Everything I Ever Needed to Know I Learned Painting

The 4 Steps of the Creatively Fit Painting Process

By Whitney Freya | Posted 2/15/11 | Updated 4/16/23

I began my art career as a complete beginner. I even opened an art center without knowing what colors of paint to order for the painting class and NO formal art training. I learned quickly because I had been unexplainably inspired to catapult myself from a sales career to an art career. It did not make any sense in the "left brain" logical way, but in a "right brain" intuitive way it allowed me to be my own client, my own wanna-be artist, and I became a portal for this kind of insight into why we are all intended to make art, not in order to create product, but in order to create our lives, our world, and, I believe right now, our future.

What was revealed to me as I shattered my own limiting beliefs about what I was capable of creating, of painting, was that the painting process mirrors our life process. At each step of the way there is opportunity to gain invaluable insight into who we are, where we are going and why we are here.

There are four main steps to the Creatively Fit painting process, the process that evolved as I learned, and then taught, how to paint. Within each step of the painting, and the process as a whole, there are invaluable life lessons that are revealed. The beautiful thing about this approach is that as we learn these lessons on the canvas, in order to create a "successful" painting, we inherently learn them within ourselves so that when we go out into the art that is our lives, we are able to apply these same lessons. It happens automatically, just as when you strengthen muscles at the gym, your new strength is felt as you move outside of the gym.

Following are each of the four steps in the painting process and the insight into the ART that is your LIFE that can be learned along the way, as we "make our mark."

Painting Step #1: The Foundation

  • The FoundationAny hesitancy to "make your mark" is rooted in fear. Dig to the root of the fear and it will almost always be unfounded.

  • In this step you are simply starting "the ball rolling". This is where we "cast out our net." Don't think about the final outcome, just cover the blank canvas with color, maybe even add some texture. Don't judge, don't criticize. This is the brainstorming stage of painting. You are open to all possibilities at this stage.

  • In real life, the foundational steps of any creative activity is to "just do it", without worrying about the final result. Say you want a new job. The "foundation" of creating this change is to simply open up to the possibility. Replace all the excuses with reasons why you ARE going to find a new career. Then, make some phone calls to people who have made a similar change or who are in a career in which you are interested. Sign up for a class. Look at the want ads. Let people know you are looking for a new career. You are not going to quit your job tomorrow, you are just taking a step in that direction.

  • If you are thinking TOO much, and afraid to make the wrong mark, paint with your non-dominant hand. It takes all the pressure off!
Color Mixing
  • Color MixingWe need to learn that when opposite colors mix together we get "mud".

  • However, when small amounts of an opposite color are added into another we get an "earthy" shade of that color + we also get the color of SHADOW.

  • When we paint SHADOW colors on our painting it makes all the other colors that are not shadow colors look ILLUMINATED. So, in other words, to have illumination, we have to add SHADOW. It is like this in life. The shadow times are what teach us what we need to know to experience illumination. One can't exist without the other. When you are living your life as ART, you realize that it is necessary to have CONTRAST and that there must be both the DARK and the LIGHT areas of the painting.

Painting Step #2: The Outline

  • The OutlineThe outline is what narrows our focus and channels our painting energy in one direction.

  • The foundation layer is like DIVERGENT thinking. The outline is like CONVERGENT thinking.

  • Just like after the brainstorming, information gathering foundation step, the next step is to narrow down the options and learn more about fewer options.

  • The outline is what provides you with the structure for the creative painting process.

  • You can take the steps to paint your outline, but if you decide you would prefer another, or if you want to make changes, you can! Just because you outline a flower does not mean that you HAVE to paint a flower. IF you decide you really don't like it, you simply paint over it. Better to paint your outline and then another over it than to stay stuck (in fear) at the foundation stage.

  • For example, you are looking for a new career and you decide that career "A" is really the direction you want to go. But after talking to some people you realize that it is not the career for you. You don't say, "See, I will never find a new career!" You simply look for career "B" and start THAT outline.

  • Don't PUSH THROUGH your painting if you know the outline is not what you want. Don't keep painting if the bouquet of flowers bothers you, hoping that it will fix itself. Problems don't fix themselves; they just run deeper the longer we ignore them. So, make the change you need to feel good about the outline. Don't avoid that area that is "bothering you" and spend time adding more layers to other areas of the painting. Address the part that is bothering you. Even if you can consciously ignore it, your mind's eye (it's subconscious) knows.

  • For example: Say you are painting a vase of flowers. You outline everything and you like it fine, but the vase bothers you. It is not the right shape. But instead of changing it, you spend all your time painting the flowers and the background, adding layers and details to the flowers and ignoring the vase. Back up. Fix the vase. Paint a new outline and then paint over the old outline. Presto! It takes 5 seconds. Don't push through.

  • If it is an abstract painting (perfectly fine — some people don't want the structure of an actual object) you can still divide the paper up into different spaces — this provides the opportunities for more fields of color. It helps you to make the canvas more interesting.

  • If you are being really hard on yourself about your designs, paint multiple canvases at once so that you can feel success on at least some of the canvases. Likewise, if you are trying to create a major life change, keep your life balanced with other activities or interests, so you don't place an undue amount of pressure on yourself to force the change. To a certain extent you have to LET IT EVOLVE. This is reflective of the INTUITIVE ASPECT OF PAINTING.

Painting Step #3: Filling in the Spaces with Color

  • Filling in the SpacesAt this stage in the painting, I still encourage my students to stay present and not worry about the final image. STAY PRESENT.

  • We also want to let each of the layers peek through a bit. So when we are filling in our spaces over our foundation layer, let the brush run out of paint so that you can still see the green that is underneath or the red. That layer peeking through will make the painting more interesting, just as the layers of experience in our lives makes it more interesting. See the orange of the base layer showing through in this painting?

  • This is also a good time to let your intuition guide you in the painting process. When we paint intuitively, we are only PARTICIPATING in the evolution of the painting, not CONTROLLING it. We let our brush lightly skip across the canvas and touch down where we feel it is needed. We look to our palette and try to RECOGNIZE the next color we want to add, rather than worrying about selecting the right color. At this stage in any creative process, since we are not at the end — we are at the middle — we can still explore all the options boldly without worrying about the final outcome. In other words, in the "career search" you may still be investigating and going deeper learning about 2-3 careers, knowing that you are not picking just one yet. Look for the career, the color, the line INTUITIVELY. It is like recognizing ("Oh, yeah. This is the right color/career.) or remembering (of course, this is the color/career I have been heading towards all along.).

  • Create UNITY in your painting by repeating colors on your canvas. You can create unity in your life by recognizing what is important to you and making sure that what you value is inherent in your actions / career.

Painting Step #4: The Final Layer of Color

  • Final Layer of ColorChange the colors you don't like by painting over them and make the colors you DO like better by adding different shades of that color to the space. Just like in life, CHANGE what you don't like about your project. It is not finished yet. It is never too late to completely paint over a color you don't like or take a new angle. Maybe you have even scheduled an interview or accepted a new job, but your intuition is telling you it is wrong. Don't go through with it until you feel good about it. See how this vase of flowers changed its colors completely? BUT see how the colors from each layer showing through make it more interesting?

  • Add the finishing touches, the final details here. Don't miss out on the opportunity to create something really fabulous by stopping short. Look at the following two paintings. This one is FINE.


  • But this one is much more FUN!


  • Some of us have a hard time finishing our creative projects down to the last detail. I am one of them! It is more fun to move on to the next thing or just be done. But I have learned from painting that taking the time to add the final details makes everything more complete!

Why doesn't EVERYONE paint? Fear. Why doesn't EVERYONE live their fullest, truest, most authentic life? Fear. Overcome your fear of the canvas. Listen to it as you make your mark, step by step, and allow a new way of thinking about life sink into you. YOU are BOTH the art + the artist. We are artists at our core. It is our ability to create that makes us human. It is this ability that we all now must call on and summon up in order to meet the challenges that face us with optimism, compassion, innovation, and imagination!

Virtual Classes

Many people have reported that they learned more about painting and had more fun learning via online programs than in a traditional art class because they did not have to worry about comparing their work to those around them. That goes against what we commonly believe, but it is worthwhile insight. You can encourage yourself with this info and finally take the fear out of the blank canvas!

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