Friday, January 23

9 Tips for Painting a Large Canvas (with Acrylics)

Today’s Image
Patio Reflection
30 x 40 in (76 x 101 cm)
Acrylic on stretched canvas
Copyright 2009

Here are my 9 tips on painting a large canvas with acrylics. Today’s Image is a ‘large’ acrylic I recently completed. Painting large can be a different experience, but that’s the fun of creativity.

Exactly what does ‘large’ mean? What is ‘large’ to some may not be ‘large’ to others. For some, large is anything over 16 x 20 in (40.6 x 50.8 cm). Others may not consider a painting large until it’s room-sized, such as Gustave Courbet’s A Burial at Ornans, which is 252 in (640.1 cm) long. Now that is large.

My definition of large is anything bigger than 30 x 40 in (76.2 x101.6 cm). Why that size? Well, it is the largest painting I have done, so it was large to me.

Tip 1 – Choose your motif first

This should always be considered first. This is your whole inspiration for painting, right? So think of how it will look on a large canvas. Will it be life-size or greatly exaggerated? Will the large size help convey your vision for the piece, or will it detract from it?

Tip 2 – Choose a proper support

It can be almost anything that will support your creation, of course, but think about the physical as well as the functional aspects of a large support. Is it easy or difficult (or nearly impossible) to move? Will it require special handling? Being large, possibly very large, will it stand up under its own weight? (I used a lightweight stretched canvas.)

Tip 3 – Choose your medium

Consider the quantity of whatever you’re going to use to render the art. How much will it take? Also consider your color palette so that you have enough of the colors you’ll be using most. (It is hard for me to imagine a large 252-inch (640.1 cm) piece done with pastels, but it’s possible.)

Tip 4 – Decide on the format

By that I mean will your motif or subject be vertical (portrait) or horizontal (landscape) in relation to your support. The large size can ‘play tricks’ with your perception, so think about this ahead of time. You should be able to easily tell which format will work better. If your support is square, then there’s no problem. (Because my painting was a vertical window, I naturally chose a vertical format.)

Tip 5 – Consider how you’re going to sketch the main elements on the canvas beforehand

Unless your painting is intended to be an abstract, you need to sketch the elements large enough and in the correct proportion to the size of your support. I suggest you plan ahead with several smaller sketches first to get the scale right. You should then be able to free-hand it with a light colored pencil or diluted acrylic, for example.

(Some artists photograph the motif, enlarge it, trace it, then trace a mirror image on the support, but this is an entirely different subject for another blog discussion.)

Tip 6 - After you have sketched the main elements, stand back and assess

Take time now to assess if the elements are in the proper proportions, with correct angles and relationships to each other. If you need to make changes, do it now, before you begin painting. A large scale painting may change the way you see color, shadows, settings, or whatever.

Tip 7 – Put enough paint on your palette for the task at hand

This sounds absurd, but it is important. Remember, this is a large painting, and it will take more paint than you’re used to using. Trust me, if you’re mixing colors, make sure you have enough before you start as you won’t be able to match it perfectly later.

If you’re using acrylics, don’t forget to keep the acrylic paint on your palette moist with a spray bottle because it dries very fast. A large glob of acrylic will begin to make a skin within just a few minutes and could be too dry to paint with in 15 minutes.

Tip 8 – Paint normally, but be ready to change a few things
You may need:
  • a different setting or larger room not only because of the larger canvas but also to have enough room to maneuver around
  • a different easel—one that holds the larger canvas or can be adjusted
  • a stand or ladder in order reach the top part of the support
  • larger brushes to be able to cover the canvas more efficiently; your style will dictate whether you need this or not
  • to allow more time to paint; since the canvas is large, it may take you longer than you’re used to, so don’t be surprised
Tip 9 – Relax and enjoy Painting Large!

You may find that painting large becomes your favorite method of artistic expression.



  1. Thank you for these tips! I'm about to embark on my first very large canvas and this helps!

  2. Great tips you have added here for painting a large canvas with acrylics, i was looking for DIY canvas idea and suddenly come across this post, you did great work these tips are really very helpful for entire visitors, many thanks for sharing.

  3. I finished a big canvas, 4 meters x 6 meters, but the canvas I chose, unfortunately is too thin and cannot hold in time, as it is going to be hanged. I want to remake it and I was wondering if you want to recommend me what type of canvas should I chose this time ? Linen ? Cotton ? Very strong cotton ? Very very strong cotton ? I don't want to do any mistakes, again... Thank you :)

  4. That is a big canvas! I have not attempted to paint one that large myself. However, from what you said and from what seems most practical, I think cotton (or very strong cotton) would work the best. I have also seen rough burlap being sold as a support.You might consider buying canvas by the role and stretching it yourself, although I realize that may be difficult because of the large size. Large paintings have great "wall power." Best of luck and thanks for the comment.

  5. I hope you will share such type of impressive contents again with us so that we can utilize it and get more advantage. painters alexandria va

  6. Thanks for your nice comment, much appreciated. You may want to see the blog I just posted today (12/01/14) on How to Paint Rain (in Acrylic). Thanks again!