Not only is canvas painting a therapeutic and rewarding pastime, but it’s also an ever-evolving art form with countless techniques, styles, and trends just waiting to be explored. Whether you’re a seasoned painter or a budding beginner, this post will walk you through a treasure trove of ideas that will breathe new life into your art practice and give some exciting ideas for mesmerising masterpieces you can hang on the wall.
So grab your paints, ready your easel, and let’s get started with these canvas painting ideas.
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Capture the calming beauty of the sea, with a tranquil beach scene and a breaking wave. I created this particular painting with oil paints, but you can follow along with the tutorial with acrylic too. The great thing about painting seascapes, is that the patterns of the waves, ripples and foam appear abstract, so it’s a forgiving and flexible subject to paint—you don’t have to be too precise or accurate.
One technique that goes hand with painting rolling waves and deep blue gradients is blending. If you’re working with acrylic, in order to create smooth gradients and soft transitions between colours that resemble the effect of reflected and refracted light on moving water, either work quickly, or use a medium to extend the open working time of paint. Oils are a great option for creating seascape art because the drying times are so slow, that they enable artists to create seamless gradients and blends.
To paint a seascape scene, you’ll need to mix lots of variations of blue tones. For this, I use a limited palette, including ultramarine blue, phthalo blue, cadmium yellow light and burnt umber to neutralise mixes. Phthalo blue and cadmium yellow light make the most beautiful, pure turquoises, perfect for tropical ocean scenes. Then ultramarine is the perfect pigment for creating the impression of deep water. Make sure to mix lots of transitional shades if you want to create a realistic ocean painting.
Sunset Ocean Painting
Ocean scenes come alive at golden hour. Think of pastel pinks and reds reflecting off the waves and creating beautiful silhouettes of seagulls, boats and palm trees against a warm-hued sky.
To create the effect of this ocean sunset, use similar techniques to those mentioned above for painting seascapes. It’s easiest to start painting the sky then work your way down. The first thing to establish in the painting should be the sky gradient, use a clean soft brush to blend transitional shades. Then paint clouds on top, using a filbert or round brush to render rounded edges.
You’ll need a slightly different colour palette for painting ocean sunsets, compared to painting an ocean scene. Use a warmer yellow pigment like cadmium yellow deep (or imitation cadmium), magenta for pink tones and cadmium red for warmer and deeper red hues.
Wildflower Hilly Landscape
Another classic painting that is perfect for canvas, is a rolling hills landscape dotted with bright wildflowers. This type of painting brings an ethereal reality to your living space and can be made with any paint you have handy.
To create a landscape, start by sketching the scene out in pencil on the canvas. Choose the most inviting points of view and mark them down with short pencil strokes. Then starting with the distant hills, paint in layers, building shadow and highlight tones as the painting progresses. For cool shadows, mixing ultramarine with warmer colours will create a good contrast.
Painting rolling hills landscapes requires the use of both linear and tonal techniques to create perspective, giving a sense of depth in your scene. Use a pop of magenta mixed with titanium white for the wildflowers in the foreground.
Abstract Floral Design
A vibrant abstract floral design is a beautiful way to explore colour and texture, and get creative with layering paint. For this particular painting, create an ombre effect by blending several different colors together in the same petals, then added details like gold foil accents for an extra special touch. Or if you’re working with acrylics, a light dry brushing technique can be used to suggest subtle details in petals.
Acrylic Pouring Art
Pour painting is a fun and incredibly satisfying method of creating beautiful abstract swirls of colours on canvas. To create an acrylic pour painting, the supplies you’ll need are: fluid acrylics, a pouring medium, some cups to mix the colours in, and of course, a canvas.
If you want to try acrylic pouring and don’t have any of the supplies, you can get a set from Arteza which includes 32 ready to pour tubes of colour, iridescent paint and a pack of stretched canvases.
There are a multitude of different techniques you can use with the acrylic pouring method. For instance, you can create a ‘dirty pour’ by adding the colours into a larger cup, then pouring onto the canvas.
Another great technique to try is the ‘Dutch pour‘, which involves pouring the colours on the surface, then using a tool like a hairdryer to blow the paint to create stunningly intricate designs.
Palette Knife Painting
Painting with a palette knife is a great way to add texture and depth to your canvas painting. Paint like the Impressionists and use bold colours and short, sharp, gestural strokes with the palette knife to create a sense of movement.
You will need to thicken your paint in order to make it able to hold its texture on the canvas when spread with a palette knife. Oil paint, or heavy body acrylic paint are the best mediums to use for palette knife painting. If you’re using oil paint, thicken it with a medium like cold wax and if you’re using acrylic paint, thicken with a medium like heavy gel. These mediums will not only thicken the paint, enabling you to create peaks that hold their shape, but they will add to the body of the paint and level out the consistency between pigments.
Choose your favourite subject to create a palette knife painting, this could be a landscape, a portrait or even an abstract piece. Use the palette knife to create thick layers of texture that will give your painting a unique feel that is hard to achieve with traditional brushes. Have fun experimenting with this technique!
Pop Art Canvas
Pop art is an iconic style usually associated with the classic comic book aesthetics, but can be adapted to many different topics. For a canvas painting, you will need bold colours and sharp lines that create a contrast between the intricate details of your subject matter.
Acrylic paint is the best medium for the pop art style, as it can be used to create both detail and sharp contrast, with a fast drying time. So you can create hard edges and bold lines with speed.
First, plan your composition. You could use a reference, or you could create some mood boards to plan your scene. To get the best results from planning your composition, create a few thumbnail sketches in a sketchbook or a piece of scrap paper first.
Sketch out the primary subject of your painting in pencil then block in the main shapes and colours. Layer on the details and optionally outline the subjects with black paint.
Distant Mountain Landscape
Painting distant mountains can bring a serene feeling to a space. It evokes feelings of being in the wilderness, surrounded by untouched nature. This type of painting can be done with any paint you have handy, but for painting on canvas, acrylic or oil paint is recommended.
To achieve the appearance of mountains receding into the distance, you will need to have a grasp of how to represent atmospheric perspective. This involves using colour and value to represent the space between the mountains. The farther a mountain is from the viewer, the less saturated, lighter and bluer in tone it will be than those closer in proximity.
Mix more saturated colours for closer mountains, with more greens, browns, grass and rock details. Then gradually lighten colours, mixing in ultramarine blue for mountains further away.
Take some inspiration from the likes of Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko and other famous abstract artists to create your own abstract expressionist painting. Abstract expressionist paintings are often non representational, so you don’t need to have a reference or a subject in mind in order to start creating.
Begin with a canvas, some acrylic paint and a range of tools, such as brushes, palette knives and rollers. You could even get some more interesting painting tools, such as splatter brushes and catalyst wedges to apply paint to the canvas. Select a colour palette and a theme, and optionally plan your composition first. When applying paint, use your intuition to splatter, squeeze, spread and scrape paint across the canvas. To create harmony and balance in the painting, reduce the variation of different colours, shapes, lines and textures.
If you’re particularly interested in creating abstract art, check out our blog post ‘Abstract Art Ideas‘.
Still Life Painting
Create a still life painting by arranging your own set up. Bring whatever you can find to create an interesting composition, that could be flowers, pottery, cutlery, fruits or other objects.
When placing your objects, think about the lighting and the positions of each object in relation to each other, this will create depth and interest to your painting. It can help to use artificial lighting to illuminate the set up, so that the lighting doesn’t change too much whilst painting.
Start by selecting a composition that you like and create a small sketch of it. This could be a basic sketch or a more detailed drawing of each object. You may want to add values and tones to your sketch for reference when painting.
Block in the basic colours, then build layers to refine details, deepen shadows and add highlights. Use glazing to create a smooth transition between colours and paint thickly in some areas for texture.
In this sunset painting, spread wonderfully saturated and intense colours over the canvas. I started the painting with the blocking in technique, creating a sky gradient. Then I detailed the setting sun and surrounding clouds. The fun in this piece is in creating the final details and reflections in the water. Sunsets never cease to look striking, the captivating hues and depth of colour can be mesmerising.
Flowers are a great subject for beginners, as it’s easy to find references to take photos of and you can simplify the subject to fit with your skill level. Pick your favourite flower to paint, or create an arrangement, from a still life bouquet or from a picture you took from a garden.
As with some of the other painting ideas on the list, the most intuitive way to start painting is by blocking in the broader shapes and colours, then refining details later on. This way you can adjust details with consecutive layers. When adding finer details like shadows and petal veins, use thin layers of paint for a softer look.
Paint a Portrait
Portraits are one of the most complex subjects to attempt, especially if you’re aiming to paint a realistic portrait. You’ll need to start with an accurate drawing. You can choose to either use the grid method, the transfer method, or the Loomis method to achieve accurate proportions in representing the face.
Once you have your drawing, you’ll need to mix skin colour tones. Muted earth colours like burnt umber and warmer pigments like cadmium yellow and cadmium red work well for creating midtones, then mix titanium white into your colours to create highlights.
Paint Your Favourite Snack
This is another kind of still life painting, or object painting. Snacks can be a fun subject to paint, especially if you incorporate brightly coloured wrappers, or bright sweets, doughnuts and ice cream cones.
Again, think about your composition and lighting first. You can move the objects around to find an interesting perspective or angle to paint from. Start with a sketch of your arrangement, then block in the shadows and broad shapes before adding details like reflections or wrappers. Bright colours work well for this kind of painting, so select some vivid hues. Use thick brush strokes to create texture and create a bold, loose appearance.
Galaxies or space paintings are an awesome subject. They are also relatively easy to paint, it just requires some simple blending techniques and layering bright dots of star clusters.
To get those beautiful swirls of stars in the sky, mix different shades of black, then add in dark blue, purple and pink tones. Make sure to mix lots of transitional shades to represent the clouds of gas, dust and different wavelengths of light coming from distant galaxies.
You could apply paint with a brush, or even dab it on with a sponge to create more even, softer transitions. Then use a soft clean brush to blend tones.
Once this layer is dry, you can work on creating clusters of stars. Get a splatter brush, load it with white paint and flick it at the canvas. Alternatively, you could achieve a similar effect by using a bristle brush.