How to Paint on Canvas for Beginners? (17 Useful Tips)

Painting is a hobby for many people. It helps people release stress and take a break from all the hectic activities of the day. Many people do it as a profession while some practice painting as a side hobby for their interest and joy.

Painting is not difficult. You can create your own artwork with the subject that interests you. If you are a beginner and need some tips on ‘how to paint on canvas for beginners’, then this article can be very helpful to you.

If you are a beginner, then starting with oil paints would be a good idea as they are easy to handle. The only thing is that they need more time to dry than other painting mediums. For starting, cotton canvases are good. You can either prepare your own canvas or buy an already prepared one from the shop. These are much cheaper and easily available from any art shop.

Playing with colors is also used as color therapy for the treatment of mentally depressed people. It releases their tension and diverts their minds from the usual problems of their lives that make them depressed. Painting helps them heal.

What Paints to Use on Canvas?

The most commonly used paints on canvas are oil paints and acrylic paints. Both the paints have their own characteristics and require different mediums to apply.

Following are the detailed discussion of both oil and acrylic paints.

Oil paints

How to Paint on Canvas for BeginnersOil paints are oil-based paints that are made by mixing pigments into the drying oils like linseed oil and turpentine oil. It forms a paste that is grinned in steel roller. The standard consistency of any oil paint is the buttery paste not tough or gluey.

If the artist wishes to have more flowing paint, then he/she can add oil to it. The most common oil used for this purpose is turpentine oil. Using more turpentine oil will accelerate the rate of drying for oil paints.

Oil painting is a slow drying method. The oil paints, being oil-based paints, take a longer time to dry, unlike water-based paints. But the oil in oil paints gives a shiny and polished look to the artwork.

Acrylic paints

How to Paint on Canvas for BeginnersAcrylic paints are water-based paints but they have almost the same shiny surface as oil paints. These are very easy to handle but need perfection to use.

Acrylic paints have more sharp strokes. It takes less time to dry and you can paint a painting in less time as compared to oil paints.

Because of their quick-drying, some people find it a bit difficult to paint with acrylic paints as after getting dry, you can no longer change the brush stroke. But you can paint the next color over it. This is the best way to control acrylic paints.

After drying, acrylic paints sets in a darker tone than when painted. So, keep in mind before you use acrylic paint. Always use 1 tone below what you want in your actual painting, because after letting dry, it will set in a darker tone than when it was used.

You can also check the change in tone by applying some paint with a brush on the corner of your canvas. It will give you a hint of the shade you should apply.

Types of Canvas

Canvas is a piece of fabric that is most likely cotton or linen. It is used to serve as a painting surface for painting. These are prepared with a primer to protect the artwork and give a good surface to paint on.

Cotton canvas

The most common canvases available in any art shop are mostly cotton canvases. These are cheaper and are good for beginners. If you are new to painting and want to practice oil paint or acrylic paint, then cotton canvases are best for you

These provide a good surface area to paint with a texture to your artwork and you do not need to spend a lot of money on these.

Linen canvas

Linen canvases, as compared to cotton, are a bit expensive. These provide fine and much stronger surface area to paint. When primed with oil primers, linen canvases are one of the most expensive ones.

The most expensive kind of linen canvases is Belgium linen primed with an oil primer. It provides a fine and even surface to paint on.

Cardboard canvas

Some canvases are pasted on cardboard for making a stiff surface rather than stretching them on the wooden wedges. These are great for study and are lightweight and are easy to handle. These are thin pieces of cardboard and do not tend to wrap, unlike other fabric canvases.

Because of their lightweight, you can easily transport these card boards even if they are large in size. These are a good alternative to canvas and are very good to study and practice painting.

Which canvas is better than the rest?

Other than choosing the right paint, another important thing for painting is the type of surface area you wish to paint. There are different types of canvases available which vary in their quality.

Linen canvas, as compared to cotton, have good strength and fine surface offers a fair surface to paint on. But it is also more expensive than cotton canvases. Among the linen, Belgium linen is best. It, when primed with an oil primer, gives an even and non-porous surface to paint on.

But if you are a beginner and do not how to paint, then the cheaper cotton canvases are best for practicing painting. These cheaper cotton canvases can be improved at home by re-applying the oil primer to them.

Wooden Wedges

How to Paint on Canvas for BeginnersThere is another important thing to know if you want to paint on a canvas. The wooden wedges that come with the canvas are used to make a tight surface of the canvas by hammering the canvas onto them from its internal corners. This is very important to some people; a tight surface serves as a good stiff area to paint and helps you to control your brushstrokes.

I prefer the one with wooden wedges as it is very easy to paint on them because you no longer need to worry about holding it while painting. The idea behind this is that when you paint, the wet paintbrush strokes can make the laying canvas move with it and wooden wedges hold the canvas firmly and provide tension for your brush strokes for an easy and controlled painting.

You can stretch the canvas by yourself; just nail all the edges on the wooden wedges by starting with one corner and gradually stretching the canvas all the way to the other corners and edges. Try to keep the stiffness and make sure it is stretched properly because it can be loosened later if used for several days (the weave fabric loosens with continued force on it so when you apply brush strokes on your canvas it is more likely to relax a little bit).

You do not need to worry if loosening happens; it is very common and happens all the time especially when you paint for days on the same canvas (as oil painting is a slow drying process).

If your canvas has loosened after some time, you can fix it by spraying water on the back of the canvas and leaving it to dry. It will restore the canvas back to its original strength, stiffness, and shape. For this, using a spray bottle is the best option as the water spray should be even and light because too much water can spoil your painting.

How Do You Prepare a Canvas for Painting?

How to Paint on Canvas for BeginnersCanvas is prepared for oil paint. This gives a great rigid surface to paint on and good tension for your brush to allow you to control your brush strokes.

Canvas is a piece of fabric, either cotton or linen, which is stretched on the wooden wedges so that you can easily apply paint to it as it provides tension to your brushes. Some people use it without stretching on the wooden wedges. It all depends on the preferences and ease to feel while painting.

After wooden wedges, there comes the primer. You can also prime your canvas first and then attach it to the wooden wedges. I prefer the former one because it is easier to stretch the canvas prior to priming. And after stretching, priming the canvas keeps its shape.

Types of primers

There are different types of primers

  • Gesso

Gesso serves as a waterproof surface that allows you to apply the paint evenly across the canvas. It also adds intensity to the colors you wish to apply. It is the most common and preferred primer for canvases; especially acrylic paints.

  • Clear acrylic medium

It is transparent and does not give a white color to the canvas. Instead, it dries transparent and matte rather than bright white showing the original color. You can also apply it for hue.

  • Hide glue

How to Paint on Canvas for BeginnersIt is the traditional way to prime the canvas. But it can crack as it easily absorbs moisture and releases it to the air. This can make the whole canvas tight or loose as the relative humidity rises or falls.

  • Oil white primers

These are only for oil paints. Acrylic paints are water-based paints and can not be applied to oil-based surface areas. So, if you are using an oil primed canvas, you must keep in mind that it can only support oil paints.


All you need is

  • A stick
  • A large brush (to mix and apply the primer evenly)
  • A primer (Gesso is the most reliable primer as it dries into a waterproof state)

How to apply primer

Primers are applied in layers. Firstly, clean your canvas that you want to prime and apply a layer to it. Wait for it to dry. Gesso dries quite fast so make sure to apply an even layer every time. Try to keep your tools properly clean after you apply the next layers.

You can start from the center or from the corners by brushing the primer quickly with horizontal and vertical strokes with slightly overlapping the previous damp strokes. If you have started from the corners try to go evenly towards the center and vice versa.

Make sure to do an even coat and do not double up any spot while applying primer as it will make the canvas surface uneven which will appear easily in your artwork. Apply several layers of primer until you have a finished look. Usually, two or three layers do the job.

Do You Have to Prepare Canvas for Painting?

How to Paint on Canvas for BeginnersCanvases are primed to make your artwork look good and to add durability to it. Primers are also applied to give sharp and better tones of paint to your artwork. They also help in protecting the canvas from natural corrosion (which can be caused by many paints as they are acidic in nature). It serves as a barrier between the canvas and your painting.

Canvas is of fabric material and can soak the paint. Priming a canvas is a good practice by making a layer between the canvas and the paint you are applying. Otherwise, your painting could look like a disaster and the tones you use would no longer be the same after some time.

With the above discussion, we can say, yes, a canvas should ideally be prepared before starting any paint.

Should You Paint Your Canvas White First?

It is not necessary to paint the canvas with white paint first. The canvas we use to paint is already prepared with a primer or white. Some people also use unprepared canvases, but I prefer primed ones.

Position of canvas

You can position your canvas the way you feel comfortable to paint. You can lay it flat or place it straight or angled with support of a wall or anything else (like an easel). It also depends on the size of your canvas you wish to paint.

Use of Easel

How to Paint on Canvas for BeginnersMany people use easel for painting. It gives you an angled position of canvas that is easier to paint or draw. You can change the height on which your canvas is placed by just changing the position of hooks that are holding the canvas.

Some easels have wooden wedges for a canvas to be placed on. These are better than hooks if these are in L shape. You can also place your small canvases on them whereas hooks do not allow to do that. You can only place those canvases on the easel with hooks that have enough width to be placed on both sides of hooks.

Size of Canvas

How to Paint on Canvas for BeginnersWell firstly, you should start with a small canvas as it is easy to handle. And you can complete your painting in less amount of time. A bigger canvas requires more days to paint and a beginner can get fed up if he/she does not see the result look of his/her artwork.

It is a human nature that we want everything to happen fast. So, my advice to you is to start with a small canvas especially if you want to paint in your free time. So that you can finish your painting soon enough. It will also give you an idea about which brushes you need and how to control the paints.

After having some grip over painting, you can move to the larger sizes of canvas. It will allow you to handle the big surface more efficiently and you would also now have an idea on how to divide your work while you paint.

Sketching Before Painting

Canvas is mostly used for oil painting and acrylic painting; both of these are opaque mediums. Which means you can try under-painting before starting your actual painting. This will help you to draw the outline of your art piece prior to starting the painting. This is very helpful for beginners. Many professional painters also use this method which makes them able to place their ideas on the canvas more easily and accurately.

In under-painting, you can draw the scenery or anything you want to paint with a single color. It is like drawing the sketch of your artwork and then painting on it. This makes it easier to place everything in its actual position and gives you an idea of the sizes you should go for.

Choose the Right Brushes

How to Paint on Canvas for BeginnersChoice of brushes is always an important step whenever you want to paint. There are a wide variety of paint brushes available from which you can choose according to the requirement of your artwork.

Adding Background to Your Painting

There are two types of paintings; with a background or without a background. Some painters give a background to their artwork and then apply other colors to it.

  1. Background color

How to Paint on Canvas for BeginnersPainting a background color before means that the painters have a base before starting and there are fewer chances of having small white spots in the artwork. Applying a base color to your painting also helps in filling all those bumps on the canvas if you do not want that texture to your artwork.

If you are painting something that has the same background, you can simply add the color of the background as your base and then start painting other objects.

This technique is also effective if you want to do calligraphy. For making a textured background, you can add a base color and then you can add other textures to it with foams, plastic bags, spraying paint, etc. this technique will allow you to make a textured background in a lesser amount of time.

  1. Without background

How to Paint on Canvas for BeginnersWhen painting without the background, you need to see if you are leaving any spots, because in the end, these spots will reveal themselves as untouched white spots, which if left on the dark area of the artwork, will be too prominent, and it will not look good.

You can use this technique to add texture to your painting. The weave of the canvas you are using; whether it is linen or cotton, can be vanished if not painted with a single layer. If you want to show that weave to add texture and weave effect to your artwork, you should paint your artwork without applying any base paint to it.

There are two techniques according to the shades and tints of the paints you are using. You can either paint your artwork from light to dark shades or from dark to light.

Painting Techniques

Painters have their own choice regarding these two techniques. You can choose whichever you are comfortable with.

  1. Painting from dark to light

This is only applicable to the paints that are opaque and can hide other paints beneath them. This technique is mostly used for acrylic and oil paints as it is easy to hide the colors in the back with these paints.

This is mostly used in dark-colored landscapes and still life. It is easy to hide dark colors from dark shades than to hide them with light colors. But with acrylic paints and oil paints, you can accomplish that easily (that is the reason oil and acrylic painting are easy to handle). You can easily recover your mistake with this.

But for this, you should let the base color dry completely. Otherwise, if you paint the next color over the wet color, it will get mixed with the former one adding another color to your artwork.

  1. From light to dark

 This is the most frequently used technique. It can be used for paints other than acrylic and oil paints; like watercolors and poster colors. In this, you add the colors to your artwork according to their shades and tones.

Firstly, the lighter colors are applied to the painting, then gradually you apply darker tones to it. I personally prefer this one as it is much easier to hide the lighter tone underneath the dark one.

This is best for day time landscape portraits and skyscapes. You can add the most used light tone as a background to your artwork. It also adds depth to your painting and allows you to work more comfortably.

Color of paints after drying

Every type of paint has a different appearance after it is dried. If you are painting with oil paints, they remain almost the same after drying. But for paints like acrylic paints or poster colors, they become darker when they are dry.

Painting something for days and having a different tone of color in the end can make a mess to your artwork. So, it is better to check the paints by applying them at the corner to know if there is any difference in their tone after they get dry.

If the tone remains the same, then you can use the same color for your painting, but if it dries with the darker tone, then always apply a lighter tone so that you will have the desired color tone after your artwork dries.


As canvas is mostly used for oil and acrylic paints, these two mediums are opaque in nature and can overlap any color. For this quality, you can also try under painting.

In under painting, an outline is made first with an opposing color (this adds depth and texture to the artwork). Even if the outline is not visible after it is finished, you can still feel the depth of it.

Experiment with medium/ trying different mediums

You can add different mediums to your paints to have different textures, thickness, and glossy effect as well as drying time. It can add different effects to your work and add more depth to it. Adding different types of oil to oil paints can change the appearance of your artwork. Linseed oil makes it shinier and glossier and turpentine oil makes it reflected as well as allows it to dry quickly.

You can add different mediums to your artwork. It will give depths to your art piece and will also allow you to experiment with new things. There are many modern artists that practice mix media. This is another vast topic of discussion.

A safe place to dry

As oil paints take a lot of time to dry, it depends on the layers and the depth of the paint you applied on the canvas. If you applied oil paint in too much quantity, then it may take a day or two to dry completely. But if you add more oil to your oil paints and then apply a thin layer to the canvas, then it will dry in hours.

For quick painting, many painters use more oil so that the paint will dry quickly and they can display their painting early. But for this, you should work from light to dark colors on the canvas as a thin layer will not hide the back layers completely, so it is best to paint lighter and then add darker shades to your artwork.

As oil paints require more time to dry, so placing them somewhere safe should be the priority, otherwise the artwork can get damaged easily. So, always dry your artwork by placing them somewhere they can be safe from getting damage. Q simple touch can ruin your painting easily if it is not dry completely.


Do not put your painting in sunlight or in front of a heater or a fireplace to dry them quickly. The heat can damage the colors and make your artwork dull. Especially sunlight can even damage the canvas making your painting no longer attractive to the viewer.


Oil painting is not a difficult art technique to do. We have collected and presented above all the steps in detail on how to paint on canvas for beginners. By following all the tips, you can become a pro from a beginner in no time. Everything needs practice and if you cannot make what you wish in your first attempt on painting, you can always practice to make yourself better at it.

Painting has no specific criteria to be judged with. It all depends on the viewer’s aesthetics and the way he/she thinks and interprets things. So best of luck with your work. We tried our best to make this article helpful for you in every possible way.

Happy painting! 😊

If you liked this article, you may want to join our community through this Newsletter. I look to provide something extra to the people who are interested! See you on the other side!