Paintings don’t have to be made using a single technique or process.

There are so many kinds of painting techniques you may or may not have heard of, each with a unique way of communicating. This is a resource to help you break out of your comfort zone and use preparation techniques for that will help you determine which marks suit which areas of a painting.


This exercise was designed as a workshop within a figurative painting project in order to help students broaden their approach to mark making, it is suitable for any level, 1 to 4. There is also room to use it in a project that expects abstract or semi-abstract painting outcomes or as part of a workshop on broadening painting skills.

It was developed with the support of fantastic painter called Sally Taylor ( ) who uses gestural marks and very considered application of paint in her work. She would help students explore the different possibilities of communicating through paint and mark making in quite methodical ways. These would have a dramatic impact on the quality of the painting outcomes and students consistently achieved high grades on her courses.

The exercise

The exercise helps students consider how a range of mark making can impact on what a painting communicates. It attempts to break down the process of preparing to paint a figurative painting into a structured approach. Each step has a task assigned and goes through considering what the image says to the student, how to contextualise it, how others have employed mark making techniques to communicate similarly and how to use a range of techniques to create specific feelings in the viewer.

Using paint to say what you want

The image that you select to paint will have a meaning that it communicates to the audience. This part of a painting is called the Subject. Selecting the right kind of image subject will help you say what you want to the viewer, but there are other things to think about as well.

The way the image has been painted, the marks, the tones and textures will also have an impact. This part of the painting is called the Object. The object is the painting, it makes up the image that people see. If you think about it, there isnít really anything else in a painting except pigment on a surface, yet it is possible to say so many things through just paint. This exercise will help you understand how the way a subject is painted can change the way it communicates.

Task 1: Considering your own image

Find an image from which you want to paint. Put it in your sketchbook and think about the colours and textures. Make notes about different part of the images, perhaps use lines in much the same way as a mind-map to connect your notes to these parts of the image. Really break it down. In any given image there will be very different tones and textures, even if it is a close-up portrait or long distance landscape. Make as many notes as possible using descriptive and emotional language. Ask yourself if the parts of the image are chaotic, static, solid, smooth etc.

Task 2: Communication intentions

What your image says to you may be different to what it says to others. The kinds of marks and colours you use to paint the image will change what it communicates to the audience. Imagine your image painted in light watercolour and then compare this to the same image painted in blocky stencil shapes. It will be very different.

Now, think about what the image means to you. Make notes about why you were drawn to it, what does it remind you of, what was your initial reaction to it? Is it sad, happy, sterile, natural or any other feeling?

Not everyone will have the same feelings towards it, but the way you paint it could help them see the same as you do. It could narrow the gap between what you see in it and what they do. It could even change their minds about it altogether and help them see it in a different way. What you paint, won’t be exactly what you see. Make notes about the kinds of paint and mark making that you think the image deserves. What kinds of marks do you think would help you communicate your intentions?

Task 3: Contextualising your image

Are there any painters that have used marks to communicate in the way you want to? Find at least 3 artists that you think would help you produce the kind of painting. These should have used tones and textures in their work that are similar to the way you would like to create your painting. Discuss what the work communicates to you.

Put images of these in your sketchbook and make clear notes about the kinds of marks and colours that they have used. Think about the original image they may have come from and pay specific attention to any marks that you havenít tried before. Are there any marks that you think are unexpected or unusual? Have they made any marks that really make sense and draw attention to different parts of the image. Can you explain why the approach used by the artist has an impact on what the painting communicates?

Task 4: Speaking with marks

Many colours and textures make up an image to make it look natural. Within any image there will be many different textures and tones of colour. The task is to use paint in different ways experimentally in preparation to paint different parts of an image. Break your image down into at least 10 different parts based on tone and texture. Now try to reproduce these based on what you have learnt from looking at other artists. Apply these in lines across an A1 sheet of paper. Make sure that each line uses a different technique or process. Here are suggestions of the kinds of materials, techniques and processes you might use:



  1. Runny
  2. Mixed
  3. Thick
  4. Transparent
  5. Opaque
  6. Combined with media




  1. Dry Brush
  2. Drips & Runs
  3. Blots + Spray
  4. Layered & Glaze
  5. Wet on wet
  6. Sponging
  7. Impasto
  8. Scumbling
  9. Lifting
  10. Masking
  11. Stippling
  12. Losing
  13. Blurring
  14. Tonal




  1. Scratching
  2. Random
  3. Patterned
  4. Comb
  5. Brush
  6. Corrugated card
  7. Fingers
  8. Smearing
  9. Sgraffito


Task 5: Reflection and appropriateness

In order to make the most out of the preparatory work you have done, it is important you donít stop there. Really having a good think about the different colours and textures you have created and how they relate to the image you want to create will help you make critical judgments about which is the most appropriate. It is fine at this stage to show that some of your colours and lines work better than others. Write notes in pencil about each line on the A1 sheet:

  1. Explain what the colour and technique might be used for in your image.
  2. Can you think of one artist that has used the same techniques.
  3. What kind of feeling does it give out and does this help your image communicate in the way you want it to?


Daniel Freaker Daniel Freaker Educational Consultant, Painter, Writer, Designer