How to Paint

Course No. 7827
Professor Ricky Allman, MFA
University of Missouri–Kansas City
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Course No. 7827
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What Will You Learn?

  • How to use value, texture, color, perspective, and other tools to achieve amazing effects.
  • Explore both the technical and intuitive elements of painting.
  • Understand why color itself is less important than other components, like value, contrast, and context.
  • How to select brushes, surfaces, and other elements of painting and figure out which ones work for your style.
  • Expand your learning with our How to Paint Facebook group here.

Course Overview

Since the earliest days of human society, we have been painters. Lining ancient cave walls, the oldest known paintings in the world date back over 50,000 years. Despite the fact that painting is such an integral part of human civilization, many people feel intimidated by the medium. Perhaps the intimidation stems from the knowledge that some of the greatest works took years (or even a lifetime) to complete. Or maybe it’s the more technical aspects of painting that holds would-be artists back—the dozens of brush types, the unpronounceable pigments, the unfamiliar terms like chiaroscuro and grisaille. For these reasons and numerous others, painting can feel like an inaccessible art form. And yet, many people joyfully painted as children—who doesn’t smile when remembering the tactile thrill of fingerpainting or those little watercolor palettes of primary colors in elementary school?

Like drawing, creative writing, or musical performance, the ability to paint is a skill that can be learned and refined over time, by anyone. In the 24 lessons of How to Paint, taught by award-winning artist and professor Ricky Allman of the University of Missouri–Kansas City, you will get the art school experience from the very first demonstration. Not only will you learn how to select your tools and apply techniques, but you will also develop the visual skills and muscle memory that make painting an infinitely adaptable form of artistic expression. From understanding your painting surface and which brushes to use to utilizing reference images and learning the proper way to layer oil paint, you will join Professor Allman as he leads you step by step through hands-on demonstrations, with clear, illuminating explanations supported by numerous helpful graphics.

As you move through the lectures and follow Professor Allman’s tutorials, you will:

  • Become familiar with a variety of surfaces and discover how to choose what will work for you;
  • Learn how to use value, texture, color, perspective, and other tools to achieve amazing effects;
  • Compare and contrast working with oil paints and acrylic paints;
  • Explore both the technical and intuitive elements of painting;
  • Understand how to select subjects and compose elements; and
  • Look at different ways to approach painting still life, portraits, landscapes, and more.

Tools of the Trade

The sheer volume of implements and accessories available to a painter can be overwhelming. A variety of surfaces, easels, brushes, paints, pigments, thinners, mediums, and much more are widely available in a range of qualities and prices. So where do you start with so many choices? Professor Allman begins by helping you narrow your options from this plethora of materials so you can get started, beginning by looking at basic surfaces, the most essential brush types, and how to keep yourself from getting overwhelmed by limiting your color palette.

A crucial, often overlooked, aspect of painting is that painting is actually a very physical art form that requires the painter to learn new ways to move as well as new ways to see. To truly paint freely and with confidence, you must break certain habits and develop new ones. For example, since many of us are so used to writing, when you first pick up a brush to paint, you may be inclined to limit your motion to your hands. Painting, however, requires not just your fingers, but your wrist, elbow, and even shoulder to achieve the most expressive brushstrokes and to widen your visual field beyond the minute movements of your hands. Professor Allman shows you more than just how to approach the physical side of painting, including how to practice it regularly to build your skills, relax your approach, and enhance your repertoire of movements.

Other tools and techniques may be less tangible. Important to remember is that no painter works in a vacuum; thousands of painters have come before you. Their influence is not just inspiration, but also serves as a valuable tool for you to learn technique and to exercise your own skills. In the past, copying the work of masters was one of the primary ways apprentice artists learned their trade. While you will not copy other artists directly, these lectures feature a sampling of images from painters across the centuries. You will see items from nameless portraitists of the ancient world to the artists that have defined entire artistic movements, as well contemporary artists working today and pieces from Professor Allman’s own portfolio—all of which allow you to see technique in action and to enhance your appreciation of the painting tradition.

Master the Fundamentals

There are many techniques to master in painting that are specific to the medium, yet just as important are the visual tools that are intrinsic to visual art in general: value, composition, color theory, perspective, and more. Throughout the lessons, you will engage with—and continually refinehe foundational skills that will allow you to create dynamic images, from initial sketches all the way through to your finished piece.

You will begin your first forays into painting with acrylic paints and a few basic brushes, adding to your toolkit as you progress. After you have experimented with various techniques and have become comfortable with them, you will then move on to exploring the somewhat more challenging (though very rewarding) medium of oil paint, broadening both your range of tools and your repertoire of skills over the course of each lesson. Critcally important to the skill of painting is the ability to make artistic choices. Professor Allman walks you through the crucial decisions you will need to make that allow you to create the work that matches your vision.

Rules Are Meant to Be Broken

Before Picasso started rearranging his subjects into the experimental, two-dimensional abstractions of cubism he is best known for, he was a classically trained artist rooted in a realistic tradition. While it is true that you can start out painting in whatever manner or style you choose, it certainly helps to master the rules first—so you can break them with skill and confidence later.

As you follow along with his demonstrations, Professor Allman debunks some common misconceptions and reveals the immense range of possibilities you can discover through painting, exploring:

  • Why the Golden Ratio is not the only, and sometimes not the best, tool for composition;
  • When using a brush the “wrong” way—pushing paint rather than pulling it—can achieve unique (but hard to control) effects;
  • How a strong technical understanding of perspective can help create fantastical spaces in your work as well as realistic ones;
  • Why color itself is less important than other components, like value, contrast, and context; and
  • How surface texture can alter the visual experience of a painting, even though the viewer doesn’t actually “feel” the texture physically.

Join In an Illustrious Tradition

How to Paint immerses you in the painting process from start to finish, with step-by-step demonstrations in every lesson. Professor Allman’s years of experience as an artist and teacher enable him to provide the perfect introduction to an immense artistic tradition, infusing each session with passion and humor, so even the most technical and traditional methods become fun and approachable under his guidance. Though aimed primarily at beginners, this course offers an insider’s look at technique and offers methods and approaches that can help experienced painters elevate and expand existing skills as well.

By honing your observational skills and stretching your imaginative capacity, painting can quite literally help you see the world differently. Whether you work in oils or acrylics, favor realism or the abstract, or prefer landscape to still life, the tools and techniques you will learn can help you develop a wide range of skills that you can bring to any project or composition. Painters have been testing the boundaries and expanding the medium for thousands of years, creating an invaluable collection of resources that make it easier than ever for a new painter to pick up a brush and bring ideas to life. Now you can join that amazing tradition, too.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 32 minutes each
  • 1
    The Painter's Toolkit
    Begin by learning how to embrace the physicality, messiness, and freedom inherent in the earliest stages of a painting. Professor Allman demonstrates how to practice loose, dynamic paint strokes using your entire arm—not just your fingers and wrist—and also goes over some of the basic supplies you will use when starting out. x
  • 2
    Getting Started: Surfaces and Brushwork
    You have your (acrylic) paints and your brushes, now what? First, learn what kinds of surfaces are best for beginning painters and how to choose the one that works for you. Then, follow Professor Allman as he walks you through a demonstration on creating gradients, and get to know the kinds of brushes you will use to achieve different lines and effects. x
  • 3
    Fundamentals: Establishing Value
    Value—the spectrum of light and darkness in an image—is crucial to the way our brains translate images into meaning. See why understanding value is more important than understanding color, and develop your ability to pinpoint value differences in your subjects. Follow along with a demonstration on how to break an image down into its fundamental values. x
  • 4
    Fundamentals: Building Volume
    This lesson opens with a brief look at the rendering of three-dimensional forms using light and shadow, known as volume, and why it is easier to achieve than you might think, once you know how to look at the effects of light. Paint geometric objects using your new understanding of light sources, cast shadows versus form shadows, and reflective effects. x
  • 5
    Fundamentals: Basics of Color Theory
    Understanding color is about discerning the subtle differences in value, hue, and saturation. Professor Allman introduces practical color theory and shows you how to break colors down into a simple matrix so you can create the shades you need. Learn how to directly mix paints and the principles of optical mixing as you create your own 12-step color wheel and value scales. x
  • 6
    Fundamentals: Creating Color Palettes
    Why is color like musical notes? In this second look at color, learn how context and interaction is key, and why a limited palette of four or five colors can be surprisingly powerful. Create a quick painting from a monochrome reference image, using just four colors, while utilizing ratio, value, and temperature to do the heavy lifting of the piece. x
  • 7
    Fundamentals: Compositional Choices
    Step beyond the basics and explore broader elements of painting. Look at arrangement and composition, exploring ideas of symmetry, hierarchy, dynamics, and more. Discover why traditional approaches like the Golden Ratio aren't the only options for arranging your work, and end with a sketching session to explore how to plan your work before you start painting. x
  • 8
    Putting It All Together: A Simple Landscape
    Apply everything you have learned so far and paint a simple landscape with acrylic paints, based on a photographic reference. Professor Allman goes over all the tools you will use and leads you through the process of sketching, beginning with mapping major, medium, and small value areas and finishing with details. x
  • 9
    Creating Linear Perspective
    Like value and volume for objects, linear perspective will help you create the appearance of architectural space on a 2-D surface. Though it can be challenging for even experienced artists, the principles are actually fairly simple. Master elements of linear perspective and then put them into practice as you follow along with Professor Allman's demonstration. x
  • 10
    Creating Atmospheric Perspective
    Explore the ways you can create the illusion of large distances using the techniques of atmospheric perspective, including making objects more or less distinct and creating contrast between the foreground, middle ground, and background. Practice creating a grand sense of space with a simple landscape of hills and mountains. x
  • 11
    Putting It All Together: A Still Life
    Hone your observational skills and develop your personal creative perspective as you tackle a still life composition. Professor Allman's demonstration will help you bring together all the techniques you have learned so far while still allowing you to arrange your own subject and to make crucial decisions about value, proportion, and more. x
  • 12
    Working with Oils
    Oil paints have been the most popular painting medium since the European Renaissance. Transition from acrylics to the traditional realm of oil paints, exploring the many benefits—blending and transitions, texture, the rich pigments—while also learning how to deal with some of the more challenging aspects, such as varied drying times and toxicity. x
  • 13
    Traditional Oil Techniques: Grisaille
    Continue your foray into oil painting, starting with the versatile, monochromatic underpainting technique known as grisaille. Create an underpainting from a reference image, utilizing paint that has been thinned to create a smooth surface for the overpainting. After your underpainting is complete and dry, progress to adding thin, luminous layers of color. x
  • 14
    Working with Acrylics
    Return to acrylics to explore their advantages and disadvantages and how to use techniques that are particularly suited to them: glazing, sanding, and masking. Explore different mediums you can incorporate to slow drying time or change paint consistency, and watch Professor Allman as he begins work on a street scene in acrylics. x
  • 15
    Playing with Mediums
    If you don't touch paintings, why is surface texture so important? As it turns out, the visual surface quality of a painting can trigger the area of the brain that processes tactile sensations. Experiment with mediums you can incorporate into your acrylic paints to create a variety of textures, from high-shine glosses to gritty pumice to the watercolor-effect of absorbent ground. x
  • 16
    Painting Water and Clouds
    Dive into the challenging diversity of the natural world, starting with bodies of water and clouds. First, identify common elements and look closely to determine color temperature and value areas. Then, work from simple structure to finer details as you build up your painting. Finally, add shadows and highlights to capture shape and atmospheric conditions. x
  • 17
    Painting Trees and Bark
    Take advantage of the immense varietyies of trees to create natural compositions and experiment with various shapes and textures. Professor Allman leads you through a demonstration focused on building up different types of trees from basic shapes to foliage and bark texture, including techniques to suggest leaves and needles without excessive detail. x
  • 18
    Painting Rocks and Mountains
    It's not what you paint that makes an interesting work: It's how you paint it. Even something as mundane as a rock can be compelling; as you will see as you undertake a study of rocks using chromatic grays. Learn how to create shades of gray from complementary colors as Professor Allman captures the variety and complexity of stone in a simple landscape. x
  • 19
    Painting Light
    You have looked at the interaction of light and shadow, now broaden your look at the effect of light through the lens of the four main aspects you should know: type of light source, brightness, color, and direction. Professor Allman's demonstration focuses on several strategies for painting light using a candle as your source and subject. x
  • 20
    Painting Glass
    Engage with a subject that can intimidate even seasoned painters: glass. Learn how to focus on what can be seen through glass objects, rather than on the glass itself, to capture its unique properties. Undertake a simple glass still life, using highlights and shadows to suggest shape rather than outlining or blocking. x
  • 21
    Painting People
    In the age of instant photography, why paint portraits? Professor Allman discusses the amazing ability of portraits to capture truths about both the subject and the artist, as he introduces you to the proportions of the human face and then demonstrates how to build" your portrait in much the same way you have tackled previous subjects." x
  • 22
    Getting Creative: Composition
    Up to this point, Professor Allman has focused on the tools and techniques of representation. Now, turn your attention to the ways you as an artist can explore new ideas and techniques to tap into your own creativity. Consider how to find and use a variety of references and materials, closing with an exercise in painting using tape to explore the figure-ground relationship. x
  • 23
    Getting Creative: Surface and Texture
    Further stretch your creative horizons as you leave traditional tools behind and explore new materials and techniques. Featuring four different demonstrations, this lesson will show you how to utilize unique painting surfaces, paint with palette knives instead of brushes, incorporate other media into your paintings, and add collage to your repertoire. x
  • 24
    Getting Creative: Space and Dimension
    Conclude your lessons by freeing yourself from the boundaries of realistic space and, with some guidance from the work of M. C. Escher, use perspective in inventive ways. Learn how to let go of the constraints of realism and transform the two-dimensional surface of your painting into a space where your imagination can take flight. x

Lecture Titles

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What's Included

What Does Each Format Include?

Video DVD
Video Download Includes:
  • Ability to download 24 video lectures from your digital library
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
Video DVD
DVD Includes:
  • 24 lectures on 4 DVDs
  • 125-page printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
  • Closed captioning available

What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

Video DVD
Course Guidebook Details:
  • 125-page printed course guidebook
  • Supply List
  • Exercises and Tips
  • Relevant Artists

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Your professor

Ricky Allman

About Your Professor

Ricky Allman, MFA
University of Missouri–Kansas City
Ricky Allman is an Associate Professor of Painting and Drawing at the University of Missouri–Kansas City (UMKC). He received a bachelor of fine arts from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design and a master of fine arts with honors from the Rhode Island School of Design. Mr. Allman’s paintings often appear as landscapes, cityscapes, and psychological landscapes. Utilizing the geographic features from his...
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