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How To Paint on Printed Canvas

Author: The Printique Team

Some of my favorite images are not technically perfect, but they remind me of a time and place that brought me joy. For example, I have many photos in my phone’s camera roll from my travel adventures all over the world from many older phones. These images still have worth and although they won’t print well as a large photograph, there is still a way to make them into art with a little creative ingenuity.

For years, I have been creating acrylic paintings of my favorite “less-than-perfect” cameraphone images by painting over canvas, and I’m going to share a few secrets so you can too. For a bit of Inspiration, check out this video of the painting I did of one of my favorite New York cityscape views:

Preparing Your Photo for Painting On Canvas

When thinking about the photograph you want to use as a base for your canvas painting, keep in mind that you will basically be using the image as a kind of base for a paint-by-number concept. It’s really about the vibe of the image, the color, and the shapes that you are going to be using as a guide. Therefore, your photo can be a bit out of focus or lack some detail. I tend to paint in a very loose impressionistic style, so having a pixelated photo actually helps to promote that style.

Whatever image you choose, you are going to need to make sure that it will print in the Printique ordering system. Printique is set up so that images that are too small to print with good quality actually won’t go through the ordering system, so you will need to enlarge your image and save it to the actual size of the canvas you are trying to order. I use photoshop to crop and save larger files for printing, but there are also other programs or apps you can use if Photoshop is not an option.

Upload your photo to a Printique Gallery and select the size Canvas Print you’d like to paint. I choose to get my canvases with a black edge rather than a photo wrapped edge. A black edge looks more like a “real” painting and is less space you will need to paint.

Supplies You’ll Need for Painting Over Photos on Canvas

1. Acrylic Paint
Acrylic is an easier medium to learn with, dries faster, and is easier to layer to build texture. I choose to use Arteza Acrylic paints, but really any brand of acrylic paint will work. Acrylic paints dry to sort of a “plastic” finish very quickly, allowing you to work quicker. You can buy Arteza Acrylics at any art supply store such as Michael’s, on Amazon, or on Atreza.com. Make sure that the paints your purchase are not “pouring” paints as those are much thinner and are meant for paint pouring art, not generally for actual painting.

2. Medium
Acrylic Paint medium is a liquid or gel substance that you add to your paint to change the consistency, change the sheen and luminosity and to extend the pigment. Glassy or Matte Mediums will make the paint thinner and more transparent, while changing the finish of the paint to glossy or matte when dry. A Gel Medium thickens the paint, making brush strokes more evident and make it easier to build up texture on a painting.

For my personal taste, I use a pouring Medium and add to the paint when I need to cover a lot of space and need a lot of color, or when I need to do detail work and need the paint to go on thinner. The Liquitex medium I used can be purchased at Amazon.

3. Brushes
Choosing the right brushes can feel like a daunting task. The basics of what you need to know is that the small the brush, the finer the detail. If you want to do a photo-realistic painting, you are going to want to purchase brushes that are small and will allow you to make sharp lines and be very detailed in laying in your paint. If your style is more impressionistic, where you are laying in larger, more textured layers of paint, you will want to work with larger brushes. Your best bet is to get a brush set and start to play with the brush strokes on a practice canvas or surface to get a feel for what sort of brushes and strokes work best for your style. Here is a good brush set to get you started.

4. Palette and palette knives
A palette is simply the surface where you mix your paints. You can use any surface as a palette, but having a palette lets you be mobile with your paints and makes for easier cleanup.

Palette knives are the tools that you use to mix your paint colors together, but they can also do double-duty as painting tools. Using a knife as a brush can lend itself to techniques like scraping straight lines, or dragging the flat end along the canvas to build up layers of textured paint.

5. Easel
Putting a canvas on an easel often makes it easier to maneuver around the canvas and find comfortable positions to paint, while holding the canvas in a sturdy position so it won’t fall during any kind of brush stroke. I use an adjustable lightweight easel that I can position for standing or sitting positions. It can also adjust to sit on a desk or tabletop.

There’s No “Wrong” Way to Make Art!

It may feel intimidating to try painting on a canvas if you have never painted before, but remember, art is simply about personal expression. Although there are techniques and “rules” you can learn about the best ways to paint, at the end of the day making art is just about being creative and creating a visual expression of the things that bring you joy. So jump in and give it a try and create your own masterpiece for your home!


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