How I Learned to Paint

The other day I got an email from someone who wanted to know how I learned to paint and draw. She had been researching self-taught botanical artists and stumbled upon me. I regularly get emails with questions and requests for advice, but never one with quite this question. It really resonated with me. Seven-ish years ago I was in that same place. I desperately wanted to know "the secret" to becoming an artist. I had no idea where to begin.

watercolor, paint palette, color palette, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

How does a person who has no art background go about learning how to make art?

It's a good question and depending who you ask you'll get answers ranging from "it's not possible" to "follow these steps and you'll soon be rich and famous".

If I've learned anything on my own journey it's that 1. it's not impossible 2. there is no "secret" 3. it takes time and patience.

watercolor, paint palette, color palette, sketchbook, color swatches, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Perhaps that's a simplistic summary, but it does sum up my experience. Of course, everyone's experience is different, but learning anything takes time. And I truly believe that if you have a passion for something (even just an imagined something) you should embrace that passion.

One thing that I don't see a lot of in books or blogs or online courses is the acknowledgement of a learning curve. When you're first learning to walk you're not going to be able to race Florence Griffith-Joyner. If you're picking up a paintbrush for the first time what ends up on the page isn't going to look like something by Georgia O'Keefe.

watercolor, painting, learning to paint, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Analogies aside, except for a few select (gifted) individuals, first attempts at anything are going to look pathetic beside those of someone who's been honing their craft for years. That's just common sense. Your 1,000th attempt might still look pathetic viewed from certain perspectives. Learning never ends.

painting, watercolor, learning to paint, cyclamen, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

I'll say that again.

Learning never ends.

But let's go back to the beginning. How do you learn how to draw or paint?

One of the questions in the email was whether I'd learned from books. I remember being on the search for THE book when I was starting out. The one that would answer all my questions. The one that would make me into a painter. I emailed artists I admired asking for recommendations. I brought home piles of books from the library.

I LOVE books, but none of the books I consulted were THE book. Since then I've discovered even more beautiful and inspiring books, but in my opinion, none of them will turn you into a painter.

books, art books, inspiration, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

How do you learn how to paint?


Keep painting.

Paint some more.

painting, practice, botanical watercolors, process, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Yes, read all you can. Study techniques. Take classes. But reading or watching someone demonstrate a technique is not the same as putting brush to paper.

I teach classes on how to paint. I truly enjoy it. I want to encourage you and to share what I've learned, but by watching my classes you will not become a painter. No one's class will make you into a painter. Only YOU can make you into a painter.

I'm not trying to dissuade you from learning to make art, quite the contrary. If you have a nagging desire (even a secret whispered desire) to make art, do it. If your first paintings are bad, so what. Keep painting and be patient.

Art, like anything, takes practice.

Four years ago, after having been painting for three years I painted my first nasturtiums. I was happy with those paintings, though I still had a ways to go. Last week I was working on painting these:

watercolor, painting process, nasturtiums, botanical watercolor, Anne Butera

And the tea towel calendar I created from another recent nasturtium painting placed in Spoonflower's top 25 designs (thank you to everyone who voted for my design!!!).

watercolor, botanical watercolor, nasturtiums, 2018 Watercolor Tea Towel, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Art takes practice. Lots of practice.

But it doesn't have to hold you back. Be freed by that thought, not constrained by it. Let knowing that things take time release some of the pressure.

watercolor, paint palette, color palette, color mixing, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

A couple more thoughts before I close this post. In addition to practicing the movements of your pencil and brush, you'll need to practice your observation skills. In order to draw or paint a subject you need to be able to truly SEE it. Our brains are amazing. They make up missing information. They translate shapes into meaning. Sometimes, though, that translation means we don't fully experience the way something looks. How petals attach to a flower. The shape of a leaf. Where a shadow falls. If you want to paint or draw you need to see without your brain getting in the way. Observe shapes. Observe light. Observe color.

Pay attention and be curious.

And don't forget to have fun.

Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry, Sketches, pencil, sketchbook, drawing

How do you learn how to draw and paint?




Wishing you a beautiful and creative week.


  1. I love the sketch of 'little Anne!' Little did she know back then that she would be a much admired botanical artist! I remember your early days Anne when you put up paintings on your blog and how your work has matured and progressed over time. Your passion for watercolour shines through your work! :)

    1. Thank you, Simone. Your encouragement and kind words mean a lot to me!

  2. This is a beautiful post Anne. Great advice. I am still learning everyday. I love your sketch of yourself... great likeness!

    1. Thanks so much, Jaime.

      I think it's easy to forget that the learning never ends (and that it's a good thing!).

      Hope you've been doing well! Thanks for stopping by.

  3. What a nice summary of your path, Anne. The only way to become good at anything is to practice it, ideally every day. Your early art is charming and a bright glimmer of the skills you have now.

    1. Thank you, Sharon. Sometimes it really helps to look back and see how far we've come.

      So glad to have had you along on my journey. It's been fun to witness yours, too. :)

  4. Oh my, I loved this Anne. I passed this along to Atticus to read.
    Thank you!!!

    1. Thank you, Carla! And I hope Atticus will find it helpful, too. :)

  5. This is a wonderful post, Ann. I have seen you follow your own advice all these years and have seen you grow more and more as an artist. You have amazing patience and tenacity, plus a good measure of talent, and I really admire how beautifully you are able to render even the simplest flower with paint. You're a great example to all of us who follow you.


Post a Comment