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Canvas Painting for Beginners: A Guide

Posted on January 20, 2024 in Painting for Beginners

You can technically paint on anything, but your choice of surface is just as important as choosing the right brush and paint type. While much can be said about the different surfaces one can paint on, chances are good that if you’re interested in picking up painting as a pastime, you’d probably like to try painting on canvas at least once.

Well, what are you waiting for? It’s time to learn everything you need to know about canvas painting for beginners!

Related: Learn About Paul Kirby’s Amazing Painting Robot

Choosing the Right Canvas

The canvas serves as the foundation for your artwork. Consider the following factors when selecting a canvas:

Related: How to Use the Creative Process

Priming a Canvas

Gesso is a widely-available art supply used to ready (or “prime”) a canvas for painting. It’s somewhat similar to glue or watery paint, and dries hard. It comes in white, black, clear, and colored varieties, and produces a stiff surface that enhances paint adhesion and color vibrancy. Gesso makes surfaces less porous and absorbent, allowing paint to be applied without overly soaking into fibers. Gesso can also be used to prime a number of painting surfaces (like wood, plastic, and more) in addition to canvas.

How to Use Gesso to Prime a Canvas

To prime a canvas or other surface, apply gesso in thin, even coats using a brush. Sand the surface lightly between layers to achieve a smoother finish. Depending on personal preference, apply multiple layers of gesso for added smoothness and durability.

Gesso manufacturers typically recommend a 24 hour drying period before you start painting. Even if the gesso feels dry after an hour or so, it’s best to be patient and allow the material to fully bond. Failing to do so could spoil your work and send you back to square one!

Create a Textured Background

For a textured canvas, you can apply “super heavy gesso.” This can be mixed with water or regular gesso to achieve different consistencies. It can then be applied with a heavy brush or palette knife to create different textural effects, similar to stucco or plaster facades.

Looking for some painting inspiration? Check out Dulcinea the robot painter’s gallery of artwork!

Finishing and Caring for Your Canvas Artwork

A finished canvas requires just a little more work to look its best.

Start Your Painting Journey

It’s time to put your first work to canvas! Don’t expect it to be an instant masterpiece — exploring your creative side and being open to growth are the keys to a rewarding artistic journey. Mastery comes with practice, so embrace each stroke as an opportunity to learn and grow as an artist. As you venture into this colorful realm, let your imagination flourish, and may your canvas become a beautiful reflection of your inner self.

Looking for more painting tips and tricks, inspirational material, and inspiring stories? We have everything you need to scratch your itch for art and science on the Kirby Foundation Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest pages, and all our updates can be tracked with our newsletter. Let’s get creative!

Are you interested in hearing the complete story of Paul and Dulcinea? Watch the video (nominated for Best Short Film at the 2021 Vail and Portland Film Festivals) for more info.

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