DIY Chalkboard Canvas in 6 Easy Steps

just sold

In the winter of 2012, I was in my second year of living alone–my family and fiance were 300 miles away in Dallas while I was working in Lubbock–and at the height of a stressful year of wedding planning. By that time, I had learned to love living alone, but I still craved time with my loved ones. Maybe it was the wedding DIY bug, but that was the year I starting crafting for the home. When the Christmas season started, I discovered Hallmark Christmas and brought out my acrylic paints. Probably in the middle of my fifteenth cheesy romantic comedy, I created this:


I was so proud of this. It didn’t turn out exactly the way I wanted it to–I wanted a faux chalkboard look, but I didn’t know how to pull it off–but I was still happy with this thing that I created. I’ve brought it out every year as a reminder of my years alone, of the time that I was juggling so much but still embracing the Christmas spirit.

This year, I finally decided to take the art of handlettering seriously and learn how to do it. I started in May, and I can confidently say that I have moved from a beginner level to an intermediate one. Let’s just say that means I’m good enough to cringe when I brought out my Christmas decorations this year.

I decided to put my new skills to use with revamping my old Christmas canvases. I’m really happy with how this one turned out, so I wanted to share with you!


  • Pencil
  • Chalk
  • Handheld pencil sharpener
  • Black acrylic paint (or, a black canvas)
  • White paint pen
  • Canvas
  • Kleenex

Estimated Cost: Under $15. I had all of these items at home already, so it was really cheap.

Step 1: Sketch!

I went through several iterations of the layout and font here, practicing and experimenting with letter shapes.

I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to do pencil sketching. This was a crucial step that I missed in my 2012 canvas: I assumed my mental picture would translate well on canvas without prior planning. However, sketching helps me see how my hand shapes letters, and how the letters fall into place. It lets me play with layouts and learn what works and what doesn’t.

Step 2: I see a canvas and I want to paint it black.


You can skip this step if you want–most craft stores have black canvases now. However, I’m cheap and I happened to have a couple of plain canvases in my craft closet. I used about three coats of acrylic paint to completely black out the canvas. I prefer acrylic for crafts like this because it’s cheap, opaque, and versatile.

Step 3: Sketch with chalk.

Wait for it… in the final step, you can see how I changed this design at the last minute. Again, this is why sketching with erasable media is SO IMPORTANT!

I chose to sketch with blue chalk because it would blend into black well when I rubbed it off. Sketching with chalk allows you to make mistakes–because even if you sketch on paper, you don’t really know how it will end up until you put it to the right scale! For this piece, I ended up doing some last minute changes once I saw how the words filled up the canvas.

Pro Tip: Use a pencil sharpener to sharpen your chalk! It is so much easier to draw with when it’s got a sharper tip!

Step 5: Use a paint pen to paint over the finalized design.


Again, this step is up to you. I’ve seen perfectionists use a tiny brush to paint in with acrylic paint, and more practical artists use a paint pen. I wanted clean lines, so I chose a paint pen. I used the Sharpie oil-based white pen because 1) I had it already, and 2) my Craftsmart paint pen (Michael’s store brand) was not bold enough on the black canvas. I noticed that the Sharpie pen picked up some of the black paint and blue chalk as I wrote, making it come out duller. To make up for this, I had to wipe it off on another surface every few letters. I also went over the letters 2-3 times to get it as bright as I wanted it.

I used a stool as my table so I wouldn’t press down too hard on the canvas.

Warning: Oil-based pens can be–well–oily. Watch your hands as you write and give the paint enough time to dry before you attempt to do overlapping lines.

Step 6: Use a tissue to gently rub away the chalk.


After the paint has dried, use a Kleenex to rub away the chalk. I found that a soft, circular motion was the right amount of gentle and abrasive. This gives the piece a nice, chalky finish to complete the faux chalkboard effect.

Step 7: Display, Brag, Revel in Your Amazingness!


Show all your friends your awesome skills. I’m going to use this technique to polish up another piece. Follow me on Instagram @nerdladydraws to see how it turns out!

If you tried this technique, let me know how it turned out! If you know a better technique, share it in the comments! 

Literary Whiteboard Lettering, Week 11

For the final creepy week of October, I did two of my favorite works by two of my favorite writers.

Day 38: Macbeth


Publication Performance: 1606 (play)

What It’s About: A noble warrior hears a prophecy that he will become the king of Scotland. With the aid of his wife, he makes it so–through murder. This is my favorite Shakespeare work for so many reasons: (1) it’s short and action-packed, making it an excellent entry into Shakespeare for students, (2) it is constantly alluded to in pop culture (Breaking BadHarry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) because (3) its themes of how power can corrupt and how guilt can corrode are timeless.

Read Online (Link to Sparknotes No Fear Shakespeare, a strong tool for first-time Shakespeare readers)

Day 39: The Cask of Amontillado


Publication: 1846

What It’s About: The narrator, Montresor, seeks revenge against his friend Fortunato by luring him into catacombs to judge the quality of his newest wine acquisition. This is often taught in 9th grade to teach irony, and because Montresor’s means of revenge excites even the most reluctant readers.

Read Online

Literary Whiteboard Lettering, Weeks 9-10 (HALLOWEEN EDITION!)

October’s been all about monsters and stories that give you the heebie jeebies! What are you reading for Halloween?

Day 31: The Fall of the House of Usher


Publication: 1839 (short story)

What It’s About: The narrator visits his ill friend, Roderick Usher. Usher and his sister live alone in a huge, rotten, creepy house. It feels very similar to the film Crimson Peak. My Gothic lit classes have covered this work to see an example of a classic Gothic setting, one which is still seen in today’s horror works: an expansive, but enclosed, space with several nooks and crannies for creepy ghouls and secrets to lurk. *shudder*

Read Online

Day 32: The Most Dangerous Game


Publication: 1924 (short story)

What It’s About: Sanger Rainsford washes up on an uncharted island and finds that its resident, General Zaroff, hunts people. Zaroff invites Rainsford to join him in his “game.” I’ve taught this work several times, but Zaroff’s explanation of his sport still gives me the chills.

Read Online

Day 33: Beowulf


Publication: 700-1000 (epic poem, told orally); 975-1010 (date of manuscript)

What It’s About: A classic hero’s tale, this epic poem recounts the adventures of Beowulf as he battles 3 monsters: Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and a dragon. This work is often studied as an example of the effect of the Christianisation on pagan literature.

Read Online

Day 34: A Monster Calls


Publication: 2011 (YA novel)

What It’s About: A child struggles with coping with his mother’s losing battle with cancer by day, and faces a monster that sweeps him out of his room by night. If you read this story, you must get the illustrated edition by Jim Kay. The artwork is absolutely amazing!

I could not find a free version of this book online.

Day 35: The Divine Comedy


Publication: 1472 (narrative poem)

What It’s About: Dante makes himself the main character as he travels through all the levels of hell, purgatory, and heaven in this allegorical tale of man’s journey to God. Most students study only Inferno, the account of Hell, because… well, it’s Hell and it’s exciting!

Read Online (I love this resource for Dante!!)

Day 36: The Phantom of the Opera


Publication: 1910 (novel)

What It’s About: The Palais Garnier Opera House is said to be haunted by a killer ghost… but it’s actually a hideous but talented musician lurking in the shadows of the building. He preys on the young and impressionable Christine, who believes him to be the Angel of Music. The Phantom in the book is more murderous and less cuddly than the one in the musical.

Read Online

Day 37: Dracula


Publication: 1897 (novel)

What It’s About: An Eastern European vampire wants to move to England to make a legion of vampires. I’m reading this book for the first time right now–so far, it develops a creepy mood beautifully. While looking up information on this book, I found that this is an example of invasion literature, a movement in British literature that popped up in the late 19th century leading up to WWI. I love seeing how political climates (in this case, the fear that outside forces will invade England and change English culture) influence the arts!

Read Online


These are part of my 2017-2018 project for my classroom: give book talks every day (or nearly every day), and letter a quote from each book on the board! I want to share examples of classic literature/good books with my students, with the hope that they’ll find beauty in words. Leave a comment if  you’ve got a good book suggestion!

Literary Whiteboard Lettering, Weeks 7-8

Over these weeks, I was transitioning from American regional works to embracing October and giving book talks about famous spooky stories. Stay tuned for weeks 9-10 for some fun books and stories for Halloween!

Day 25: All the Pretty Horses

This is still the only Cormac McCarthy book I have read, and I was surprised by it. After watching No Country for Old Men and The Road, I expected to read a sordid tale of cowboys. Instead, I found a romance written in a style reminiscent of Faulkner.

Day 26: All the Light We Cannot See


The physics teacher had some qualms with this quote, but I still think it’s lovely. Although neither American nor horror, I suggested this work because many of my learners expressed an interest in WW2 and historical fiction.

Day 27: Rip Van Winkle


I don’t think I would have known about this story if it weren’t for Wishbone. That adorable dog taught me a lot about major literary works, and unfortunately there’s no equivalent for kids today (that I know of). Hence, why I’m doing daily book talks.

Day 28: Joy Luck Club


I hate that I had to rush this one. I love this line.

Day 29: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow


Yes, I recycled the “Washington Irving” lettering from two days ago… I’m a busy teacher! Lettering takes time!

Day 30: Frankenstein


Did you know that Mary Shelley created this story as part of a spooky storytelling contest among her friends?

Literary Whiteboard Lettering, Weeks 5-6

Because I work at a PBL school, my weekly schedule can get pretty weird depending on where we are in a project. Weeks 5-6 of the school year were part of our transition from Project 1 to Project 2, so I had to give up some English days to cover things like presentation etiquette and practice presentations. Our second project of the year covers American regions, so I continued presenting works from various parts of the US.

Day 20: Brown Girl Dreaming 

I adore this book of autobiographical, narrative poetry. This is a good entry into poetry for readers who are intimidated by it. It tells the story of Woodson’s youth during the Civil Rights era as she and her family moved through the Midwest, South, and Northeast.

Day 21: The Bean Trees

This book surprised me. On the surface, it seemed like a piece of “chick lit”: a young woman gets tired of living in her tiny town and seeks adventure by driving out west. When she makes a pit stop in Oklahoma, someone drops a baby in her car and vanishes. She takes the baby with her and finally settles in Arizona when her car breaks down. It sounds like a Lifetime movie. But this book has a sense of humor as the narrator navigates through her new parenthood, and grapples the topic of undocumented immigration when she makes her new family in Arizona.

Day 22: Dandelion Wine

A few years ago, I had a student who was terrified of growing up. All the adults in her life either pressured her about growing up or told her (truthfully) that growing up sucks. By the time she got to me in the 9th grade, the transition into high school had completely shaken her. I suggested that she read this book, the story of a boy who realizes that childhood and life will end one day, and she loved it. A lot of things happened that school year to give her more confidence about her place in the school and life, and I’d like to say that this book was one of them.

Day 23: The Great Gatsby

Yes, I realize I got the quote wrong. It should be “Can’t repeat the past?…” But I was going off memory and lettering while the IT Specialist was talking to me about some student concern. I didn’t realize until the end of the day. Oh well… It still applies to Gatsby.

Day 24: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender

Another book that surprised me. This is an beautifully written work of YA literature. I love the writing style, and it’s got a touch of the surreal: it’s the story of a girl born with wings. It feels like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn with the way it describes the history of her family, and like Chocolat with the way it shows how her family settles in a new town in the Northwest. It’s got a touch of romance for teens, and a touch of melancholy for adults.