Great Art Blog July 2015- Sculpture Canvas

Great Art Blog July 2015- Sculpture Canvas



Hello and welcome to this month’s materials blog for GreatArt!

This month I’m looking at Sculpture Canvas, which is a new product which allows you to produce a complex carved surface which can be painted to achieve a wide variety of different finishes.

Carving into sculpture canvas

Carving into sculpture canvas


Sculpture canvas and Lino cutting tools

Sculpture Canvas is an ultra light weight material which has a foam-like texture, and can be carved using standard Lino and Wood cutting tools, or sculpture tools.

It comes in a range of sizes, between 30 x 40cm and 100 x 80 cm and is about 3cm deep.

Being completely honest, I was a little disappointed when I first opened the product as it has a texture rather like florist’s ‘Oasis’, but the revelation comes when you start to carve it…

Carving Your Canvas:

I would suggest starting with a small block and experimenting with carving loose patterns and textures to get the feel of the Sculpture Canvas as a material. To do this, you don’t even need to draw out a design; simply play with building up a range of marks and patterns using all of the tools you have to hand. I used a set of Lino and Wood Cutting tools, which I found ideal. The Sculpture Canvas cuts extremely easily, allowing you to achieve fluid marks and lines with minimal pressure. It’s much easier to cut than either Lino or Wood, and therefore easy on the hand


Lino cutting tools




I found the ‘v’ shaped and ‘u’ shaped gouges the most useful, but in fact all the tools cut through the Sculpture Canvas with great ease and almost no effort. Shavings are not dusty and clean up easily, by scooping together and hoovering away.



The image below shows the process of carving flowing marks into the surface of a Sculpture Canvas Block, using a ‘v’ shaped Lino cutter.


Carving flowing marks into a block of Sculpture Canvas


You can see that the block cuts exceptionally cleanly and with fluent marks…as you cut, you will get some debris and dust on the block. Turn it over onto some waste paper now and then, and tap the reverse to dislodge the loose material.

Use a stiff brush to remove any ‘tricky to get at’ bits and pieces, and then keep working until you are happy with your design.

If liked, you can continue your design down the sides of the block, or leave them flat if preferred.




Sculpture Canvas Block which has been carved with flowing marks, and picked out with black ink

 It occurred to me that the block might print well, so I inked it up with black block printing ink-I used Caligo) Actually this was a bit of a disaster as the block was too absorbent and gave a very fuzzy and disappointing image. However, I rinsed the surface ink off the block without scrubbing into the crevices, and then blotted it dry, which produced this interesting ‘reversed out’ effect, in which the ink remained in the recesses of the block and the raised surfaces were left clean and white. Although this was completely accidental, this is something I might try again deliberately, as the dark ink makes a very happy contrast with the pale Sculpture Canvas surface. It is also useful for the purposes of showing just how sharp the cutting marks are.

Preparing the Sculpture Canvas for Painting:

You can paint directly onto Sculpture Canvas, but the ultra grainy and absorbent surface makes this hard work and not very effective, so I would suggest preparing with at least one coat, and preferably two of Acrylic Gesso, (Gesso: acrylic gesso is calcium carbonate in an acrylic medium, combined with pigment, in this case white).


Preparing the surface with white Gesso

In the image above I’m preparing a carved sculpture Canvas surface by painting with Gesso. I used an old brush as you need to be quite forceful in working the gesso well into the surface of the block, and especially into any deep recesses in your work.

If you intend to paint with acrylics you can get away with one coat, but two will make for a smoother finish and less need to really push the paint into the surface as you work.  Two coats are definitely needed if you want to paint with either watercolours or gouache paints…


Here you can see the start of the painting process working onto my experimental block. I found that it was a good idea to begin with a base coat of the colours I wanted to use…

web-IMG_1979Diluting the acrylics a little with water was helpful, as it made it much easier to work the colour right into the grainy surface of the block. Acrylic Inks are also ideal for this stage and do not require diluting as they are already fluid enough to work well into all the recesses. Once you have got a good base coat on the whole of your piece, allow it to dry thoroughly and then begin working in detail and colour and tonal gradations on top. You can do this in acrylics, acrylic inks or gouache which will give a matt finish. In the image below, you can see colour being built up in acrylics to emphasise the 3D nature of the block- you can work either wet into wet, or wet over dry, exactly as you would on a more usual support.


details showing graded colour and darker tones added to emphasise the 3D modelling


Base coat all over test block of Sculpture Canvas

The image on the left shows the block completely covered with acrylics; with both a base coat and second layer which adds detail and tonal depth and variety.


Colour palette of acrylics used for painting Sculpture Canvas


My colour palette for mixing the acrylics is there to remind me to say that I often use paper plates as they are practical and save loads of washing up!  You can also get them very cheaply if you look out for offers and buy them in big packs. I keep the palette whilst working on a piece, and keep adding colour to it as necessary. This serves as a colour reference, if I need to mix more of a particular shade, and if you cover well with cling-film, the paint stays fresh for longer.

I decided to experiment with adding a little more detail using gouache paints. Gouache allows  for a great deal of precision and works  very well on top of acrylics. It’s also interesting as it has a matt finish, which contrasts nicely with the sheen of acrylics. The left hand image below shows a small section of the Sculpture Block. The middle image shows the process of adding more pattern detail using gouache on a fine watercolour brush, and the next image; taken from  an angle shows the depth of cuts in the Sculpture Canvas. The final one on the right shows the completed block.

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Transferring a Composition onto Sculpture Block:

Next I wanted to try a more Fine Art approach to see how the Sculpture Canvas would respond to loose painting and textured


Transferring my composition onto Sculpture canvas

layers. I started by working from a sketchbook study; a simplified landscape with a

slightly geometric feel. I drew onto the S.C with a soft sketching pencil, to avoid a very sharp point creating deep incisions in the surface. Once I was happy with the composition, I began to cut away areas to create both depth and a textured surface as a ground to paint on.


Starting to carve into the surface to create textural depth and detail

In the picture above you can see I’m carving directional strokes into the SC with a ‘U’ shaped Lino cutter.


adding a Gesso ground



carving complete and gesso applied to prep the surface

 In the Photos above you can see the SC with carving complete, and a layer of Acrylic Gesso applied to prepare the surface.


darkening the linear cuts with acrylic ink

Once the Gesso was fully dry, I decided to emphasise some key cut away lines using

very dark brown acrylic ink.


Adding a base coat of acrylic colour

Painting the Sculpture Canvas with an initial layer of colour requires quite a bit of pressure, to really work the paint into the grainy surface, in order to avoid a slightly speckled look.


Building colour and texture with undiluted acrylics and using a ‘blade’


I found that the SC would accept thickly layered acrylic really well and I particularly enjoyed working with a small ‘blade’.


Base coat completed


In the picture above you can see that I’ve covered the whole sculpture canvas with a base layer of colour…the textured surface does not prevent you from building a nice lively flow of brush and blade marks, especially if you work with  thickly applied paint.


Building up rich impasto

 I wanted to push the boundaries of what would work with the SC, so continued to build up thick layers of acrylic. I really like the way you can combine the recesses created by carving away at the Sculpture Canvas with rich impasto created with multi-layered acrylics. When I get a chance I will also have a go at adding texture paste onto a sculpture canvas, to see how far you can push this technique.

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The details above show the complex surface detail that can be created; the carved areas can be emphasised with paint application by following the same line and direction or by working across to create a different feel.


Finished Canvas

* I rather like the way that the carving creates a structure that you can work into with paint. You could leave the structure very clear and obvious or as here, build up so much texture and mark-making that the underlying structure is much more subtle and underplayed.

**Despite my initial misgivings because of the feel of the SC, I found it brilliant to carve and actually really very interesting to work on, providing that you are meticulous about preparing with Gesso to get a good painting surface.

My Materials List:-

All available from GreatArt UK on the following link:

I also used:

  • Old brush with damaged bristles for painting the Gesso and working it well into the Sculpture Canvas.

  • Scrap or newspaper to collect the shavings

  • Paper towel or kitchen roll and liquid hand soap for cleaning up.


Top Tips: 

  • Buy a small block of Sculpture Canvas and use this to experiment with. Test out your cutters, and also experiment with different paints-Watercolours, Gouache, Acrylics and even Oils can be used-I liked a combination of acrylics, acrylic inks and gouache.

  • Buy decent cutters as they will last for ages and will be great for Lino cut printing as well.

  • Don’t be tempted to skip the Gesso stage, as the finished result will be disappointing! At least one coat for acrylics and two for watercolours or gouache should do the trick. Don’t forget you can try Black Gesso as a base as well.

  • Above all don’t let the Sculpture Canvas limit the way you work!  Be as expressive as you like and play with both following the lines of your carving and also painting across them.

  • If, like me you like a really textured feel, build up multiple layers of acrylic, ideally using a heavy bodied paint working with a Catalyst Blade, and experiment also with adding texture paste after the Gesso.

  • I am also going to try leaving the SC in white or one colour after carving- prime with white Gesso and then add a coat of white acrylic for a good finish or it may even be worth experimenting with spray paints, e.g. Marabu Do It Metallic

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