There’s more than one way to refresh an old piece of canvas art. Here’s how to reuse a canvas, whether you want to completely start over or make a piece of found art your own.
Don’t panic, y’all. I’m not talking about painting over the Mona Lisa to turn her into a chalkboard, but there are definitely situations when you want to reuse a canvas. Maybe you found some terrible hotel art at a thrift store, but the frame is gorgeous. Or you have some printed canvases from your old photography business that need a refresh. Or maybe you want to know how to reuse a canvas from one of your own paintings that you’ve decided to scrap.
Preparing Your Canvas
The key to reusing an old canvas is preparing your canvas properly. Your best bet is to lightly sand the painting, to even out the surface, then paint over the whole thing with primer. You DO NOT want to paint with acrylic over oil or oil over acrylic, because that is a recipe for flaking or peeling paint. Preparing the canvas helps avoid that mistake.
I’ve prepped old canvases for reuse with regular primer from the house paint section, and my stuff has held up for years. I only use acrylic paints, though, so for oils that might not be your best bet.
You can also use a high-quality gesso to prime your canvas. Just make sure the gesso you choose accepts the type of paint you’re planning to use. This one accepts oil, acrylic, pastels, charcoal, pencil, and crayon, so it really covers all of your bases
This video is about preparing a printed canvas for reuse, but the method is basically the same for any old canvas:
If the old canvas has a lot of texture, you’ll just want to sand more, unless you’re looking to have that same texture in your new work.
Ideas for How to Reuse an Old Canvas
Need some inspiration for making over an old canvas? Here are some fun ideas!
1. Make a chalkboard. – To make the chalkboard in our kitchen, I painted the beautiful frame from some tacky, thrift store art, then painted the art itself with chalkboard paint. Since my original piece was smooth and definitely acrylic (my chalkboard paint was also acrylic), I did not need to sand or prime.
2. Let your kids paint it. – Your kids will be so proud to show off their creation on the wall. This is especially fun if you score a large canvas. Tsh’s kids are older, but I recently let my son and his best buddy, both age three, do a large painting, and they rocked it. So this is really an all-ages project!
3. Make graffiti art. – Scott used a new canvas for this project, but you can definitely use an old one instead! I love how they used two canvases to create a diptych!
4. Create starburst art. – I love this technique for turning old art into a piece with a fresh-yet-retro feel.
5. Paint with crayons. – This is especially handy if your old canvas has a lot of texture, and you don’t want to sand. Just prime, apply a base coat in whatever color you want, and then use Julie’s cool technique to do a wax painting with crayons.
6. Puffy paint it. Who says puffy paint has to look 80s-tacky? I love how Virginia and Charlie used white puff paint to make a minimalist typographic design. To do this on an old canvas, just sand, prime, and paint it over in matte white before sticking on your homemade lettering.
7. Let the kids make leaf art. Sand, prime, and paint the canvas (your kids can even help with these steps), then let them go to town printing with found leaves and other bits of nature that they’ve collected. If you’re sure that your canvas is painted with acrylic, you can also let them leaf paint right on top of the old design. You could end up with some cool effects that way!
8. Use washi tape. – This is another way to reuse a canvas where sanding/priming/painting is optional. How you prep the canvas really depends on what you’re going for, so have fun with it!