for You
A quick glance into art history will tell you that oil painting has been one of the most dominant art forms since the Renaissance. Art history buffs might find this statement debatable but one key reason for its popularity is the composition of the medium.
Oil paint is made of colourful pigments mixed with oil, which gives oil painting its vibrancy. Artists can paint layer upon layer of oil paint, sometimes without even letting the bottom layers to dry fully - a technique we will discuss later in the article.
Using oil painting can be extremely rewarding, but typically the medium is taught for more intermediate or advanced artists. There are good reasons for this: oil paint tends to be more expensive than its acrylic and watercolour counterparts, and uses turpentine as a solvent, making it a more challenging medium to use. If you are determined to start working in oil paint, keep these factors in mind.
Acrylic paint is a relatively new medium, having only been developed in the early 20th century. Since then, acrylics have become a popular medium among beginners and professionals because it’s affordable and easy to use.
Despite the fact that acrylics are a new medium, some of the most famous contemporary works have been painted in acrylics. Modern artists like David Hockney, Andy Warhol, and Eduardo Paolozzi used acrylics in their work. If this is the medium you are choosing to work in, you’re in luck: because of its popularity, acrylic painting classes are generally easy to find around Edmonton.
Watercolour painting often comes across as a painting as an activity for small children: just think of the watercolour trays attached to colouring books and figurine kits in your local craft or dollar store. However, watercolour is the world’s oldest medium and has evolved into one of the most widely used and dynamic paints for artists.
Watercolour paint comes in dry cakes or palettes, and is cheap and easy to transport. It’s generally non-toxic and cleans easily. You can find inspiration from contemporary watercolour artists like Mary Whyte or Jose Apaza.
The Most Common Painting Techniques
With a basic understanding of the three major painting mediums you will likely encounter in any Edmonton art class, you might be wondering exactly what techniques you will learn.
Navigating the slew of terms, techniques, and methods about painting, colour theory, and drawing may seem overwhelming at first. In many cases, the same techniques are called something else in a different medium! Here are some of the most commonly used painting techniques and methods.
Having an array of methods to use while painting a still life or human figure will take your painting to the next level. Wet on dry is one method you can start using right away when painting with acrylics, though it is also used in oil and watercolour.
Wet on dry involves thinning the paint with water and applying the mixture to a dry canvas. It’s a common method and you will likely utilize it often. Washing is another technique similar to wet on dry. Washing involves thinning acrylic paint to the point it resembles the consistency of watercolour. It is an extremely useful method if you are trying to achieve a watercolour effect with a fast drying paint.
Watercolour paint is highly versatile and can be used in a variety of ways. One of the most important watercolour techniques, in addition to wet on dry, is called wet on wet. Even though these names don’t sound very interesting, the process and effects can be quite remarkable.
Wet on wet is a process of mixing your watercolour paint with water and applying it to an already wet surface. To prepare the canvas, apply a layer of water over the areas you plan to paint. Doing this allows colours to blend and spread in dramatic ways: check out the animal portraits of Cheng Kee-Chee to see masterful applications of wet on wet painting.
Alla prima is the equivalent of wet on wet in oil painting. Aside from the name, alla prima differs slightly from its watercolour counterpart. It involves painting on top of layers of oil paint that have not completely dried. The technique allows textures to build on the canvas, rather than mixing and diffusing colours as we would see in watercolour.
Underpainting and glazing are also techniques that occur at the beginning and end of the oil painting process. Underpainting is the process of priming or painting a layer of neutral colour on the canvas prior to painting the subject. A painter may also choose to sketch the painting in a monochrome of the same base neutral before applying colour. Underpainting enhances the colour and depth of the final product.
Glazing is a technique that is used at the end of the painting process. You might want to think of it as sealing the finished product. It involves applying a coat of special transparent paint, which protects and enhances the colour underneath.
What Art Supplies Do You Need?
Determining which painting materials you will need for self practice, a course, or a workshop can feel arduous and a bit of a chore, especially when you are excited to start painting and flex your creative muscles ASAP. Having a tighter budget may make it more challenging to shop. This is a problem common to many artists: the stereotype of the “starving artist” does exist for a reason!
Planning your purchasing starts with picking your medium of choice. Knowing what kind of paint you plan to buy will determine how much you spend on the rest of your equipment. Having a sense of how much you plan to spend and what you will buy prior to entering an art store will prevent you from going over what you can afford: it’s surprisingly easy to rack up a large bill at an art store!
Always ask your instructor on which paints will be needed and which are optional. A general rule of thumb is to get a variety of five colours in the range you want, including white and black, so you can add shade and lighten the paint as needed.
Brushes and canvas are more difficult to decide on, as this will depend not only on your medium but what you are painting. We recommend getting three or four brushes at different widths: you will certainly need a small tipped brush for detailing and a flat, wide brush for applying large swaths of paint.
The type of canvas or paper you purchase will vary depending on whether you are using watercolour, acrylic, or oil paint. The most common surfaces are either sketchbooks, watercolour paper, or linen and cotton stretched over a wooden frame. Start developing your ideas on paper and transition to larger canvases as you produce your larger and more thought out work.
In many cases the school or studio will have art materials ready for you as part of the course or for an additional cost. If you want to have your own set up at home, an easel is a great investment if you have space to store equipment.
Art Classes and Workshops in Edmonton
Studying art and painting in Edmonton is a great activity given the city’s long, cold winters. It’s an engaging way to enjoy the great indoors in a cozy and social environment. If you’re a serious artist looking to pursue a Bachelor of Fine Arts or Art Certificate, have a look at the University of Alberta or MacEwan University.
For painting courses or visual arts workshops, numerous options exist for Edmonton locals. Look no further than a community centre program run by the City of Edmonton or local school board for continuing education classes. Or, you can register online for adult classes in a neighbourhood art or painting studio like the Paint Spot or The Artra Art School.
Looking to kickstart the career of a young artist? Find art instruction for preschoolers to teens at the Canvastone Children’s Art Studio or 4Cats, where you can introduce your kids to the joys of painting or beginning drawing. Art camps can also be a great alternative to daycare in the summer when school is out.
If you’re looking for someone to come to your home to work with your family, looking online for an experienced instructor is another option. Check out Superprof to find an instructor that may be able to give you a more personalized or online experience.
When spring and summer arrive, plein air painting or meetups can be an option for those who want to self-learn or prefer to approach painting at a lower cost. Plus, what could be more relaxing than painting from the comfort of your backyard or balcony with a glass of wine or snacks from your kitchen?
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