July 25, 2021 4 min read

As an artist, if you’ve mainly worked out of a sketchbook or paper, making the transition to canvas can be a daunting challenge. Several artists struggle with making the move to canvas painting, so we decided to break it down to the tiny bits to help you out. This post will fill you in with all that you need to know about creating a great canvas painting.

What is Canvas?

“Canvas” is a word that comes from its origins. In ancient India, canvas materials were woven from hemp instead of cotton, and so the word was derived from a Latin term which means “made of hemp.”

Canvas is a plain-woven material, usually made from cotton and, to some extent, linen. It is an extremely durable fabric used for items which require sturdiness, such as tents, backpacks, marquees, sails, and as a support for painting. For the sake of this article, we shall focus on the last stated use of canvas: as a support for painting.

Canvas for acrylic painting comes in different forms, from the expensive stretched linens to the cheap canvas pads. It is extremely durable, and its portability allows for large paintings to be done as it is lightweight and can be rolled. It is also now preferred to wooden panels as it is less prone to warping and cracking.

How is Canvas Made?

Most industrially made canvases are woven using cotton material. The choice of cotton is due to ease of stretch, economical nature, and its ability to resist cracking and damage. To begin the process of making canvas, a plain weave is used to weave the cotton to increase its strength.

To make canvas for painting, after weaving, wrap the canvas around wooden stretchers, then prepare for painting using Gesso, which contains glue, chalk, and plaster of Paris. Although pre-prepared canvases exist, weaving your own canvas for painting gives you as an artist the needed option to determine how much of the canvas weave you want to show.

How To Make A Great Canvas Painting

Once you’ve got your canvas and kit ready to go, it is time to start painting! To get the best results with your canvas painting, these tips will guide you. 

If you’re not yet a pro, working with paint can feel a bit scary. Excellent results with painting techniques require knowledge and practices you might not be used to. These 6 tips will get you started on how to manipulate your paint for best results.

#1) Vary your Pressure

While painting on canvas, you want to avoid applying ‘heavy hands’ with your brush. Generally, the heavier the pressure you apply to your brush, the more your paint will blend and make ridges along the sides of your brushstrokes. Get familiar with how light, medium, and heavy brushstrokes look on your canvas and tune your pressure accordingly.

#2) Make Best Use of the Painting Medium

Canvas painting goes beyond the painting. How an artist uses their painting medium determines how great results will be on canvas. The painting medium is a mix of the solvent and oil used to modify the paint.

Using lots of paint medium will leave your point look transparent and drab, while using a little medium gives your canvas painting a great consistency.

#3) Use Fewer Colors in Your Mixtures

Quite simply, the fewer the colors you mix, the more vibrant and original the resulting mix will be. Try to limit your mixing to two colors and white. By getting better at mixing, your paint will get better and you will paint quicker.

#4) Use the Right Amounts of Paint

Sometimes you need to apply a thick stroke to achieve your desired result. Make sure that you’re using enough paint to go thick when you need to. The very best canvas painters do not hold back on the paint at the expense of their canvas paintings.

#5) Try Wet-on-Wet Versus Dry Brush

Some of the best canvas paintings are those paintings that make the best use of the wet versus dry effects. You can paint directly on a wet surface or leave it to dry and then put wet paint over the dry surface. It’s all up to you. There’s a better blend on the canvas when you paint wet-in-wet, which is great for gradients and transitions. Dry painting is great too, as it will give you a more textural effect, which is perfect for painting stuff like dirt or brick.

#6) Remember Your Palette Knife…

Your Palette Knife is more than just a trowel for mixing paint. It can be useful at times for making some textural, unpredictable strokes. However, if you’re not adept at it, you should avoid it entirely, as it may ruin your work.

Stepwise Guide To Canvas Painting

Begin the painting process by applying a layer of white paint over the canvas using a palette knife. This step helps prevent the canvas from peeking through your painting.

The technique of using a palette knife is quite similar to frosting a cake, and it gives room for texture and a lot of movement in the paint. We recommend that you test whatever technique you intend to apply on a practice canvas first just to make sure. If you want a smooth finish on the canvas, simply smooth and smear the paint using the flat part of the Knife. If you want lines and ripples, the edge works perfectly. This first layer is great for building up texture on the canvas.

Next, add your patterns to your canvas using a pencil. This may be abstract and you will have to blend what you’re painting, so you need not worry about everything look exactly as they are. At this stage, you’re basically adding some basic outlines to your work. For a soft look, add white to bright/bold colors to lighten them; gray/brown paints are great for making them muted. After blending, add dabs of light or dark paint in key areas to add texture and depth.

Once you are satisfied with the feel and look of your colors and shapes, you can step back and assess your work. Make necessary corrections, and then let the canvas dry over a few hours, preferably overnight.


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