Painting a Canvas in One Color

Kim Stone

Painting a canvas in one color is a great design idea for contemporary modern rooms as well as for anyone who wants more color in their living space. This technique is called color field painting in the art world and has been around since the mid-twentieth century.

Color Field 101

If you are reluctant to paint your neutral walls or have restrictions in a lease agreement, then painting a monochrome canvas is a quick, inexpensive way to add interest and color to your walls. Canvases are also extremely portable, so they can be moved from room to room or taken to a new apartment.

The color field art movement followed the abstract expressionist movement and focused on oversized canvases painted with stripes, washes, or solid fields of pure color. Sometimes called chromatic abstraction, this type of art can feature varying textures as long as the canvas is monochromatic. Objects and subject matter are not important in color field paintings, since the emphasis is on the psychological effect of pure color studies. However, the shape of the canvas was occasionally changed from the traditional shape.

Notable color field artists include Mark Rothko, Jules Olitski, Ellsworth Kelly, Frank Stella, Morris Louis, and Kenneth Noland. As the first critically praised art movement to begin in the nation's capital, the Washington Color School was fundamental to the broader color field movement.

Creating Color Field Art - Painting a Canvas in One Color

For those who want to make their own color field art, you'll find that painting a single-color canvas is an art form that is ideal for all skill levels. The first step is deciding which colors to use on the canvases. The options here are limitless, so use a color wheel or paint chips from the local hardware store as a starting point.

If you already have an accent color in your room that you want to highlight, then this would be a natural choice for painting a canvas in one color. Color field art can feature bold primary colors, neutral earth tones, or even pastels-just let your personal style shine through.

Next, decide how many canvases your space needs and what size they should be. For a large wall above a sofa or bed, you could use one large horizontal canvas or a combination of several smaller canvases. Try painting a set of canvas in a single color or using a different color for each panel.

Pre-stretched canvases can be purchased at your local art supply store, craft store, or over the internet. These instant art surfaces are usually primed and ready for painting. For the truly adventurous, try stretching your own canvas to save a few bucks over the ready-made versions. Some people have a preference for the less structured look of a hanging canvas banner which requires no support frames. You can add grommets to make the banner easier to hang up.

Here the basic supplies needed to make your own canvas:

  • Unprimed cotton canvas material
  • Staple gun
  • Four canvas stretchers
  • Stretcher keys for tightening canvas

Canvas can be found in various widths at fabric stores where it is typically called duck cloth. This canvas duck cloth is made from 100% cotton, so it may shrink quite a bit. After joining the stretchers, push them together and tap gently on the corners to form nice square right angles. Roll out a section of duck cloth, place the frame on top, and generously cut the canvas to the right size.

Begin stapling the duck cloth to the back of the frame by starting in the middle of any of the four sides. Next, tightly pull the canvas and staple the middle of the opposite side as you work around the frame. Place staples about every two inches and then affix the corners. Neatly fold the duck cloth edges around the back of the frame and staple in place. After completing the canvas construction, it is now ready to be primed and painted. For a clean look, paint all four edges of the canvas with the main paint color.

Resources for Color Field Paintings

Dick Blick Art Materials - Pre-stretched canvas, roll canvas, and canvas stretching supplies.

Poster Shop - Inspiring art prints from the color field art movement.

Painting a Canvas in One Color