The best way to grow as an artist and define your personal style is to paint a lot. There is just no substitute for putting paint on the canvas! Well, I think we all know that’s easier said than done. Not only is finding time to paint hard enough (read my tips for time management here!) but trying to come up with new things to paint each day can feel impossible. I’ve put together a ton of canvas painting ideas that will have you excited to paint!
Canvas Painting Ideas
First things first, let’s reframe how we look at each painting. I like to use each new project as an opportunity to try something new — a new technique, a new color combination, a new subject — which encourages me to step outside of my comfort zone. My canvas painting ideas will range between all of these variables and more, so feel free to save the 30-day challenge at the bottom of the page!
Canvas Painting Ideas: Techniques
Try one of these techniques on your next canvas! Because each suggestion can be interpreted many ways, be sure to revisit each tip multiple times.
- Fingerpaint. It’s my favorite way to unleash my creativity! Learn more.
- Use a palette knife. Whether you’re a total newbie or a long-time expert, pick up a palette knife and use it in a way you never have before.
- Use only one brush. This one is tricky! I love that it forces me to get creative.
- Add water. The most used creative tool in my studio is my Water Girl continuous spray bottle!
- Add a medium. Try an acrylic gel medium. Or add sand. Or even joint compound! You’ll never know what gives you the texture of your dreams until you test it out.
- Use an unconventional tool. I’m a big fan of spatulas.
- Copy your favorite artist. This is a great way to learn a new technique!
- Copy your least favorite style. Try to maintain your artistic style in a technique that you don’t enjoy.
- Try a tutorial. Let the experts do the work for you! Try a tutorial today.
- Try a new product, tool, medium, or canvas. Always use acrylics? Try some watercolor! Always use a square canvas? Try something round!
Canvas Painting Ideas: Color Combinations
- Create a color palette based on your favorite movie. Paint something using that palette.
- Paint something highlighting your least favorite color. You might be surprised to find that it can be beautiful!
- Try a monochrome palette. Some artists thrive most when they’re forced to limit themselves.
- Paint the same landscape in all 4 seasons. Pay close attention to the way the colors and light changes.
- Use ALL the colors. Try to incorporate as much color as possible into a piece in a way that feels right to you.
- Incorporate metallics. I love the way a little sparkle can change a painting!
- Create a color palette based on your favorite place. What colors come to mind when you think of your favorite vacation destination?
- Create a color palette based on your day. Take pictures of the colors that catch your eye throughout the day.
- Create a color palette for your dream home. Imagine what your dream house looks like. What colors would you want to highlight? Use them to create art for that dream home.
- Just play! Try to find a new combination you’ve never used before! You can see me play with paint live every Wednesday night over on my Instagram page.
Canvas Painting Ideas: Subjects
- Self-portraits. There’s a reason that nearly every artist practices on themselves! It’s a good way to try out new techniques on a reliable subject.
- Flowers & plants. I will NEVER get sick of painting flowers! There is so much beauty to be found in nature and painting it really helps me slow down and appreciate it.
- Movement. The other most beautiful thing on earth? The human body in movement! Dancers, children, swimmers — painting the human body in action gives me a greater appreciation for how incredible it is.
- Architecture. Want to learn perspective? Painting buildings is an easy way to understand perspective, proportion, and depth.
- Landscapes. Back in the day, artists used to travel so they could find new landscapes to paint. These days we are luck to have the internet!! Visit a stock photo site to find a landscape from somewhere you’ve never been.
- Still life. This doesn’t have to mean a bowl of fruit! Paint the books on your shelves or even your favorite meals!
- Pop culture. Paint what you love! Fan art is always so much fun and it tends to sell well.
- Paint the greats. I think it’s important for beginners to familiarize themselves with the most famous art movements/artists and try each style out to see how it feels.
- Abstract. There are so many ways to paint an abstract. Explore them all!
- Your old paintings. One way to measure your growth? Revisit an old subject you’ve already painted before.
Tips for Canvas Painting
I don’t believe there are rules in art but there are a few important things to keep in mind when you’re creating something, especially if you’re in the process of growing.
Let go of the outcome.
This is a total art cliche, but it’s true so I’m going to say it anyway: Process over product. Always.
The more you worry about how something will end up, the less likely you are to learn from it. If you’re so focused on the destination you’ll miss the whole journey, right?! Invest fully in the creative process and you’re more likely to end up with something that you truly love.
It’s just paint.
Seriously! If you hate what you painted you can just… paint over it! Buy yourself a cheap tub of gesso, paint over the canvas until it’s white again, and use some sandpaper to get a smooth finish. Boom! Fresh new canvas.
Same thing goes for furniture! Paint can be stripped, so if you’re really disappointed in the outcome of your efforts you can just start over.
There’s a famous quote from Ira Glass that I think everyone should re-read from time to time:
But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work.
Every artist goes through the messy middle, whether it’s the middle of a painting or the middle of your artistic journey, but you don’t get to the beauty unless you keep going. Don’t give up on your art just because it doesn’t match your expectations. With time, and practice, you’ll be seeing your artistic dreams come true. Speaking of which…
Allow yourself to dream.
Art doesn’t exist in a vacuum; we create things based on our emotions and experiences and knowledge. Coming up with a very clear image of your goals is one of the best ways I know to make sure that you achieve them! Once you have that vision of your future, give in to the process of getting there. Keep your sights set on progress and check in with your goals from time to time. Just like a painting, you might be surprised to find that the process has changed your goals!
Want more support and canvas painting ideas?
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