So you’ve got a big, blank canvas to work with? We’ll save you the corny life cliches, and instead give you the know-how you need to get started filling it up. Just add your own creative ideas and go!
Eight Painting-On-Canvas Tips For Beginners
1. Set Up Your Canvas and Supplies
How are you going to paint — physically? Do you prefer an easel, where the canvas is upright or at a slight angle? Or do you work better with the canvas on a flat surface, right next to your palette? Try them both out, and do what feels best. Set everything else up before you start, too: Having your paint brushes, palette knives, water and any other supplies you'll need at the ready will make your painting time stress-free and fun. Take a deep-dive into workspace setup here with Bluprint instructor Nina Weiss.
2. Choose Appropriate Brushes
Nope, one brush doesn’t fit all. With a canvas, you’ll need to use acrylic or oil-paint brushes that have long handles and stiff bristles. These will hold up better as you’re painting than, say, delicate watercolor brushes. Nina Weiss breaks down the brush basics in detail here!
3. Prep Your Canvas
Starting with a pre-stretched canvas, meaning it’s already pulled onto a wooden frame, is best for beginners. With that, all you need to do before getting started is prime it with a material like gesso. This paint compound seals off the fibers of the canvas, which will make your paint go on smoother and last longer, and help protect your brushes. This first key step is also called applying a "ground" — and you can learn all about it from Bluprint artist Rheni Tauchid here.
4. Test Your Colors
Oil paint doesn't change much when dry, but acrylics will end up slightly darker than they look while you’re painting. Take this into account from the beginning so that the finished piece isn't darker than you want it to be. To test out colors, simply paint swatches on scrap paper and let dry before moving onto the canvas.
5. Apply a Background Color
In addition to gesso, consider applying an all-over tone to your canvas to instantly set the mood. For instance, a bright white canvas might not be conducive to a dark, stormy skyline, but a coat of a light gray can give you a better starting point.
6. Create an Under-Painting
Since canvas is typically used for opaque paints, it's a great opportunity to experiment with under-painting. This is a method of creating an outline, often in an opposing color, that can add depth and texture to your finished piece even if it won't be directly visible once you're finished. Artist Edward Minoff demonstrates a monochrome underpainting for a seascape here in oil, but the same principles apply if you're working in acrylic.
7. Experiment With a Medium
A medium is a substance you mix into acrylic or oil paint to adjust its thickness, shine, drying time, texture, and more. Using these can add cool effects to your work and make it more dynamic. If you want to to deeper into understanding mediums, check out this comprehensive overview with Rheni Tauchid.
8. Have a Safe Space for Your Canvas to Dry
Even small canvases can prove unwieldy when wet. Be sure before you even start painting that you have a safe spot for it to dry. Be very mindful if setting it to dry on newsprint or paper, as even the slightest touch to the paint can cause sticking and messy cleanup. A non-stick surface is great, if possible. (Or simply leave it on the easel!)