The most common paints that artists use on canvas are oil paints and acrylic paints, however there are many more that are well-suited to use on a canvas. If you’re looking to experiment with different media in 2022 then read on to find out which paints are suitable for canvas painting for beginners and experienced artists.
Canvas was first believed to have been used as a painting surface in the early 1400s, as its affordability and lightweight nature often made it preferable to wood panel painting, which was the preferred method at the time.
Historically, it wasn’t until the early 1800s that canvas became a more popular painting surface than wood, particularly oil painting on canvas, and many artists used it for their less important pieces of work because it was not as expensive as panel painting.
Painting canvases are made from canvas material stretched out over a wooden frame or stretcher bars, or sometimes over a cardboard backing. Canvas itself was originally made from hemp, which is where it got its name. The Anglo-French work ‘canevaz’ is believed to have been derived from the Ancient Greek work ‘cannabis’ which translates to ‘made of hemp’.
Nowadays, canvas is made from linen or cotton that is plain-woven into a fabric. It is favoured primarily as a painting surface for its durability, even texture and ease of use.
Canvas requires significantly less preparation than other common painting surfaces such as ceramic and wood. Canvases don’t need priming, but it is generally recommended if you want to make your painting last longer or dry quicker.
There are two types of primers when it comes to canvas painting for beginners: porous and non-porous. An acrylic gesso primer will make your canvas porous, and an oil primer will make it non-porous.
Using a porous primer allows the paint to dry more quickly, because the water in the paint is absorbed more quickly into the primer than it is into the canvas. This is ideal for water-based acrylic (or other) paints.
Alternatively, using a non-porous primer will mean the paint does not dry as quickly, which is great if you want to extend the time you can work with the paint. Non-porous primers also allow the paint to keep more of their moisture so often the finish is shinier, which works well when oil painting on canvas.
Paints To Use On Canvas
1. Oil Painting On Canvas
Oil paint is paint made using pigments and oil. The oils most commonly used to make oil paint are walnut oil, linseed oil and poppyseed oil. Different oils will often result in a different finish to the painting, and a varying drying time.
Oil painting on canvas is a great choice for many artists because of the finish it gives. It is widely regarded as the medium that gives the most realistic finishes to a painting due to the added dimensionality, which is difficult to accomplish with acrylic paint.
Many artists prefer oil painting on canvas because it takes a long time to dry, meaning that they have more time to correct mistakes and add details while the paint is still drying. This can be a disadvantage, as it is not unheard of for an oil painting to take weeks to dry completely, so it isn’t a great option for the impatient!
Oil paints are also very versatile; they can be applied with brushes or palette knives and with varying pressures to give very different effects.
One downside, however, is that good oil paints are much more expensive to buy than other paints, so may be less suitable for canvas painting for beginners.
2. Acrylic Painting On Canvas
Acrylic paint is paint made using pigments, an acrylic binder and an acrylic vehicle (usually water). It is a much newer invention in the painting world than oil paints, with the formula first being developed in Germany in 1934. It is usually categorized according to its viscosity, and the quality of the pigments used in it.
Acrylic paint is favoured by many artists, and is recommended for canvas painting for beginners because it is much easier to work with than oil paint and is fast drying. It’s also versatile, like oil paint, and can be applied with a brush or palette knife, although it doesn’t give quite the same depth that oil paint does.
Many artists favour acrylic paint because of its vibrancy, and the fact that is it significantly cheaper than oil paint. It’s relatively beginner-friendly because it’s easy to layer and blend.
3. Gouache Painting On Canvas
Gouache paint, also known as ‘opaque watercolour’, is a paint made using natural pigments, water, a solid white, chalky pigment and a binding agent (usually gum arabic or dextrin). It has a lower opacity than acrylic and oil painting on canvas, but higher than watercolour paint.
Early forms of gouache paint date back to Ancient Egypt, but the word comes from the Italian ‘guazzo’, meaning ‘mud’. The chalky nature of gouache paint makes it heavier and thicker than other paints, and it dries quickly.
Today, gouache paint is used often by commercial artists for posters, illustrations, comics, and other design work. It is also used by artists painting on canvas, and for canvas painting for beginners.
4. Tempera Painting On Canvas
Tempera paint is a paint made of made of pigment and a water-soluble binder. It is known for being a thin paint, which can make it difficult to work with. Before oil painting on canvas and wood became all the rage in the early 1500s, tempera was the commonly-used medium for paint.
It is extremely permanent, with some works still surviving from the first century AD. The word ‘tempera’ is originally from Latin ‘distemperare’ which means ‘to mix thoroughly’. Historically it was made with egg yolk, or other glutinous liquids.
Tempera paint is used by many artists today, and is a relatively inexpensive medium that is good to experiment with when canvas painting for beginners.
5. Watercolour Painting On Canvas
Watercolour paint is a paint made using pigments, a binder (such as gum Arabic), water, and any other additives needed to preserve the paint. Watercolour paints are generally preferred by artists for use on an absorbent paper, rather than canvas, but nevertheless they look great on canvas too.
Watercolour paint is a low-opacity paint that is well-known for the ease of blending and subtlety of the colours it provides. On canvas, watercolour is not suited for beginner use as it can tend to form beads and dry irregularly, depending on the primer you have used.
That being said, watercolour paint is inexpensive and is very easy to clean up so is ideal for beginners and even children to experiment with.
6. Latex Painting On Canvas
Latex paint is a paint made using pigments, acrylic resin and water. It is very similar in composition to acrylic paint, but has a higher water content. Latex paint makes for a great house paint, but many artists also use it in their work on canvas.
Latex paint has a good opacity and is inexpensive in large quantities. While it doesn’t have the longevity of acrylic painting or oil painting on canvas, it works well as canvas painting for beginners.