What to Paint on a Canvas? 8 Creative Painting Ideas | Blog | Domestika (2024)

Explore these canvas painting ideas, including abstract designs and unique material incorporations, to spark your artistic journey.

Choosing the right canvas

We shouldn't rush through things. Let's commence with the basics: the canvas. Which one should you pic and how will that determine what sizes work best and what pigments and materials can easily be incorporated to your painting for your desired result.

Cotton Canvas

Cotton is a soft, fluffy fibre that grows in a boll. Cotton plants are native to the Americas, Africa and India, and are most frequently spun into yarns or threads to create a soft, breathable textile. A properly prepared cotton canvas will last for a good length of time, and it is the most popular surface for oil and acrylic painting, especially among students.

Canvas has become the most common support medium for oil painting, replacing wooden panels around the 16th century. Its use in Saint George and the Dragon by Paolo Uccello in about 1470, and Sandro Botticelli's Birth of Venus in the 1480s was still unusual for the period.

Linen Canvas

Linen is made from the fibres of the flax plant; top quality flax is harvested mainly in Western Europe. It has a finer texture than cotton and is regarded as having a more ‘natural’ weaved finish. This makes it better for detailed work. The more obvious texture of cotton can obscure fine lines in a painting. If properly primed and stretched, it offers the smoothest and stiffest painting surface.

It’s easier painting on a smoother surface, although some artists prefer canvas with more ‘tooth’, so the texture of the weave shows through the paint.

If you want to sell or exhibit your work, a linen canvas is a sound investment. It’s still regarded as the gold standard by classically trained artists. And no wonder, it's been around since ancient times. Linen is the best choice for oil painting if you can afford to use it. And since acrylic paint remains flexible when it’s dried, the potential for cracking if you choose cotton is not so great as with oils.

Linen is less flexible but withstands bigger paintings better than cotton, and it is also more expensive than the latter.

Selecting Your Paints

Now that you've selected your canvas you can choose your paints...! Wait, you shouldn't select your canvas before knowing what paint you are using... or viceversa...! It should be a conjoined decision. I just followed the stream of "article logic" as if it all happened in the order I wrote it. Be careful out there with these sneaky illusions!

Acrylic Paints:

Acrylic paints are known for their bright and bold colours. They also have a matte finish unless a gloss medium is added to them. Their thicker consistency, makes them ideal for impasto techniques and other textured artwork. Acrylics dry faster than oils, usually within 20 to 30 minutes, making them easy to work with and reducing the risk of smudging and dirt.

Oil Paints:

Oil paints have a more subdued and natural color palette than acrylics. They can take a long time to dry, ranging from days to months, depending on the paint's thickness and the environment. But this allows artists to blend and layer colors more easily. They also have a natural glossy finish that can be enhanced with varnishes. Compared with acrylics, oil paints have a more fluid and buttery texture, making them great for creating subtle transitions between colors or glazing.

Subject Ideas: 8 things to draw

Linen has been used since ancient times and it is still the gold standard but the inspiration that seemed to be so prevalent in olden days is rapidly decreasing! It's apparent that artists need a list of things to draw to be laid out in front of their eyes before inventing anything on their own... Anyways, my purpose here is to give you that sweet inspiration that seems to be melting away... Maybe it's part of the change in climate...!

Landscapes and Nature

Landscape views in art may be entirely imaginary, or copied from reality with varying degrees of accuracy. If the primary purpose of a picture is to depict an actual, specific place, especially including buildings prominently, it is called a topographical view.

Here we have two distinctions, either imaginary or copied. But we can expand and break the dichotomy. We can add an imaginary object inside a copied landscape and viceversa.

1. Viceversa

Setting yourself in an old village or countryside with little to no infrastructure we can make elements from nature like trees and waterfalls appear as if their were built by humans and the human built structures seem to be grown from nature for example.

2. Window View

If you are trapped in a big city with little to no "nature" around, you can always transform your window's view via painting. Make your buildings grow grass and the people crossing the street grow branches and roots.

3. No Windows...?

Transform your sad and windowless room into a beautiful and vibrant landscape. Your desk lamp could be as tall as the Kilimanjaro. We will never know...!

3. Bosch

Hieronymus Bosch often depicted imaginary landscapes including elements from reality. We can expand this concept by using one of his landscapes as a basis for our painting from which we can then extrapolate our own imaginary variations.

Portraits and Figures

4. Giuseppe Arcimboldo

The Italian painter was best known for creating imaginative portraits made entirely of objects such as fruits, vegetables, flowers, fish and books. An unprecedented style in the 16th Century. Now we can see how many modern painters (Dalí, Picasso, René Magritte...) were clearly influenced by this particular abstraction of the human form.

5. Leonardo da Vinci's grotesque imaginary figure

Another old tradition that is still alive and well in most touristic promenades all over the world with the common "couple caricatures". Art can also involve laughter!

6. Chiaroscuro

Made famous by the masterful Caravaggio, this accentuated light and dark contrast can give the human form a tridimensional shape and an added emotional depth if the scene is properly set.

Abstract Designs

7. Landscapes and Senses

A branch of non-representational art often flirts still with the concept of the landscape. Artists like Matisse were obviously abstracting forms found in the physical world, but Kandinsky on the other hand aimed to transform one sense into another, painting what he heard represented visually. Try turning smell or touch into a visual landscape.

Still Life Composition

8. Mixed Media

What if Arcimboldo was a mixed media artist? I guess his paintings would be all rotten by now... But we know great ways to conserve food in today's day and age! If this idea is too messy for you still maybe dried leaves and flowers might work best, we can use the pigment of the flowers to paint the same flowers, or branches to represent branches basing our approach in a Arthur Garfield Dove's "Long Island" painting for example. What if your still life was actually alive?

Now that you are full of ideas, you need to learn how to paint them if you didn't already! Domestika invites you to choose from an almost infinite number of painting courses that cover all kinds of facets to make your ideas a reality! Here are even more "almost infinite" options:

- Easy things to draw
- How to draw a body An article by Arturo Torres Landa

Insights, advice, suggestions, feedback and comments from experts


As an expert and enthusiast, I can provide information and insights on a wide range of topics, including canvas painting ideas, materials, and techniques. I have access to a vast amount of information from various sources, which allows me to provide accurate and up-to-date information. Let's dive into the concepts mentioned in this article.

Choosing the Right Canvas

When it comes to canvas painting, choosing the right canvas is crucial. The article mentions two popular options: cotton canvas and linen canvas.

Cotton Canvas: Cotton canvas is a soft and breathable textile that is commonly used as a surface for oil and acrylic painting. It is the most popular choice among students and artists due to its affordability and durability. A properly prepared cotton canvas can last for a good length of time.

Linen Canvas: Linen canvas is made from the fibers of the flax plant and is known for its finer texture compared to cotton. It is often considered the "gold standard" by classically trained artists. Linen canvas offers a smoother and stiffer painting surface, making it ideal for detailed work. It is less flexible than cotton canvas but can withstand larger paintings. However, linen canvas is more expensive than cotton canvas.

The choice between cotton and linen canvas depends on factors such as budget, painting style, and personal preference. Cotton canvas is a popular and affordable option, while linen canvas is favored by artists who prioritize quality and longevity.

Selecting Your Paints

The article briefly mentions two types of paints commonly used in canvas painting: acrylic paints and oil paints.

Acrylic Paints: Acrylic paints are known for their bright and bold colors. They have a thicker consistency, making them suitable for impasto techniques and creating textured artwork. Acrylic paints dry faster than oil paints, usually within 20 to 30 minutes, which allows artists to work more quickly and reduces the risk of smudging. They have a matte finish by default, but a gloss medium can be added to achieve a glossy look.

Oil Paints: Oil paints have a more subdued and natural color palette compared to acrylics. They have a longer drying time, ranging from days to months, depending on the thickness of the paint and the environment. This slow drying time allows artists to blend and layer colors more easily. Oil paints have a natural glossy finish that can be further enhanced with varnishes. They have a fluid and buttery texture, making them well-suited for creating subtle transitions between colors or glazing techniques.

The choice between acrylic paints and oil paints depends on factors such as desired drying time, painting techniques, and personal preference. Acrylic paints are popular for their fast drying time and versatility, while oil paints are favored for their rich colors and blending capabilities.

Subject Ideas: 8 Things to Draw

The article suggests various subject ideas for canvas painting. Here are some of the ideas mentioned:

  1. Landscapes and Nature: Landscape views in art can be entirely imaginary or copied from reality. They can include elements from nature, such as trees and waterfalls, or incorporate human-made structures into natural settings. Landscapes can be a great way to explore the beauty of nature or create imaginative scenes.

  2. Window View: If you're in a city with limited access to nature, you can transform your window's view through painting. You can make buildings appear as if they are growing from nature and incorporate elements of nature into urban settings.

  3. No Windows...? Even if you don't have a window with a view, you can transform your room into a vibrant landscape. Let your imagination run wild and create a beautiful and vibrant scene on your canvas. Your desk lamp could be as tall as a mountain, and your room could be filled with imaginative elements.

  4. Bosch: Inspired by the works of Hieronymus Bosch, you can create imaginary landscapes that include elements from reality. Use one of Bosch's landscapes as a basis for your painting and then add your own imaginative variations.

  5. Portraits and Figures: Explore different approaches to portraying people and figures in your paintings. You can create imaginative portraits using unconventional materials or techniques, like Giuseppe Arcimboldo, who made portraits entirely out of objects such as fruits, vegetables, and books. You can also experiment with different styles, such as grotesque or chiaroscuro, to add depth and character to your figures.

  6. Abstract Designs: Abstract art allows you to explore non-representational forms and concepts. You can create abstract landscapes that still retain elements of the physical world, or you can experiment with transforming one sense into another through visual representation, as explored by artists like Wassily Kandinsky.

  7. Still Life Composition: Still life compositions offer opportunities for creativity and experimentation. You can incorporate mixed media elements, such as dried leaves and flowers, to add texture and depth to your paintings. You can also explore the concept of representing living objects through painting, blurring the boundaries between art and reality.

These subject ideas are meant to inspire your artistic journey and provide a starting point for your canvas paintings. Feel free to explore and experiment with different concepts, styles, and materials to create unique and personal artworks.

I hope this information helps you on your artistic journey! If you have any more questions or need further assistance, feel free to ask.

What to Paint on a Canvas? 8 Creative Painting Ideas | Blog | Domestika (2024)


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