My Love Affair with Canvas is Back On!
For the last few months you may have noticed that I have been painting on wood panels. I have been exploring options after switching from oil to acrylic paints. I have missed canvas and decided with my last order of art supplies (I miss having a local art store!) to order all canvas.
There is a certain glee I get with owning a roll of canvas. It dates back to the time I went with my high school art teacher to the art store and bought an entire roll of canvas and then got to unroll the whole thing down the school hallway.
Pre-Stretched verses Artist-Stretched Canvas
There are many pre-stretched canvas options for artists. I prefer to avoid these options unless I am buying it in person and can do a close inspection of the corners, make sure the canvas is taut, there are no dents, and make sure there is no warping. I would say only a 5% of the time have I bought pre-stretched. I also prefer to have heavy-duty stretcher bars and pre-made often use a lower quality stretcher bar.
My worst canvas pet-peeve is staples on the side of the stretcher bars. Why? It forces you, the owner of the painting, to frame it instead of leaving you the option to show the sides of the canvas and just hang it on your wall. Some artists paint the sides with the image and many times printers give you this option. This is often called “gallery wrap,” but really gallery wrap used to mean that the canvas wrapped around to the back before it was secured. I personally prefer to not extend the image around the sides because it creates a distortion.
I also have a personal belief that the canvas is more stable wrapped around to the back of the stretcher bars. The first corner the canvas turns is the one between the painting on the front and the side of the stretcher bar, and the second corner is the side of the stretcher bar to the back. By having the fasteners (staples or small nails) on the back, any movement stops at the second corner and doesn’t have a chance to pull on the painted part of the canvas, since it is safely around another corner.
Another reason I like to stretch my own canvas is that I can get the canvas as taut as I want. A fellow student in art school used to check his canvas by sound. They literally become as tight as a drum.
How To Tell How About Your Perspective Purchase
Ideally you are buying a painting direct from the artist and can simply ask them. Most artists are happy to explain their process, and often you will find a whole level of work that they did that you weren’t aware of yet.
If you cannot ask the artist there are a few easy ways to check. Look at the back of the painting. The frame will be open on the back, but there may be paper. You may need to remove the paper to see the back of the painting. You will be able to see if the canvas is secured on the back. If you are looking at wood and no canvas then is stapled (or nailed) on the sides. If the stretcher bar is about 3/4 of an inch deep then it is a regular size stretcher bar. Look at the corners. How has the artist insured against warping? Perhaps it is only the frame that keeps a corner from kicking off the wall.
Generally you want a painting that is properly made so that extra tension isn’t present causing damage to the frame, stretcher bars or canvas over time. If you see a canvas that has become buckled, this was the likely cause.
Quick Note About Stretcher Bars
Make sure that the stretcher bars used aren’t flat pieces of wood that the canvas sits on. The canvas should only touch the wood at the very edge. If an artist uses a flat piece of wood the canvas will rest against the wood all the way to the inside edge and the painting will have a ghost line on front. This may also have disturbed the paint application and there is no way to fix that. A canvas has a slight spring to it as the brush pushes paint onto it. If the stretcher bar is flush against the canvas there is no spring to the touch of the brush and the paint is applied differently.
In rare cases you may see that the stretcher bars were replaced at some point. There could be a perfectly fine painting on the front, but if the bars now rest flush on the canvas some denting will occur over time. You are likely to only see this in an older painting that was restored improperly.
Do you have any questions? I am happy to answer them. Thank you for reading and feel free to share this post to your friends who may find it interesting or helpful.