Painting /Artist canvas ,Primed Canvas, Stretched Canvas
The term canvas refers to any prepared material stretched on a frame for painting. Invented in the early 16th century by Italian painters who wanted a rigid foundation that would be lighter than the wooden panels they were used to painting on, stretched canvas has become the most widely used support in the world for painting.
While literally any material can make a canvas, most canvases use one of four particular textiles:
Linen—Woven of flax fibre, generally provides the highest quality of canvas. Linen is very durable, resists expansion and contraction due to moisture, and stays supple longer than most other fabrics. It possesses a fine, even grain, but with a slightly irregular appearance that can remain apparent through multiple layers of paint, providing character to the painting’s surface. Linen canvas is available in a variety of weights and weaves, ranging from heavy and rough to light and smooth.
Linen canvas is, however, expensive to produce and to purchase, which makes it less than ideal for the beginner or the artist on a budget. Cheap linens are available, but they may be loosely woven and prone to warping. See linen canvas.
Cotton—The usual alternative to linen, especially when cost is the primary deciding factor. The heavier cotton ducks are often used to make student-quality canvas and they do provide an acceptable support for painting. Most cotton canvases, however, expand and contract in response to moisture and are prone to sagging and other distortions in damp weather. Cotton canvases also possess a much more regular weave than linen, which can become obscured by layers of paint and leave painting surfaces looking flat. See cotton canvas.
Synthetic—A more recent invention, developed in the 20th century. It’s usually spun from woven polyester fibre, so it retains a similar look and feel to natural canvases. Synthetic canvas is of a lighter weight, stretches nicely, and resists warping, bacteria, and mould. It’s also inexpensive when compared to cotton and linen canvas. The primary disadvantage of synthetic canvas is that it is usually highly uniform in texture so it doesn’t provide the same character to painting surfaces as natural canvas. See synthetic canvas.
Jute—The cheapest choice for canvas material is jute, also called Hessian cloth or burlap. Jute is extremely inexpensive, but it brittles and weakens with age so it is not generally suitable for permanent works. It has a very coarse weave with a pronounced texture.
Forms of Canvas
Canvas can usually be purchased in one of four forms: unstretched, stretched, as canvas boards, and in canvas pads.
Unstretched canvas is usually purchased in rolls or by the yard. While it must be cut, stretched, and mounted by the artist (which can be a difficult process for beginners), the stretching allows the artist to tailor the canvas to his or her individual needs. Unstretched canvas can also be used as flexible support, without rigid backing of any kind. See unstretched, rolled canvas.
Stretched canvases have been factory mounted, primed and stretched on stretcher bars. Stretched canvases can be stapled on the
side or back, or, if “gallery style,” have no staples at all. Stretched canvases are convenient in that the work of stretching, sizing, and priming has already been performed. However, stretched canvases cost more than unstretched canvases, are not as versatile, and can vary in quality from manufacturer to manufacturer, and even from canvas to canvas. See stretched canvas.
Canvas boards are pre-made supports in which canvas has been glued or pasted to a board backing (usually cardboard or pasteboard). They provide a convenient and light support that’s great for beginners. While there are cheaply constructed canvas boards on the market that will warp and deteriorate over time, many professional grade boards are also available. These archival quality canvas boards provide a support as permanent and durable as other, more traditional types of canvas. See canvas boards.
Canvas pads contain sheets of canvas (usually primed cotton). They combine the versatility and convenience of sketch pads with the character of real canvas (though they’re not as reliable for permanent work). Extremely cheap when compared to other forms of canvas, the pads are perfect for beginners and for making study sketches. See canvas pads.
Canvas has a variety of textures from the most smooth to the most rugged based on the canvas weave, or grain. This grain gives the canvas what is called “tooth”. The more coarse the surface, the more tooth it has.
Too much tooth consumes paint and wears out brushes, too little makes it hard to build colours up to the intensity required. Just what grain is best for an artist depends upon on the art work.
Rough, large grain—This has a pronounced, course texture with a visible grain. Rough canvas is appropriate for oil or acrylic paint and when you’re painting heavily, roughly, or loosely.
Medium grain—Good all-purpose texture.
Smooth, fine grain—Ideal for portraits or other fine detail work.
Primed vs. Unprimed
Oil and acrylic paints and mediums can often be extremely harsh on textile materials. Over time, the acids in these paints can cause deterioration in the support if it isn’t protected in some way. Because of this, most canvases are primed before they are painted. Depending on what they are to be used for, canvases can be primed for oil paint, for acrylic paint, or universally—for both mediums. Canvas can also be purchased in its unprimed, raw state.
Pre-primed canvas has already been primed by the manufacturer for a particular medium. While the hassle of priming the canvas has been removed, pre-primed canvas costs a little bit more and, unless it’s been universally primed, is limited as to which medium it can be used with it. See primed canvas.
Unprimed canvas must be primed by the artist. This can be a tricky procedure for the beginner, especially when surface regularity is important. The benefit, however, is that unprimed canvas can be primed and made ready for any medium. It’s also cheaper than pre-primed canvas. See unprimed canvas.
New Canvas Types
Canvas is not just for oil and acrylic painting. Recent innovations have resulted in canvases specifically designed for use with water-colours and even personal printers.
Water-color canvas consists of cotton canvas that has been treated so that it will accept water-color and other water media. Watercolor Canvas provides a painting surface that mimics the qualities of cold pressed watercolor paper, yet which can withstand heavy scratching, scraping, and lifting of colour. See watercolor canvas.
Printer canvas possesses a specially textured surface that allows it to capture and retain printer colours. The canvas is often used for creating quick, yet professional looking, reproductions of artwork. See printer canvas.
Alternative Uses for Canvas
Canvas makes a great material for a wide variety of creative projects. Perfect for home décor, canvas can be used as a cheap upholstery alternative for your furniture, as heavy draperies, as a creative wall covering, or as a durable yet attractive floor cloth. Heavier weight canvas makes an excellent backdrop for theatrical productions and an ideal background for photography. Lighter weight canvas can be used for creating scrapbook pages and covers, or for embellishing and decorating albums. You can use canvas to make clothing, toys, bags, and more—it’s a great choice for just about any project that calls for fabric!