The joys and woes of making your own artist canvas
Not only is stretching your own canvas cheaper in the long run, but you and you alone are in complete control of the entire process. You ensure the quality of your canvas as well as ensuring that the materials are from sustainable, environmentally friendly sources. Many store bought varieties are shitty mass produced quality. Yes you can get some good quality artist canvases but not only are they expensive, but the canvases only come in specific sizes and making your own artists canvas means you are in control from start to finish. Below I explain what you need in terms of tools and supplies, to make and stretch your own artist canvas. A more detailed “how to” post from start to finish, with an accompanying video will be posted soon so you be able to make your own artist canvases! WOO HOO!!!
What you need to make your canvases from start to finish
Now, I am a bit of a pansy when it comes to power tools, I don’t like them , they scare me a little and they take up a lot of space.
So if you don’t have a wonderful man (or woman) in your life that has these tools and is willing to help you cut wood, it may be better to order the wood in the sizes you want. You would then either have the wood pre cut at 45 degree angles (corners need to be cut as well as a ridge along the length of the wood), or you can buy ready to assemble stretcher bars that have all the grooves in the right places ready for you to easily assemble the pieces. If you are having the wood cut you will have to glue and nail the pieces together for extra strength (this takes patience and a bit of know how).
The stretcher bars are more expensive but if you don’t have the tools, they are the easiest option. If I didn’t have someone to do the cutting for me, this would be my option:)
When it comes to the canvas, I really like the thick and rough textured variety. I use 12 oz canvas. When making and stretching your own canvas there are many different varieties and thicknesses to choose from, depending on what kind of surface you like working on. Anything from duck to linen, from primed to unprimed. If you are going to stretch the canvas yourself, its easier to use the unprimed canvas as it allows more stretch. If you are careful when you stretch though, you should manage with the primed although it may not be able to stretch as much without ripping.
I buy my artist canvas in 10m x2m rolls (I make quite large sized canvases) and I think the last canvas roll cost me £100 from Harris-Moore canvases (UK) they sell everything from stretcher bars to pliers and I am very pleased with the quality. I prefer buying unprimed canvas as I like to triple prime them myself with good quality gesso ( you can get 5 liters for around £55). Alternatively you can save yourself that step by buying pre-primed canvas.
3. Staple gun and canvas stretchers
You will also need a staple gun and canvas stretchers which you can get online for a reasonable price. Don’t get the cheapest you can find though because a crappy pair of canvas stretchers and a staple gun that doesn’t shoot when its supposed to can make your life miserable!
I have used a couple of different sized staples and found the … size the best. Strong and they do the job perfectly, no need to get a heavy industrial stapler, remember you will be stapling every inch or so, depending on the size of your canvas so it will definitely hold:)
Some people stretch their canvas by hand but I tried that once, ONCE being the key word. It might be ok if you waer tough gloves. But if you are going to be stretching your own canvas, do yourself a favour and get the canvas stretchers, mine cost £20 and its a really good quality one. I have bought really cheapo ones in the past and trust me its not worth it! I got mine on ebay. Take care not to get over enthusiastic about the tightness of the canvas…I have many a time gone over board and actually torn through the canvas with the pliers, look up a good technique and dont go too crazy and it should be alright:)
The canvas should sound like a dumb when you tap it lightly with your fingers, very soothing lovely sound;) thats how you know you have done an excellent job (it looses this “drum” sound once you’ve primed it though)
4. Gesso (acrylic)
Gesso is basically a sizer and primer all in one, there is no need to size canvases nowadays before priming them. Gesso is like a two in one (it took me a while to figure that one out). Obviously if you are using primed canvas, you don’t really need to prime it with gesso, although it wouldn’t hurt giving it another layer, it can only make the surface more durable and able to “hold” the paint better. whether you are using acrylic paint or oil paint , you always prime with acrylic gesso. There are other varieties that are transparent, to keep the raw look of the canvas, this is lovely too.
I know stretching your own canvas sounds like a lot of work but I definitely feel that the rewards far outweigh the costs, especially if you take yourself seriously as an artist and only want the best quality for your collectors.
I will be posting a video shortly showing the whole procedure so stayed tuned to my youtube chanel
To keep in touch and get special updates on my work please sign up to my newsletter (top right) 🙂