Go back

5 Painting Styles All Art Lovers Must Know: Easy Beginner's Edition

Read in 4 minutes
Published on: 03 Nov 2022

Painting. A skill that blurs the lines between reality and fantasy. You get closer to touching your fantasies as you stroke the imaginations on the canvas. 

Painting. A skill that comes in various types. And if you love this art, you will love reading this blog about:

-Various painting styles.

-Which painting style would be perfect for you.

Learning about painting skills isn't only for those who want to learn how to paint. It's for everyone who wants to know painting better. Knowing various painting styles can help hone your knowledge if you are an ardent lover of the arts. Wouldn't you like to know what style of painting Monalisa follows? Or how about something more 20th century like the Guernica by Picasso?

Save your time. Learn this in as little as 1 minute.

We’ve got 500+ bite-sized content to help you learn the smarter way.

Download the app

Assuming that your answer is yes to the questions above, let's begin by acknowledging the 5 most popular types of painting styles.

Popular Types of Painting Styles

The painting style of a painter is the brand statement the artist wants to convey to the audience. Most artists pick a static painting style and stick to it in all art forms they create. You can try 100 art styles, but not every style can fit your personality. Few painters like Monet like to mix it up with various styles (His work showed impressionism and modern art styles). 
Nevertheless, it's best to learn about famous painting styles to understand the core of painting. Read the list below:

#1. Realism

Realism is closely related to renaissance art. That's because that's when this love affair began. The obsession started with the need to portray Greek gods realistically. The concept grew more when royalties like the Medici family favoured this art form heavily to the point of sponsoring realism art. What are the 4 main categories of the art style in realism? We have the answer below:

1. Naturalism: The artistic study of the human body. Example: The Libyan Sibyl (1508-1512) by Michelangelo.

The Libyan Sibyl KoolStories

2. Contrapposto: The fluid and life-like portrayal. This form gave the 'S' curve to figures, thus making them look more realistic. Example: Andrea Mantegna, St. Sebastian, c. 1470

Andrea Mantegna, St. Sebastian, c. 1470 koolstories

3. Chiaroscuro: Painting the light and dark. It involves creating contrasts for a 3D look. Example: Stag Hunt Mosaic, Gnosis, c. 300 BCE

Stag Hunt Mosaic, Gnosis, c. 300 BCE koolstories

4. Sfumato: The hazy effect blurs harsh lines for a more atmospheric effect. Example: Leonardo da Vinci's The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne, c. 1503

 Leonardo da Vinci's The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne koolstories

Most people consider the realism style of art the 'real art'. It depicts life in its closest actuality. Over the years, artists have moved from somewhat realistic paintings to utterly realistic to the point that you can't differentiate between a photograph and a painting. Plus, the mystery surrounding realism paintings has had art experts confounded for years. I mean, look at the Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci. Centuries of discussion and suspense remain unveiled to date.

#2. Impressionism

Impressionism spread its colours in the late 19th century, a time of conflict and awareness. When industrialisation and chaos held the world in shackles, several artistic minds found the freedom carved in impressionist art. The art style expressed itself in thin brush strokes, mostly depicting the passage of time. And don't be surprised when I tell you that impressionism faced its share of opposition from conventional French artists.

Out of all the different art styles to try, this one catches genuine curiosity in rebellions. So, in a way, impressionism is a painting style for rebels. The style got its name specifically after Claude Monet's Impression, Soleil levant. The style is all about unusual angles and creative brush strokes. The vibrant art style doesn't distort reality but, at the same time, paints it from unique angles. The biggest rules of this painting style? Refrain from using the colour black as much as possible. Want more impressionist art examples?

Gare Saint-Lazare (Monet, 1877)

The Card Players (Cezanne, 1890)

(In the picture) Luncheon at the Boating Lake (Renoir, 1880-1) 

Luncheon at the Boating Lake koolstories

#3. Abstract

Abstract art is the complete opposite of realistic art. This art style rejects the idea of painting within lines, following conventional textures, and giving traditional or "factual" shapes and colours to figures. Abstract art began unfolding in the 19th century. The fundamental essence of this art form was to describe science, technology, and philosophy. Hence, what you find in abstract art is as far from reality as possible. It could be a human, an animal, a scenery, or just an object. 

The real blossoming of abstract art began in the mid-20th century (approximately in the 1950s). That's when the Abstract Expressionist movement woke the world up. It was a major revolution that expressed freedom, spontaneity, and personal emotions through art. Until now, art had been more of a third-person view. Abstract art, perhaps, gave the world the idea of creating an autobiography on a canvas. Here are the best examples of abstract art:

Etoile Bleue, (Joan Miro, Peinture, 1927)

Relief (Ben Nicholson OM, 1934)

(In the picture) Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose (Mark Rothko, White Center, 1950)

Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose Koolstories

#4. Modernism

The modern man: a progeny mixed with science, politics, socialism, and globalisation. Drifting from the old Victorian ways, moral policing, and toxic optimism, modernist art focuses on the new reality. And the new "reality" delved into human psychology to represent the bare truth of the human mind. 

What's the difference between realism art style and modernism?

These are the two most popular art styles similar to each other but also not. Modernism shuns realism away. Realism has a more conservative approach, agreeing to see only the brighter aspects of reality. Modernism is more innovative in this aspect. It focuses on creating an identity beyond happy colours. It doesn't want to cease creativity for the sake of conventional boundaries. Instead, it allows the artist to express beyond barriers, even at the risk of being scandalous. Famous modernism-style paintings are:

The Old Guitarist (Pablo Picasso, 1904)

Country Road in Provence by Night (Vincent van Gogh, 1889)

(In picture) The Large Bathers (Paul Cézanne, 1898–1905)

The Large Bathers Koolstories
#5. Surrealism

Realism, modernism, and then comes surrealism. 

The three art style focus on three different aspects of reality: 

Realism: the optimistic reality

Modernism: the unfiltered reality

Surrealism: the subconscious reality

Some may call the subconscious reality a "fantasy" of sorts. But the movement deserves more credit than just being about a fantasy. It's more of a super-reality where the artist's dream and reality come together to form an absolute reality. 

Surrealistic art styles began right after World War I. The movement can also find its grasp within political ideologies like communism and anarchism. The art style strips the ordinary image of an object, exposing psychological truths that compel the audience to look beyond what they can see. Popular examples include:

The Persistence of Memory (Salvador Dalí, 1931)

The Treachery of Images (Rene Magritte, 1928)

(In picture) The Wounded Deer (Frida Kahlo, 1946)

The Wounded Deer Koolstories

So, which of these types of painting styles resonate with you the most? Let's help you pick a style through our next section. 

Different types of painting styles for you

1. Realism

Realistic style takes a lot of technical skills to produce a masterpiece. For instance, these are the skills you will need to master:


-Understanding of scale, dimensions, anatomy, and zoology

-Control of forms and dynamic range

-Knowledge of various colours and textures

-Clarity of illusions, perspectives, and compositions

-Understanding of light, shadows, brightness, darkness, and tone. 

If that is what you think suits your skill set and style, that's fabulous!

These are just the basic skills you will need as a painter.

However, as an artist, there's more you need. 

In this era, when photos do the job of realistic portrayal so perfectly, why would the audience need a realistic painting? A camera is way faster than a brush, so why would anyone want to exhibit a realistic painting that would take hours to build? What more does a painting offer that a camera doesn't?

We believe the answer to this question lies in depicting the scenes from the artist's eye. A photo captures what's in front of the lens. A painting can do more than that. A painting can give a visual challenge. There's a reason why the mystery behind Monalisa still captures the attention way more than any clicked picture. 

Realism can be incredible. Although, the fascination is all dependent on what the artist wants to depict and how. Realism has evolved from merely capturing a realist subject to expressing oneself. So, if you want to try realism, keep in mind that:

The reality should be yours, owned through art, twisted to express the vision you hold of the subject. 

2. Modernism 

In the age of social media, most people need to voice their opinions on several topics. It could be the socio-economic changes, cultural consciousness, or the youth dissenting from tradition. Modernism art style can be the perfect outlet to represent those feelings. Here are a set of skills you will need:


-Observing and depicting even the ugliest of realities.

-Ability to portray reality with constructive creation.

-Knowledge of golden proportions.

-Composition skills. 

As surprising as it may sound, the best of modernist art comes from the messiest minds. An artist in a wreck can be more creative than an artist in peace. Of course, that doesn't mean you invite chaos into your life. It only means if you are already facing turmoil in life, you can use it to your advantage. Just remember:

Most modernist artists used the disturbance in their minds to create the most beautiful chaos on the canvas. 

3. Impressionism

What you may love about this art style is that impressionism goes beyond ateliers. Artists depicting this style are trying to catch a glimpse of sunlight, and the vibrance makes the style so "bright". If you are looking to create something that will hold various perspectives, this art style is what you must go for. Bring to your art a whole lot of diversity and colour. Impression artists don't try to catch only a feeling or an expression. They try to catch a moment and paint timelessness. Skills you will need to be an impression artist:

-Use of short, loose, and thick brushstrokes.

-Understand how to capture the object rather than the subject.

-Create illusions and spontaneity.

-Influence of photography mixed with paint.

Impressionism is more like a retaliation to photography. Initially, artists believed that photography degraded the value of an artist's skills in producing reality. Hence, impression artists took the game up a notch by adding perceptions of reality rather than reality straightaway. Hence, you need to keep in mind that:

Depict an original art of YOUR version of reality. And, while doing so, avoid the colour black. 

4. Abstract 

There are 3 outcomes for the first-time watcher of abstract art:

You love it.

You hate it.

You don't understand it. 

And all these reactions are justified. See, abstract art is not your conventional art serving the meaning in an easily observational way. Instead, it's a paradox of sorts. The more real you make it, the more abstract it becomes. Can you show a crowd in a single face? Or can you show a single face in a crowd? That's how the perception of reality works in abstract art. Meaning reality is twisted and convulsed to the point that it's far from reality. And to do so, you need these skills:

-A deeper understanding of the balance of nature.

-An understanding of movement and patterns. 

-Knowledge about shadows, lights, textures, and colours.

-Creativity that sees beyond what the eyes see. 

Abstract art is provocative and playful. They are either a labyrinth created through your imagination or portals to lead to your imagination (or maybe, both). Either way, remember:

Keep the mystery in your art, and don't dread judgements. Abstract art is not meant to please everybody. 

5. Surrealism 

An artist smoking weed is as common as a businessman smoking cigarettes. It's just how the stereotypical image of these two professions has become. Even art submits to the stereotype through surrealism. Basically, it's artwork that looks like it's from another dimension. As if a fragment of a dream or a nightmare was taken and slapped on the canvas. 

Skills you need to surrealism may sound pretty bizarre (as bizarre as the art form itself), but that's how it works:

-An artistic understanding of anxiety and the psychological fear of the unknown.

-Relatability to claustrophobia and claustrophobic elements. 

-An in-depth knowledge of colour palettes and how to bring them together to create surrealism. 

-The oddest juxtaposition that goes against the nature of reality. 

-A knack for exploring the human subconscious mind. 

Surrealism is like waking up to a dream from a dream. It is beautiful yet sinister. It's like you wake up from a bad dream only to realise that you aren't. And you keep waking up without the dream ever ending.

Eventually, you don't understand if you are waking up from a dream into a dream or reality. 

Brushstrokes Await You

Such interesting concepts and so much to learn! But do you have the time? What if we tell you we have the right courses that will fit into your schedule? Our microcourses on painting, drawing, illustrations and more can help you learn. What's more, you can connect with our experts through one-to-one sessions and get knowledge first-hand. Explore the taste of bite-sized learning through KoolStories today. Join the app!

Learn from 100+ experts teaching in demand skills.

Easily book one-to-one sessions with an expert to get tailored learning.

Download KoolStories
Learn for FREE


How should I look at an art piece?

Ask yourself these questions every time you see a piece of art:

-When was it created?

-Who is the artist, and where are they from?

-What was happening around the artist when it was created?

-What is the subject of the art?

-What colours are prominent in the art piece?

-Does the art represent a movement?

-Which areas show high or low contrast?

-How long did the artist take to create it?

-Is there an underlying theme or message conveyed through the art?

-How does the art make you feel?

I have never painted before. Where do I even start?

You can take the following steps:

-Start by drawing rather than jumping straight to painting. Practise this skill for a few months.

-Get a pre-primed canvas to begin painting. Don't create your own canvas at first. 

-Get the tubes of the main colours (either oils or acrylics). You can get ivory black, titanium white, cobalt/ultramarine blue, cadmium, Venetian red, brown, yellow ochre or cadmium yellow, burnt umber, and permanent green light. 

-Start by painting simple objects like an apple or a pear. Always begin with simple still-life objects. Months later, you can proceed to complex sceneries and landscapes. 


Are there any good books to learn painting?

Reading about painting can help you hone your skills. Here are some books you can learn from:

-The Natural Way to Draw by Kimon Nicolaides

-Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards

-The Art of Drawing by Bernard Chaet of Yale University

-Cezanne's Compositions by Erle Loran

-Vision in Motion by Moholy-Nagy


How do I prevent wrinkles from occurring on my stretched canvas?

Here are some things you can do to avoid wrinkles:

-Get canvas from rolls rather than pre-folded canvas. 

-If you want to store the canvas, roll it around a cardboard or something cylindrical in shape.

-If you fold the canvas, don't put any weight on it. 

-You can use stretchers with staples found in the market. Just ensure that your canvas isn't wrapped too tight or too loose.