How To Paint On Canvas

Ready to paint like a professional? Painting with canvas can seem intimidating when you’re getting started, but with a few simple tips, you’ll be creating beautiful artwork in no time.

Read on to discover what canvas is, how to use one and inspiration for your next canvas painting.

What is a canvas?

what is a canvaswhat is a canvas

In simple terms, canvas is material stretched across a wooden frame. Canvas has been used for centuries, with some of the earliest canvas paintings dating back to the 1400s.

There are different sizes and materials available – and techniques you’ll need to employ to use one correctly.

Types of canvas

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There are a handful of canvas types, each with slight differences: 

  • Cotton canvas – Perfect for newbies and seasoned pros, cotton canvas is long-lasting and durable.
  • Canvas board – A strong option for beginners, canvas board is generally more affordable and constructed from cotton stretched across a fibreboard frame.
  • Linen canvas – For more seasoned painters, linen is the highest quality and longest-lasting of any canvas type, resistant to warping or drying out. 

Paints you can use on canvas

Canvas is well-suited to many types of paint – which you choose depends on your preference. You can use the following paints on primed canvas:

  • Oil paint – This robust material is perfect for canvas painting, as it’s heaviness will thrive on a stronger surface.
  • Acrylic paint – A popular option for canvas painting, acrylics are the ideal choice.
  • Gouache – With qualities of both acrylic and oil pain, gouache can be used on canvas.

Can you use watercolour paints on canvas?

It’s not suggested to use watercolour paints on canvas – primed or otherwise. 

Watercolours will pool, run and bleed onto a canvas, making it difficult to have control over what you’re painting. Watercolour paper is much better option for this medium.

Sizes of canvas

Painting on canvas doesn’t need to be an epic undertaking. There are many different sizes of canvas available – whether you’re capturing a spectacular landscape or a miniature portrait.

Choose a canvas that suits you:

  • 16 x 12″ – A perfect shape for portraits.
  • 12 x 10″ – Ideal for landscapes, portraits – anything!
  • 10 x 8″ – Great for smaller works.

Buy an affordable canvas

When you’re getting started with canvas, practice makes perfect. Don’t invest in expensive canvas that you’ll be scared to mess up – pick an affordable option so you have freedom to experiment.

We’ve produced our own range of fantastic quality, affordable canvas panels.

Our canvas panels are available in a range of different sizes, made from 100% cotton and come pre-primed for use with acrylic or oil paints.

How to prepare your canvas for painting

how to prepare your canvashow to prepare your canvas

Once you’ve picked your canvas, it’s time to get ready to paint. Below you’ll find tips and techniques you can use to get the most out of the canvas.

Equipment you’ll need

To paint on canvas, you’ll need the following equipment:

  • Easel – make sure you’re painting at a comfortable height by using an easel.
  • Primer – set the foundation of your painting by applying a thin layer of primer to the canvas.
  • Mixing plate – a flat, clean surface to mix paints together (a bathroom tiles works well).
  • Paint, brushes and water pots – all the essentials.

Priming your canvas

Before you begin, you’ll need to “prime” your canvas. This means applying a thin, smooth layer of a substance called gesso onto the material to paint on.

This is an important step, as primed canvas will allow you to paint freely, make the surface more robust and ensure the paint’s pigment remains strong.

Canvas can absorb paint and sag – or become “baggy” if you paint directly onto it with using a primer. Check if the canvas you’re using is pre-primed – if not, do this first.

Apply a base layer

Depending on what you’re painting, a base layer can give you a foundation to build from. You may want to use a medium with your first block colour to speed up drying time – do this a few days before you plan on starting your painting.

Once your canvas is primed and your base layer is dry, you can begin. What should you paint?

What to paint on a canvas

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When you’re painting on canvas, the possibilities are endless. To get you started, here are some classic painting subjects to tackle to create a canvas painting you’re proud to hang.


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A classic of canvas painting, portraits are an excellent option. Work from a photo (or a very patient sitter) to create a likeness in a centuries-old tradition. 

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There’s no need to stay realistic, either. Take inspiration from the masters – a abstract portrait in the style of Picasso, a dark twist like Francis Bacon or surrealism in the style of Frida Kahlo.

Still life

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One of the first subjects we learn to capture in art class, still life is an excellent option for canvas painting.

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 Try to arrange items of different colours and textures to get the most from still life – and position your light source to form an interesting composition.


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Whether it’s the view from your window, a glorious mountain or lush valley, landscape paintings are perfect for canvas. Using a canvas horizontally with help

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Take a photo of the landscape you’re trying to capture and use this as a reference to recreate later.


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Go modern (or post-modern) with your canvas painting. Abstract shapes, colours and paint experiments – paint with freedom and let your imagination go wild.