Brushes out! Whether you’re picking up an old hobby or starting as an absolute beginner, channeling your inner O’Keeffe could be what your brain craves. 

By Edited Suzanne Rust
Photo by @meghanmcneer

Why You Should Do It

Painting can strengthen memory, boost creativity and offer emotional release. “The movement of our hands when working on crafts such as painting activates large areas of our brain involved with action, planning and—when we like what we’ve created—satisfaction and pleasure. It can also help lower stress,” says Kelly Lambert, PhD, professor of behavioral neuroscience at the University of Richmond, Virginia. “Painting requires concentration, which may reorient anxiety-provoking thoughts. It may also help with problem solving, because when we do something that makes us change mental gears, we activate various neural networks, leading to new and creative ideas.” 

Related: Stretches You Can Do Anytime and Anyplace

How to Make It Happen

Finding time to create is often the biggest hurdle, even for professional artists. “Joining a class is the first step,” says John Wellington, a New York–based artist and teacher. “It helps define a time and location to focus on your craft. Once you feel more confident, setting up a small permanent work area in your home will help get you to the easel.” He also recommends keeping a sketchbook with you so that you can draw whenever and wherever inspiration hits. 

Colleges and universities across the country offer continuing ed classes for art students. Ask whether you can audit one to find the right fit. Many online courses and YouTube videos, all a quick Google search away, demonstrate painting techniques. Classes on start at around $25, has options beginning around $15, and offers free lessons.

You’ll also want to get inspired. The best way to appreciate art is to spend time looking at it, so head to museums. “Finding those styles that speak to you may help shape the direction your art takes,” says Wellington.

What You'll Need

Adopt a fearless approach, says Wellington. Be gentle with yourself as you learn, and allow for the struggle that’s part of achieving success. He suggests starting with a sketchbook, pencils and an eraser. “Drawing and observing from nature is the foundation of both representational and abstract art,” Wellington explains. 

When you’re ready to work in color, watercolors and gouache (opaque watercolor) are the simplest ways to begin. Pick up a selection of tube paints, watercolor brushes, a watercolor palette and sturdy paper (such as the Arches brand) that won’t warp too much when wet.

Oil painting is a bit more involved. It requires a general selection of colors, brushes, a palette and palette knife, plus “mediums,” such as linseed oil, to add to pigments to ease the flow of paints, cups to put them in and mineral spirits for cleanup. Oil painting is best done on canvas, which you can find in art supply stores.  

Staffers at those stores can guide you to the right supplies. Online sources, like Blick Art Materials, also offer helpful suggestions.