Painting a Mini Canvas – Smoky Mountain Artwork

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I got myself a little 2×2″ mini canvas pack at a craft store years ago. I thought they would be so neat to make tiny paintings of, and they really were a LOT of fun to do! In fact, probably the most fun I’ve had doing a painting, because they don’t take long being so small, you can try out so many different things and not waste a lot of time or a big canvas!

Scenes from the Smokies - Acrylic Paintings on mini canvases
Scenes from the Smokies – Acrylic Paintings on mini canvases

So here’s my first set of mini canvas paintings. “Scenes from the Smokies” is what I’m calling them, as they are all from photos I took when I visited the Smoky Mountains a couple years ago. Done using Acrylic paints, each one took about an hour or so.



A Quick Step by Step Painting Process on a Mini Canvas


acrylic paints, brushes

Art Supplies You’ll Need:

  • 2×2 inch mini canvas (they usually come in packs, I got a set of 6).
  • Paint palette – I like to use the round plastic ones. Acrylic paints can be peeled or scraped off pretty easy!
  • Water container – Any empty plastic container or cup will do! The bigger/fancy one you see in the picture here is actually nice because it has holders for your brushes on the sides, 3 different water chambers, and some grooves on the bottom to make it easier to clean your brushes.
  • Paper Towel – I always have this on hand to wipe off any excess water on the brush to get the right consistency while I’m painting.
  • Brushes – For all these paintings, I used 2 round brushes. A smaller & a slightly larger size. The round brushes are nice because once dipped in water and paint the tip comes together and you can get a pretty sharp line with it. You can also use the round body to get larger strokes-so you’ve got both thick and thin in one brush! I highly recommend a set of various sizes like these!
  • Acrylic Paints – I used Liquitex pro grade(or heavy bodied acrylics). These are AWESOME paints! They really are worth the extra money for the higher quality. I’ve used a bunch of different acrylic paint over the years, and you can use whatever brand you want, but if you’re really into painting and/or just want the best quality you can get, then try these out! They look better, they feel better, they mix really well, and they go a long way! They’re a higher viscosity(thickness) than cheaper brands, so you can water down as needed. The colors I used for these paintings are: Titanium White, Ivory Black, Phthalo Blue, Ultramarine Blue, Deep Magenta, Cadmium Yellow, and Naphthol Crimson. If you’re just getting started, you can purchase all the colors I listed above separately, or get yourself an Essentials Set like this one.



Outline, Color Blocking, and detail adding steps with the final painting on the right.


Step 1 – Reference & Preparation

Get a photo of what you want to paint. Keep in mind the proportions of your canvas in relation to your photo. You might not be able to fit everything in the photo onto the canvas. The canvases I used are square(and most mini canvases are). Most photos are rectangles, so if you want, you can digitally crop your photo to help you visualize what you’re going to paint better, or you can cover up a part of the photo if you’re using a physical copy. Whatever works to help you out, it’s just something you have to keep in mind!


Step 2 – Outlining

Take a little black paint and dip your brush in water to lighten it up. You may drag your brush on the paper towel just to make sure it’s not too dark, or you don’t have too much water on your brush.

Lightly apply the paint on the canvas and “draw” or outline the major parts to your painting. This will help you get in place all the important details and where you want them. If you mess up, don’t worry-before the paint dries you can take the paper towel and wipe it off. You can also dampen the paper towel with some water and wipe it off that way too.


Step 3 – Color Blocking

Once you’ve got your outlines in place, take a close look at the colors in the background of your image.  In the one I was working on I knew there were browns up top, a large plot of green grass on the right, and darker greens on the left. The bridge has greys and blacks. I like to work in “layers” going from background to foreground. Creating this background layer will give you a good solid base to build the mid and foreground objects on.

Start mixing your paint colors* to get those shades you saw and apply them in large areas to create the background colors on your image. This step can be messy, but that’s ok! I mean, just look at the steps to my painting, before the end it looks like the forest is on fire! Just get those basic colors in, and don’t worry if they get mixed up with each other a little-it’s better to not have completely solid colors on the image(unless they really are that way!).

*Mixing colors is a big topic, and I’ll cover that in another tutorial in the future. If you’re uncomfortable with doing that right now, you can get a basic paint set with many colors and just use them as they are, or mix them a little bit without getting too complicated.


Step 4 – Adding Layers & Details

After that it’s all about adding layers of colors on top of your background paint! You can let the paint dry in between steps if it’s easier-or if you want it to blend and mix then apply it while it’s wet. You’ll use a variety of brush strokes: small light dabs with thicker paint for leaves, make the tip of the brush sharp for tree trunks and branches, or make heavier dabs with the whole brush to do large areas of grass, etc.

Try thinning the paint if you want to put a light wash of highlight on an object-such as the white paint I put on top of the rocks. That paint was thinned quite a bit just to make the rocks pop out a bit more, as opposed to the very opaque-not watered down white in the water, or highlights on the bridge.

Play around, experiment-the only way you’re going to see and know what works is just to do it! Don’t be afraid or worry about messing up, these are small cheap canvas, you can start another one if you really want, or wait till the paint dries(or wipe off if you can), and paint over top of it.


These make great practice paintings!


acrylic painting on a mini canvas
The process was the same for all the paintings I did, although a few of them that were more simple I skipped the first step-outlining in black paint, as I felt just doing the color blocking was good enough!


*Also keep in mind, you do not have to make your painting look exactly like the photograph. None of my paintings are exact, as that wasn’t the point. These were just inspired by the photos I took, and I followed the photos as a guideline. This of course all depends on what you’re end goal is for your painting.

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