diy project: kate’s illuminated canvas

[my apologies, kate’s new diy series was supposed to go up yesterday but i totally fell behind]

this month i will feature projects using canvas, and to kick it off i decided to use a lightweight canvas fabric to create an unusual “night light” painting that could look good on or off. we needed a light in our hallway because i get up early in the morning when it is dark out. i thought i could use this as an opportunity to make a conversation piece that people see when they first enter our house. i am very happy with the results and i can’t wait to experiment with all kinds of painted designs. i wanted it to have kind of a raw, art gallery feel, which is why i left the sides unfinished and did not frame the piece. but if you painted the sides, framed the image, and chose different text or images, this could easily work in a kids room, a guest room, or be a fun holiday installation. hope this inspires some fun ideas for night lights! happy crafting! – kate

click here for the full project instructions!

what you’ll need:
1. lightweight canvas fabric or muslin, un-primed
2. stretcher bars or pre-made frame (mine is 16 x 20)
3. 2″ x 2″ wood (enough to make a frame 1″ shorter on both sides than your painting’s dimensions)
4. acrylic paint (i used craft paint that has a nice liquid consistency, rather than more tube acrylics that are more solid)
5. one big and one small paintbrush
6. pencil
7. light bulb and socket set (i used one of those hanging pendant light bulb sets from ikea)
8. heavy duty staple gun
9. tracer light box (this is optional, but helps a lot)
10. computer and printer
11. mitre box and saw
12. hot glue or nails

1. plan out the composition and text of your canvas. use a word program to print the text actual size in the font of your choice.
2. tape the printed text on the back of your canvas where you want it to be and trace the letters on the front in pencil. you can also freehand your text or design if you want.

3. stretch the canvas onto your frame. make sure the text sits where you want it to on the frame.
4. carefully paint around your text or image and fill in the rest of the canvas. you do not have to use black, but make sure you do several coats of heavy paint so light won’t shine through. hold canvas up to a light sourced to check for spots that need another coat.
5. measure the 2×2’s and cut them to create a frame for the back. this frame will be roughly 1″ smaller on both sides than your frame so it will be slightly inset on all sides (i.e. for my 16 x 20 frame, i had two pieces that were 12″ long and two pieces that were 19″ long). use hot glue or nails to attach the pieces together. NOTE: the frame should not be a rectangle, it should look more like a boxy “A”, where the bottom piece is attached slightly above the bottom of the two sides. this way you can thread the cord behind that piece, so the frame can lay flat against the wall.
6. take your socket set and staple the cord to the sides of the 2×2 frame so the bulb hangs roughly in the middle. staple the cord to the sides in a few places and let hang down the bottom. use a low wattage bulb so as not to create too much heat behind the fabric. i used 25 watts.

7. when canvas is dry, attach the 2×2 frame with the light to the back of your canvas frame. you can adjust the light cord so that the bulb hangs straight down and does not hit the canvas. i used hot glue, but if you have a larger or heavier canvas you should use nails to attach the frames together.



This is really cool. I just wanted to suggest that instead of using a low wattage bulb which will still get somewhat hot, you could use a CFL bulb because they don’t heat up and won’t start a fire. Also, they’ll save you money on your electric bill.

Jen O

this canvas painting is a neat idea.
suggestion for another light source–a string of led holiday lights, so cheap to buy and use….


Brilliant! I have had this project idea in my head for the past few months and you just proved that it is doable. Thanks! I will share my ‘afters’ soon.


Fantastic! I don’t have a steady hand, though, so I may try cutting out the letters from contact paper, sticking them to the canvas, and painting over them.

Sarah M...

What an excellent, easy, inexpensive gift idea! Playing around with Word, I found that a lot of the Wingdings symbols, blown-up, would work great for this.

kate Endle

Wow! What an idea. I have decided to call my new kitchen the “Nonfiction Kitchen” because it’s where all my nonfiction books live. Now I know how I’m going to display the new name.


I’m going to do this for my new place! I think “hello goodbye” would be cute for near the front door.

Rachel of One Pretty Thing

Wow, this is FABULOUS! So many fun possibilities… I’m thinking a kitty sleeping on a fence. I also love the night sky idea in the comment above. I’ll be linking in the Daily DIY.


Thanks for posting this! Ever since I saw a cool chandelier canvas piece like this on a British site, I’ve been meaning to try it myself. Now I can! Thanks!!!!


I’m going to do this with a long, horizonal canavas with “Let There Be Light!” Thank you so much for the fabulous instructions!


A lower wattage fluorescent bulb would use less energy and produce less heat.


Awesome idea!

Adding to the light suggestions – a short string of rope light stapled to the inside of the frame-edge would also probably work, and you wouldn’t have to add a deeper frame.


What a great idea. And I just happen to have one of those hanging light kits that needs some attention!


this is a great idea, i’ll definitely be trying it out for my new room


Love it!! Just touching on the fire hazard comment – anyone had any problems with the light source getting really hot?


Hey u should try touch lights the circle ones with batteries..that would b safe and inexpensive just hope its bright enough


Great idea, if I make one I plug it into a timer that turns on when it’s time for my kids to go to bed. If the light is on, they need to be off!


My father-in-law has a hard time getting rid of guests when he has a get together at his house. We have often laughed that he needs a sign that says GO HOME when he is ready for bed. This might be his Christmas present!


OMG thank you I’m just having a hard time figuring out the frame any suggestions on how I could make one easyer

Tammy Jo

This is a so cute. There are so different options, and I would be making my granddaughter one right now if I could decide what I want to say to her every nite before she closing her eyes. Just had a ideal, will let you know. Thanks for the great idea.