Home > Art and Painting > Painting on Canvas

Painting on Canvas

By: Roxanne McDonald - Updated: 27 Nov 2010 | comments*Discuss
Canvas Painting Oil Painting On Canvas

Some say it is trial and error. Others say it is learned technique. Experienced artists who do oil painting on canvas offer helpful suggestions for common concerns that come up in the process.

Art Painting Canvas Q and As

Q: What art painting canvas should I begin with?

A: There are several possibilities for canvas choices—using canvas panels, stretching your own canvas, using pre-stretched splined or stapled canvas, or working with gallery-wrap canvas.

Canvas panels – canvas stretched over cardboard frame/bars

Stretching your own canvas – cotton or linen (primed with gesso or un-primed) canvas, wooden stretcher bars, staples, canvas pliers, a right angle, scissors or Exacto or Matte knife, and a small art hammer will make up your canvas-stretching supply kit. More expensive to start, but over time will be more affordable than pre-stretched canvases.

Pre-stretched canvas – cotton or linen canvas that is typically primed and stretched over a wooden frame/bars and ready for oil painting.

Gallery-wrap canvas – canvas with no staples or nails showing where it was attached to the stretcher frame.

Q: What basic supplies do I need for oil painting on canvas?
A: Besides your choice of canvas, you will need the following starter materials/media.Brushes – Typically, brushes are synthetic, natural, or nylon brights, filberts, rounds, and flats. As well, these brushes are categorised as either bristle or sable brushes—with bristle brushes being stiffer or harder and sable being softer. You can use the same brushes for oil painting and acrylic painting, while you will want to use specifically designated watercolour brushes for watercolour.

Once you experiment awhile, you will come to know and decide on which brushes you prefer, be they ones you feel blend better, ones better for large canvas painting, or ones better for select subjects and details.

Oil Paints

Oil paints – Available in tubes of two sizes (the larger for whites, usually), oil paints for a beginning painter are best kept to a few primary colours, white, and black. This is so you can experiment with mixing your own colours, for starters.

Paint Pallettes

Painter palettes – Again depending upon your preference, you will want to get a palette which is either of wood, glass, plastic, metal, or even paper (the latter coming as a pad of many sheets). Choose a neutral collared palette, for the paints will be more easily discerned against a white or grey than against a distinctive colour.

Palette knives and painting knives

Palette knives/painting knives – Available in several shapes and sizes, palette knives are used by many to mix colours and by a few as a painting implement (a special effect is derived from the knife that differs from those of the brush, as is a different result gleaned from using your rag or even the tube of paint). However, the typical technique for oil painting on canvas is to work “fat over lean”--from lean to fat—layering to enhance drying time and to avoid thick paint cracking.


Medium – Painters use a medium (of which there are several) for mixing colours, changing paint’s thickness, adding a varnish to paint, or enhancing texture or quality or colour. Each medium has distinct characteristics, resulting in such things as translucency, sheen, thickness (or density or body), or paint exposing, holding, or concealing brushstrokes.

For oil painting on canvas, there are such medium options as linseed oil, turpentine, poppy seed oil, walnut oil, safflower oil, cold wax, resin, and varnish(es).

And each medium has consequences, so do some experimenting or further research to know the aging, shining, or yellowing properties each might have.

Q: Are there any basic beginning “rules” I should know for oil painting on canvas?

A: The first and foremost suggestion is to apply “fat over lean”: With each layer you add, the paint should be oilier than the previous application. This is when your medium comes in handy, as your first layer(s) will consist of more thinning (with turpentine or spirits), for example.

Q: How do I deal with the canvas edges when I am finished?

A: Again, it is up to you what effect you want: some painters leave the edges unpainted, for the piece will be framed. Others paint right onto the edges, or what some call painting “around the corner”. Still others merely add one of the colours from the front of the painting—avoiding stark white or pure black as the edges will call to the viewer more than you may wish for them to.

You might also like...
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
Why not be the first to leave a comment for discussion, ask for advice or share your story...

If you'd like to ask a question one of our experts (workload permitting) or a helpful reader hopefully can help you... We also love comments and interesting stories

(never shown)
(never shown)
(never shown)
(never shown)
Enter word:
Latest Comments
  • Nellt
    Re: Glossary of Knitting Terminology
    Cant understand shaking. Inc1 are each end of3rd row and 10 foll 4th rows then on 1 foll 6th rows. Help please.
    4 October 2019
  • Nikki
    Re: Card Stencilling Techniques
    Hi I have been given a few different coloured stencils, I don't know if colour means anything,some r corner ones,others sentiments…
    10 September 2019
  • Mameto
    Re: Sell Your Home Made Cards
    I make handmade albums and would be grateful if you could advice me on how I can sell them in uk only Craft fairs have become quit…
    27 July 2019
  • Liz
    Re: Glossary of Knitting Terminology
    How do I work a row that says: *P1, catch a loop between the 3rd and 4th sts, K1 and pass the loop over these stitches, P1,…
    19 July 2019
  • Gem
    Re: Basic Flower Arranging
    Hello I have joined a flower group and next weeks lesson is crescent flower arranging. Can you give me so basic tips, steps and are…
    25 June 2019
  • Christine
    Re: Making Gel Candles
    What's the difference between wax coated and wax impregnated?
    2 May 2019
  • Jude
    Re: Glossary of Knitting Terminology
    What does standing off in knitting mean....also cross off mean
    27 April 2019
  • Jojo74
    Re: Glossary of Knitting Terminology
    On my pattern on start it says cast on 37 stitches, commencing with 2nd row of 1x1 rib work 5 rows but after that goes to 6th…
    20 February 2019
  • Radhi
    Re: Sell Your Home Made Cards
    Hi, I am from a very small town from Gujarat...I want to sell my qulling envelope online .. please help me.
    4 February 2019
  • Radhi
    Re: Sell Your Home Made Cards
    I want to sell my qulling envelope ...online .. Please help me.
    4 February 2019