Tips For Using A Black Canvas
If you’ve never painted on a black pre-primed canvas surface before, it may seem a little out of your comfort zone. I get a lot of questions from beginner painters regarding this concept.
Do I buy a black canvas? How do I make my colors show up bright?
Painting on a black canvas is actually very easy!
You don’t have to paint very many details in the background. Often times this makes black canvas paintings simpler and less time consuming.
Also, when you paint on a black surface, you can easily create some stellar contrast! That means your painting “pops” and looks “eye catching” simply because you used opaque paints (I’ll explain below) against a solid black surface.
Here’s a list of canvas painting tutorials that use a black canvas. For more tips, scroll down further:
This painting is a fun and quick activity! Start with a black canvas and trace the circles with a white paint pen. Then add some fun colored reflections around the edges of the circles. To get the colors to show up "brighter" against the black, you add a bit of "titanium white". More details are explained in this tutorial.
This waterfall painting starts out on a canvas that I painted completely black! I like to use a matte black surface for these types of canvas paintings so the sheen is not "shiny". This allows the colors to "pop" a bit more against the background. You can learn how to paint this painting here!
Cacti are super popular right now! I love how the green shows up against the black background. A lot of times green acrylic paint is a bit translucent which makes it hard to show up against a black background. To combat this, you can paint the shape of your cactus white first and then add the green. Or you can "double load" your brush in green and white and paint the two together. Find out more in this tutorial!
Fireworks show up excellent against a black surface! Typically when I paint fireworks, I "double load" my brush in the color plus titanium white. When you paint, the colors will mix together to create an opaque color that will show up nice and bright against the dark background.
This pumpkin painting starts out on a black primed surface! A lot of times when we are painting a scene at night, we can start with a completely black surface and then paint the things that show up brighter. in this case the moon is bright and it's reflecting on the pumpkin.
Galaxy paintings are one of the most common paintings you can do with a black primed canvas! This painting was done mostly with a sponge and the stars were done with a toothbrush to splatter the white dots.
Owls always show up adorable when you start with a dark surface! In this case, I mixed a little bit of blue in with the black to make it sort of a navy blue base surface. The technique of getting the colors to "pop" by mixing them with titanium white is essentially the same with and dark surface.
Floral paintings such as this wreath can look great on a dark primed surface! Sometimes if you use craft paints, certain colors will look opaque without having to mix in titanium white. Find out what colors I used in this painting that show up lovely against the black.
This owl on a Christmas tree is one of the first black canvas paintings that I did for the Step By Step Painting website. Needless to say, I was hooked after that point! It's so easy for beginners to learn how to paint on this type of surface because you don't have to fill an entire background up with very many details.
Below are 5 tips for painting on a black canvas:
Tip #1 Use Opaque Paints
Acrylic paint colors will vary in their level of opacity. Some will show up nice, bright and solid against a dark background. Others will be very “see through” and will barely show up against the black.
One way to find out whether a paint shows up “opaque”or “translucent” is to test it out yourself! Simply make little strokes of paint on your black canvas to see how it shows up.
Another way you can learn about the opacity of a color is looking at the tube of paint. There might be a symbol on the paint bottle that will tell you whether the color is translucent or not. The Liquitex brand uses these square symbols and here is what they mean:
Tip #2 Paint A Layer of Titanium White First
If you want to use a color that is labeled as “translucent”, you can try painting a layer of white on the black surface first. I did this with my Pumpkin Harvest Moon Painting.
You don’t necessarily need to paint a solid white surface (as you can see a lot of black is still showing through on the pumpkin). This helps create some depth and texture with the painting.
You can see with the final results of this painting that those black lines that I left alone make it look like the pumpkin is bumpy. Also the brightest part of the painting (the moon) shows up bright because the first layer was painted solid titanium white.
Tip #3 Double Load Your Brush With Titanium White
Titanium white is a 100% opaque color. If you don’t want to experiment with whether a color will look opaque or transluscent, I recommend simply “double loading” your brush in titanium white. That means add both white and the color to the brush and paint on your surface.
You’ll get a bright opaque color. However, if you don’t want the color to look “pastel like” then I recommend painting the area white first and then applying the color after the white dries.
Tip #4 You Can Use An Already Painted Black Canvas Or Paint A Canvas Black Yourself!
This is one of the most common questions I get from beginners regarding black canvas paintings. Do I buy a canvas that is already black or do I paint a white canvas black? You can do either or.
They sell canvases that are already primed with black. Typically the manufacturer will use a black gesso instead of a white gesso to “prime” these canvases. I think they may be a few dollars more than the white canvases but you’ll skip having to paint your canvas black.
If you don’t have a black canvas you can always use black gesso over an already white gesso canvas.
You can also just use black acrylic paint to prime your canvas black. I recommend finding a matte acrylic paint or even use the Apple Barrel Black paint which dries in a matte sheen.
Tip #5 Use White Transfer Paper
If you’re working with a design that may require a traceable but you are using a black canvas, the gray graphite paper may not show up. They make a white graphite paper that will allow you to transfer a traceable right onto the black surface.
You can also use chalk to draw the layout on your painting.
Painting on a black canvas is so much fun! It always yields stunning results because you can play around with the acrylics to make them show up opaque and bright against the dark background! I encourage you to try a black canvas painting if you’ve never done one before!