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The Messy Middle: Bridging the Gap from Beginner to Better Painter

by | Feb 7, 2023 | Art Lessons | 0 comments

I saw this quote, and knew I needed to do an art lesson on it. Because there are two arcs to this story. As an artist, we progress. Also, each artwork does this, too. Luckily, the messy middle between starting and getting it somewhere we want lessens in length and awkwardness as our skills progress. 

Painting is a beautiful and expressive art form that can bring joy and inspiration to people’s lives. However, it can also be a challenging and intimidating journey to go from being a beginner to a great painter, or even an “okay” painter. The gap between starting and being a better painter can seem wide, but here are few strategies to help along the way!

Skill Building

First and foremost, it is important to understand that painting is a learned skill. No one is born with the ability to paint like a master, and it takes time, practice, and patience to improve. This is great news. We don’t have to be blessed by the painting fairy. It’s also crucial to remember that everyone progresses at their own pace and that it’s okay to make mistakes along the way. In fact, it is critical to make mistakes. Without them, you won’t learn.

Talent or Passion?

I hear a lot about “talent.” And, I’d rather have passion than talent any day of the week. While some of us may have more natural aptitude towards painting, that only gets us so far. We have to practice. And, practice means that we keep showing up. Even when we have made stinky paintings lately, or have “painter’s block”,  or even don’t think we should be allowed to have this much fun and we should be doing ‘real work’, etc.

Study Art and Artists

One of the most important steps in becoming a great painter is to study the works of other artists. Whether it’s through visiting art museums, looking at online galleries, or attending art classes, studying the work of other artists can help you understand the techniques and styles used by successful painters and give you inspiration for your own work. 

I like to curate Pinterest Boards with artworks that interest me. Getting all these visuals into one place really builds up a cohesive framework of my tastes and interests in paintings. And, honestly, this gave me a lot of insight into my own style. It suddenly felt like it had a place in the world that made sense. 


It is very important (and fun!) to practice regularly. Practice makes perfect better, and it is through repetitively creating artwork that you will be able to develop your own style and improve your technique. You can start by creating sketches, working on still lifes, and experimenting with different types of paint, brushes, and surfaces. If you don’t know what to paint, and just want to get started, don’t let that stop you! I have a 30 Day Painting Challenge that has 30 different painting prompts. Just choose one and start! 


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Another way to bridge the gap between starting and being a better painter is to seek feedback from others. Whether it’s from other artists, art teachers, or friends and family, feedback can help you see your work from a different perspective and give you new insights into your strengths and weaknesses. It can also help you understand what you need to work on to improve your skills or a specific artwork. 

Be careful that you seek feedback at the right time and from the right source. A hurtful comment from someone we respect can set us back years emotionally. If you want feedback, ask yourself why. Is it to improve your skills? If so, can you find someone with the skills you want to look at it?

Persistent not Perfect

Finally, it is essential to be persistent and not give up. Painting is a lifelong journey, and the gap between starting and being a great painter can be bridged with hard work, determination and FUN PRACTICE. Every single painter that ever lived had to start somewhere, and with each new painting, you will get closer to your goal of becoming a great painter. We need to make mistakes. Lots and lots of mistakes. Set down the idea of perfectionism. It doesn’t exist. It is just a bar that stands in your way. Think of each painting as an opportunity to grow your skills. Not all work we do makes it to the public’s eyes. Not all of it do we have to keep. 

Painting is a challenging and rewarding art form, and a willingness to learn and grow is what we need to walk through life as a painter. By studying the work of other artists, practicing regularly, seeking feedback, and being persistent, you can make the journey from beginner to better painter, and hopefully, one day a great painter. That’s what I hope to be. I know I am a lot better than when I started, and even better, I know that I still have a lot to learn. Enjoy the journey!