Canvas is perceived by many people to be the best support for painting for centuries. This is not surprising because the use of the canvas has a lot of benefits.
Canvases vary not only by size but also by the quality of materials and price. Which one is the best for you? In this article, I’m going to cover the most important things you need to know to make a right choice:
1. Anatomy of Canvas
2. Types of artist canvas: Stretched Canvas, Canvas Rolls, Canvas Panels, and Pads.
Anatomy of Canvas
Let’s take a look at what the canvas actually is. It’s made from natural cotton or linen fibers that are woven together and usually stretched across a wooden frame called a stretcher, or glued to a panel.
Each fiber is classified according to its surface texture and weight:
- The texture depends on the weave and can be rough and fine. A rough texture is preferred by painters who like larger paintings and bold brushstrokes. A finely woven canvas is smooth and best suited to small, fine detailed works (“portrait-grade”).
- The weight (thickness) depends on the thread density and is measured in ounces per yard. The higher the weight, the better the quality. Try to avoid canvases with weights lower than 8-10 oz.
I feel so grateful that nowadays we don’t need to stretch our own canvas every time we want to paint! Just select one out of huge variety ready-made pre-stretched ones in any size and shape, which saves so much time! Another benefit of using to standard, pre-stretched canvases is that it makes it feasible to buy ready-made frames if you need to.
Wooden frame. Canvas for acrylic painting is usually stretched over a wooden frame (stretcher). It can be purchased in different thicknesses – deep or traditional. Deep one has thick stretcher bars, don’t require a frame as you can paint the sides and edges. Traditional one has thinner stretcher bar, which is more suitable if you are planning to frame your painting. It all depends on is how you want your canvas to look on the wall.
Primer. Ready-made canvases can be primed or unprimed. “Primed” means is has been covered with a gesso, which makes surface receptive to the paint and protects the fabric from the paint. Even though acrylics will adhere to an unprimed support, the colors will be dull and the texture of canvas will be noticeable. You can buy pre-stretched ready-primed canvases in a variety of shapes and sizes for a reasonable price. If it’s unprimed, you would have to do it yourself.
Even though normally canvas is white, you can also wind stretched canvas in a verity of colors. This gives a flight of artist imagination and simplifies the implementation of your ideas.
Buying canvas in a roll (or yard) you can choose out of the variety of weights, textures, and cotton or linen fibers, primed or unprimed.
It might seem to be pricey to buy the whole roll, but if you count how many canvases you are going to get out of it, you’d understand that it’s price wise. Just do your research ahead of time and make sure you know what to do with it.
Canvas panel is made by mounting acrylic primed cotton canvas onto a rigid board. It’s a great option if you just starting and don’t want to spend too much on your supplies. It’s also a perfect solution if you want to practice your painting techniques. They’re cheap, compact, lightweight (great for outdoors) and available in a range of textures and colors. Unfortunately, canvas panels are not permanent and will degrade over time, so they should only be used for student practice and never for serious artwork or sale.
It contains sheets of spiral-bound primed canvas or canvas paper. This is another great option for beginners or for practicing. Some of them will contain canvas paper (heavy paper with a surface texture). Other pads contain real canvas sheets that can be stretched or mounted, and the price will be a little higher. The real canvas pads might last a while, but just like panel, it’s not permanent. So if you want your artwork to last, use this option only for your alternative for practice.
Other things to consider:
- Always read what it says on the package. If you’re want to buy primed support, make sure this canvas is either “for acrylic painting” or “universal”. Never buy one for oils or tempera (absorbent canvases)
- There are different ways to wrap canvas around the frame. So if you decide to buy stretched canvas, get the one called “gallery-wrap” or “museum-wrap”. This means it is wrapped all the way around to the back and stapled there — so the staples are invisible on the sides. This way you can paint the sides and hang it without framing, and staples are not going to ruin the entire look of the artwork.
- Do not try too hard to save on canvas, you might regret it because the appearance on brush stroke depends on its quality. Also, the cheap canvas may be short-lived. However, do not waste too much money on it, the most expensive does not always mean the best.
- The only way to find your perfect support is to try quite a few of them, so take your time, experiment and develop yourself. Good Luck!