Art Supply Resources
Canvas fabric can be woven both from natural and synthetic fibers. The natural fibers most commonly used are linen and cotton. Linen is by far the superior because of its strength and resistance to decay. Woven from flax, the weave persists throughout many layers of paint in both fine and coarse textures. This is the fiber that Rembrandt’s masterpieces are painted on.
Although inferior to linen, cotton is used more frequently for economic reasons. The cotton family offers many different fabric types. Duck cotton is fairly thick and is good for all-purpose painting. Jute cotton is rough-textured and loosely woven. It is excellent for impasto techniques but is not recommended for permanent pieces of work. Osnaburg cotton is made of single yarns and is generally of a lesser quality than duck. It is good for non-permanent student work. Cotton sheeting is closely woven and smooth, making it good for detail work. Within types of cotton fabrics many different weaves are available such as Alabama, Atlanta and Dallas weaves.
A Few Words About Grounds
Similar to applying a basecoat primer when painting a wall at home, canvas must also be primed using a ground. Because canvas is a porous surface, paint can seep into its fibers like a sponge. Priming the canvas prevents this seepage. The most common ground used is gesso, which should be applied in several coats. Gesso can safely be used with both oil and acrylic paints. Canvas is available already prepared with a ground, or in the raw. Canvas boards and pre-stretched canvas are generally pre-primed. Always be sure to gesso even pre-primed canvas, to ensure maximum archival standards and premium surface quality.
Stretching Your Own Canvas
To assemble and craft your own canvas requires only the use of a few tools. This method is more economical than purchasing pre-stretched canvas, plus it’s easy to create custom sizes. Besides the canvas itself, you will need stretcher bars, canvas pliers and a heavy-duty stapler. Stretcher bars are wooden frames available in different lengths to which the canvas is attached. Begin by fitting four stretcher bars together to form the desired size square or rectangular frame. Cut your canvas at least 1-1/2" to 2" bigger than the frame on all sides (preferably 3" to 4" bigger) to account for overlap around the stretcher frame. Lay the canvas down on a large, clean flat surface like the floor. Place the frame down in the middle of the canvas. Fold one side of the canvas onto the frame, and staple it once in the center. Fold and staple the opposite side, then the remaining sides, using canvas pliers to pull the canvas taut as you work. Once all the sides have been tacked in place, continue to add staples working out from the center, stopping when you are close to the corner. When all sides are completely stapled, it is time to finish the corners. Pull one corner of the canvas taut and staple it to the corner of the frame. Then smooth the flaps and staple them down. Complete the remaining corners the same way. This will create tight, neat corners.