What puts you off learning to paint?

I think a lot of people want to start painting with oils, but they’re put off by what’s seems like a huge learning curve.

I put off starting to learn oil painting for years because I saw it as too complex and advanced, and I thought it would take years of study to learn to produce decent oil paintings. When I did start, I found many obstacles in my way.

Lack of good instructional painting books

When I first started trying to learn oil painting around 5 years ago (after painting in acrylics for the previous 5 years), I looked for books on the subject and couldn’t find anything that provided the type of guidance I was looking for. They were either too simplistic, or too vague and abstract. Even the one excellent book on painting I’ve bought in the last few years – Alla Prima – Everything I Know About Painting, by Richard Schmid – isn’t so much a ‘how to paint’ book, as an insight into the thought process of a master painter.

Formal art instruction hard to find, and expensive

I then started looking for actual classroom painting classes, and again came up short. Local classes looked less than impressive, and anything else would require a long journey. At one point I even considered moving to London to attend one of the art ateliers in the city, but eventually decided that was too drastic and I should look for online instruction.

I started an online atelier programme, which was supposed to mimic the experience of a real life atelier, but after a few weeks I found the process was far too drawn out and expensive, having spent weeks making colour charts and doing pencil drawings before I could even start working with paint. (Not that colour charts aren’t useful, but I could have been making those myself without paying for the privilege).

The main problem with ateliers is that the study follows a very rigid structure over a period of several years, starting with pencil and charcoal drawings, which you generally have to do for a year before starting monochrome paintings, and finally progressing to using colour.

I’m not saying this doesn’t work. Atelier style instruction produces outstandingly skilled artists, but it’s not for everyone. Some of us don’t have the desire or the patience to stick to such a rigid programme. Some of us just want to paint!

Too many ‘rules’

Another thing that put me off was constantly reading about certain rules and requirements put forth by painting purists, that seemed to make it almost impossible to begin learning to paint. For example:

  • You must paint from life, never from a photograph
  • You must use expensive, artist grade paint and brushes
  • You must have a studio with north light, or a specially lit studio space
  • You must use a lead-based primer to prime your canvas
  • You must use a linen painting surface
  • You must stretch your own canvases…

This list is enough to put anyone off.

In the end I basically continued to learn by a process of trial and error, interspersed with the odd instructional DVD that I found interesting, and gleaning certain useful techniques from various books or online articles.

I’m interested to know if anyone else is in the same situation as I was, and if so, what is putting you off from learning to paint with oils? Let me know in the comments, or feel free to send me an email about it.






  1. H Norman Avatar
    H Norman

    Do you teach/ do demos?

    1. Dan Avatar

      Hi Hazel. Not at the moment, but I’m considering making some instructional videos perhaps. Would you be interested?

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