How to Sketch on Canvas Before Painting?

Randy Charles
Randy Charles
Professional Painter

Hi, I’m Randy Charles, the creator and chief editor of this site Paintcentric. I’m a businessman now by profession, but I used to work as...Read more

Many artists are not free-hand painters, which means that they draw, or sketch, what they are going to paint on their canvas before they even get their paints out.  Also, when you sketch your painting, it will help you make sure that you are getting the right position and portions for what your painting is going to be when finished.

How to sketch on canvas before painting.  Do you have to do anything special to the canvas first?  What do you use to do your sketching?  If you are a new artist, these are just two of many questions you might have about sketching on canvas before you start painting.

In this article, we will cover how to sketch on canvas before painting, why you should, what should you use to do the sketch, and more.  Read on to find the answers to these questions so you will know what to do before you start your next masterpiece.

Should You Sketch On A Canvas Before Painting?

Whether you should or should not sketch on a canvas before you start painting is up to the individual artist.  Most artists will do a rough sketch because it will help them see roughly what their finished painting will look like.  It will help them place things such as trees, animals, flowers, or whatever their painting is about so that it looks like a cohesive piece if that is the look they are going for.

Should You Sketch On A Canvas Before Painting

It will also help the artist make sure that everything is in the right proportion, that the flowers are not larger than the trees or the house is in proportion with the surrounding landscape.  Sketching on the canvas will save you time later if you have everything where you want it.  You do not want to make it too complex but just a basic guide to keeping everything right.

What Can Be Used For Sketching On Canvas?

One of the best things to use when sketching on canvas is a simple HB pencil.  When you start to sketch, do it very lightly so there is less graphite left on your canvas.  You will just need a basic outline.  You don’t need to draw in any fine details.  As you go along, you may want to use a darker pencil, which you should also hold lightly.  Some even like to use a light-colored 2H pencil.

What Can Be Used For Sketching On Canvas

One thing to remember is that with this type of pencil, graphite is very hard.  Do not press too hard or use a fine tip.  This could damage your canvas.  With pencils, you can do a detailed drawing if you want.  Using a pencil to make your sketch will make sure that you don’t miss anything important that you want to include in your painting.

A drawback with using a pencil is that you might have a lot of thin, tight outlines, which could cause you to be a bit more restrictive with your applications of paint.  This could cause your painting to have a paint-by-number look.  To help keep your sketch from smudging you can use a fixative spray.

Some artists like to use pastel-colored pencils.  The drawback to using these types of pencils is that they are easy to move the lines and smudge your sketch.  To make a colored map with your sketch, use similar colors.

There are some artists that use paint that has been thinned out to make their sketches.  The brush that they use is a soft pointed one.  It may be difficult for some to use this to sketch with, but it can be easy to achieve sweeping lines.

Another thing you can use to sketch with is charcoal, but you have to also be careful not to press too hard.  This can leave more charcoal than you need on the canvas.  Do it lightly to get the basic shapes you want.  You can also use transfer paper.  The transfer paper could be carbon or graphite transfer paper.  The lines you get from this method seem to hold out a little bit better on the canvas than if you use charcoal or pencil.

How to Sketch on Canvas Before Painting?

Before you can sketch on canvas there are two steps you need to take.

How to Sketch on Canvas Before Painting

  • Step 1: The first thing to do is prime your canvas surface.  You can use any good primer or acrylic paint.  Some artists have also used a spray primer that was meant for painting metal, which dries fast also.  The primer will be used to create a good surface to sketch on.  You want to have a flat, smooth surface but you also need some texture.  This is so the paint that you will put on the canvas after sketching sticks to the surface.
  • Step 2: Choose what you are going to use to sketch with and sketch your design lightly on the canvas.  You will just need a basic outline, nothing too complicated.  A good putty rubber will take off any lines that you don’t need if you use pastel colors, pencil, or charcoal.  With pastels or charcoal, any mistakes can often be blended away if you are sketching very lightly.

If you have decided to use acrylic or water-colored paints that you have thinned down, you can use colors that will reflect what you are going to paint on top or a single color.  The thinned paint should be like a wash.  If you use a brush with long bristles, it will let the paint flow longer.  When you use colors to match what you are going to paint, then it will help you to see basically what the finished project will look like and make it easier to get the colors right.

One thing to note is that if you use thinned paint, it is difficult to remove if you should make a mistake.  You could just paint over the acrylic paints but not with watercolors.  Just make sure what you want to sketch before you begin to do so to try to avoid mistakes.

Final Verdict

How to sketch on canvas before painting can be done using different mediums such as pencils, pastels, charcoal, transfer paper, and more.  You just need to do a basic sketch with light lines before you start painting.  You also need to make sure that your canvas is ready before you start.

Randy Charles
Randy CharlesProfessional Painter

Hi, I’m Randy Charles, the creator and chief editor of this site Paintcentric. I’m a businessman now by profession, but I used to work as a painter earlier in my professional career. There is simply nothing about painting that I didn’t do as a painter. From painting a fridge to a multi-storied building, I left nothing. I retired from my painting job in the mid of 2018 due to back arthritis problems.

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