10 Must-Know Canvas Painting Tips For Beginners

Michael Daly
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Canvas Painting Tip #1 – Make It Prime For Painting

Before you begin your project, you need to make sure your canvas is primed and ready for paint.

It is best to prime with a gesso (also known as primer) –a white acrylic, chalk, or plaster mixture designed to prepare the canvas for the paint to come.

Gesso is available in craft shops and in art supply stores. One of the biggest advantages it has over regular primer is that it is flexible and not too expensive.

It can be applied using a brush (and sometimes a trowel) and can be painted over with oil paint or acrylic paint.

Before you begin priming your canvas, you have to make sure your canvas is clean. There are a lot of ways how to clean a canvas (more about it later in this article).

It is very important that your canvas is clean before you start applying gesso. Otherwise, you will have problems later when you will try to remove the primer. As a matter of fact, gesso is used as a generic term and stands for quite a few products such as white spirit in France.

The big problem with using gesso is that its flexibility is also a disadvantage. There is no limit to the amount of gesso you can apply on your canvas. Once you apply a layer of gesso you have to be prepared for the next step.

Canvas Painting Tip #2: Sketch Before You Paint

The next important canvas painting tip is to prepare an under-painting sketch before you start your main painting. Your sketch can be as rough or as simple as you want. But it should essentially show your intended composition.

Sketches are something that can help you prevent frustration, and ultimately cause a lot of embarrassment. Your painting isn’t coming out well when, in reality, it’s not your fault because your composition or colour scheme for example doesn’t work.

A sketch can be a simple expression of your idea that doesn’t really have to look like the painting it’s supposed to. But it’s better to spend a few minutes on it and then spend weeks rectifying your mistakes.

It’s a good idea to not add too much detail to your sketch though, because you can very easily go overboard even with the most basic drawing tool, which can be time-consuming.

A simple grid layout on your canvas will allow you to position your elements in the way that you want them to end up being placed in your painting. This will give you some time to look at those elements. You will now be able to discard elements and keep others. This will save you time and also prevent you from feeling stressed and frustrated once you start painting.

Canvas Painting Tip #3: Lay Down Your Initial Wash With The Right Medium

The right medium is crucial for laying down your initial wash. A lot of people simply use water, but if you add just the right amount of just a bit of paint, you can create a very interesting textured look.

I recommend adding a bit of Winsor & Newton Artists' Pthalo Green to the water when you’re painting and then you can use a large brush instead of a small one. The large brush will help maintain consistency in your color application.

If you use water plus pigment, just let it drip off the brush and onto the canvas a few times to get rid of any excess. The large brush will help create a nice, even wash.

Canvas Painting Tip #4: Your Canvas Isn’t A Palette

Okay, you’re finally ready to paint your masterpiece and you select a few colors from your artist’s palette and slap them onto your canvas.


Yes, your painting palette is for mixing paints, but that doesn’t mean you need to use it for your canvas.

The best way to use a canvas for painting is to pick up the brush directly from the tubes and gently squeeze it onto the surface of the canvas.

This will give you better control of how much color you lay down and ensure that your beautiful masterpiece doesn’t turn out to be a little too bleeding.

Canvas Painting Tip #5 – One Brush Shouldn’t Do Everything On The Surface

You don’t want to mix your paint colors on your palette with the same brush that you’ll be using to paint with, especially when you want to layer certain things like backgrounds, and some of your main focal parts. You might end up mixing in color and texture to what you are trying to achieve.

By having 3–4 different brushes, you can have 2–3 textures and 2–3 color paint on the same palette, with the reverse side of each brush dedicated to getting one texture or one color.

Canvas Painting Tip #6 – Canvas Is Great For Underpaintings

If you want to create a painting that doesn’t have a lot of detail and texture, but still need certain values, then canvas is an excellent choice of base to work upon. If painting on stretched canvas, rather than buying a stretched built canvas, you will want to prepare the canvas by having it stretched around artist strainer bars. Strainer bars are metal bars that are placed around the canvas as a border. These two are woven together and then suspended to dry.

There is also a type of canvas stretcher made from wire that is actually much easier to work with than the wooden artist strainer bars. The wire stretcher is cheap and easy to buy, or you could make your own.

The wire stretcher makes stretching your canvas very easy. Then you just wrap it with packaging tape. The tighter you wrap the packaging tape the sturdier your canvas base will be. Be sure to leave the edges untaped so they can be easily wrapped around the strainer bars or wire.

You will want to stretch your canvas as tight as possible, working with the grain. If you don’t know the grain, then look at the back of the canvas. The little holes from weaving will be easier to see on the back and that is the direction you want to stretch the canvas in.

Canvas Painting Tip #7: Understand When (And How) To Use Solvents

In the very simplest of terms, solvents are used to dissolve a substance. Solvents are used in oil painting to dissolve the oily binder and help a paint flow evenly on a canvas.

Be aware that solvents are very strong chemicals and should be used in a ventilated area. Always make sure you know and understand the properties of the solvent you intend to use, and if you are using it properly.

If you are using a solvent for the first time, always play it safe and test it on a small surface area of the painting. If the solvent works well for you, you can proceed with it. If it doesn’t, you have the chance to try something else.

Canvas Painting Tip #8: A Canvas Surface Can Support Additional Mediums

Although most of us paint on a canvas with just acrylic paint, you can actually use other materials on top of your acrylics. For example, if you paint with watercolors, you can use acrylic mediums to extend the watercolors’ drying time. Or if you’re using acrylic paints to cover a collage, use gesso to seal the collage and then go over it with acrylic paint.


Gesso is used as a primer before adding layers of paint. It makes your painting surface stronger as the canvas absorbs the gesso and the layers of paint that follow.

Watercolor and Ink Underlayers

If you lift your acrylic layers using water, you can also use watercolor or ink to lift them up. Just remember that watercolor on top of acrylic is better than watercolor or ink on top of oil. So if you don’t want to paint on top of your watercolor, then you can use your watercolor underlayers as the top layer and then paint on top of it with acrylics.


If you’re planning to use collages on top of your acrylics, you can simply use gesso as a sealant and then apply the collage on top.

Canvas Painting Tip #9: Dry Your Piece Appropriately

Drying your painting is a very important step if you want to end up with a beautiful piece in the end. Here are a few commonsense tips:

Let it dry naturally. Exposure to sunlight is a good way to expedite the drying process. Do not put it in the oven.

Use materials that allow the paint to dry easily. If you are using good-quality and well-prepared canvas and paints, using a fixative to make the paint dry faster is not necessary.

Try not to touch the canvas with your hands after you’ve finished painting your piece. Protect it from dust and dirt at all times. Dust particles and paint chips can still be seen even after the painting has dried, so always keep your canvas clean when you’re not working on it. Do not use sharp instruments, such as a knife or a scissor, to fix canvas tears; just stick a piece of tape on it and paint over it.

Let your painting dry at least two days prior to framing it. Use heavy frames as thin ones can warp the canvas. Never stretch the canvas too tight, especially if you’re using good-quality ones. If you’re not using a frame, let the painting dry for three days before hanging it.

Canvas Painting Tip #10: Share! Put Your Self Out There!

Start with the basics. We all go through the learning curve of trying to figure out how to do something and the best way to learn is to teach! So grab your paints and get social. Every painting class I have taken has me bringing something to show off my efforts to the other students. This is a great way to figure out a painting for yourself and to learn new techniques. Another idea is to set up a “how to” booth at a local fair or open air market. Doing one of these things not only has you coming home with sales, but also invaluable insight.

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Why should you consider to learn the art of painting?

Painting is not just an art; you can paint everything that looks good to you and also capture moment in your life. There are so many pictures that you wish to paint; you just don't know how to go the painting journey. Understandably, lots of people wish to learn to paint for various reasons. They may be attracted by the masterpieces of the great painters, such as Michelangelo, Leonardo de Vinci and Rembrandt van Rijn. Many of the great painters were extraordinary in conveying life and action. You can paint your version of those great paintings to your own unique style. Do not always focus on the result, but rather focus on the process that will allow you to achieve a quality result.

Here are some pointers that you can use to start your adventure in painting and also give yourself a better insight into the art of painting.