Spray Painting Canvas Patio “Walls”

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We've been working on turning a former carport pad into a patio and outdoor art space. The carport collapsed two winters ago and last spring we decided to put in beautiful stone terracing, a flagstone patio, a nice dining set (etc, etc…) in it's place. But, well, it never happened for various reasons.

So this spring we looked at the space again and decided on a quick and inexpensive patio transformation. The asphalt is staying for now. The slopes are tamed somewhat. The old studio table is now both our patio dining table and our outdoor art table. And, we put up some canvas patio walls to create a more intimate patio space and also to hide an ugly chain link fence and an ugly bare clay slope.

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The canvas walls are made from canvas painter's drop cloths. These ones are especially made for stairs (4 feet wide with metal stabilizers at each side) and happened to be on clearance at Home Depot. Score! We cut them to the right length, added a hem and gromets, and they were good to go.

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I could have kept them as a nice, plain background, but the idea from the beginning was to use them as outdoor art canvases.

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So I bought some spray bottles at the dollar store, filled them with diluted liquid watercolors, and invited friends and neighbors over to spray paint them with Maia.

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They took their job seriously (and only occasionally sprayed each other).

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It was a fun outdoor art project!

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It's definitely a look. My friend Marin said something about a likeness to '80s splatter-painted jeans which I tried not to hear. But I like the added color and LOVE the idea of having huge outdoor art canvases in our yard. I think the color may fade with time, sun, and rain which will just be a good excuse to have more spray painting sessions from time to time.

Update: I drafted this blog post last night before bed. During the night we had a very heavy rainstorm. This morning our canvas walls are virtually blank again! Now I'm wondering if we should keep using art materials that will wash away (for the ever-changing outdoor art) or if I should bring out the permanent markers and acrylic paint.

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  1. says

    As I was reading this, I was thinking to myself (before I got to the end), boy, is she in for a surprise in the morning. I had kids paint murals with the liquid watercolors on DSS’s large liquid watercolor mats at a festival last summer. They were completely saturated with color and salt, and we hung them to dry (under a tent, mind you, overnight). The next morning, the entire mural has changed just due to the moisture from the dew. They were still really cool, but it was as if all of the color was running toward the bottom of the mat in vertical streaks! Great idea for your outdoor space, and it will be fun to re-design again and again!

  2. says

    Where do you live that the kids are in bathing suits – I am so jealous! Though, today it is going to be sunny and a scorching 55 degrees. My kids would love this!!! Oh, I bought a glue gun yesterday. Can’t wait to try it with my daughter.

  3. says

    Oh my, it looks warm there. Sigh. Our watercolor-painted coffee filters have faded dramatically in the window that gets the sun. You could use the weather to your advantage for an ever-changing backdrop!

  4. Gina says

    I love the idea of being able to re-do it over and over :) This is kind of silly but it makes me think of the movie “50 First Dates” with the happiness that a fresh white wall for painting a mural gives the girl every morning. I hope Maia feels that way about her washed mural ;)

  5. says

    I think it is actually great that it can all be washed out by rain. It creates an amazing space for temporary art and reinforces the idea that it is all about the process, not the product!

  6. Kate says

    re-use, re-use, re-use! (unless of course the art products are toxic to the environment, but im doubting that)

  7. says

    I’m with everyone else. I love the idea of your family being able to recreate a beautiful canvas again and again with time.
    ~Amanda

  8. says

    What a fun idea! I think it’s cool either way (washable paints or non-washable materials). Although, being totally non-committal when it comes to decorating my own home, I’d go with the washable. Haha. :)
    Oh, and I would definitely say it’s far more “Better Homes and Gardens” than it is “80’s jeans.”

  9. says

    Yeah, I think we’ll go the re-use route. Although I may let them draw on it with sharpies, too. So maybe there will be some permanent black and white drawings in some places, but they can paint the canvas anew each time.

  10. tasha says

    You are so ridiculously creative!!! Your site is always exploding with creativity!

  11. Shelley D says

    Try using contact paper to make cool shapes with, cut them out and stick them down, and then use watered down acrylic paint to spray over them. When dry remove the contact paper to see the white shapes. We’ve done cloud shapes and used different shades of blue to spray “sky” onto the fabric. It may still wash out but not immediately. The water bottles’ nozzles will probably clog when done. I tried washing them out but could never get them to work again.

  12. says

    I vote as well to let it wash away so you can keep redoing it. Think of all the fun you can have throughout the summer painting it over and over again.

  13. AnnasBananas says

    Jealous of your warm sunshine- if even for just the day. What a fantastic idea- I like that the paint washed away and that you can do this over and over again! I may just set up something like this on one of our fences in the future- great idea!

  14. Barbara Zaborowski says

    If you really want something permanent, just do one panel. Leave the others as an on-going art project. When the canopy on our outdoor bench died, we got sheer white curtain panels and spray painted them with liquid water colors. We only have to re-paint a couple of times a year (not much rain here in Phoenix) but the kids always love re-doing them. The spray bottles (as an added bonus) are great small motor exercise.
    Also I love the idea of the clouds. We’re re-doing the canopy next week and will definitely try this.

  15. Barbara Zaborowski says

    PS: Just looked at Jill’s links about cyanotype murals. Should be east to do here in sunny Phoenix and I was just suggesting to my teaching partner that we add some curtains to cover our storage areas. Fantastic timing!

  16. Holly says

    This is awesome…I am super excited by this and I wasn’t even there!!! Great idea!!!

  17. says

    I vote washable paint. How much fun to keep creating different landscapes! Nature is always changing why not your backdrop?

  18. jwg says

    Add me to the do it over and over side. And you could change the tools, too. Use rollers, brushes, kitchen implements, pine cones……

  19. says

    Jean, I am stealing this idea! I am going to hang the drop cloths on our backyard fence and I’m curious how you got yours grommeted? Do you have a grommet-putter-inner or did you take them somewhere?
    This is going to be such a fun project – thanks for the inspiration!

  20. Shayna says

    Hi Jean, I love your blog. I hung a white sheet over our fence and let the kids at it with spray bottles of diluted liquid watercolor. It was so fun! My one-year-old had a blast, as did my 4 year-old and her friend. I just threw the sheet in the wash after a couple days, and it is white again- fun awaits for another day. Thanks for the idea!

  21. KellyS. says

    how has this held up? Are the main supports warping at all? How did you attach the panels and get them pulled taught? Any more details would be greatly appreciated!! :)

  22. Barbara Vantine says

    Jean, I love your blog. So many great ideas! We had an Art Party for my daughter’s 8th birthday last weekend. We hung a clothesline from the trees in our backyard and hung the drop cloth over it. They had a blast spray painting it with the watercolors. The whole cloth had several coats of paint. We have some fabulous pictures of the kids happily spraying. Best Craft Ever! Thanks for the ideas!