What is the best way to paint a canvas a single color, without having any visible brushstrokes?
November 7, 2004 7:42 AM   Subscribe

What is the best way to paint a large section of a canvas a single color, without having any visible brushstrokes? [More inside]

My tastes is artwork definitely run toward the abstract and the geometric--art that has large, contiguous shapes of a single color, kind of like what Mondrian did. I am under the (perhaps philistine) view that the actual technique involved in putting paint on a canvas in a perfect rectangle can't be all that hard. I have lots of empty walls to decorate in my new pad, so I want to just buy some canvases (a big, pre-strecthed pre-primed canvas is only $20!) and make my own simple geometric art.

But in my trial runs, it's been tougher than I thought. I haven't held a paintbrush since elementary school, and back then I think I was only working with watercolors. I bought some test canvas and a starter set of brushes and acrylic paints. The brushwork is very visible. I can't lay down an even, large section of paint; it's more like I'm just smearing around colored paste. It is uneven. I've got to be doing something wrong here. The effect I am looking for is a single, solid block of even paint.

So what's the best way to accomplish this goal? Airbrushes? Spraypaint? Or do I stick with acrylics and just thin the paint more?
posted by profwhat to Media & Arts (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Well, your paint is most likely too thick..also, what kind of bristles do your brushes have? I'd buy a housepainter's wide brush with smooth synthetic bristles, and yes, you will have to thin the paint out more with gloss or matte medium. Heck, you may even want to try a paint roller.

Or truth be told, I'd switch to oils.
posted by konolia at 7:53 AM on November 7, 2004

Apply four coats of gesso, even to pre-primed, stretched canvases. Use a large brush, with smooth, confident strokes. And, as konolia says, oil is a LOT easier to smooth out, since it retains moisture and malleability for a long period of time.
posted by xyzzy at 8:06 AM on November 7, 2004

I'm looking to do this too. I've had art training, but not for at least 5 years and I always focused on drawing -- never did any painting. Since you're doing simple geometrics, I found this artist does "digital prints on canvas". Any idea on how THAT's done? It would probably be cheaper to do it in Illustrator and somehow print it up. Of course you may actually like working with acrylics and such.

Oh and if you make some progress, please e-mail me.
posted by geoff. at 8:17 AM on November 7, 2004

large section, single color, no visible strokes -- sounds like house-painting. Use a roller and masking tape. (just kidding)
posted by Mark Doner at 8:30 AM on November 7, 2004

posted by tenseone at 9:26 AM on November 7, 2004

i've never done this, but have you tried applying with a knife, and scraping to give a very thin coat? from what i remember of looking at works like mondrian's, the paint is not thick.
posted by andrew cooke at 9:52 AM on November 7, 2004

Speaking as a long-time illustrator (which group gets to use any kind of cheat they can invent or steal) rather than an artist (whatever that is):

1. Gesso the canvas until it's smooth. If necessary, sand the gesso.

2. Mask the rectangle with tape.

3. Lay the canvas in its frame down on a flat surface, not up on an easel. Support the fabric from underneath so it doesn't stretch downward when you press on it.

4. Locate a metal straight-edge longer than the rectangle is wide, load it up with paint for its full length, scrape it across rectangle like a road grader.

It'll still take some skill and practice to do this without leaving marks from the straight-edge but that's another of the great secrets: do a lot of attempts and throw all but the best one away.
posted by jfuller at 11:06 AM on November 7, 2004

A few things. You can do this with acrylics, but the consistency is important. A too-thin paint is just as bad as a too-thick paint. Try lots of different paints. You need to find the right middle ground, and that takes practice. Experiment with the technique and plan to throw away some canvases before you start your actual paintings.

Have lots of paint, properly mixed and thinned beforehand. Regarding rollers, et.al, maybe you can do this with a brush, but you also might explore some of the materials used for edging in traditional house painting. Foam brushes, pads. Go to Lowes and check it out. I've used my fingers, or a large cloth before to good effect.

Jfuller's technique is along the lines of screen printing. You might look into that, as it's a tried-and-true method for applying color evenly across large sections. Expensive to get set up--especially at the sizes you're talking about, but it takes a lot of the hand skill out ot the actual application of paint.

Finally, geoff mentions digital prints on canvas. Another relatively new technique. It's pretty simple. Just find a Kinkos and bring a CD with an Illustrator or Photoshop file. They have large inkjet printers that can print on lots of different substrates, including canvas. For what you're doing, the results might not stack up in terms of density or saturation, but it's a relatively inexpensive option.
posted by Jeff Howard at 11:47 AM on November 7, 2004

Although Mark Doner said he was joking, rollers are a good idea and they come in all sizes. Also foam brushes leave few to no marks.
posted by deborah at 12:06 PM on November 7, 2004

I'm a far from an artist, but I have had good success with spray paint on canvas, but then again my whole painting was done with spray paint, so I don't know if that is a good idea if you are going to use oils or acrylics on top of that.
posted by mmascolino at 1:38 PM on November 7, 2004

I second gouache, it gives an excellent flat colour and works better when watered down rather than acrylic. Screen printing would be perfect, but again it is expensive to set up.
posted by floanna at 4:03 PM on November 7, 2004

The absolute best approach I've found is to use unprimed canvas and thinned Fluid Acrylics. Golden has a line that works exceptionally well. They don't break down in water and lose their color. You have to be careful since you're essentially dying the canvas, but you get a beautiful finish I never could achieve with primed canvas.
posted by renyoj at 9:51 AM on November 8, 2004

there are so many different ways to do this.

start out with good canvas, Gallery canvas rather than studio or student canvases--better quality and primed with more coats of gesso.

if you apply more gesso, let it dry and then sand it with a fine grit sandpaper before adding the next layer.

oils will take months to dry. and will cost you a lot more money than acrylics. Use a fluid medium to thin the acrylic, or start out with a more fluid acrylic. If you don't want to spend a lot of money on a quality, large brush, $50 or so, then use foam brushes or a non-textured roller. Apply thin coats, let it dry before applying next coat. Use artists tape or a masking fluid to protect any parts of the canvas you dont' want paint on.

you can also sand each coat of acrylic.

talk to people who work in a art store. Not a Michaels. Find a store that has artists working there.

finally, a lot of modern art which appears on posters as solid blocks of color is actually extremely textured, with a variety of surfaces and tones when seen in person.

Was any painter worse served by reproduction? Probably not, because Mondrian's grids and squares once reduced to printer's ink on glossy paper, lose almost everything. You can know Rembrandt better from a postcard than Mondrian. What seems, in reproduction, generalized patches of white turn out, in the original, to be exquisitely fine differentials of warm and cold Grey, so close in tone as to be almost indistinguishable, but still optically there. Each black band of the grid, far from being a mere ruled line, has its distinct presence and weight as colour and inflected substance. Black is as much a colour in Mondrian as in Manet. And the colour on either side of it is painted right up to the edge, not as if done with masking tape but with the sensitivity and care that you see at the meetings of the shapes in Mondrian's great Dutch predecessor, Vermeer.

myself, i like a little texture, in my own artwork and others.
posted by th3ph17 at 11:11 AM on November 8, 2004

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