Canvas Painting


Canvas is the artist's best friend and offers many advantages over paper. For example, the canvas is much more durable and can guarantee the safety of your work for many years. That's why it's worth trying to learn how to work with canvas.

Which canvas to buy? When choosing a canvas, remember that you get what you pay for. Linen is a more resilient material. It also has a sharper texture, which allows for more textured strokes. However, if you are just starting with canvas painting, it makes sense to opt for a cheaper cotton canvas. What's more, you can always improve on cotton linen by re-coating it with an oily primer.

Alternatives to canvas. Cardboard canvases are great for learning; they are less bulky and not prone to warping. As the name suggests, they are made by gluing a primed canvas to cardboard. Therefore, as a rule, their texture is great for showing brush strokes.

Metal can be a great alternative to wood as it is extremely smooth. It is also lightweight, non-porous, and does not rot. Copper is the most suitable material, but aluminum is also good. Again, you will still need to treat the surface with a good quality oil primer to keep the paint well.

How to prepare your canvas for painting?

The first thing to do is apply the base color to the canvas. This will not only get rid of the frightening white color but also add harmony to the picture. The color layer will blend in with the strokes to create a visually pleasing effect as you paint. If you want to paint on the same day and use oil paints. Also, try applying a base color lightly mixed with a little drying medium.

  • Porous and non-porous primers. Whichever canvas you choose, it needs to be primed. Primed canvases can be divided into two types, porous and non-porous.
  • An acrylic primer will make the canvas porous and an oily primer vice versa. The basic principle is that a porous primed backing allows the paint to dry faster as the water in the paint soaks into the canvas. In this case, with a non-porous primer, the paint dries naturally for a long time due to water evaporation.
  • Non-porous primers make it possible to work on a painting longer. The main benefit of using a non-porous primer is that the paint will stay wet, giving you more time to finish painting. What's more, the oil paint will retain more gloss and be more durable. On porous primers, the paint may appear dry and lacking in shine. This is because it dries out too quickly. A wide, thick brush should be used to apply the primer. This is the only way to get a flat surface. Spread the primer evenly over the entire surface with horizontal brush strokes, then allow the canvas to dry. Once dry, rotate the canvas 90 degrees and repeat your steps. Do this again as necessary.

How to choose a quality canvas?

To choose a high-quality and suitable canvas for your purposes, you need to know the features of each of them.

  • Inspect the primed surface; there should be no dots, bubbles, cracks, or shedding on it; otherwise, the paint layer will quickly deform and fade.
  • Lay the canvas on a flat surface; the distance from the corner of the canvas to the surface should not exceed 3-5 mm.
  • Check the tension of the canvas with your finger: the canvas should restore a flat elastic surface in less than a minute.
  • Examine the structure of the subframe; it should be modular, made of hard, smooth-polished wood with a rim of at least 3 mm.
  • Test the soil with thinner and water: when mixed 5 to 1, neither water nor thinner should seep through the soil.

Types of bases for painting canvas

Types of bases for painting canvas

There are different types and bases for canvas; let's take a closer look at them.

Dense base. Canvas on a dense basis is more convenient for working outside the home or studio; you can paint on it without an easel. The main advantage of a dense base over a capricious canvas on a stretcher is that it is more difficult to damage or deform finished paintings.

  • Cardboard. The time-tested base at an affordable price. Canvas on cardboard is suitable for students and novice artists for sketches and studies in small and medium formats.
  • Fiberboard, hardboard, MDF, fiberboard. Compressed wood fiber sheet is suitable for the same purposes as cardboard but is stronger and slightly heavier. Some artists prefer a dense base because of its ability to withstand many layers of paint and the attachment of additional decorative elements.

Textile base. The fabric determines not only the cost but also the capabilities of the canvas.

Common materials:

  • Linen has established itself as the highest quality and most durable material for paint on canvas but at the same time the most expensive. Professional artists, like restorers, prefer to use linen for their work; paintings painted on linen canvases have been preserved for centuries.
  • Cotton is an inexpensive but high-quality material, inferior to flax in resistance to mechanical stress, and may sag over time. It is suitable for learning and hobbies.
  • Blended fabrics are a combination of several types of threads: linen and cotton or linen and synthetics.
  • Polyester is cheaper than natural fabrics, unpretentious to storage conditions. Suitable for novice artists and in cases where there is no need to save the work for a long time. Professionals still prefer time-tested natural materials.

You can also find jute and hemp canvases in stores, but professionals do not recommend using them for painting; they are easily deformed, torn, and can absorb the paint, which means they do not ensure the safety of the paint layer.

Granularity and density base. The grain determines the paint on canvas; its texture depends on the thickness of the threads and the type of weaving. In the production of canvases, twill weaving is traditionally used, which gives high density, strength, and wear resistance. The choice of canvas texture for a future painting depends on the colors and technique the artist plans to paint in watercolor or oil, a detailed portrait, or a multi-layered landscape.

  • The fine-grained canvas is almost smooth, suitable for glazes, portraits, and sketches.
  • Medium-grained canvas is a universal basis for still lifes, landscapes, portraits.
  • The coarse-grained canvas is dense, textured, great for pasty techniques, and works with a palette knife.

The density of a canvas is a measure of the weight of fabric per unit area, measured in grams per square meter (g / m²). This is the bottom of the main characteristics of the canvas: the higher it is the more threads per square meter. The stiffness of the canvas, its resistance to paint, and mechanical stress depend on the density. The higher the density, the finer the mesh and smoother texture of the canvas.

Priming base. The primer is not only a binder between the base and the paint layer. The primer does not allow the dyes to be absorbed into the fabric, preserving their brightness. You can prime the canvas yourself, but it is much more convenient and easier to buy a canvas with the type of primer suitable for working with a certain type of paint.

There are canvases with high-quality three-layer acrylic-based primer:

  • Universal acrylic primer covering and elastic, odorless. It can be painted with oils, acrylics, and tempera.
  • A water-color painting primer specially designed for wet technicians. It does not absorb water, is compatible with watercolor and gouache but not suitable for oil.

To set a special tone and mood for the work, artists also use a colored primer with properties similar to acrylic and contains additional pigments.

What paints are used to paint on canvas?

When choosing a basis for painting, many people prefer canvas. The drawing looks more expressive and realistic on it. In addition, a picture painted on canvas is easier and more convenient to transport because, if necessary, it can be rolled up. It is believed that paint on canvas can be done with almost all techniques and materials (but some must be fixed without fail). We are talking not only about the most common types of paints but also other devices.

Nevertheless, every novice artist needs to know what colors they paint on the canvas in most cases and for which it is better to choose a more suitable surface.

The thicker the paint and the denser its consistency, the easier it will adhere to the surface. In this regard, professional artists paint on canvas, usually with oil or acrylic.

  • Acrylic
  • Acrylic paint on canvas is quite common. They are used to generate a variety of textures and visual effects. Their practicality in use distinguishes them because they are applied even directly from the tube. They are bright and have a wide range of colors and textures. 
  • In addition, acrylic dries quickly, forming a waterproof film. Working with it requires minimal costs, which makes it an excellent option for large-scale work. In general, the process of painting with acrylic paints on canvas is especially easy. 
  • Thicker acrylic paint is used for the perfect painting. It has optimal density and opacity. For acrylic paints to fit well, the canvas must first be primed. At the same time, the use of "liquid acrylic" has its nuances. If the canvas is placed on an easel, paint can drip off the canvas, and it will take many times more material to create an opaque layer.
  • Oil. 
  • Oil paints are better for canvas than any other paint. They fall very easily on the surface, although they have a fairly dense texture. Since its inception, oil has been a highly popular painting material. 
  • On canvas, paints allow you to create amazing paintings distinguished by their realism, brightness, and saturation. The advantage of oil paints is that, depending on the artistic intent, a layer of paint can have very different properties. 
  • With this paint, everything is possible: dense and transparent, dark and light, glossy and matte, thick and thin layer. Oil is capable of embodying unique ideas and techniques on canvas. For example, feathering paints with a brush helps blend colors to appear as if one shade is fused into another. 
  • Other than that, oil-based artworks are renowned for their durability. Canvas is not the only surface on which you can paint with oil paints, but it is on this that the paint layer looks very rich and attractive.

Some paints can be painted on canvas, but they do not always achieve the expected effect or are costly. Among these paints are gouache and tempera.

  • Gouache
  • This paint has a medium level of opacity, so it must be applied to the canvas with a fairly thick layer. In this case, water is added in a minimum amount; respectively, the material consumption is very high. 
  • Therefore, small-sized canvases are usually painted with gouache or used to create special effects (for example, the technique of resistance). However, you need to be careful when working with gouache. If too thick paint is applied to the canvas, cracks or shedding may occur after the painting is completely dry.
  • Tempera. Tempera paint is usually produced based on dry powder-type pigments. Its binder is based on a natural emulsion (chicken egg or yolk diluted with water) or an artificial substance (polymers, drying oils). Tempera can be used for painting on canvas, but it's worth noting right away that this is not the best medium for it. Like liquid acrylic, this paint has a not very thick consistency. Accordingly, it is prone to sagging on the canvas. Therefore, it is better to keep the canvas in a horizontal position. In general, tempera dries up rather quickly, is not washed off with water, and retains its richness for a long time.

Water-based paints

Traditionally, water-based paints are considered unsuitable for painting on canvas. The main reason is the specific application technique in combination with the need for additional fixation. Such paint, for example, is watercolor.

Usually, watercolor drawings are very airy and bright. With these paints, you can create stunning still lifes, landscapes, or portraits that stand out with subtle color transitions. But when it comes to watercolor painting on canvas, it is worth remembering that water-based paints tend to dry out irregularly, especially on a primed surface. In addition, working with watercolors on canvas is often accompanied by the formation, which significantly spoils the picture’s overall appearance.

It is up to you to choose which colors are best to paint on canvas. But if you prefer water-soluble ones, be prepared that the water will be absorbed very quickly. And the drawing, in the end, will turn out to be completely different from on paper.

Drawing on canvas for beginners

Can you transfer the drawing to the canvas

So, after you have prepared and primed the canvas, you can start drawing. The steps you need to take depend on what kind of paint you took for your art. Let's figure it out in order.

  • Oil paints for painting on canvas. Working with this type of paint can be challenging and will require knowledge of techniques and experience. You can study this question in more detail or start right away with practice. Bob Ross's tutorials will be a good example of drawing with these colors. This is a good start for drawing on your own.
  • Acrylic paints. These paints are special in that they dry quickly and can be used directly from the tube. In addition, if you dilute them, they will look like watercolor.

After you have chosen the paints with which you will work, you can start painting on the canvas itself. Here's a step-by-step guide for beginners:

  1. First, draw the background for your drawing. You should always start with the background. For ease of application, you can use a large brush.
  2. Next, choose the colors you want to work with. Your background should dry out a little, after which you can trace the outlines of your drawing. If you have chosen an abstract picture for yourself, then it is not necessary to apply the contours, you can immediately start working.
  3. Draw shadows. Once you've drawn the drawing and used all the colors you want, it's time to add depth. You can mix paints to add shadows and mid-tones to the image.
  4. Clean your brushes. After you have finished painting, the painting should dry up and the pussy should be cleaned. Do not postpone cleaning the brushes, because if the paint dries on them, they will not be suitable for painting.

Can you transfer the drawing to the canvas?

A good, detailed drawing is the basis of successful oil painting. And here, with paint on canvas, there are several nuances.

  • It is necessary to determine the general composition, find the main proportions and structure to work with oil. 
  • However, there is no point in going into small details since all the same; the intended little things will be written down in the process of writing. 
  • Most often, the work is carried out from the general to the particular, i.e., from large masses to small details. Such searches for general composition and proportions can be carried out in different ways. 
  • It would be most correct to paint on canvas immediately. However, if the work is difficult, then you will have to rewrite and correct many times in search of the correct option. In such cases, it is much easier to paint a preliminary drawing on paper. Here you can look for the right option without fear of spoiling. 
  • Thus, most often, small cardboard or sketch is created. And then it is already transferred to the canvas.

Cardboard. A cardboard is understood as a detailed drawing on a sheet of paper in full size. It searches for composition, construction, and sometimes basic tonal relationships. You can take any paper, even a newspaper. But most often, it is Whatman paper, kraft paper, etc. In size, such a sheet should match the size of the future work.

Cardboard is one of the essential parts. When you start to work out the initial idea in detail on the sheet in full size, many nuances come out. And sometimes, having looked in a large format, you radically change the whole composition, the understanding comes that the original idea is wrong. After all, what looks good on a small sheet does not always look advantageous on a large one. It is much easier to make such global changes on cardboard rather than on canvas with paints.

The correct sequence of actions when working on an idea would be as follows:

  • first looking for an idea in a series of quick sketches;
  • then we make a few elaborate sketches of a small format;
  • further, we develop detailed life-size cardboard;
  • and only now we can transfer the main lines of the composition to the canvas.

Methods for transferring a drawing to the canvas

Now you have detailed cardboard, and you need to transfer it to the canvas. But how to do that? And here, you need to turn on the brain and ingenuity.

  • By cells (grid). The most accessible way and one of the most common are transferring the picture in the cells. Thus, you can transfer not only cardboard (i.e., one to one in size) but also small sketches (i.e., scale). And for this, you don't need anything at all, just magic! That is why this method has gained great popularity since ancient times.
  1. Its essence is that the original drawing is drawn into cells (a grid is applied). 
  2. The size (number) of cells is determined by the artist, depending on the complexity of the drawing and his personal preferences. 
  3. Next, a grid with the same number of cells is applied to the canvas. 
  4. The drawing is transferred to the eye, relying on the exact snapping of the lines of intersection of the grid. 
  5. The result comes out pretty accurate, and the error probability is very small. Thus, you can scale virtually any picture and to any size.
  • Powder. This is one of the oldest methods of transferring an image to the canvas, just like the previous one. However, unlike scaling using a grid, you can use a powder to transfer a drawing only from cardboard to full size, i.e., one to one with canvas size. And besides that, it is still quite complicated and boring, with a lot of flaws. And yet, it won its fair share of fans in the old days.
  1. The essence of this method is that small holes are pierced in the cardboard along the contour of the pattern. They must be sufficient so that coal dust can pass through them. 
  2. Next, the cardboard is attached to the canvas, and charcoal is passed through each hole. You can knock lightly to wake the charcoal down. 
  3. After removing the cardboard, dots remain on the canvas. They need to be connected, and the construction should be checked again for flaws.
  4. Instead of charcoal, you can use other materials, such as a pencil. However, it should be remembered that many modern materials can impair adhesion to the ground or show through the paint over time. For example, pencil or charcoal impairs adhesion and mixes with the paint to create grime. They are applied very easily and with thin, barely visible lines. A marker, felt-tip pen, or carbon paper may bleed through. 
  5. After drawing, you need to go over these lines with a thin brush with paint to fix and avoid mixing in the future. Therefore, you should try to minimize the use of these materials on canvas. It is best to apply only paint.
  • By templates
  1. Large shapes can be easily transferred to the canvas using templates. 
  2. So, we take cardboard; from it, we make templates of general contours, for example, a silhouette of a person. 
  3. Next, apply it to the canvas in the right place and immediately outline it with a brush with paint. 
  4. In this way, the bulk of the entire cardboard can be gradually transferred according to templates. And the finer details are already easy to restore on the canvas by eye. 
  5. And as a result, we get a blank canvas without a pencil, carbon paper, and other things.

Be that as it may, the canvas is a guide to the world of professional painting because the paintings on it look beautiful and bewitching. Craftsmanship will shine in every new work you create, so turn on your imagination and get creative.

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