You Can Paint on Anything… So What Do You Prefer?


As a painter, you might assume that you’re limited in your artistic options – there’s canvas and paper, but what else is there? Fortunately, the list of items that you can paint on is almost unlimited. You can paint on many things – including wood, fabric, metal, glass and just about any smooth object. In fact, if you go to a major art exhibition, you’ll be surprised at how some of the world’s most famous painters have often experimented with some of the most unconventional surfaces.

Most people, of course, prefer canvas.

Most people, of course, prefer canvas. There are many reasons for this, such as how the paint is absorbed and the ability to create texture with oil or acrylic paint. Plus, canvas is sturdy, lightweight and easy to travel with. You can purchase canvas in various sizes, also, which makes it easier to customize your paintings for different rooms of your house or apartment. When treated with a substance known as gesso, canvas also becomes archival, so it has much more of a timeless feeling than simply painting on paper.

In general, there are three types of canvas: stretched, unstretched, and canvas boards. You can purchase canvas pads but it’s nothing like canvas fabric. In general, if you’re painting on canvas, you’ll want to use oil or acrylic paint, although some people use tempera paint.

The most common type of canvas – the one that you’ll typically see in an art supplies store – is stretched canvas, in which the canvas is pulled over a small wooden frame known as a stretcher bar. Once the canvas has been stretched, it’s then stapled to the frame. You’ll notice that the stretching changes the feel of the painting process – instead of a rigid surface, there’s much more “bounce” to the surface. After you’ve finished painting and the artwork has dried, you can then add a custom frame around the canvas.

Professional artists often prefer unstretched canvas. This is exactly what it sounds like – a rolled piece of cotton or linen canvas that has not yet been pulled over stretcher bars. It takes some getting used to this, compared to the stretched canvas. This is because your surface area is not as fixed, especially near the edges (which have a tendency to curl). You would still use the same techniques as with the stretched canvas, but there’s a real skill involved in how you apply the paint so that your painting doesn’t move around on you. Some people prefer to tape or pin the piece of canvas to a wall or table.

Finally, there are canvas boards, which are made of cardboard with canvas stretched over and glued to a cardboard backing, and sealed on the backside.

There are pros and cons for using each of these types of canvas, of course. You need to keep in mind the type of paint you are using, how big (or small) the painting is going to be, and any specific texture effects you want to create on the canvas.

As a painter, you’ll often find that you develop certain preferences that will lead you to explore other surfaces. If you’re fascinated by the interplay of light and paint, for example, you might want to experiment with glass. If you’re interested in how to create new textures, you might want to try out fabrics. And if you enjoy a more rigid painting surface, you might develop an interest in wood or metal as an alternative painting surface.

What do you prefer and why? Let us know in the comments.