Paintings for Poor People

You guys may have already noticed this, but: I’m really into abstract art lately. The bigger and brighter and brush-strokier, the better. I’ve supported my obsession in the past with cheap framed prints and DIY watercolors, but our new house has a lot of wall space, and I can’t fill the whole thing with Ikea Ribba frames, you know?

What I really want to add are some large paintings – made with actual paint, not a printer – either on a gallery wrap canvas or in a super-simple frame without any glass. With our neutral walls, furniture and floors, some giant colorful pieces would make an amazing statement. I mean, look at these rooms!

Glitter and Goat Cheese - Jamie Meares' living room - via Lonny

Via Lonny

Unfortunately, as I believe I’ve mentioned a few times … cash is tight right now, and real art is expensive. Some day, I’d really like to commission something from Parima Studio or Kristen F. Davis, but I don’t think that’s in the cards at the moment. For now, I’ve decided to try creating my own with acrylics. Luckily for me, my best friend is an amazing artist and is helping me pick out all the supplies I need. I priced out a few small canvases (for testing purposes), a few shades of paint (I’m starting with purple, pink, white and GOLD), and some brushes and mediums, and I should be able to try this for under $50. Brad is begging me not to start a new project until after we’ve finished unpacking … but he can only hold me back so long. MUAHAHAHAHA. (I have a secret suspicion that we may NEVER finish unpacking.)

Have you ever painted on canvas? Give me tips, please!


  • Be sure to prime your canvases before you start painting. You can use fancy pants stuff or just plain white paint (a big cheap foam brush works great for this). Either way, you will need less coats of your pretty paints if you prime first. Also, block out more time than you think you will need so you won’t feel rushed, and don’t worry about mistakes because acrylics dry quickly and you’ll be able to paint right over anything you might not be satisfied with on the first go round.

    I can’t wait to see how it turns out!

    • Awesome tips — thank you so much, Sara! Does the priming rule apply if it’s a canvas that already has gesso on it?

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  • Lisa
    • Ooooh, that’s a great deal! Thanks, Lisa!

  • If it works out for you I’d totes buy one off of you. DO IT DO IT SO I CAN HAVE ARTZ TOO!

    • Hahaha — I think it’s probably offensive enough to real artists when someone like me is like “I CAN DO WHAT YOU DO EVEN THOUGH YOU WENT TO ART SCHOOL AND HAVE REAL TALENT!” Can you imagine if I started selling it?! Anyway, based on my watercolor experiences, I’m guessing it won’t work out, but I appreciate the vote of confidence. 😉

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  • Kristen Fountain Davis

    aww, i’m happy you like my work! good luck with your painting! 🙂 

  • Susan Grogan

    I’ve been in the visual arts for 30+ years and I am not offended when people proclaim they can do it too (as long as it’s not in a dismissive way, of course), because I am a firm believer that -everyone- has an artist lurking somewhere inside with the right practice and experimentation. A great book to look for in your local library is “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” by Betty Edwards. It’s drawing focused, but it has excellent exercises in it that can help break your mind out of it’s limitations.

    Here are my tips for painting: Prime, prime, prime your canvas! Another commenter said the same and it is one of the most forgotten and/or overlooked steps, because it’s the least fun and glamorous. The only exception to this can be on non-traditional surfaces. (More on that below) I would start with smaller canvases to experiment. You can always make these into a large grouping of you carry over colors and textures.

    Buy the basic paints and MIX your colors if you’re on a budget. There are -very- few colors that are hard to mix on your own (deep, rich magenta is pretty impossible IMHO). That said, your basics are the primaries: red, yellow, and blue. And the colors that effect the shade (how light or dark) are black and white. Mix a color wheel or wheels and make gradients (grey scale) so you understand how which colors make what. Label what you put together if you have a faulty memory; ratios work well for this. For example mark it–1:2 red/blue–on your painted swatch of barely purple tinted blue. That ratio represents 1 part red, two parts blue. A “part” is simply equal blobs of each color. If you decide you like painting, you’ll develop an intuition for color mixing over time. 🙂

    If you’re starting out, a great place to look for inexpensive, very basic, art supplies is actually in big box office stores. Say what? It’s there to sell to art teachers or teachers with an art period and sometimes they have great sales. I’ve scored some deals on decent acrylic paint there.

    You probably know this from refinishing things around the house, but buy at least a few decent brushes and take very good care of them. Wash them as soon as you are done (mind them to keep them damp while you’re working) and dry them FLAT. Why flat? Water can seep into the area between the bristles and the metal that hold them on. Same rule goes for makeup brushes, BTW. In fact, abandoned and/or relatively inexpensive makeup brushes make great detail brushes for painting. Don’t neglect apply paint with all manner of crazy things either. Plastic warp in a ball, rolled over a canvas makes a swell texture, for example.

    Last, but not least on the supply front, *everything* around you is actually an art supply. One of my favorite works and a show stopper in a jurried show is on a leftover piece of drywall and it’s a mix of acrylic paints, minor amounts of shellac from a home project, and spray paint. I didn’t prime that time, because the paper layer on the drywall soaked in some of the paint in a way that mimicked watercolor paper and the effect was unusual and appealing. It’s too heavy to hang on a wall and it sits in a standing frame (it’s very long and tall) so just keep the weight of your “canvas” + supplies in mind. I have another work on a rather thin piece of MDF and it hangs up fine, for example. Oh–and in that, I used paint over joint compound (yup, from a hardware store) in some areas for great texture.

    Most of all, have fun. Let loose. Your “mistakes” are often what makes the work great in the long run, actually. It’s what gives a work character. The hard thing to learn is when to stop. If you’re not “feeling it,” step away. Live in a room with it. You’ll be surprised how you might fall in love if you get over the fear of mistakes and step back and observe. The web is loaded with basic arts information. Google “color theory” for starters. Bear in mind that a monitor is not showing you colors in the same way print or in-the-room paints will and don’t panic if your 1:1 red/blue (basic purple) is not the same as the one on your screen. Don’t be afraid to start either. Put on your favorite tunes. Brew your favorite beverage (keep the cup far away  from your work lol) and loose yourself in artistic bliss.

    Happy creating and welcome to the art world! 😉

    • Thank you so much for all the amazing tips, Susan!

  • jen

    im totally trying this too! good luck! can’t wait to see your final product! 😀

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