Please help a beginner with a canvas/painting/wall project
August 7, 2015 10:49 AM   Subscribe

I need inspiration and advice for painting canvasses with acrylic paints. I have never painted like this before. I will be doing a 3 x 3 grid of canvases on a very tall white wall, and was thinking something super simple, like solid colors and/or abstract shapes. But I'm afraid of it looking really bad. Can you give advice for getting decent results, and also maybe find examples of something you think a beginner could do?

I have a very tall plain white wall in my living room, and I've left it blank for so long because I can't figure out how to fill it. At one point I thought I'd do a gallery of framed pictures, but since the couch is along that wall and we live in earthquake territory, I've decided I want something less breakable. So I bought a bunch of blank canvasses (16 x 20) and plan to do a 3 x 3 grid, and paint them myself. And the blank canvasses have been sitting there for weeks because I'm afraid to start and have it look ridiculous. I know that's a little silly because the canvasses were not that expensive and I can replace anything that turns out horribly.

The wall is solid white, with two long narrow windows very high up near the ceiling. It doesn't get direct sunlight. Our couch is a light brown, the floors are medium orangey hardwood, and our living room rug has cream, dark red, orange, dark green. Basically fall colors but a bit muted/subtle. I'd like the canvasses to bring a lot of color to the room, and also some visual interest. Any advice you have on technique, tools, colors, and any links to something a beginner could do would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!
posted by JenMarie to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
If you have a projector or can borrow one from work, you can test alternative colors and juxtapositions and see how they look on your wall. You can futz with it to ensure that each rectangle is projected at the right scale and then also play with how far apart the boxes in your grid should be.

Regarding technique, spray paint is awesome. Keep the canvas flat and use light layers to avoid drips. If you want to keep the edges white, use painter's tape.

Regarding colors, consider going to a paint shop and bringing home a bunch of chip strips to test ideas against your decor. Keep the color wheel in mind. For interesting color ideas, I love the website Design Seeds but there are many others that provide similar suggestions.
posted by carmicha at 11:09 AM on August 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

I really like the technique and product videos Golden puts out. Here's a cool video on using molding pastes and gels to create texture with paintings. I think they might be fun to play with if you want to do solid colors or maybe mix a couple of colors together on your canvas.
posted by Mouse Army at 11:41 AM on August 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: If you want to keep the edges white, use painter's tape.

Is it better to keep the edges white? Or is that just a matter of preference?
posted by JenMarie at 11:48 AM on August 7, 2015

You can do leaf art. Here is one tutorial. I've seen others where they used fall colors for the under coating and gold metallic paint for the top layer. You can also do say, orange underneath and yellow on top or vice versa.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 11:56 AM on August 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

White edges are a matter of preferences. Unless you are using acrylic (instead of enamel) spray paint. In that case, you want white edges because otherwise the paint might rub off onto the wall as it's hanging.

Also, check out some large stencils at a craft store. They are dead easy to use and come in some interesting designs these days.
posted by ananci at 11:58 AM on August 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you are hoping to add color to wall, is there anything else in the room that has a vivid color you could bring out? Even if it's just a vase or something, that would help create harmony.

I imagine that this project is overwhelming, in part, because you have to paint a lot of canvases and not just one. If you could think of an overall organizational thing or theme, that might help. And remember you can paint over canvases, or you can just buy more canvases.

I like the idea of texture. Modeling paste (aka molding paste) is good for adding that. You can put in on the canvas and then paint over it, or you can mix the paint in with the paste and apply it that way. Texture is visually interesting. And it also frees you up from having to get the color super even and smooth.

I just did a Google Image search on canvas grid decorating, and plenty came up. Try it and see if you find anything you like.
posted by mermaidcafe at 1:40 PM on August 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

My $0.02:

-Starting with the couch or the rug, try and build a pallette of colors. You want about 5 colors.
-Use this site to help. You can see the preset patterns, or maybe some of your colors fit with some of the palettes under the "explore" part of the site.
-If you don't want to mix the colors, you could go to a home depot, or home improvement store, and have them mix up paints for you in the precise colors you want. You can use wall paint or exterior paint on canvas, and you would probably get more consistent color matching if you either mix it up in big batches at the beginning, or if you just got mixed paints at a store.

So now you have your canvases and your paints. I think the key to making this look good is keeping the designs simple, and executing them cleanly. You can keep the designs simple by making simple rules for yourself. Maybe you're going to have 1 big shape per canvas, and a max of 3 colors per canvas. Or whatever. You can make little demos in microsoft paint pretty simply. Quick Example.

Then, to get the painting on the canvas right, use masking tape. You do not want white canvas sides. I would vote against adding texture, because that's just another layer of complexity that can go wrong. MeMail me if you want.
posted by DGStieber at 1:45 PM on August 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

I knew a girl who made great stencils for t-shirts for a while. She would find images in magazines with strong contrast and edges. She has one of a leggy girl with a chainsaw. However grabbing images of clasic flowers, or shapes you like is fun. You can start with all different background colors, or all the same. Vary the foreground color. You can decide on a light source. Holding the stencil a little away from the canvas , you can cast the shadow of your stencil along the lines of the light logic. Say you decide you will cast shadows on the canvas as if the windows were dropping light to make the shadows spread from overhead. If you set shapes or images in such a way the image edge overlaps the leading edge of the shadow, then images seem to float.
posted by Oyéah at 4:29 PM on August 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

I did something similar! I had some curtains that I liked so I had the paint store match the color of the curtains. I painted all of my canvases this same color. Then I used my projector to trace outlines of tree leaves onto the canvases. I just filled the silhouettes in with a contrasting color. It actually turned out really nice and it was very simple.
posted by Ostara at 9:02 PM on August 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Using a projector as per carmicha would be a great way to pre-visualize, but as an alternative cheap, easy way to do this: take a picture of the area and then use Photoshop or some other paint program to place / size / color the canvases in the image.
posted by doctor tough love at 2:24 PM on August 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

Tip for working with painter's tape: to get a crisp edge, put a coat of the same color as under the tape before painting over it.

So, if you have a white-painted canvas, and you want to tape off a square shape and paint that bright red, put your tape down in the shape, but then paint white along the inside edge of the tape and let that dry. Then do your red paint (as many coats as needed).

The idea is that since paint may seep under the edges of the tape (to an extent determined by the texture of the surface), you put a coat of the under-color on first, so *that* is what seeps under. Then you get a cleaner line of the masked-off color.
posted by rmd1023 at 4:28 PM on August 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks so much, everyone, for your ideas and tips! For some reason I decided to ask my question the Friday before a super busy family event weekend, so haven't worked on putting any ideas into action, but I'm feeling inspired and a lot less overwhelmed and directionless now. I'll make sure to post a photo of the results. Thanks again!
posted by JenMarie at 11:38 AM on August 10, 2015

A little late to the party, but you could always forgo paint and cover the canvases with fabric (two or three different fabrics in coordinating colours and contrasting prints could be cool, with one or two left blank).
posted by snap, crackle and pop at 7:47 PM on August 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

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