Canvas Painting Techniques

From cave paintings to digital graphics, art has changed many faces over the centuries. Artists find several reasons to create art, whether as a hobby, passion, or profession. Among all the forms, the one that remains people’s popular choice is canvas art.

Since the 1950s, canvas paintings have adorned palaces, homes, and buildings. Nowadays, modern and contemporary art styles are in trend. People purchase modern canvas art to decorate their surroundings. The diversity of artistic impressions and mixed media in illustrations makes places vibrant and energetic.

You must have often heard about a friend buying a canvas print online or an art enthusiast painting it. While we have all purchased or painted canvas art once, let's learn its features today.

This article will help you better understand canvas art, painting techniques, and its elements. We will also discuss the preservation methods, various art styles, genres, and tips for creating a canvas painting. Read on to discover all about versatile canvas artworks.

Canvas Printing vs. Canvas Painting: Understanding the Difference

Many people are often confused between canvas paintings and prints. Though these terms are almost similar, they are very distinct. So, before reading further, you must know the differences between the two canvas art forms.

Canvas art includes both canvas painting and canvas printing. To begin with, let's first understand what canvas painting is.

Canvas Painting

Canvas painting is an artwork in which a person paints straight onto the canvas. The water-resistant and durable qualities of canvases make them an excellent painting medium. Artists prefer oil, acrylic, or watercolor paints on cotton canvas, as they blend and dry fast.

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Canvas Printing

Though canvas prints have a visual resemblance to canvas paintings, they are different. Canvas printing is a technique for producing printed representations of a photograph on canvas. A canvas print's textured and sturdy surface makes it resemble an oil painting.

Because of their high-quality material, canvas prints are more expensive than regular art prints. The inkjet printer technology, a time-consuming and complex process, also adds to the final cost.

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Now that you know the primary difference between the two, let's move forward to understand the minute features of canvas art.

What is Art Canvas?

A canvas is a plain-woven fabric made using cotton, linen, or synthetic fibers like polyester. Because of its durability and versatility, people use canvas for varied purposes.

The toughness of this art medium helps it sustain over a long time, and it can thus be passed on to future generations. The canvas’s ability to hold paint allows the exploration of various artistic styles and techniques on it. The adaptability of the canvas gives the artists the leverage to experiment with different mediums like oil paints, acrylics, watercolors, mixed media, or digital art.

People say the interiors of houses and offices reflect the owner's personality and preferences. Adding stunning canvas wall art is the best way to enhance the atmosphere and showcase your taste. You can choose traditional art, contemporary art, and digital canvas prints according to your liking.

As we discussed earlier, canvas painting is an art form in which an artist's hand paints their subject on cotton or linen canvas. A canvas print is the printing of pictures on a canvas. Every canvas print or painting is unique and charming. If preserved, canvas wall art is among the best investments for an art enthusiast.

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The History of Canvas Paintings

Canvas has been the most famous art medium for decades. Before the Renaissance period, artists made paintings on solid mediums like wood. In the 14th century, canvas emerged as an affordable alternative to wooden panels. Initially made from tightly woven hemp, canvas derives from the Latin Cannabis.

During the Renaissance, merchant shipping flourished, giving rise to many advancements and technologies. Among them was the use of canvas fibers for sails and tents. As the marine sector boomed, canvases became readily available to the public.

In the 16th century, the Venetian artists were the first to use canvas for paintings. Canvas art soon gained popularity among people for its feasibility over wooden panels. Artists used canvas as an easy-to-use, lightweight, cheap, and portable medium. Unlike wood, they were less prone to cracking and warping. It even got rolled up and altered to any desired size.

Canvas Paintings

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By the 17th century, canvas spread widely throughout Northern Europe. Individuals started using it for oil painting, acrylic art, embroidery craftwork, and more. In the 18th and 19th centuries, American cotton was available in the market. But, the artists still preferred linen and hemp as material for canvas.

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Canvas prints were a forerunner of canvas painting, and the invention of lithography gave rise to them. As printing technology became prevalent, photographers experimented and used inkjet printers to print their pictures on canvas. Since the 1990s, canvas prints have become famous for their remarkable quality and color.

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Elements of Canvas Painting

The elements of art have built the foundation for eye-catching and meaningful artwork over centuries. These facets are the building blocks for the creation of any masterpiece. Let us look at the necessary elements for a canvas painting.

1) Color Theory

Colors, undoubtedly, are the most vital element of canvas painting. Through the proper selection of colors, the artist can set the mood and tone of any artwork. For example, dark colors like black, grey, dark blue, etc., can be daunting for viewers, whereas cool colors like yellow and green are inviting.

There are limitless ways of experimenting and playing with color tones. Depending upon their preferences, artists can opt for monochromatic, ombre, or contrasting shades. The artists’ color choice must resonate with the subject and art style they are depicting.

Every color brings a new perspective to the painting. Thus, for effective use of colors understanding color theory is necessary. Color theory helps combine colors according to the color wheel. It helps to comprehend how colors co-relate and complement one another.

The color wheel is an organized illustration of primary, secondary, and tertiary colors.

  • Primary colors include red, yellow, and blue, which cannot be made by mixing other colors. Instead, these colors combine to form secondary shades.
  • Secondary colors comprise orange, green, and purple. Artists create these shades by blending equal proportions of primary colors. For example, red and yellow form orange, red and blue makes purple, and blue and yellow result in green.
  • Tertiary colors are an extension of primary and secondary colors. One can make tertiary colors by mixing primary and secondary shades in different ratios—for example, magenta, violet, amber, etc.

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Apart from these three types, there are complementary and analogous colors. Complementary colors are two contrasting colors located on the opposite sides of the color wheel. Further, analogous colors are adjacent in the color wheel, having similar hues and tints.

If artists use color theory with accuracy and precision, they can create excellent results on the canvas.

2) Texture and Depth

Textures add depth, interest, and visual balance to a work of art. A canvas surface is best for creating texture and giving a graphic feel. An artist can make textures in various shapes, tones, and forms to evoke the viewers' emotions.

The possibilities of using texture as a crucial element in art are endless. For example, a rough texture amidst a delicate subject can break the monotony and be aesthetically appealing. Rough and smooth surfaces will complement each other, giving the viewers a narrative impression.

There are two types of textures that an artist can add to a canvas painting:

An artist can create texture by layering thick paint on a smooth surface. The color should hold its shape until it dries. You can make interesting patterns with brush strokes or palette knives on a textured surface. Mix cold wax with oil paints to create a thicker medium that holds its shape throughout the process.

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Another way of depicting texture on canvas is by making an illusionary, three-dimensional subject. An artist can use the dry-brush-moist-paper technique to create a realistic picture on canvas.

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Textures can be challenging for artists, but they can take their paintings to another level with the correct line, color, and value.

3) Composition

Composition is one of the most crucial elements in an expressive painting. It refers to the arrangement of elements in a structured order so that everything complements each other. Composition is assembling all the aspects to form a wholesome picture.

The main subject, background, and side components add to the final picture. The facets that help set the composition are patterns, balance, proportion, unity, rhythm, movement, contrast, and color.

These together help an artist develop a captivating canvas painting. Artists recommend various techniques for making traditional and unconventional compositions. Some of these methods are:

1) Rule of Thirds:

In this technique, an artist divides the frame into thirds with the help of horizontal and vertical lines. After splitting, they place the main subject at the focal point of two intersecting lines. The rule of thirds prevents the main object from bisecting, which may look unpleasant. Using this method, one can make a dynamic composition.

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2) Rule of Odds:

The rule of odds indicates that an odd number of subjects on the frame looks more appealing than an even number. Thus, an artist chooses the number of elements in a composition in odd numbers to enhance the canvas painting.

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3) Rule of Space:

Space helps in creating in-depth and three-dimensional illustrations. Positive space is the space that occupies the primary objects. On the other hand, negative space is the area that covers the side elements. Thus, an artist maintains the uniformity of space to make appealing artwork.

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4) Simplification:

The rule of simplification advises the artist to keep only the necessary subjects in the painting and avoid the others. Simplification helps in making paintings with clarity and clearness. Paintings focussing on a few primary objects always attract the viewers’ attention.

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Apart from color theory, texture, and composition, other canvas painting elements include direction, line, shapes, tones, values, etc.

Materials and Tools for Canvas Painting

Knowing the materials and tools required for a canvas painting is fundamental. The primary task before attempting a canvas painting is collecting the materials. Some essential art supplies are:

  • A canvas surface forms the base of the art. You can pick any canvas form, whether a canvas pad, roll, panel, or stretched canvas.
  • Gesso helps in priming and prepping up your canvas medium. It protects the painting from damage and gives a smooth texture and surface.
  • Paints bring life to any artwork. You can choose watercolor, oil, and acrylic paints for canvas painting. The colors should be of high pigmentation and must be easily blendable.
  • Invest in durable and easy-to-use paintbrushes. You can go for round or flat brushes depending on the style of painting you choose.
  • Color palettes and water jars are necessary for the painting process.
  • A paper towel helps absorb and remove excess water from the painting surface. You can use a palette knife to create effects and textures in your artwork.

So, these art tools are vital for attempting a canvas painting.

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Canvas Selection and Preparation

Canvas painting has been a trendy art genre for ages. Conversion of a favorite picture to a canvas painting gives an artist an imagination rush. It is one of the most fun ways to utilize your free time and recreate something beautiful.

A blank canvas pushes artists to explore and rediscover ideas and pictures. The possibilities for creating a magnificent canvas painting are infinite and boundless. But before painting on a canvas, one must choose a suitable material type.

Every art canvas has its form, quality, texture, and holding strength according to its weave. While many canvases are available, canvas selection depends on your preference, art style, and budget. But, to clarify your doubts and help you decide, let us review the various canvases available nowadays.

Types of Canvas

There are different kinds of canvases to choose from:

1) Canvas Panels

For beginners, canvas panels are the best, more affordable alternative to stretched canvas. Making canvas panels involves mounting an acrylic primed cotton canvas fabric on a rigid board. This form of canvas is best for individuals who have just started canvas paintings.

Canvas panels are popular among art students because of their lightweight and easy-to-carry quality. These panels are available in various sizes, textures, and colors. Some manufacturers make canvas panels in cheaper fabrics than cotton, like hessian, muslin, and calico.

Yet, a disadvantage of canvas panels is they degrade faster than any other form and are non-preservable. Thus, artists can only use these canvases for practice purposes. Nowadays, a professional-quality canvas panel is also available. But they are also unparalleled to a stretched canvas's quality and texture.

Canvas Panels

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2) Stretched Canvas

Stretched canvas is one of the artists’ most used canvas forms. The making involves stretching canvas over thin wooden frames called stretcher bars and stapling over them. Primed and prepared with gesso, stretched canvases are best for an acrylic painting.

Acrylic paint adheres to the unprimed and primed canvas but gives a dull or bright impression accordingly. The cutting-edge technology of stretching the canvas has made it sturdy and sustainable for centuries.

Stretched canvases come in different thicknesses, referred to as deep or traditional. Deep canvas has thick stretcher bars, where you can create effects by painting on the sides and edges. Classic canvas has thin side wooden panels, best for framing purposes.

Stretched canvas is more expensive than any other medium because of its prior preparation and technology. It is best suited for artists who do not want to spend time preparing and stretching and want to concentrate on painting.

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3) Canvas Pads

Canvas pads refer to primed canvas sheets bound in a book. This form of canvas is helpful for beginners and artists who practice a lot. These canvas pads are lightweight and portable, making them easy to use.

While some canvas pads have actual canvas sheets, others have heavy papers with canvas-like textures. Later, one can mount and stretch the real canvas sheets on a wooden frame.

Like canvas panels, these also do not last long for centuries and can degrade within years. Still, canvas pads are best for artists looking for less expensive, mobile, and manageable canvases.

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4) Canvas Rolls

If you like starting from scratch and prepping yourself, canvas rolls are for you. A canvas roll is an affordable form of canvas that artists can buy in any size, weight, and texture. Best suited for a very large painting, these types of canvases are available primed or unprimed.

Canvas roll manufacturers make them in either linen or cotton and sell them in meters. Thus, to avoid any waste of money, one should buy the exact amount of canvas fabric they need.

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So, you can choose the canvas mediums that best suit you.

Preparing the Canvas for Painting

The methods of preparing a canvas differ from person to person. While some art-supplying firms provide pretreated canvases, others sell raw fabrics.

The first step is to have your canvas stretched tightly to fit the wooden frame. You can even opt for typically stretched canvases to make the process easy. Once done, your canvas is ready for sizing, ground, and priming.

Sizing is applying a sealant on the canvas as a protecting layer. For oil paintings, artists use animal glue on linen canvases. Sizing helps protect the canvas from acidic paints, which can deteriorate the canvas over time.

After sizing, artists apply a ground layer of it to prepare the canvases further. The ground layer gives it a uniform texture and absorbency and protects the canvas in the long run. Combining oil paint, a white pigment like chalk, POP, or whiting, and an aqueous binder makes the most common ground named gesso.

One can make or purchase gesso according to the cream-paste consistency required. The amount of gesso also determines the roughness of the surface. Generally, artists apply two-three layers of gesso to get a smooth finish. But if you prefer a rough texture, one layer is enough. After using the gesso, let it dry, and remove the residue or dust once dried.

For acrylic paintings, use an acrylic gesso and a primer. Priming helps maintain the color intensity of acrylic paint and helps blend a rich tone. Thus, these techniques make your canvas extraordinarily durable and perfect to work on.

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Styles and Genres of Canvas Painting

An artist’s painting style sets the tone and mood of the canvas painting. How an individual represents their subject delivers the message they want to convey. Over various art periods, many canvas painting styles and genres emerged and gained popularity. Let’s look at some prominent art styles that significantly changed art history.

1) Abstract Expressionism

The abstract painting style is a unique technique of making an independent, non-representational, and non-objective composition. The artist uses random shapes, bold colors, forms, lines, textures, brush strokes, or paint splashes to form his artwork.

The painting is not based on any recognizable subject or object, allowing viewers to make their interpretations. The artist's intense feelings and spontaneity grab all the attention. The artwork does not portray a specific meaning and is free from explanations, narratives, or stories. Individuals make their opinions depending upon their perceptions.

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2) Impressionism

Bold and thick brush strokes, brighter tones, and unblended colors define impressionism art. It creates an illusion of depth and movement with light, shades, and angles. Impressionist art aims to get a more realistic representation of the subject from farther away.

Artists practiced impressionism in outdoor locations on the spot rather than on pre-decided setups in studios. They focus on the object's expression and not its minute details.

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3) Modern Expressionism

Modern art style brought a significant transformation in society. Modernistic art rejects the traditional and conservative types of painting. It is a new form of representation and depiction of subjects.

Artists experimented with their techniques and methods, giving rise to modern expressionism. They added their fresh perspectives and embraced bright colors, random lines, and shapes. It promoted innovation, exploration, and the invention of unique styles. Modernistic art also gives an impression of individuality and freedom.

In the present day, contemporary canvas for a gallery wall is very prevalent. People buy modern canvas to uplift their home decor and add beautiful elements to their living space.

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4) Cubism

Pablo Picasso and Georges Barque started the cubism painting style in the early 1900s. Cubism focuses on presenting things from different angles. The main elements of Cubism include adding geometric shapes, straight lines, multiple perceptions, passages, and a monochromatic color palette.

Artists focus on breaking a subject into pieces and combining them to provide different perspectives. It also emphasizes two-dimensional paintings instead of using linear perspective to create depth in portraits.

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5) Pop Art

Inspired by the popular culture of the Western world, artists started creating pop art. The pop painting style was a rebellion against the ongoing traditional techniques. The main components include bright colors, humor, and satirical effects.

Initially, the art faced backlash from the conservatives, but it was soon widely accepted by the viewers. Today, pop paintings speak the language of progressive thinking and new generations.

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6) Surrealism

In surrealism, the artists portrayed illogical and unsettling situations, weird faces, and objects. It involved depicting natural subjects in imaginary setups. The artists presented unrealistic and unconscious ideas, thoughts, and dreams.

Surrealism is an art that surpasses reality and reflects hallucinatory shapes and ideas. Artists draw inspiration from daily dream-like situations or some unimaginable weird scenarios. Surrealistic canvas paintings focus on mismatched and subconscious elements. It lets their viewers form perceptions and views according to their understanding.

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Famous Canvas Paintings and Their Artists

Beautiful canvases have adorned museums and art galleries since ancient times. Renowned artists like Leonardo da Vinci, Vincent Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, and many more have contributed to the upliftment of art.

Though hundreds of canvas paintings are prominent in art history, we will explore the top 5 paintings of all time.

1) Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci

The most replicated, talked about, and visited painting, ‘Mona Lisa’ by Leonardo da Vinci, remains the inspiration of thousands of artists. Painted in 1506, ‘Mona Lisa’ was an oil painting of the High Renaissance period.

The world’s most valuable painting catches its viewer’s attention because of its mysterious expressions and illusionary backdrop. This famous painting has always been the talk of the town and the subject of people’s debates.

Today, the Louvre Museum of Paris houses this legendary painting. Thus, the ‘Mona Lisa’ legacy continues to stay forever.

Leonardo da Vinci

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2) The Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh

One of the most remarkable paintings, ‘The Starry Night,’ is a classic masterpiece by Vincent Van Gogh. This oil painting on canvas is a recognized work of Western art. Created in June 1889, ‘The Starry Night’ depicts the view from the asylum room of Van Gogh.

After Van Gogh self-mutilated his left ear, he admitted himself to a lunatic asylum in Southern France. In the painting, Van Gogh captures the scenic beauty and creates an imaginary village. The artwork is an example of new procedures and sheer excellence.

Art historians regard ‘The Starry Night’ as Vincent Van Gogh's most extraordinary work of his career. The Museum of Modern Art of New York City has taken pride in housing this historic painting since 1941.

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3) The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli

The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli is one of the earliest surviving oils on canvas. Unusual for its time, this painting marked one of the first use of canvas for art. Botticelli created his master artwork in the 1480s depicting Venus, the Goddess of love and beauty.

The composition portrays the grown and naked Venus emerging from a giant scallop at a seashore in Cyprus. Art enthusiasts appreciate Bottecelli’s precision and accuracy of the painting. They also believe this artwork symbolizes civilization's rebirth and new hope.

In its initial days, the illustration faced criticism because of its nude images and anti-Christian values. But today, the Uffizi Gallery of Florence values and preserves this mythic creation.

Uffizi Gallery

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4) Girl With a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer

Vermeer’s most renowned painting, ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring,’ is a portrait of an imaginary figure. This artwork, created in 1665 by Johannes, focussed on the aesthetic depiction of a girl in an unusual setup.

Vermeer was the master of light, showcasing his skills in the softness of the girl’s face and shiny lips. An element that led to a lot of discussions among people was the pearl earring. Some believe the pearl isn’t a natural pearl but a glass earring. According to the Mauritshuis Museum, the pearl in the painting is an illusion of the opaque and transparent effects of the white paint.

After many decades, the art community still regards ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ as an enigmatic and alluring painting of Renaissance times.

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5) Impression, Sunrise by Claude Monte

‘Impression, Sunrise’ is a remarkable example of the Impressionist art style that bloomed in the 19th century. On visiting his hometown Le Harve, Claude Monte created a series of scenic paintings. One of the paintings of the series is the ‘Impressionism Sunrise.’

Through his artwork, Monte pays tribute to France's beauty and grace. Symbolic of the renewal of France, he depicts the port during the varying phases of the day. This large painting gave Monet worldwide acclamation and fame, with people appreciating him for his art style and techniques.

Sunrise by Claude Monte

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Getting Started with Canvas

Canvas fibers have always been an artist’s favorite choice for painting. Art lovers use acrylics, watercolors, and oil paintings to create excellent works of art. They use different painting techniques to give their creations a new style and look.

While there are many canvas painting techniques, we will review some to guide you through your art journey.

Different Painting Techniques

There are different painting techniques you can explore:

1) Dry Brush

The dry brush on moist paper is one of the most widely used and standard painting techniques. The dry brush technique helps you create well-defined, sharp brushstrokes and edges. The paint is applied to the paintbrush’s tip, giving the artist complete control over the application of pigment on paper.

It helps to create smooth tones and soft gradations with the soft-edged brush hair in place. The moist canvas with a thick color mix helps create small, refined brushstrokes.

2) Glazing

Glazing is applying a coat of transparent paint over a dry part of the painting surface. Glazing helps create shadows and modulate color effects. It has an additional impact on the artwork. For example, a light watery layer of red on a dry yellow part will give it a tint of orange.

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3) Pouring

Pouring is a painting technique that produces stunning art pieces of abstract impressionism. In this method, you have to choose different colors and then flow them individually on the art medium. Once you have poured out all the colors, gently move and shift the canvas so that the colors can form their patterns and imprints.

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4) Splattering

Splattering symbolizes the chaos and mess of humans' lives. In this technique, the artist wets the paintbrush before dipping it into the acrylic pigment, then splashes the saturated color on the canvas. The flick of paint represents the color and expression of art.

iCanvas

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5) Dabbing

Dabbing is the method of applying paint with light and fast pressure. Usually, artists use a stiff, bristle brush or a paper towel dabbing effect. This technique creates movement and motion in the painting. For example, Claude Monte used dabbing in his masterpieces to illustrate greenery and bushes.

Dabbing

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Canvas Painting For Beginners

For creating a canvas painting, a beginner first needs to know the basics of the canvas. Here are some tips which will help you kickstart the painting process.

Choose types of canvas that are easy to handle and fit your budget. Refrain from jumping straight to expensive and high-quality canvases, as you require a lot of practice in the initial stages.

Once you buy a canvas, prep it up. Use a gesso primer and make a layer that protects your canvas from unwanted damage.

Collect all the vital art supplies like paintbrushes, water jars, acrylics or watercolors, color palettes, and paper tissues.

Pick a picture to convert it to canvas painting. Choosing an easy subject at the start is advisable to learn the painting techniques and methods effectively. Once you understand all the basics, you can upgrade your skills and make more challenging art pieces.

Care and Preservation of Canvas Paintings

Apart from buying and creating art, its preservation is necessary. Every canvas painting requires care and protection for its sustainable presence. Some ways to preserve a canvas painting are:

  1. Before positioning your canvas art on the wall, find a suitable place and hardware to hang it on. Avoid keeping your canvas in direct sunlight or heat to prevent fading and distortion.
  2. Your canvas requires regular dusting to keep it clean. Minute dust and dirt particles can damage a canvas print or painting over time.
  3. Keep your canvas frame away from wet and moist environments. Moisture can cause warping or the growth of fungus. Avoid spraying cleaning solutions on the painting, as they can react to it adversely.
  4. Do not keep touching the canvas painting with your bare hands. The skin excretes oils that can damage and discolor the canvas. Handle the artwork with the side wooden frames and edges.
  5. Hire a professional cleaner if you own a precious ancient canvas painting. Art conservationists restore and preserve valuable artworks to maintain them for long ages. Thus, they can help you keep your priceless possession for future generations.

Conclusion

For centuries, canvas art has been the most treasured belongings of art enthusiasts, galleries, and museums. Though today canvas prints have taken the lead, the authenticity and originality of canvas paintings cannot be denied.

Now that you know what canvas paintings and prints are, what's stopping you from exploring canvases? So, go and kindle your passion for art today.