We had this question about painting a kitchen item:

What type of paint should I use to decorate a kitchen appliance?

That was apparently closed and then reopened by the community after editing included a picture and (slightly) more clarifying language. I don't know if the edits were the specific reason for the reopen.

So, I'm wondering where we draw the line at "canvases", if we'll call them that. Many artists will paint things such as reclaimed wood, clothing, toys and dolls, rocks.

These different materials all have different considerations for what types of paints or sealants made be used on them, based on the material itself or its application.

In this question, the surface was immediately clear (plastic), and so was it's application (it needed to stand up to wear and cleaning like you would a kitchen appliance.) The edit only further emphasized this. So, I'm still a bit confused!

Aside from this painting question, we also have , which will most likely deal with similar issues: unconventional items using materials that may need special consideration.

Where do we draw the line on what's an acceptable work material or medium?

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    I'm a big fan of upcycling so I hope to see that tag used more. – Matt May 10 '16 at 3:22
  • I voted to reopen, though not necessarily because of the edit (I upvoted before the edit/closure). I initially read more of an arts/crafts bent into the idea of "simply" painting a mixer than others might. At the same time, I also was thinking that the folks on MVMR.SE might have some good answers, not that it's likely to be on topic there. – JTL May 11 '16 at 1:25

I upvoted that question originally and also voted to reopen it. Sometimes wording can get people in hot water but if we can read into what they are asking the real question will still be there.

This discussion will keep coming up and I intend to try and push the borders as well. Keeping this centric to canvases I don't see how painting on plastics is off topic.

Many artists will paint things such as reclaimed wood, clothing, toys and dolls, rocks.

Much like you said artists will paint or draw on all sorts of mediums. We are not above these questions and should encourage A&C as a creative outlet.

I am sure there is a limit to this but I am unsure what realistic questions we could expect that would cross. Someone might find them.


There is nothing off topic about "unconventional canvasses". The problem with this question was that it did not imply any artistic angle to the question.

There was a long chain of comments explaining this including the close vote reason but they have now been deleted.

What I pointed out in a comment is that we are here to discuss arts and crafts. The analogy I used was painting a wall:

  • Asking how to generally paint a wall is not arts or crafts, it'd be more appropriate for a DIY/home renovation site.

  • Asking how to paint a mural is arts and crafts because it's an art form.

The original version of the question seemed to be only asking about changing the color of the plastic without adding any artistic value. I (and a community manager) failed to see how this was on topic here.

The edit made the question into one asking for more specific help with a potential art project. By including the example image and changing the phrasing to explain that it was an artistic endeavor, it became on topic.

This is the exact sort of thing we all need to be conscientious of when asking less obviously arts and crafts-related questions. We need to be clear that they relate to our topic because otherwise, they risk being closed as off topic. And don't worry if your question is closed because, as this question shows, if you can edit it to be more clear how it relates to the topic, it will be reopened!

There's not a big difference between the original and edited versions but that difference is enough to change whether it's on topic or not.

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    I'm concerned that "without adding any artistic value" is a subjective criteria that risks marginalizing arts or crafts that are not sufficiently mainstream or popular. I absolutely agree that the question needed editing, but judging the aesthetic merit of a project when determining topicality does not seem a good direction as a community. – Erica May 11 '16 at 0:39
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    Mainstream status has absolutely nothing to do with this. I started my answer by specifically stating that. Art is subjective but we need to encourage people that they need to occasionally make that clear. If we do not, we run the risk of being flooded with content that is of poor quality and not appropriate to the site. Neither should we make assumptions that content is a good fit without editing because it sets a potential precedent for allowing questions we really don't want. This is why I asked for an explanation rather than voting to close your question. – Catija May 11 '16 at 0:56
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    I see where you're coming from and agree with the importance of quality and clarity. However, decorating my blender is either on topic or not -- poor questions should be closed as unclear, or just commented on requesting clarification. It just feels odd to me that it is relevant if I paint flowers, but not otherwise. (I'm basing this on your last paragraph here, not on the closure reason given.) – Erica May 11 '16 at 1:13
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    It doesn't matter if you paint flowers or dots or tie-dye... What matters is that you are doing it for artistic reasons rather than utilitarian ones. Wanting to generally paint a blender purple shows no artistic impetus. – Catija May 11 '16 at 1:22
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    Well, I feel like adding the words "for my art project" to pretty much anything specifies an artistic nature. I suppose I just took the scope of the stack for granted, assuming people would post here. So, I can't decide how to vote on this topic. – user24 May 11 '16 at 17:32
  • @CreationEdge Do you understand my point about the difference between painting a wall and painting a mural on a wall? I feel really strongly that we need to set limits now because we run the risk of things getting out of hand. There's a reason Anime just banned ID questions and why M&TV is seriously considering it... I know that this is only tangentially related but, in those cases, a chunk of questions became nearly toxic to the sites... somehow they work out just fine on SFF... We can always relax restrictions that become too onerous. It's much more difficult to ban something later. – Catija May 11 '16 at 19:26
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    Yeah, I get the difference, but to me if you ask about painting a wall here, no details, it should be closed as unclear or too broad, not off scope. Need to specify what level of detail, how many colors, how big of area, or something. If details reveal it's DIY or something, then off-topic. But, a close is a close, in the end – user24 May 11 '16 at 19:30
  • @CreationEdge Sure... That may be a better solution... and when we enter public beta and get our own mods, we could even make a custom close reason specifically for this purpose (particularly if this does become a recurring issue). Right now we're a bit stymied because of the private beta and not having mods. – Catija May 11 '16 at 19:46
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    @CreationEdge -- "a close is a close, in the end" -- Yes and no; technically unclear puts a question on hold (as it needs clarification), while off-topic closes the question (considered fundamentally unanswerable on this site). – Erica May 12 '16 at 10:16
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    @Erica Except that neither an "on hold" question nor a "closed" question can be answered... so the only difference is the wording of the bracketed text appended to the title. Both types of questions can be edited and reopened. Neither process is permanent... particularly since most sites have "off-topic" reasons that are really "unclear what you're asking" reasons... So the lines are very blurred. meta.stackexchange.com/questions/210314/… – Catija May 12 '16 at 16:43
  • For me too the flavor of this Q. was more DIY than arts or crafts both in the scope of the Q. and the materials used. However, since it is a subjective interpretation, I feel that Q. like this should be allowed to be answered by members who are inclined to do so. – Reed -SE is a Fish on Dry Land May 16 '16 at 21:35
  • @Reed Thanks for your input... there's one problem with that... the purpose of this beta period is to decide the scope for this site. If we use that reasoning for every single "is this on topic" question, nothing would be off topic. We are here to vote and decide where those limits are. Whether people agree with me or not is immaterial, what's important is that the discussion exists. – Catija May 16 '16 at 21:39

I would like to suggest that the "canvas" is irrelevant. I think the real determinant is whether the purpose is utility vs. decoration (decoration would tend to be on-topic, utility generally not).

As currently written, the linked question is clearly art (decorating). The question becomes where do we draw the line on what constitutes decoration. It seems like almost anything that makes an artistic statement, or is intended to elicit a reaction to its appearance rather than its function is art.

In that sense, even a non-traditional, attention-getting solid color could be art if that is its intention (as opposed to someone with bad taste painting something for utility and it attracts attention because it is ugly). If a small appliance normally comes in a few standard colors and someone paints it hot pink to make it stand out because of its color, I'd call that art.

Something like painting a wall a solid, shocking color is a little different, but some people might consider that art. So we need more criteria for what's on-topic for this site apart from a very broad definition of what could be considered art; everything that could be called art is not necessarily within the intended scope of the site.

What tools and methods are used isn't a great criterion because those are related more to object size. A huge mural might entail using large brushes, rollers, or even spraying, which would be associated with painting a wall.

We could say that if the extent of decoration is to paint anything a solid color, that is not on-topic. However, many typical craft projects involve painting relatively small to furniture-sized objects a solid color.

As a practical matter, the solution may be to look at multiple criteria. One would be "Arts & Craftsness"; how well does the task match the intended scope of the site. This can become subjective, but that's the nature of gray areas on every site; it's impossible to predefine every case.

Another criterion would be whether the objective of the question would be on-topic if it did not involve a solid color, and would apply equally to a detailed decoration. For example, what type of paint would be compatible with the material would be the same whether the intention is to paint the object a solid color or a detailed design. So people intending to paint a detailed design (clearly on topic), would have the same question.

Another criterion could be whether the question is in the gray area here but clearly on-topic on another site, like Home Improvement. We could just specify that painting a wall a solid color belongs there rather than here, regardless of whether it could be called art.

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