How to draw on canvas

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Use pastels, charcoal or pencils to draw on canvas, creating dramatic, unusual and beautiful effects. Different drawing materials create a variety of subtle or bold texture effects. The primary types of materials used to draw on canvas are graphite pencils, pigment-based coloured art pencils, watercolour pencils, soft and oil pastels, and charcoal. Graphite pencils can be used to draw on canvas, but must be sealed with a fixative before they are permanent.

Use prepared canvases -- sold in art and craft stores -- that are coated with a material called gesso. Gesso is an acrylic-based underpainting or coating that protects the underlying canvas fibres from deterioration. White, off-white and black gesso-coated canvases are available. Drawing or painting directly on uncoated canvas will cause the canvas to deteriorate quickly from mould and mildew. Whether you purchase a ready-made canvas or make your own using purchased canvas and stretcher bars, wash the canvas with a sponge and clean water and allow to dry before you begin to draw on it.

Assemble your reference materials before you begin to draw on the canvas. Place source images within comfortable view of your work area. Source images include photographs, items you intend to use as models (for a still life), or magazine images. Drawing outside is called plein air. Ensure your canvas and materials are located safely and conveniently if you intend to draw a plein air landscape on your canvas.

Sketch the outlines or basic forms and relationships of your desired imagery on the canvas with a soft graphite pencil. Graphite pencil marks can be "erased" from canvas with a clean, wet sponge or cloth. Continue with the drawing when you are satisfied with the basic composition of the preliminary sketch.

Assess colour depth and luminosity created by the "tooth" of the canvas as you begin to draw. The "tooth" of canvas refers to the amount of texture created by the underlying canvas fibres. The texture of coloured pencil marks on canvas will be bolder than the texture obtained when drawing on paper.

Draw lighter and mid-tone areas of the image before you begin to draw darker areas. Leave highlight areas of the canvas blank. Allow the white colour of the canvas to show through for highlights.

Establish negative space by drawing with darker pencil colours around highlighted forms. Avoid smearing and muddying colours by completing an entire segment of the drawing before moving to the next segment. Work from right to left if you are left-handed. Work from left to right if you are right-handed. Complete detailed areas as the final drawing step.

Use the side of a soft pastel or charcoal to create broad mid-tone areas in your drawing. Leave highlight areas white or blank. Fill a spray bottle with clean water. Spray a fine mist over the mid-tone areas and allow to dry before continuing with your drawing. Soft pastels have similar properties to compressed sticks of charcoal. Both types of drawing tools create dust and can smear when applied to canvas.

Identify negative or darker spaces in your drawing. Complete darker-toned areas of your drawing with the tip of a soft pastel or charcoal. Spray a fine mist of water over the darker-toned areas of your drawing and allow to dry.

Draw detailed areas with the edge of the charcoal, a thin stick of vine charcoal, or soft pastels. Workable fixative is the commercial name for spray varnish. Spray the completed drawing with workable fixative. Place completed charcoal or soft pastel drawings on canvas under plexiglass or glass to prevent smearing.

Draw the basic dark areas of your composition first when using oil pastels on canvas. Draw darker colours and establish negative space first before beginning to draw mid-tones. Smooth, completely covered canvas areas can be achieved by drawing with oil pastels on canvas.

Draw mid-tone areas of your composition using brighter colours. Blend mid-tone colours with dark areas with your finger or a blending stump. Add brightness to mid-tone areas with white or bright yellow.

Complete darker detailed areas of your composition with dark pastels. Use Payne's Gray or Sepia for depth of detail. Complete lighter, highlighted detailed areas with white oil pastel.

Protect the final composition with spray varnish or fixative. Oil pastels are made from pigment, a small amount of linseed oil and a wax binder. Traditional oil pastels will never dry because of their composition. Place the completed oil pastel drawing under plexiglass or glass to prevent smearing.

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