What To Paint On Canvas – Overcome Artist Block (Simple Ideas)

what to paint on canvas

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Painting on canvas can be a great way to express creativity, overcome artist’s block, and create something unique. If you’re out of ideas on what to paint, here are some inspiring suggestions that could help get your creative juices flowing. Not only have I listed what to paint on canvas but if you keep reading I have also listed why you should paint this and what you will learn from it.

What to paint on canvas

  • Copy existing artworks
  • Make pop art from comic books
  • Make fan art
  • Flower paintings
  • Still life paintings
  • Follow a Bob Ross video on YouTube
  • Self Portrait
  • Pet Portrait
  • Dreamscape/Dreams
  • Paint song lyrics along with the imagery you see when you hear it
  • Decor art.

Now let’s explore why you should paint each and what you will learn.

Copy existing works

Copying an artwork you admire is a great exercise for honing your art skills. You don’t have to copy it exactly or the entire image, pick one part that you really like and use your own touch and make the artwork uniquely yours.

Why you should paint this: Copying a part of an existing work gives you a reference point to see how well (or not) you are progressing. The aim is not to make an exact copy but a small part that is achievable based on your skills.

What you will learn: Learning by copying has been part of most art schools since art schools began. Copying allows you to skip making some basic mistakes or working out where shadows and lights (values) need to be and you can just focus on learning technique. That said, you subconsciously do learn how light and shade interact with each other and objects the more you paint and copy.

Below is a copy of a painting I made a few years ago when I was learning. The first is The Release of Saint Peter – I reproduced this in miniature when I was 22 years old based on a favourite large painting in the Art Gallery of NSW Australia.

Release of St Peter by WastedTalentInc.com

Make pop art from comic books

Comics are filled with vibrant characters and storylines – why not paint them? This is a fun way to explore color and texture in canvas painting.

Why you should paint this: Comic book art tends to be quite flat and 2 dimensional which makes it an excellent choice when learning to paint and you need some fresh ideas. You only need to copy a single square from a comic or a page. Roy Lichtenstein painted some amazing comic book inspired works. You on the other hand do not need to screen print or use a printing process, you can make a painting using brushes and simple acrylic paint on canvas.

What you will learn: You will learn all about composition and applying paint flat over a large surface area and if you put your own spin on the comic you will learn all about how pop culture can be used to tell a message.

roy l popart
Roy lichtenstein” by leafar. is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Make fan art paintings of what you love best

This is a great way to combine two passions: art and fandom. You will find that most fan art is digital or small scale drawings. Fans of fan art will pay quite well to get a large canvas painting of

Whether it’s a TV series or movie, video game or sports team – create something that celebrates what you’re passionate about.

Why you should paint this: Like comic book art, fan art can teach you so much about how to paint but since you will most likely be drawing inspiration from a pop culture character rather than straight up copying it, you will learn how to compose an image and tell a story.

What you will learn: You will learn the same skills as when painting comic art.

the joker fan art
https://www.pinterest.com/pin/479140847856876990/

Flower paintings

Flower painting is timeless and classic – from simple sketches to intricate illustrations. Use your canvas to capture an array of colors and forms.

Why you should paint this: Flowers can be as easy or as hard as you want them to be. If you decide to start painting simple line art, you can add more complexity to your next piece as you learn more. You can add as little or as much detail as you can manage. I would start with a simple easy to draw flower, paint the borders in a single hue like black and then block in the various colors. Once you’re confident painting flowers, you can use these skills to paint a more detailed still life.

What you will learn: You will learn the anatomy of a flower, how to paint soft shapes and lines and how to apply light, shade and color to make a canvas surface seem like a gentle petal.

flower g88e2d0658 640
Image by Brigitte Werner from Pixabay

Still life painting

Still life painting is a great way to learn about composition, light and shadow, depth of color and more. It’s very satisfying to create something that looks realistic and captures what you see in front of you in your own unique style. With still life painting, you can choose what elements are most interesting for you and what combinations work best together.

You can also experiment with different techniques to create interesting effects with what you have. If you struggle to paint an original still life then draw on some of the tips in copying an existing artwork and find a still life that you like and attempt to paint it.

Why you should paint this: Still lifes can be incredibly satisfying to paint. They can help you hone your skills in the fundamentals of painting such as composition, light and shadow, color theory and texture. They can also be a great way to help you practice the fundamentals of creating something believable on your canvas.

What you will learn: You will learn how to combine the fundamentals of painting into creating something believable on your canvas. You will also gain confidence in your ability as an artist and practice patience and focus while working on the painting.

bouquet g30b5c16fc 640
Image by Brigitte Werner from Pixabay

Watch a Bob Ross video and try one of his paintings

Bob Ross’s tutorials are not just for beginners – watch his videos for inspiration and learn more about his simple painting techniques. The Joy of Painting is an iconic series that still inspires people today. Pick up some tips from the beloved painter himself.

Why you should paint this: Not only will you gain a better understanding of what makes Bob Ross’s paintings so unique, but you will also learn how to mix colors and use different painting techniques.

What you will learn: While I never rated Bob Ross’ skills as an artist he nonetheless has a cult following. I suspect at first it started as a joke but after watching his videos I started to see the appeal. Bob Ross will teach you how to relax, not overthink things and how to deal with mistakes without having to think the world is falling apart. He teaches you to focus on the process of making a painting and being so engrossed in it that you forget about everything else around you.

Here’s Season 1 Episode 1 to get you started. You can watch every season (I believe up to 29 seasons) on YouTube for free.

Paint a self portrait

Use what you know about yourself and express it through your canvas painting. It can be fun to represent yourself in different ways. Pick a side view and paint yourself simply, without trying to make the portrait a hyper-realistic one. Think more of Modigliani rather than Chuck Close.

Why you should paint this: It can help you to practice what proportion looks like, what color works well for skin tones, and what it feels like to create something from nothing.

What you will learn: You will learn what tools work best for you to achieve what effect, what technique works best in terms of color and brush strokes, and what it means to make something that is just “yours”. The biggest lesson you will learn is to paint what you see and not what you know.

hermann scherer 85773 640
Image by David Mark from Pixabay

Paint a pet’s portrait

Capture the personality of your pet with watercolor paints or acrylics. This is also a great gift idea for family or friends who love their animals too.

Why you should paint this: Painting a pet’s portrait can be challenging, but it is also very rewarding. You learn what features to capture in order to convey the character of your pet, what tools work best for you to achieve what effect, what technique works best in terms of color and brush strokes, and what it takes to create something that is both beautiful and meaningful.

What you will learn: Through this exercise, you will learn how to work with different mediums and techniques in order to capture a pet’s personality. You will also become more familiar with the basic elements of composition in painting such as color, line, shape, and texture especially when it comes to learning how to paint fur.

pet portrait 1
‘Beagle Puppies Memory Box’. by Joseph Colella

Paint some recent dreams or visions that you have had

Dreams and visions can be fascinating and thought-provoking topics to explore in a painting. The dream paintings could be abstract or literal interpretations – or even an entirely new type of art all its own if you feel adventurous enough.

Why you should paint this: Dreams and visions can be the source of some amazing ideas that can lead to powerful, thought-provoking and emotionally charged works of art. You will learn what drove the Surrealists and how to juxtapose fantastical ideas in nontraditional settings.

What you will learn: You will learn what it means to create art that is based on what you have experienced in your dream states. You will gain insight into the creative process and what it means to use your subconscious as a source of inspiration. You will also learn how to paint something that is free from the restrictions of reality.

surreal 994749 640
Surreal Eye by Ken from Pixabay

Paint a song’s lyrics or related imagery

Select one of your favorite songs and use the words as inspiration for a canvas painting. It could be abstract, literal, or somewhere in between. Think of it like a music video for a favorite song but one that only lasts one frame. I like to pick one or two of my favorite lines in a song and paint a scene around them.

Why you should paint this: Music often can evoke strong emotions, so painting what the lyrics mean to you helps capture that feeling. You’ll also gain a sense of accomplishment by visually capturing something that you can’t always express with words.

What you will learn: You’ll learn what it means to translate abstract feelings and emotions into visual art. You can also practice your color theory, spatial relationships, and brush control in this process.

art 2340074 640
Image by efes from Pixabay

Try decor art

City scenes with bright lights and colors and shapes with a little drizzle of rain on canvas can make great wall decorations throughout your home. Experiment with different designs or pick up some tutorials online to help you get started.

Why you should paint this: While I personally despise decor art it has a place in the art world. Firstly, people just like it and it is familiar. The reason I think you should try it is that decor art is less about the subject matter and technical skill and more about composition and color.

What you will learn: You will learn how to compose a balanced painting, how to compose the parts of the painting to ensure that the colors work, you will learn how to use texture to relay a feeling or tell a story. You will also be forced to work quickly as you will not get bogged down in painting minute details so this is also a great work for beginner artists who want to know what they should paint. This leads me to..

decor art
https://www.wallartprints.com.au/dusk-falls-in-paris-stretched-canvas-167017446/

What to paint on a canvas for beginners

There is nothing stopping beginners from painting any of the listed suggestions above, the only thing I would add is you will need to adjust your expectations in regards to execution, your ability to actually execute the painting on canvas in a way that your mind’s eye sees it.

The reality is that you will most likely come up short so set your expectations a little lower, know that you will not paint the exact thing you may imagine.

You will make mistakes such as perspective errors, you will mix the wrong colors or use the wrong techniques but the great thing is, when you are a beginner it is all about learning and that is the fun part.

So when you want to know what to paint on canvas for beginners, you can paint anything and the goal should be learning the process rather than the final product.

If you feel the items on the list are too much to attempt then I suggest the following subject matter may help beginner artists.

The reason it will be helpful is that most beginner artists will start to feel overwhelmed when tackling a large project so the items listed below are designed to be completed quite quickly (within a day or two) and they require less technical skill when it comes to complex perspective, color theory, painting techniques and the like.

That said, sometimes when you are asking what are some ideas to paint on canvas for beginners, what you are really asking is, what are easy things to paint?

The list below is aimed at beginners who need easy things to paint, easy enough to see results early and encourage the want to paint on canvas even more.

Here are some ideas on what to paint on canvas for beginners:

The following list comprises of simple ideas on what to paint on canvas for beginners.

So what should a beginner paint first? I think the first thing you should paint is a copy of a section of a still life painting.

Still Life’s – specifically a section of an existing still life painting

I suggest you start with a still life that you like and isolate half or a quarter of the painting and copy it or even better, find an apple or vase or cup from the painting and paint just that part.

Once you have mastered painting a section of a still life painting, you can try and paint the whole thing. I copied a Cezanne painting years ago and while I thought it was horrible, my best friend loved it and it still hangs in his home after all these years.

Here is the original

cezanne original whole
Cezanne. Still Life with Commode” by arcticpenguin is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

And what you can do is paint only a small section as below.

cezanne close up

If you feel you can paint an original still life then if you have any items lying around at home (like an old coffee mug) try making a still life painting from it. Paint what you see, using light and shadows to add depth to your piece. Keep it simple to start with and then paint a new painting with the additional items added like a vase or fruit.

Made up abstracts

When I say made up abstracts I mean use your fantasy to first sketch or paint some simple shapes that have absolutely no meaning. You are not going to pretend to be Picasso and paint a weeping woman, you are going to paint some simple shapes like a circle, some lines and squares and learn about composition foremost. You can create abstracts with acrylic paints, oil paints, or even watercolors. Start by painting straight lines or shapes and then layer them to create interesting compositions or shapes.

abstract painting
Acrylic Abstract Painting on Canvas ‘S7 LXXIX’” by unconventional_paint is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Landscapes

For a simple landscape painting, try sketching out what you see first and then filling in the details with paint. Again, use whatever medium works best for you – oils or acrylics are usually best here as they offer more control for blending colors and layering textures. While the work below is quite famous, it shows you do not need to paint something complicated to make something beautiful.

landscape
Attributed to Martha Levy: Winter Scene, 1934” by americanartmuseum is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Animals

Animals can be a great source of inspiration when it comes to what to paint on canvas. Try sketching the outline of your animal first and then adding color, fur texture, and details like eyes, ears, nose etc. Keep it simple when starting, find a minimalist animal design and paint that first then as you get more experience you can move to more realistic paintings.

minimalist animal
Minimalist animal design

Simple Mandalas

Create a beautiful mandala design using symmetrical circles, spirals or geometric shapes. Use warm colors for a calming effect and cool colors for an energizing one. Start with a simple mandala and work your way up to a more complicated one.

Now with all these simple ideas, it is actually ok to trace an image onto the canvas using pencil and then paint it in. Even professional artists have been known to stencil in underdrawings using graphite or charcoal. It is not cheating when you are learning!

pexels alesia kozik 7181600
Photo by Alesia Kozik: https://www.pexels.com/photo/close-up-shot-of-an-artwork-7181600/

Should I paint on a large or small canvas?

The size of the canvas you choose to paint on depends on what kind of painting you plan to do. For detailed and intricate paintings, a smaller size might be better as it will be easier to manage and focus. If you are doing something more abstract or expressive, then a larger canvas could give you more space to express yourself. No matter what size you decide on, make sure the canvas is of high quality and primed properly so that your painting turns out just what you expected.

The only caveat I have regarding canvas size is to make sure the project is manageable. I have found that anything over 24 inches squared starts to feel like I have mentally allocated a lot of time to complete and I start to feel defeated before I have even begun.

After painting for many years I know what my comfort zone is and that is a medium to small canvas size. Why? Because I sometimes think I have a form of ADHD and I just cannot focus too long on completing one work and I want to move on to the next.

A smaller canvas allows me to finish a work fairly quickly, I get results that just motivates me to do more. Also, smaller canvases are easier to store and hang up or give away (or even sell and ship).

Overall, painting on canvas is an enjoyable way to express yourself through art. Whether it’s fan art, decor art, or simple sketches, what you decide to paint on canvas is totally up to you. With these ideas, you can stop wondering what to paint on canvas and explore your creativity and have fun.

If ever artist’s block strikes, take some time to reflect on what inspired you to get into painting in the first place. There are endless possibilities when it comes to what to paint on canvas. All that matters is that what you create brings joy and satisfaction. So go forth and make something beautiful.

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Joe Colella - Chief Wasted Talent
Joe Colella – Chief Wasted Talent

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