Specifically catering to beginners, this free painting in layers tutorial serves as a valuable resource for aspiring artists looking to enhance their skills and broaden their understanding of painting techniques. Through insightful guidance and step-by-step instructions, this tutorial elucidates the intricate techniques of painting in layers to achieve both depth and complexity in your artwork. Discover not just a mere list of art materials but a poetic invitation to explore the depths of your creativity.



Table protector – piece of plastic or cardboard.
Soft HB2 pencil.
1cm wide and smaller chisel tip nylon brush.
Some round tipped fine brushes.
Maybe a palette knife.
Scrap paper or sketchbook.
A5 240g – 300g heavy weight matt paper.
Paint – acrylic or gouache: red/pink, yellow, blue, black, white.
White plate or piece of glass or little plastic take-away containers as a palette.
2 x jars of water
Glue, scissors and a selection of paper or fabric if using collage.
Kitchen roll to clean up any mess or drips.

What to expect


Set aside at least an hour of painting time, plus set up and cleaning time. To begin with, I suggest working small (under A4 size) for achievable goals. Aim to work fast and freely on a few paintings at the same time.


Clear your mind of any preconceived ideas. Know that you don’t need to think while you’re painting because you will be using a different part of your brain, not the analysing part. You don’t have to be precious either because parts of the background painting will get completely obliterated by the foreground anyway. This teaches you to take risks and delay falling in love with your painting too quickly.


Keep painting even when you feel uncomfortable and the painting isn’t behaving as you want – observe your thoughts but know this is a normal part of the creative process.

Tips on mixing clean colours

Mix touches of darker colours into the lighter colours to make secondary colours – for example add a tiny tad of blue into the yellow to create light green. Make colours darker by adding small amounts of black. Make colours lighter by adding small amounts of colour to a sample of white.

clean paint brushes

Keep paint brushes really clean, use a clean brush for each colour to retain vivid hues. Don’t let brushes dry out with paint on them.

How to use colours

Lay down the light colours first because it’s harder to cover darker colours with light colours. Begin with yellows, then magenta and then reds and blues. When you have mixed a colour you like, use it on all the different paper you have ready. There’s no point wasting paint.

Layering Tutorial

Read on, as I break down the method into manageable steps, making it accessible for novices to grasp and implement in their own creative endeavours.

Creating the background or under painting

colourful under painting

Layer one

To begin painting backgrounds, lay out 2 or 3 pieces of paper. Work on them all simultaneously or one at a time. Use a 1 cm wide brush or larger and paint blocks of colours and or add collage. Cover the whole paper.

under painting

Layer two

When the first background layer is dry, add a few details with a smaller brush – loose lines, splashes, words, patterns and abstract marks. This is also a good time to use marker pen, pastel, print or stencils. Make sure you leave space for the background composition to breathe because there’s more to come.

Creating the foreground

On a scrap piece of paper or in your sketchbook, draw a quick scribble with a soft pencil. Keep turning the page around, adding some random lines or squiggles, until it reminds you of something. Bring out what you see, by adding basic elements and develop it roughly into whatever it wants to be – a face, a landscape, elements from an experience. Allow what wants to come through, just let it out without judging it. This is going to be the starting point of the image for your foreground, so keep it simple to begin with.

You may refer to reference material at this point, look things up to observe details of what you want to depict or just stick to your imagination and memory. You may practice drawing this content out a few times, to get it right or just keep it rough. You may also repeat this exercise and choose your favourite preliminary sketch you want to move forward with.


painting in layers, adding stencils

Layer three

Pick one of the backgrounds and the foreground. Depending what the foreground is, you can either cut the drawing out and sketch an outline of it over the background or copy the sketch lightly onto the background. Place the drawing with plenty of space around the edges. You could also place it asymmetrically if you like.

You may be tempted to do a strong outline of the shape in order to define the drawing from the background painting – instead try using contrast and complimentary colours to achieve the form.

To make the foreground content stands out, you are going to want to fill in some parts of the foreground drawing. You may need to block in some white areas as a base coat over the background, in order to achieve new bright colours. Remember dark cold colours stand back and warm light colour jump forwards – that’s also how you create volume!

under painting with leaves

Layer four

Keep looking and listening to what the painting needs, let it guide you. Build up the mark making by taking continuous tiny steps. You may decide to mask out out some of the background in order to bring the eye to rest on the parts of the painting you deem are working well – so areas are not fighting for attention but have harmony.

Go over the highlights so they pop and deepen the dark areas to add depth.

Tie the background and foreground together by applying light splashes and marks that cover both.

under painting with leaves

Creating distance and impartiality

Take a photo when you’re happy with the painting and look at your artwork on a screen, also try looking at it in a mirror. Leave the painting for a few hours and come back to it with fresh eyes to see if it needs any final touches.

If you are really not happy with it, start a new piece and keep this artwork in a folder, so you can return to see your creative progress.

Clean up

Wash brushes with washing up liquid and warm water – until they run clean. Wipe palettes and store art material in a nice box.


When you’re happy with your painting, frame it. By working in standard sizes you can buy ‘of the shelf’ frames and change the paintings in them, so you can see what all your paintings look like framed. Art becomes more alive when it is framed.

Classes with me

Take a look at my private painting classes where you get to dive into the realm of imagination and unlock the secrets of creating profound paintings. I have a passion for sharing my knowledge, I supply all the materials and guide you through this whole process. You can even paint directly onto canvas!

Buy me a coffee

Your financial support means the world to me. It’s not just about the resources; it’s a vote of confidence that truly fuels my creative fire.

When you give this painting tutorial a whirl, I’d love seeing what you come up with! Whether you’re a seasoned painter or just starting out, it’s important to share our artistic journeys, so we can witness the diverse interpretations and unique touches each person brings to their creations – let’s spread some creative joy together!