How to Make a Canvas Painting Look Distressed

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Distress canvas with varnishes and abrasion.
Distress canvas with varnishes and abrasion. (Image: Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images)

Distressing a canvas painting gives the art a passed-down-through-the-ages aesthetic. You can employ several techniques to achieve this end. The task will be easier if you are the original painter, and you can begin distressing the canvas as soon as you finish the original art. However, you can employ most distressing techniques on fresh and finished paintings. It is impossible to know exactly how the product will look until you finish. It is best to use a painting that you are comfortable altering, since you won't have a detailed understanding of how it will ultimately look.

Things You'll Need

  • Canvas painting (newly-painted or dry)
  • Glaze or sealant
  • Paintbrush
  • Artist sponge
  • Fine-grain sandpaper
  • Color glaze
  • Polyurethane varnish
  • Clean rag

Apply a finishing glaze or slow-drying sealant to the canvas. Apply the glaze when the paint is almost dry, but still has a few, small wet spots on the surface.

Rub the glaze in areas where it covers dry and slightly wet paint. Rub the surface with an artist's sponge or fine-grained sandpaper to create an antiqued look.

Apply a neutral color or pink colored glaze to the surface of a near-dry or entirely dry painting. The glaze will dry almost clear, but impart a slight rock or mineral effect on the paint.

Apply polyurethane varnish on top of some of the dried color glaze to intensify the color. This technique is cissing, and it will give the painting textured discoloration.

Apply a layer of glaze to a dry painting.

Wind a rag tightly. Hold it taut at each end. Drag it through the wet glaze to create a watermarked effect.

Rub areas of bare canvas and dry, painted canvas with fine sandpaper, to erode paint and break canvas fibers.

Set the canvas face-up on the floor. Pour small puddles of water onto the surface. Leave the water sitting on the canvas until it achieves your desired level of distress.

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