Are you thinking of applying to graduate school?

Whether you’re hoping to gain new skills or just need a break from the “real world,” we’re all equal on the application playing field. (Except when it comes to financial barriers, support structures, and your overall social and cultural capital. Lol. But what is this, a social justice piece?) We all owe our share of blood, sweat, and tears.

That’s where I come in. As a person who applied to graduate school just last year, I am now a certified expert. You’ll find that I am uniquely qualified to guide you through the process and can 1000% guarantee AT LEAST a 0% acceptance rate. You can’t get numbers like that anywhere.

So kick back while I reveal the inner workings of the graduate school application system: Sociology Ph.D. edition. This guide was created from real world data AND is mostly pictures. You can’t get that from GradCafe, can you?

The Art

When you embark on your grad app journey, you might think your goal is to get accepted somewhere. But don’t put that pressure on yourself. All you need to do right now is GET IT!

The following is a list of 10 easy steps to help you GET IT!


Step 1. Get pumped.

You’ve decided what you want to do with your life, to a certain extent. You’ll be going to school for the next few (or several) years. It’s going to be everything you’ve ever dreamed of.

applying to grad school comics: excited woman in a pink sweater imagining what graduate school will be like


Step 2. Get overwhelmed.

Okay, this is harder than you thought. Realize you have no real criteria. You just want to go somewhere good. And you know there should be faculty you want to work with. That seems clear enough until you start looking. How do you define “good” exactly? And do you really need to look through every single faculty member’s web page?

applying to grad school comics: woman at a table in front of a laptop looking frustrated


Step 3. Get help.

Connections are a thing. Your former professors know a lot of things. Conversations are good. Apparently you’re lucky that you can use websites and not microfiche. After some pointers, it’s back into the trenches for you.

applying to grad school comics: illustration of two women talking at a table. Woman facing us has two thought bubbles showing her true emotions


Step 4. Get choices.

You’re now a master at navigating sociology department websites. Except NYU. Theirs is confusing every single time. You have your top choices. Your list of schools is starting to mean something.  But let’s be honest, there are multiple lists, and Word docs, and excel spreadsheets. Organization is a farce.

applying to grad school comics: three simplified figures with a placards that represent different schools. The first school is a yes, the second a no, and the third simply has a question mark.


Step 5. Get worried.

That deadline is sooner than you thought. Did you ask for rec letters yet? You’d better hope that last professor says yes.

applying to grad school comics: woman sitting in front of a laptop looks stressed. Papers, notes and writing utensils litter the desk. The upper right corner reads "Dec 1" in green dripping font.


Step 6. Get to work.

Your letter writers want a draft of your personal statement? Let them know it’s going to messy af. Write that in a hurry. Then agonize over your CV. And statements. And the difference between a personal statement and a statement of purpose. And the arbitrary (lack of) standards between programs. Couldn’t they all have agreed on a standard definition, for your sake?

And that program asking for two statements? Who do they think they are? (A top school, that’s who.)

applying to grad school comics: woman in the center of an illustration mimics pose from the painting "the scream". Background is a green swirl with objects like papers and coffee in it.


Step 7. Get those first applications submitted!

Triumph at last! You feel a swelling sense of accomplishment followed by a creeping …concern. Its name is The Next Deadline. How much do you really need to tailor your statements to each school?

applying to grad school comics: happy woman in a silver gown occupies the center of the illustration surrounded by yellow sparkles. The background shows a "Submit" button being clicked with a computer mouse.


Step 8. Get to work overachiever.

You tell yourself this next round of applications will look even better than the first. You turn into an editing monster. But you really can’t tell if there’s a difference.

applying to grad school comics: woman sits in front of a laptop with fire for eyes and medusa-like hair flying in every direction


Step 9. Get over it.

The other deadlines rush up in no time. You submit your work rather uneventfully and suddenly the whole process is DONE. You feel a little empty. Grad school applications have drained you of everything. Promptly forget about them and move on with your new, application-free life.

applying to grad school comics: woman in a red sweater, glasses, and dark brown hair pulled back in a bun walks through a background resembling a child's illustration with grass, flowers, and an apple tree


Step 10: Get…Accepted?

React with shock when a school gets back to you far earlier than expected. Exclaim out loud that you’re not ready to find out yet! Then mash your finger against that screen immediately while holding your breath.

applying to grad school comics: the top of a smart phone screen shows that the user has received an email from "A University" regarding her admissions decision. In the foreground, a woman closes her eyes while reaching out to open the email on her phone.


Note from the Real Author

Hello everyone, Monica here.

Hope you enjoyed these illustrations. This was my real life at the end of last year. This is also my way of announcing that I’ll be heading to graduate school this fall. For the next 5 to 7 years, I’ll be attending a Sociology PhD program at Indiana University Bloomington.

I’m excited to finally be taking this next step, but don’t worry, you’ll still hear from me on this blog. Figuring out how much time I can dedicate to art and blogging in my first year of grad school will be an adventure. But nothing new.

Fitting art into the cracks is just part of any non-full-time artist‘s life. I’ve made my peace with it.

See you again next week,


Struggling through Art Practice: Reflections of a Sumi-e Beginner

After writing up my last post on taking a Sumi-e class, I was excited to do another at-home art session. As someone who hasn’t kept up a serious art practice since college, the idea of dedicating multiple hours to an art practice seemed a bit overwhelming. The last few years, I’ve done my art in short spontaneous bursts.

Recently, I spoke with a pastel artist at an art fair. I really liked her work and since I had a set of pastels at home, I thought I might give them another try. She recommended that I start by giving myself 3-hour blocks of time to work.

Woah, three hours? I thought to myself. I don’t have time for that. I’m constantly spinning my wheels writing and looking for more writing work; how can I just take three hours out of my work day?

Then I took that 7-hour Sumi-e class.

I’m not likely to ever spend 7 consecutive hours on Sumi-e ever again, but suddenly 3-hour sessions were feeling a lot more reasonable.

It’s funny how related experiences and pieces of information can come into your life at just the right time, in just the right combination. That’s serendipity, right? Because next I came across an article that mentioned that being busy doesn’t equate to productiveness. And boy do I understand that firsthand.

In short, all of these forces were telling me, do the art already. I can make time to do art for a few consecutive hours of my life without my freelance business falling apart.

But I still waited for Saturday.

Sumi-e Beginner title image

Sumi-e Beginner Strikes Again

Saturday morning I was ready. I excitedly took out my Sumi-e supplies, cut some paper, and ground my ink. And then…

I struggled.

I don’t know exactly what it was. Maybe everyone being at home on Saturday made the house feel too busy. Maybe it was too loud. Or I was distracted. Maybe I had my mind on other things, or maybe growth can’t always be linear.

Sure, we practice a skill and become better. And it seems like that growth is a steady, upwards path. But we forget about the outliers.

My first time doing Sumi-e at home went well. I was relaxed and easily drawing on what I’d learned, however imperfectly. I was happy with the majority of the work I produced.

sumi-e beginner 9 bamboo from first session

Naturally, I expected my second session to be even better. I made plans to try painting other subjects – something I’d attempted the first time, but only barely. Here are my failed attempts at Sumi-e succulents:

sumi-e beginner failed succulents

This time I’d do better. I’d warm with more bamboo and orchids and chrysanthemums.Then, using the Sumi-e strokes I knew, I’d try other stuff, like cats and scenery.

Only, I got stuck on the warm-ups. My bamboo looked really bad that Saturday. The simplest stroke, you know, the first one we’d learned with the pause, breath, pause thing?, I couldn’t even manage to get that right.

I moved on to orchids and chrysanthemums anyway, unsatisfied with my work. By the end of my session, I did make progress. And I did spend about three hours doing art, which I suppose was the goal, but I spent a lot of that time in a dissatisfied head space.


Well that’s a disappointing ending, you might be thinking. And we’re already at the conclusion, which isn’t supposed to present any new information, so that’s it, isn’t it?

In a way, that is it. Part of getting back into a regular art practice is me remembering that not every session is going to be amazing. I don’t like being a beginner. I’d rather be an expert. Right away. Being a beginner again is humbling and uncomfortable, two feelings that I want to be okay with.


But unhappy or ambivalent endings are no fun, so here’s one small victory. I’m getting better at Sumi-e succulents:

sumi-e beginner zebra succulents

Sumi-e: Japanese Ink Painting at the Bemis School of Art

Sometimes the most obvious blog topics slip my mind. Like writing about an art class I attended for my blog about art. I’ll pretend that was just my brain on summer vacation. But now it’s September and my mind’s back on track (I hope).

At the end of August, the Fine Arts Center hosted visiting artists Tei Kobayashi and Sensou Miyajima. They taught several classes through Bemis School of Art, gave an artist talk, and have two on-going exhibitions in Colorado.

The Instructors

Tei Kobayashi was born in the US but currently lives in Japan. She received her undergraduate degree at Colorado College and went on to study Taoism under masters including Gia Fu Feng, and both Chinese and Japanese ink painting. Tei frequently visits Denver, her home base.

Sensou Miyajima is a calligraphy master. Unfortunately, I don’t know as much about her and couldn’t dig up a biography in English. I only took one of Tei’s classes, but Sensou was also there to help us out and was lovely.

Sumi-e: Japanese Ink Painting

The class I took was Sumi-e or Japanese ink painting. There were also classes on Shodo (or Japanese calligraphy, taught by Sensou Miyajima) and on combining Sumi-e and Shodo. The culminating class then took both Sumi-e and Shodo and mixed in ceramics. Since my class was the first in the series, I met a few lucky souls who planned to take all four courses.

Tei packed so much into just one class that I can’t imagine how much I’d have learned from taking all four.

Sumi-e Japanese Ink Painting

Why Japanese Ink Painting?

This series of classes caught my eye when they mentioned ink grinding. When my mom was a kid, she excelled at calligraphy and even when to a competition to represent her school. Whenever she tells me this story, she speaks of grinding ink on a stone. Probably like you, I had no idea what this meant.

Then I spent two years in Korea…and never learned a thing about Korean ink painting or calligraphy. It’s one of my biggest regrets. But now, here in this catalog, was a class on Japanese ink painting where we’d be grinding our own ink. This had to have some similarities, right? In any case, I love pen and ink, and I like painting, so I was going to make it to this class.

Heading Out like a Normal Person

The Sumi-e class was on a Wednesday, from 9 am to 4 pm. That’s like a full day of school. Since I’m a freelance writer and haven’t attended any 7-hour-long scheduled events in a long while, this was a bit of a shock to my system.

I packed myself a lunch and headed out, missing the worst of the morning commute traffic and weaving around the perpetual road construction sites. An employee at the center welcomed me with a parking pass – good because I didn’t remember how that worked – and followed her instructions to my classroom.

Learning New Materials

Sumi-e Japanese ink painting supplies

I found the room a little over half full, with neat stations set up for each attendee. We each received several sheets of rice paper atop a sheet of black felt, a decorative rock that held the paper down, two new brushes, an ink stone, a tiny wooden box, and a rolled up bamboo type thing.

Sumi-e Japanese ink painting ink blockThe tiny wooden box turned out to be a block of ink, and the bamboo thing was roll-up paintbrush holder.


After introductions, we got started.


Our first task was to grind our ink. It was a slow meditative practice, except that after watching Sensou grind extra ink for a demonstration, you realized that ink grinding didn’t have to be that slow.


Lots and Lots of Bamboo

Once we had enough ink, we began to paint. First subject: bamboo. We’d go through the four paragons: bamboo, orchid, plum, and pine. We also did chrysanthemum though, so I’m not sure which is the odd one out. In any case, we spent the entire morning on bamboo.

Bamboo is the simplest paragon and teaches you all the basic strokes. And the strokes were important. The process of Sumi-e takes just as much practice as producing the end result.

First there was the bamboo stalk, which required movement from the entire body, or at least the whole arm. I was repeatedly corrected and told not to draw or paint – no wrist movement, no flicking the brush. Stay with it the whole way.

The phrase we used to remember the process was “pause, breath, pause.” It took a lot of messing up and repeated corrections for me to start getting it right. I had several little epiphanies along the way – oooh right,  a bamboo segments are skinnier in the center! They were like dumbed down light bulb moments; things that should have been obvious or that Tei had already explained, but it took practice these things to actually click.

And that was just the bamboo stalk. Then we moved to the nodes, super thin lines that feathered across each segment of bamboo stalk, and then bamboo leaves – which took a surprising amount of time to get used to painting.

After a lunch break, we moved on to the other paragons. Since we were running low on time – we still had to complete a final piece and a seal – Tei asked us to focus on the paragon we wanted to learn most. I watched the demonstrations for chrysanthemum and orchid but decided to focus on plum.

Here’s my final piece, complete with crooked hand-carved seal. At least Sensou thought the seal was cute.

Sumi-e Japanese ink painting final plum painting with red background

Fortunately, I tackled the final piece early and had time to try orchids and chrysanthemum.

Something about willingly attending a 7-hour class makes you feel closer to the people in the room. It’s probably just the amount of time we spent together. We celebrated our final paintings, took a group photo, hugged Tei, and left Sensou with our heartfelt thanks.


Bonus Session:

Sumi-e Japanese ink painting at home ink stone and brush

I had an ink painting session at home a week later, using heavyweight drawing paper. I ended up doing a slew of artist trading cards and ran out of surfaces to paint on.

Sumi-e Japanese ink painting at home paintings

With no teacher over my shoulder I was free to paint any way I wanted, but that felt like cheating. Besides, the paintings didn’t look as good when I went rogue. So I continued to repeat to myself, “pause, breath, pause.”


Current Exhibitions

You can still see the work of Tei Kobayashi and Sensou Miyajima in Colorado Springs and Boulder (and probably Denver somewhere, but I don’t know where).

Colorado Springs: Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center Bemis Gallery, at Colorado College until December 30th

Boulder: University of Colorado, Norlin library until October 27th

Learn How to Art: What is Watercolor?

I LOVE watercolor. It’s a type of paint that I’ve always been drawn to: light, delicate, and detailed, with the painting origin’s – water –  clearly visible. It’s fascinating that watercolorists can achieve such a wide variety of effects by manipulating pigments with water.

Like my other favorite medium, scratchboard, watercolor can be unforgiving and doesn’t look kindly upon mistakes. It has a reputation as the hardest type of painting to master, but in a way, it’s also the most accessible paint. All you need to do is add water.

What is Watercolor paint


What is Watercolor Paint?

Watercolors might be the oldest form of paint in existence. Some scholars suggest that Paleolithic cave paintings in Europe may have been done with a medium similar to watercolor.

Watercolor is a water-soluble paint that has pigments held together by gum, which then dissolves in water, leaving only the pigments when dried.

It’s a light paint that leaves transparent colors. One benefit, or skill of watercolor, depending on how you look at it, is the ability to work with the white of the paper you use. Unlike other paints, there’s no need to completely cover your painting surface, especially if you want to preserve bright whites in your work.

What is Watercolor Backyard Shed painting
One of my first from an independent study on watercolor

The Many Forms of Watercolor

Watercolor is a versatile paint, both in the way you can use it and the forms it takes.

You can find watercolors in tubes, liquid, or pan sets. However, water-soluble crayons and watercolor pencils  are two unique forms of this paint. You can’t use crayons or pencils in the same ways regular paints, but they contain the same water-soluble pigments and can closely imitate the appearance of watercolor paint.

There are a few interesting sets out there too, like this watercolor wheel set that I really want to try. It looks perfect for painting outdoors.

Or this brush pen + watercolor combination travel kit that makes paint feel a little more like calligraphy or inking.

Watercolor pans or cakes refer to the rectangular watercolor sets you probably tried as a kid. Once paint cakes were revolutionary, but today most professionals use highly condensed watercolors that come in metal tubes. They look very similar to small tubes of acrylic or oil paint.

You only need to mix a little paint with water to get rich colors. But you aren’t quite finished after you’ve purchased the paint. Some other components you need or might want are:

  • Brushes
  • Watercolor paper
  • Painter’s tape or a weak masking tape
  • Gum tape
  • Masking fluid

Of course, don’t forget a palette of some form and paper towels or rags – unless you have many, many brushes, you’ll need to clean and dry brushes in between colors.



Fortunately, brushes are usually labeled “watercolor” if they’re suitable for this paint.

You can choose either natural or synthetic brushes for watercolor. The cheapest brushes you’ll see are probably synthetic, created to imitate the texture and durability of natural hair brushes.

The best quality you can go for are Kolinsky sable brushes. They’re actually made from the hair of a weasel native to Russia. They’re also the most expensive.

Other sable brushes really do use the hairs of a sable. These brushes are still excellent quality. Be aware that some brushes use a synthetic sable mix.

Squirrel, ox, goat, and pony hair brushes are also good quality, but don’t retain their shape as well as sable. They’re well-suited for flat, wide brushes, not fine points.

What is Watercolor palette and brush
A simple, synthetic, student-grade brush, size 6 round

Don’t Underestimate the Paper

The paper you choose for a watercolor painting is very important. Not only because you’ll mostly be seeing the white of the paper in your finished artwork, but because your paper needs the ability to hold water without wrinkling.

Regular drawing paper will become wrinkled and warped when you apply water. Watercolor paper is thick and “pressed” which helps it withstand moisture. You can also “stretch” your paper before painting on it to prevent warping. I’ll go into stretching a bit later.

When shopping for watercolor paper, you might see paper labeled with something like “300 lb cold-press.”

What? I was super confused when I first started shopping for watercolor paper.

Paper technicalities

There are three types of watercolor paper, but the first two are the most common.

  • Hot-pressed
  • Cold-pressed
  • Rough

These features refer to the paper’s texture.

Hot press paper has the smoothest texture. It dries the quickest and makes it easier to paint wide, even layers of color.

Cold press paper has some tooth or texture to it. When you think of watercolor paper, cold press is mostly likely what comes to mind since it’s the most commonly used.

Rough watercolor paper is exactly what it sounds like, and has even more texture than cold-pressed paper. The finished painting might have a grainy look to it.



Each paper is also labeled with a weight, which refers to how much one ream of paper (usually 500 sheets) would weigh. The higher the pounds, the better quality the paper.

Standard watercolor paper weights are 90 lb, 140 lb, and 300 lb, but there are other weights between and beyond this range. Papers below 300 lb should be stretched to avoid warping.


Stretching Your Paper

To keep your paper smooth while you’re painting, it’s a good idea to stretch your paper beforehand. You stretch watercolor paper by first soaking it. There are two ways to soak your paper.


A. Completely submerge your paper in a pan, sink or bathtub for 5 to 10 minutes.

Lift your paper out of the water, letting the water drip off. Then place it on a flat surface, like a drawing board or panel, and smooth it out using a sponge. Blot out any excess water.


B. Place your paper on a flat surface, then use a large brush or sponge to evenly wet the paper. Then flip the paper over and repeat on the back side.

Then secure the edges of your paper to your flat surface and let it dry. Tape is the most common method, especially gummed tape, but some artists use staples.

The next time you apply water, your paper will have already been stretched out so it shouldn’t warp.


For my classes, I’d always use Strathmore’s student grade paper (140lb cold-press), but they have a nicer professional-grade papers too. Stonehenge and Arches were the paper brands spoken the most highly of by my professors.


Keep the whites

With how unpredictable water can be, it gets difficult to preserve white space in watercolor works. You can’t always create the crisp lines you can with acrylic or tempera.

Masking Fluid solves this problem. You apply masking fluid before you begin painting, so any areas you want to keep white are preserved. You can either do this for areas you want to be white or other colors that you want to keep distinct from the rest of your work.

Once you’re done painting, you can simply pull the masking fluid off.

If you’re not sure you really need masking fluid, you can try a household substitute first: rubber cement. Rubber cement might not come off the page as neatly as masking fluid, but it’ll give you a feel for what this technique is like.

What is Watercolor painted doors
Second from the left: A door I painted with watercolor and gouache.

Required Work

It’s a good idea to make a color chart when you get a new set of watercolors, so you know what the colors will look like. You can’t see exactly what the colors are like from the printed color on the tube, like you might with acrylic or oil. A light wash will look different than wet on wet techniques or drops?

You should also experiment with different techniques.

A color grid is another way to test your colors and learn how you can create new colors by layering them.

What is Watercolor Door closeup
My roommate was just as baffled as you might be, and now I am too. Why DID I paint this door?

Watercolor techniques

There are several techniques watercolor techniques out there, and this is only the most basic list. If you’re just getting started with watercolor, you should definitely try these techniques to learn the extent of what you can achieve with watercolor.

  • Wet on dry – just regular painting
  • Wet on wet – wet paper causes the paint to “feather” out
  • Dry on wet – creates a lighter type of feathering
  • Dry brush – rough, textured look that shows off the brush bristles
  • Salt – creates snowflake-like designs when sprinkled onto wet paint

Try experimenting with other types of material to use with watercolor. One fun idea that’s gained recent popularity is using instant coffee to paint like watercolor. Since coffee will only give you brown tones, you could experiment by adding colors with paint.

Well-Known Watercolor Works


  • Artist has full control over opacity
  • Transparent paints create interesting layers
  • Works with the white of the paper
  • Wide variety of techniques
  • Few materials needed
  • Dries quickly
  • Easy clean-up


  • Known as the most difficult to master
  • Water can be hard to control
  • Hard to cover up mistakes

Best for:

  • Quick painting sessions
  • Sable, squirrel hair, or synthetic brushes
  • Combining with other media, such as pencil, pen, gouache


More Learn How to Art posts:

 Learn How to Art: What is Oil Paint? 

Learn How to Art: What is Acrylic Paint?

Learn How to Art: What is Tempera Paint?

Learn How to Art: What is Tempera Paint?

Despite being lesser known today, tempera has a longer history than oil or acrylic paints.

Monks in the Middle Ages used tempera paint for illustrated manuscripts like the Book of Kells. Frescos (think of the Sistine Chapel) can also incorporate tempera paint. Oil paints hadn’t been invented yet.

FYI, this post includes affiliate links to Blick Art supplies, which just means that if you make a purchase through a Blick link in this post, I’ll receive a small commission. Affiliate links will never affect the price you pay.


What is Tempera Paint?

what is tempera paint acrylic

Tempera is a permanent, water-soluble paint mixed with an organic medium. In the past, painters used egg yolk as the medium, which is why you might have heard of “egg tempura.”

Egg yolk-based paint dries into a matte sheen.

Today, tempera paint manufacturers often substitute egg yolk for other glutinous mediums. But to keep the paint non-toxic, manufacturers still stick with organic material.

Keepin’ it Organic

Organic material may be non-toxic, but this also means it will spoil over time. Just as it’s easy to tell when an egg has gone bad, you’ll know if your tempera paint has spoiled from the smell.

Fortunately, only liquid tempera is perishable. Once the paint has cured, tempera lasts for a very long time. Curing is different from drying. Once all the paint solvent has dissolved and only the coating or pigment is left, the paint is cured.

Like any paint, it’s best to store tempera in a cool, dry place and make sure the lid or cap is always secured. You should also avoid putting used paint back into its original container since it’s already been exposed to air.


Famous Tempera Artists Who Used Tempera


The Real Stuff

The original tempera paints are available today as “egg tempera.” Egg tempera imitates the original egg yolk-based paint that the masters used. (I’m sure there are differences, but I’m not an art historian so these details are beyond me.)

Much of the confusion around tempera paint comes from the variety of paints labeled “tempera.” Most people know tempera as a kids’ poster paint. I’ll get into that later, but first I’ll focus on the benefits of using the original “egg tempera” paint.


Fast drying

Tempera paint dries quickly, posing the same conveniences and challenges of acrylic painting. Achieving a smooth, blended look can be tricky.

You’ll also need to get used to mixing your colors quickly. You won’t have the luxury of spending as long as you want to perfect your shades and tints like with oils.

Even though tempera dries quickly, the process for layering paint is more like oil. Each layer of paint needs time to dry and cure before you apply more paint on top.


Color, Color, Color!

If the color changing properties of acrylic frustrate you, you’ll appreciate tempera, which has no notable color changes in its lifespan.

Tempera doesn’t yellow over time like oil. The color doesn’t change as it dries, like acrylic. Nor it does turn more transparent over time, something I didn’t even know could happen to paintings.


This One’s for You, DIY-ers

If you have any interest in creating your own paints, tempera is a perfect choice. The ingredients are very simple ingredients and, with the exception of pigments, you can find them all at home.

You’ll need an egg, powdered pigments, and water. The Society of Tempera Painters has a quick guide to get you started.

The only drawback is that you can’t make large batches. Only create as much paint as you’ll need for that day, otherwise, your homemade tempera paint will start to smell.


what is tempera paint brushesThe Cracks in the Facade

Besides being perishable, tempera paint may be starting to sound pretty good. But it has another challenge that you’ll need to address.


If you fooled around with tempera paints in your youth, you might remember how the paint would get kind of dusty as it dried and start to crack. To be honest, I thought this was pretty cool as a kid. I remember crinkling the paper on purpose to get the paint to crack.  But I wasn’t losing any masterpieces.

When it dries, tempera paint can feel brittle and chalky. To prevent cracking, you need to choose the right painting surface and monitor your paint’s thickness.

Picky on the Surface

Tempera paint requires a rigid surface. If you apply tempera to a thin, flexible material, you face a high chance of flaking and cracking. Painting on paper spells nearly certain doom for your painting unless you’re intentionally looking for cracks. Even painting on canvas can result in cracks and flakes.

Of course, there are artists who make tempera on paper work. They might do some extra priming or have a super secret technique. But if it’s your first time using tempera, I’d recommend a wooden board or panel primed with gesso.

Layer Thickness

Tempera also requires thin layers of paint. It’s very different from oil in this respect, so if you’re used to oil painting techniques, tempera will require some adjustment. Tempera becomes brittle as it dries, making it unable to support thick layers.

It’s not suited for impasto (applying paint directly from the tube), knife painting, or thick, textured strokes. Instead, you’ll need to build up thin layers to avoid cracking.


Tempera Paint: The Child’s Medium

The most well-known type of tempera paint is probably poster paint. You’ll find this paint at nearly any big box store in the kids’ arts and crafts section.

Tempera paint is a popular choice as a kids’ paint because it’s non-toxic, very fluid and able to cover a lot of ground, cheap, and washable.

Tempera’s organic material makes it safe for kids, even if when ingested. Of course, I wouldn’t encourage any paint consumption.

Although the paint was traditionally made with eggs, many manufacturers who produce child tempera paint today use a substitute. So almost any tempera poster paint you find will most likely be egg-free and it’s safe for children with egg allergies.

Tempera paint works well for both crafts and finger painting.

What’s the difference between finger paint and tempera paint?

Common finger paints are non-toxic and may use a special formula with extra benefits. Some might claim that they don’t stain your fingers or fingernails. Others might include moisturizing agents to prevent your skin from drying out. But I’m not up to date on the latest finger paint technology, so I couldn’t verify any of these claims.

But tempera paint is just as safe and convenient for kids as finger paint. Tempera also has the benefit of being more versatile. Use it for regular painting or the finger variety.

Realistically, there probably isn’t much difference between a paint like this Crayola Finger Paint and a Washable Kids’ Tempera Paint. The Crayola does claim that it will not crack or rub off a surface, which if true would be a benefit over tempera. Unless your kids like the cracked paint look. Which they might.


Why Use Tempera Paint over Acrylic?

People tend to be more familiar with acrylic than tempera. So what’s the verdict? Is one better than the other? The answer is either “not particularly” or “it depends.”

Acrylic might be easier to use. It does let you use a wide variety of techniques, including thick and textured layers.

Tempera has a color advantage over both acrylic and oil paints. While some might say that oil paints give a richer color – okay, I certainly have that impression – there’s something nice about the consistency of tempera paint. The colors remain pretty much exactly as you placed them onto the surface. But know that you’ll need to use a high-quality egg tempera paint to get this color quality.

When done correctly – on a rigid surface and with thin layers – tempera has a nicer finish than acrylic, and looks less plastic-like. But if you want to paint on unconventional surfaces, acrylic might be the better choice.

In the end, it depends on what kind of painting you want to do.


  • Color stays consistent
  • Smooth, matte finish
  • Fast-drying
  • Permanent
  • Non-toxic


  • Perishable in liquid form
  • Only thin layers – no thick or textured painting techniques
  • Prone to cracking and flaking
  • Needs a rigid surface
  • Cheap poster paint variety is the most common

Best for:

  • DIY paint-making
  • Kids’ crafts, including finger painting
  • Any space (no toxic elements & doesn’t require ventilation)
  • Natural or synthetic brushes, and well-suited for watercolor brushes


More Learn How to Art posts:

Learn How to Art: What is Oil Paint?

Learn How to Art: What is Acrylic Paint?

Learn How to Art: What is Watercolor?



Learn How to Art: What is Acrylic Paint?

Ah, acrylic paint.

The most common paint.

Easy to use and easy to clean up. The amateur favorite.

But don’t let its reputation fool you. Plenty of professionals use acrylic too.

Acrylic paint has some strong benefits, but also has a few unique drawbacks that you might not have known.


FYI, this post contains affiliate links for Blick art supplies. This just means that if you click on a product link in this post and make a purchase, I’ll receive a small commission, at no extra cost to you. Click here to learn more.

What is Acrylic Paint

Acrylic Paint

Acrylic paint is the most modern type of paint, developed in the late 1940s. It contains a synthetic polymer binder to keep color pigments together. The result is a shiny finish that some say has a plastic-like appearance.


An Incredibly Versatile Media

Acrylic paint lies somewhere between oil paint and watercolor, at least in thickness. With this paint, you can use a wide range of techniques. Just mix your acrylic as desired.

Acrylic paint can be as thin as tempera, as transparent as watercolor, or layered on thick like oil paint. It’s a modern convenience in the art world. But naturally, there are some drawbacks as well.


The Image Problem

Let’s get this one out of the way first.

Many in the art world – critics, collectors, and even artists – look down on acrylic paint. Not only does it lack the prestige of oil paint; acrylic is the very opposite.

Many acrylic paintings are labeled “mixed media” or “synthetic polymer paint” to avoid the negative stigma of acrylics.

Now we can get into the real pros and cons.


Color Changing Challenge

Precise color can be a little difficult to achieve with acrylic. You might leave a painting overnight only to come back the next day to find that the colors are…different. Are your eyes playing tricks on you?


Acrylic paint changes color ever so slightly when it dries. Most often the color darkens. With professional grade acrylics, this change is subtle, but in student-grade paint, the change is more noticeable. So be prepared for a little variation from your chosen colors.

If you want a medium that captures and keeps the complexity of your painstakingly mixed colors, oil paint has a clear advantage.


Speed Dry: a Blessing and a Curse

The biggest benefit of acrylic over oil is drying time. Acrylic paint dries very quickly, usually in 15 to 30 minutes. Of course, drying time varies based on how much paint you’ve applied, whether you’ve added any mediums to your paint, and to some extent, the humidity in your area.

I like to compare it to painting my nails in dry Colorado vs. super humid South Korea. You need a lot more patience in South Korea. But with acrylics you don’t need patience. You need speed.

Because acrylic paint dries quickly, you need to work quickly so the paint on your palette and brushes don’t dry out. Even if you’ve only dabbled in acrylic painting, you’ve probably had this experience:

You want a color like teal or pink.

So you squirt two colors out of their tubes, and begin the process of mixing, and adding, and mixing some more until finally, you have the color just right.

You apply some of that beautiful color to your canvas, and then move on.

Later you think, wouldn’t it be nice to add more of that teal I made earlier?

Well it’s too late. You dab your brush into the teal, only to find that it’s now rock solid.

What a waste!

It’s hard to spend much time mixing colors with acrylic paints – you need to be fast. But if you really need more time, you use an acrylic retarder or gel medium with your paint to slow the drying process. More on this later.

Layers Galore!

Although the quick dry can be frustrating, it also has benefits. Acrylic paint is easy to layer, since you don’t have to wait days before your paint has dried. You can also create crisp, clearly defined shapes with acrylic, while oil makes it easy to use soft blended edges.

Of course, there will always be artists who push boundaries and use acrylic and oils in surprising ways. Thanks to these mavericks, it’s not always easy to tell whether a painting is oil or acrylic.


Surface Freedom

Acrylics in particular make it easy to push the boundaries of paint. You can paint on just about any surface – no primer needed. Paper, canvas, wood and metal are all fair game for acrylic paint.

Acrylic paint is also ideal for any DIY projects like say, making cute pots to feed your succulent obsession. Not that you have one.

acrylic paint brushes


Unlike other paints, you can use both natural bristle and synthetic brushes with acrylic paint. Natural bristle brushes are best for oil paint and leave thick brush marks. Synthetic brushes produce a smooth, blended effect and are best for watercolors, as a thin paint.

Acrylic paints lie in between oil and watercolor, so both types of brush hair work fine. However, natural bristle brushes are more sensitive and need to be cleaned off quickly to preserve their quality.

Acrylic painting requires you to keep brushes in water longer (when change colors or cleaning) and this isn’t great for bristle brushes. However, synthetic brushes have a coating that makes them more water resistant.

Of course you never want to leave you brushes soaking in water too long because that can loosen the ferrule, or the metal part of a brush that connects the bristles to the handle.


Medium: Add a What Now?

Acrylic paint can come in ready-to-use tubes, condensed tubes that look similar to oil paints, or jars. While most people know about ready-to-use tubes, you might not have known that there are several additives for acrylic paint, just like oil.

By mixing in mediums, you can control thickness and glossiness of your paint, or try new techniques. Unlike oil, acrylic paint mediums aren’t necessary, but they can provide some nice perks.

You can thin your paint with water, but too much water can loosen the pigment binding in your paint. So for a more transparent paint, try mixing in a fluid additive or glazing medium. It’s best to test out these mediums before applying to your painting to see if they change color and dry completely clear.

Thicken your paint with a gel medium. These mediums can function the same way as thinning mediums to be mixed with your paint. However there are also texture mediums that you apply to a surface and paint over when dry.

An acrylic retarder slows down drying time. These mediums can give you more time to mix colors or even let you blend colors on the canvas as you could with oil paint.

Varnish is a related product that you paint over the surface of a completed painting. Using varnish gives your painting a glossy sheen (or matte cover) that protects it from outside elements.


Famous Acrylic Paintings

These are just a few well-known works of art that were done in acrylic paint.


  • Versatile
  • Allows for wide range of techniques
  • Dries quickly
  • Great for layering
  • Paint on any surface
  • Great for crisp lines and sharp boundaries
  • Several mediums available to tailor the paint
  • Color doesn’t change with age
  • Clean up easily with water


  • Color changes when it dries
  • Need to mix and apply color quickly before paint dries
  • Mixing or blending on a canvas is difficult

Best for:

  • Quick paintings
  • Layering colors
  • Creative DIY projects
  • Any space
  • Both synthetic or natural bristle brushes


More in the Learn How to Art series:


Learn How to Art: What is Oil Paint?

Learn How to Art: What is Tempera Paint?

Learn How to Art: What is Watercolor?

Learn How to Art: What is Oil Paint?

Different types of paint can get confusing. How can you choose between oil paint, acrylic, watercolor, and whatever else might be out there?

I once did a goodbye painting for a coworker. I was leaving the country and wanted to leave a meaningful gift.

Once I gave a coworker a painting I’d done as a goodbye gift. She thanked me and then asked if it was oil.

Definitely not! I thought, thinking of how much of a hassle it would be to do oil paintings in the small room I lived in at the time. How many supplies I’d need to get. How I’d need to paint in a well-ventilated area. How much of a hassle cleaning up would be since I didn’t know where to dispose of toxic material in South Korea. But I limited my response to:

“Oh, no it’s acrylic.”

The complexities of oil paint are like a well-kept secret from people outside of the art world.

I’ve done art my entire life, but I had no idea how oil painting worked until I took a class in college.

Just about everyone has painted with tempera paints in elementary school or acrylic in middle and high school art classes. But all anyone seems to know about oil is that it’s a sophisticated paint used by the greats.

Maybe I now have you wondering,

  • What’s so special about oil painting?
  • What’s the difference between acrylic and oil paint?
  • What even is tempera?
  • Would it be easier to go with watercolor?

oil paint brushes

This post will be the first in a series on paints. By the end, you’ll understand the difference between acrylic vs. oil, know what tempera is made of, and learn how you can use salt with watercolors.

Today I’ll go into oil painting.


Why Use Oil Paint?

Oil paint, as we’ve established, is fancy. The most famous artists in the world have worked extensively in this media: da Vinci, Van Gogh, Vermeer, Manet, Monet, and Rembrandt are just a few artists who excel in oil.

Oil paint has a certain prestige, but when you’re just trying to decide what type of paint to use, that doesn’t matter. Let’s get into what does.


So. Much. Color.

Color is the greatest benefit of oil. Oil paints have a high concentration of pigment, which leads to fuller, richer colors than other paints.

Oil paintings also retain their original color. Let me explain. When acrylic paint dries, it usually darkens. A low-grade acrylic paint might change color significantly.

oil painting colorful palette

Consistency is Key

Oil paints don’t change color when they dry, and that’s reason enough for many artists to choose oil over acrylic. However, oils do change over time. Ever notice how old, famous paintings tend to have a golden sheen to them?

That’s because the binders in oil paint start to yellow with age. But this is over the course of decades or even centuries.

oil paint renaissance annunciation-strigel
Closeup of Bernhard Strigel’s The Announcement to Anne and Joachim, 1505-1510

Lose Yourself in the Process

Oil paintings will often take up more of your time. These paints dry very slowly, so if you want to do any layering with distinct colors, you’ll need to wait. An oil painting can take days or even weeks to dry, depending on the thickness of your paint and humidity levels.

On the plus side, if blending colors is more your style, this is easy to do with oil. Your paints won’t dry out on your palette for days, leaving plenty of time for mixing colors. You can also blend right on the surface of your painting. Just don’t forget to keep that brush clean if you want to keep your original color.


Painting Surface

For oil, you need to use a prepared surface, like a canvas that’s bee coated in gesso. Oil paint is corrosive, so you can’t just paint on anything. You can prime the surface of a canvas or board yourself or purchase a pre-primed canvas in an art supplies store.


In Addition to Paint, You Need…

While many beginners use student grade acrylics straight from a tube, you shouldn’t do this with oil. Oil paints need a medium, like linseed oil or dammar varnish. Professional painters develop their own preferred mixtures and ratios of paint to medium. There are several “right” ways to mix your paints.

You’ll also need to take extra steps for cleanup.

Being oil based, you can’t simply wash your leftover paints down the drain. You need to use turpentine or mineral spirits to clean your brushes, palette, or any other surface. Use a rag or paper towels dipped in turpentine to clean surfaces.

Since these substances are toxic and flammable you need to dispose of them properly and store them in a safe area.

You should also paint in a well-ventilated area.

oil paint messy materials

Oil paints are a little more costly than any other paint. But they contain a high concentration of pigment, making them stunning. Rest assured that if you decide to learn oil painting, you’ve chosen one of the artsiest of all art media.


Oil Paint Pros:

  • Rich color
  • Easy to mix colors and achieve your ideal consistency
  • Color doesn’t change when paint dries
  • Easy to manipulate on a surface
  • Allows for smooth blending
  • Prestige

Oil Paint Cons:

  • Dries very slowly
  • Requires a prepared surface
  • Requires strong-smelling, toxic and flammable thinners and additives
  • Yellows with (significant) age
  • More costly than other paints

Best for:

  • Slow painters who want more time to mix colors
  • Well-ventilated area
  • Natural bristle or sable brushes


Other Posts in the Learn How to Art series:

Learn How to Art: What is Acrylic Paint?

Learn How to Art: What is Tempera Paint?

Learn How to Art: What is Watercolor?

7 Easy Art Tutorials to Help Anyone Get into Art | Why Do Art Bonus

Today I have an art tutorial roundup for you.

You can think of this post as a secret/bonus part 4 to the Why Do Art series.

The idea for this post only occurred to me after I finished up Why Do Art. But after hearing about why it’s so great to do art, wouldn’t it be nice to have a list of easy art tutorials to help you get started?

7 Art Tutorials to Help Anyone Get into Art

There’s an endless supply of art tutorials online. You don’t have to attend an art class to learn to draw (although there is definitely value in having a real person right there to guide you). But let’s assume you aren’t committed enough or don’t have the time to attend a class. Simply Googling “art tutorial” is overwhelming.

That’s why I’ve gathered a list of some of the best art tutorials for beginners. There’s a little something in most major art media, so you can pick what appeals to you.

Let’s get started.


Pastel Portrait Tutorial

pastels art tutorials

I chose to highlight this pastel tutorial first because this artist’s website is so colorful, light-hearted, and fun. Hence the name of the site.

Thaneeya from Art is Fun has tons of drawing and painting tutorials. I like this pastel tutorial in particular because it’s so clearly laid out. This portrait isn’t a realistic one and the subject is a little silly, which gives you permission to explore and experiment with the material, instead of trying to obtain a perfect standard.


Scratchboard Basics Tutorial

scratchboard tools-art tutorials

You knew I had to include scratchboard in here somewhere, right?

This scratchboard tutorial from Russ McMullin of is a little different from Thaneeya’s approach. You don’t just get a  simple walk-through of one piece.

Russ guides you to an understanding of how scratchboard works – hint: it’s not just drawing in reverse – packing in plenty of important details. There’s an overview of the tools you need and an interesting technique for getting a drawing outline onto a piece of scratchboard.

All scratchboard artists seem to have a different way of doing this. Russ’s method is definitely on my to-try list.

He even goes into how you can correct mistakes on scratchboard, something I’m still learning myself.


Painting with Coffee Tutorial

cup of coffee-art tutorials

I break from the traditional art media here to bring you coffee.

Yes, coffee! You can even paint using a lot of simple household objects, and coffee is one of my favorites. Instant coffee works best, as you’ll learn from Zakkiya at Inkstruck.

This bright and tastefully designed coffee painting tutorial just makes you want to keep scrolling. If you like watercolor, or you feel like you’re someone who would like watercolor, coffee painting is a great place to start!

Bonus: you only have to deal with shades of brown – none of that confusing color mixing!


Comprehensive Watercolor 101 Tutorial

watercolor strokes-art tutorials

How could I give you a tutorial on coffee but not watercolor?

Although this watercolor tutorial is a little incomplete, and I’m not sure if it’s on track to get updated again, its watercolor tips are thorough and tastefully designed. The author is an architect, so that would make sense.

James Akers has some wonderful images with handwritten notes that give this post a personal touch. You can imagine that you’re learning from some kind-hearted Internet teacher,  or that you’re copying the notes of a highly organized and also artistic classmate.


Melted Crayon Art Tutorial

Crayons art tutorials

So while I was doing research for this post, I found that no one really wants to do plain old crayon art. The cool thing now to do is melted crayon art.

And actually, it does look pretty cool.

I like this tutorial from Steph at 52 Kitchen Adventures because her post looks beautiful and hey! who says a cooking website can’t have an artsy post now and then?


No Drawing Tutorials?

Wait, you might say, what about regular old drawing? Don’t you have any tutorials for that?

Well, sure, there are tons out there. But a lot of drawing tutorials are like those boring step by step drawing books I’d check out from the library as a kid. They were fun, to some extent, but even I grew bored of them quickly.

You’d follow each step exactly, drawing the shapes and adding eyes, ears, fur, and then bam! your masterpiece was done! Except yours always looked a little wonky. And when you held it up side-by-side with the example, all you could see were flaws.

That’s not very fun.

I cringe thinking about going back to those books and tutorials, so I didn’t want to share any of that here.

Good art tutorials need some flexibility.

So I’d much rather refer you to posts that go into technique.


Beginner Drawing Art Tutorials

pencil sharpen drawing-art tutorials

Fortunately, there are people doing much-improved tutorials and guides over those “how to draw [insert noun here]” books.

I especially like Darlene’s tutorials at Rapid Fire Art. I found her page through this tutorial on drawing hair, which is pretty legit. She goes into a lot of detail and explains the rationale behind what she’s showing you.

Darlene also has a beginner’s drawing course that she’s in the process of teaching. You can currently view the first two lessons. A unique twist on this course is that she’s using her non-dominant hand for examples so she can progress along with you.

Of course, learning to draw and learning to draw with your non-dominant hand are different beasts, but her main point is to show that you don’t need precise control over a pencil. Be willing to be loose!


Digital Painting Tutorial on Rocks

rocks sea-art tutorials

Don’t laugh. Rocks are really hard to draw or paint. And I recently came across this great digital painting tutorial on DeviantArt. User ichan-desu presents a cute and funny tutorial that’s at the same time really useful.

DeviantArt, Tumblr, Pinterest, and probably other sites I don’t know about are full of brief, informative tutorials like this one. I definitely recommend wasting a few hours scrolling through the millions of distracting– looking for specific tutorials on these sites. They’re great. Huge, even.



These are just a few easy art tutorials to help you get started. Do you have any favorite art tutorial bloggers or websites? Or have you tried any of the tutorials above?

Let me know in the comments!


Previous Posts in this Series:

Part 1: Why People Who “Can’t Draw” Are Wrong

Part 2: 5 Non-Artists Who Do Art (And It’s Awesome)

Part 3:  Why People Who “Can’t Draw” Should Do Art




The Aftermath


Maybe “aftermath” isn’t entirely accurate. The forces that resulted in this nightmare – beliefs, values, inherently-flawed institutions – were in place long before this past election season.

But it’s the aftermath that has brought our most harmful differences to light and leaves me with the sinking feeling that our country is truly broken.