• Danica Thurber

Back to Basics: What do I need to start painting again?

Updated: May 14, 2020

So you want to start a new hobby, or pick up where you left off in... middle school. Some hobby adventurists think they gotta get all the latest and greatest materials before they can start. But I'm here to show you the few simple supplies you need.

After all, the less you need to get started, the less excuses there are to start ;)

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Contrary to popular belief, you don't need a huge supply of colors. I'm an artist, and I generally only stick to a few: red, blue, yellow, brown, white, black, and sometimes also a tube of green. Why just these? Because you can mix just about any other color or shade from these basic colors:

Purple = blue + red

Orange = red + yellow

Grey = black + white

... and so one. I add in a tube of green if I'm doing a natural landscape that requires a lot of green shades, just so I don't have to keep mixing it. Otherwise, you can make your own with this equation: green = blue + yellow.

As far as brands go, if you’re starting out a new hobby PLEASE don’t pick the special high priced ones! You need to feel free to experiment and “waste” a lot of paint. Getting several smaller and cheaper bottles of paint will help you feel better about the risks you’re taking. Just make sure the label says “acrylic paint” somewhere - don’t mistake it for tempera paint or oil paint.

*Bonus tip: Need to stop painting but got paint left on your palette? Cover your paint palette with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge - the paint should last another day or two!*


You also don’t need a ton of brushes in order to get started. I recommend going with a low-medium quality brush (which you can recognize by it’s low-medium price when you’re comparing in the brush aisle). Low quality brushes don’t have enough stiffness to paint details; high quality brushes will just get ruined.

There are several different types of brushes, depending on what paint you’re using. Buy the brushes labeled “acrylic” or “watercolor” (either works fine for me). If they’re not labeled for the type of paint, it’s likely that they’re fine to use.

What types/sizes? Buy 1-2 of each:

1 fan brushround brush - large (1/2”)round brush - medium (1/4 to 1/8”)round brush - detail (pick how small you want to try.)

*Quick note on brush care: Never leave a paint brush brush-side-down in a jar of water, not even for a second. It’s a quick way to ruin a brush! Instead, fold a paper towel into a rectangle and put it next to your water jar. When you need to wash your brush, give it a quick twirl in the water, then lay it flat on the paper towel. This’ll save so much time and money in the long-run!*


When just starting out in art, or when just jumping back in, I recommend going small. That’s because it’s easier and less intimidating to fill a small canvas than a larger one, and it’s also a lot cheaper (so you’ll feel ok just trying things, and not too much out in cash if/when they don’t work).

Pick up a few sampling of each and see what kind of surface you like best: a pack of 5x7” canvases, a pack of canvas paper, and a pack of 8x10” canvas boards. If you’re really trying to budget here, get everything else on the list except for canvases, and spend a week or so painting on recycled cardboard boxes (just tear them into rectangles) so you can figure out if canvas is worth investing in.


WOW you’re almost ready to start painting! There are just a few other things you’ll need, and I recommend using what’s around your house before you buy anything fancy.


  • a roll of paper towels

  • a glass cup you can get a little dirty (acrylic paint should wash right off)

  • a paper plate or an old a plastic tupperware lid to use as a palette (If you use a plastic lid, the paint might not come off this as easily. Best to use a lid that has lost it’s container.)


Acrylic paint is water-based and usually cleans up easily. However, some surfaces, like grainy wood, carpet, or light colored clothes, still take on the paint’s color. Be cautious and wear clothes you’re ok getting paint on. Cover your work surface with an old newspaper. Yu’ll thank yourself later.

What about easels?

You do not need to invest right away in a painter’s easel. Because you’re starting with small canvases, you can easily bend over a canvas while sitting at a table. Easels help painters see and use bigger canvases, so you don’t need one right now. However, if your pasture demands you need to paint more upright, you can find some effective and low-cost tabletop easels at your local craft store. Alternatively, google “DIY tabletop easels” to make your own - some tutorials even use old pizza boxes!

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