Painting Lesson - Basic Brush Techniques

There are four basic brush techniques in this lesson that are a good foundation to have in your repertoire of painting skills. There are many others in these lesson and far more beyond that. As you move along in your painting experience you find your own unique or variations on these standard ones. I have also selected four paintings by master painters that demonstrate each of these techniques in their work. You may find that some of these artists have used these techniques in a more sophisticated ways then the simple pure technique lesions presented here.

The four basic brush techniques are Gradient Blending, Wet into Wet, Stumbling, and Optical Mixing. These painting techniques are frequently used in painting today and have a wide range of application, from color transition of a sky, creating a texture in a fabric, of softening the edge of an object, etc.

These techniques are applicable to oil or acrylic, I have suggested using Cadmium Red and Cadmium Yellow to create these brush techniques, as it will be an easy and natural combination of colors to see the process develop as you are working, however any colors can be used. Use a sheet of a canvas for these types of exercise and draw a rectangular area of 5 x 7 inches for each technique. You more the likely will have to do each exercise a few times be for you begin to master the brush technique. Make sure you save your best effort for reference.

Gradient Blending

Blending two colors creating a gradient transition from one to another. This can be done with any brush, however a Fan bristle brush is best and is made for painting skis and these types of transition. The trick is to control what is called the curve, the center of the transition so that it is 50% Red and 50% yellow and each blended out to the pure 100% color.

Dradient Blending from Red to Yellow



Example of artist Tim Maguire using Gradient Blending

 Pablo Picasso "The Kiss," 1969

Tim Maguire Slits 94.27, 1994

Wet into Wet

Start by painting a solid field of yellow, while the field is still wet, paint strokes of red on top. Use the same size brush spaced out to create a gradient effect. Have the stronger red at the top with more and overlapping paint stokes and stronger yellow at the bottom by using less brush stokes and spacing them further apart. The stroke directions should appear random and not regimented or lined up in a formal pattern for this technique. A Round bristle brush was used for this example.

Dradient Blending from Red to Yellow



Example of artist Richard Diebenkorn using a Wet-Into-Wet technique.

Richard Diebenkorn Paintings

Richard Diebenkorn


In this lesson you can dip your brush into the paint push it strait into the canvas so that the bristles splay out, then the brush is rotated slightly creating a mottled effect. This is simply repeated keeping more red paint at the top and yellow at the bottom. You will need to experiment to see how the paint blends as you create the transition from red to yellow. Keep in mind that this is a mottled effect and not a smooth transition. A Flat bristle brush was used for this example, however you should experiment with various types of brushes.

Dradient Blending from Red to Yellow


Example of artist Joseph Mallord William Turner use of Wet-Into-Wet technique.


J. M. W. Turner Snowstorm 1842; Oil on canvas

Optical Color Mixing

Create evenly spaced strokes of pure color, randomly spaced. Start with the yellow paint and allow it to dry complexly (this cold take over night in the case of oils). Then with the same size brush, create the same randomly placed evenly spaced red brush strokes creating a optical mix of red and yellow that will appear orange from a distance. A round bristle brush was used in this example.

Dradient Blending from Red to Yellow

Example of artist Georges-Pierre Seurat use of Optical Color Mixing technique.

Georges-Pierre Seurat

Georges-Pierre Seurat Detail from Circus Sideshow