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Can you Use Pencils on Canvas?

Pencils and canvas on shelf.

When mapping out a painting or piece of artwork on a canvas, you might ask if a pencil is the best tool for it. You may even wonder if a pencil will even work as a medium on a canvas. 

Pencils are a very accessible and common tool to sketch on a canvas before you begin your painting. They are a medium that easily maps out your painting so you can understand how it will look on your canvas. 

When you are planning a painting, you may have a specific image in mind. Sketching the idea on a paper will allow you to view it in real-time and have an understanding of your image. 

However, what goes on paper may not be what goes on the canvas. If you want your painting to look how it does in the sketch, it is best to use a pencil to map your painting before applying the paint itself!

There are also certain types of pencils that work best and other things to look out for when using a pencil on your canvas. 

How can pencils help you paint on a canvas?

Thai artist drawing a portrait.

Using pencils to sketch out your canvas can be used for any kind of paint medium, including oils and acrylics. Pencils can allow you to create a detailed drawing of your artwork and allow you to erase what you do not want on your canvas. 

Pencils allow you to create different types of lines with added pressure to add detail to the canvas. The lines can be thin or thick and add precision to what your painting will be. The pencil can easily show the complex composition of your work and allow you to sketch out the details. 

It is important to sketch out your painting with a medium before you start painting your canvas. This allows you to create detail and precision in your piece. It will also show what details you may be missing and how to fix any irregularities before it is too late. 

What type of pencil works best on a canvas?

Amazon Basics Sketch and Drawing Art Pencil Kit - 17-Piece Set

You may be wondering, are some pencils better than others? This is true, some pencils are preferred over others when drawing on a canvas. 

If you plan on using an H-grade pencil, use a 3H or a 4H in mind. These H-graded pencils will smudge less and create an easy experience when sketching on a canvas. 

You can also use a soft graphite pencil or a B-grade pencil. A canvas is also a rough surface, and you could damage it using certain types of pencils. So, using a soft pencil will keep your canvas intact. 

How do I prevent smudging?

Artist painting a portrait.

A pencil smudges on paper and other surfaces, so it is bound to smudge on a canvas. To avoid this issue, there are fixative sprays you can apply. 

You can also use an acrylic matte medium and use a soft brush to apply over the canvas. Let the medium dry, then you can begin painting your canvas. 

Is there a way to make a canvas smoother?

Closeup of canvas topped with pencils.

When you start to draw on a canvas with a pencil, you will quickly find that canvas is rough, difficult terrain. You will go through a great amount of pencil and graphite and smudges may surround the canvas once you’re done. 

You can smooth out the canvas by applying multiple coats of gesso before you begin sketching. Gesso will smooth your canvas and allow you to use a pencil without any difficulty. 

The process of using gesso is quite intensive. You will have to apply one coat covering the whole surface evenly, and allow it to dry before applying the next coat. In between coats, you must sand down the canvas so the next coat of gesso can stick to it. 

If you are unable to apply this time to a canvas, it may be best to find a soft pencil that works well with your canvas. 

How should I erase the pencil markings on a canvas?

Woman drawing a vase on canvas.

If you make a mistake or do not like how something came out on your canvas, you may need to erase your markings. A kneaded eraser will work best with an H-grade pencil and erase most of the graphite. 

However, each canvas may require different strategies. If you have a heavily textured canvas, you may need a separate eraser for that canvas alone. 

If you have an oil primed canvas, you must use the eraser gently on the canvas. If you apply too much pressure on the canvas while erasing it, you might remove the primer from the canvas in the process. 

Are there any disadvantages to using a pencil on a canvas?

Man drawing a vase on canvas.

When you are using a pencil on a canvas, if you apply too much pressure, it may become engraved in the canvas. This will allow your paint to sink or move around those areas oddly. 

A pencil may also smudge quite a bit in the process and may need a lot of erasing, which may damage the canvas. 

Depending on how you want your painting to look, this may be intrusive. So applying your sketch lightly on the canvas is best. 

Having a sketch that is exactly how you want your painting to be, however, may be intrusive to your creative spirit. Instead of allowing the painting to become something interesting or have a specific flow, you are constructing a strict piece that cannot be manipulated in form. 

However, each artist is different with different styles and views. Depending on your art style, a pencil may be very helpful for your finished product. 


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