18 Mar Great Art Blog Spring 2016-Canvases
Hi and welcome to my GreatArt UK blog for Spring 2016! There will be two blogs a year from now onwards to allow me a bit more time for all my other work…so here goes for the first one this year.
This month I’m looking at a range of pre-stretched canvases…useful actually as canvas choice is something I get asked about all the time.
I’m looking at 8 different stretched canvas products, which are as follows:-
Canvas, a brief background:
In Art terms, ‘canvas’ is a broad catch all term that covers all stretched fabrics which are used as supports for painting or other artwork….it’s wrong to think of it as only appropriate for ‘wet’ media, as many mixed media techniques are ideal on canvas, as is working in soft artists’ pastels.
In practise, the term ‘canvas’ actually mostly refers to either cotton or linen, but many other fibres have been used, including; hemp, jute and silk, and also man-made fibres like polyester.
Canvas supports have been popular with artists since the fifteenth century, despite the fact that they require more preparation on the whole than alternatives.
Linen Canvas comes from the flax plant, and Russia is the largest producer, although the best quality Linen comes from France and Holland.
Cotton Canvas comes from two main types of cotton plant, and is mostly produced in the United States.
Linen or Cotton-which to choose?
Lightweight Linen canvas is stronger than a lightweight cotton one.
Linen is intrinsically much stronger, weight for weight, but it is also more prone to damage when using rough and abrasive techniques.
Linen is usually used in a lighter weight than cotton, and a heavy weight cotton ‘duck'( from the Dutch word ‘doek’ meaning fabric) is almost certainly as durable as a normal linen canvas.
Linen tends to have a more pronounced and also variable texture, whereas cotton will tend to give a more uniform surface.
Cotton and Linen are similar in terms of their moisture absorption.
Cotton canvases are cheaper overall.
Canvas comes in different weights, measured in gsm (grammes per square metre)-If you intend to build up heavy layers of paint , texture paste and or glued on mixed media pieces, you really need a heavy weight canvas to prevent sagging. Lighter canvases can be good for media like inks and for delicate painting styles.
If work will be very detailed, choose a very smooth and well-primed canvas-I often add an additional final coat of my own.
Coarser canvases are great for rich textured approaches, especially with palette knife, as the more pronounced ‘tooth’ really helps the thick layers of paint to grip onto the surface.
For very large scale work , linen is probably better as it has greater intrinsic strength.
Linen is also a long term investment choice if you want your work to stand the test of time-one of the reasons for this is that in a linen fabric, both the warp and weft threads weigh exactly the same, which makes them more stable and less prone to expanding or contracting wildly because of moisture. Linen also tends to retain some natural oil which helps the canvas to retain some flexibility, and many artists believe that this also makes it the natural partner for oils.
To sum up then:
Cotton is cheaper and therefore perfect for students and also for sketches.
Linen is probably the best choice for substantial work which needs to endure in perfect condition, and also for very large scale pieces.
Texture and weight choices are determined by your preferred style and method of working-remember that you can buy heavyweight smooth canvases and lightweight coarser ones.
Quick Guide to Weights:
220 gsm (7-8 oz) – Widely seen on cheap mass-produced canvases, often poor quality….personally I wouldn’t use these.
285-300 gsm( 10 oz) – Very popular weight range and widely used for students/ sketches etc…
350 gsm upwards (12 oz +) – Ideal for work you want to last, artist quality and great too for larger scales.
*For this blog, I’m concentrating on a selection of pre-stretched canvases-You can buy canvas on the roll if you prefer to stretch your own. All the canvases I’ve been looking at are also pre-primed and therefore ready to use.
Just a couple of thoughts about ‘Priming’ and ‘Sizing’:-
Priming a canvas normally means painting it with one or more layers of gesso, which seals the surface of the canvas and gives a hard finish which takes paint well and prevents it soaking through to the canvas underneath. Primer is necessary on linen and cotton canvases, and acrylic gesso works well for both painting in acrylics and oils.
White Gesso is the most common and is useful as it helps colours to look bright and vivid-just like watercolours used on a white paper. You can also get black and colourless gesso, both of which are interesting to experiment with….black is great if you want to start with a really dark ground and work mainly in light and mid tones, and the colourless is interesting if you want to retain some areas in which the natural colour and texture of the canvas show through.
*You can also buy coloured gesso, but I would recommend tinting white gesso with a little acrylic paint to get precisely the colour you want, rather than buying an off the shelf one.
Images on the left show a tiny amount of heavy body acrylic added to white acrylic gesso to give a coloured ground-the examples shown have a touch of the following, from left to right:-
- Yellow Ochre
- Titanium Buff
- Cerulean Blue Chromium
When I prepare a canvas with gesso, I tend to use a flat Silicone Wedge which gives a really nice even coverage and is quick to use. I work backwards and forwards in both directions to get an even finish. For really detailed work, wait until the gesso is dry and then sand very lightly with a fine grade sandpaper for a perfect finish.
**If you prefer to use an oil based primer, you need to ‘Size’ the canvas first. Traditionally, size meant a rabbit skin glue, but now a coat of PVA glue is much more commonly used. If you are stretching your own canvas, remember not to stretch it too tightly if you are going down the PVA and Oil based gesso route, as the size can make the canvas contract significantly and therefore may distort your stretcher bars (the frame you stretch your canvas onto).
Right, now to look at this range of pre stretched and primed canvases in more depth:
For each canvas type, I experimented on a small canvas and then tried working on a larger version to give me a clear idea of how they performed.
The larger tests are inspired by a recent visit to a very wintery and wet Venice, and are deliberately loose and semi-abstract in feel.
*The Sketchbook page above shows my quick sketches and also colour swatches.
I started with: Honsell Naturelle
This is a 100% Linen canvas, with an excellent 350 gsm weight. These canvases have a strong pine frame and the canvas itself is fine grained, and comes prepared with a clear primer.
As you can see in the sample canvas shown above, the clear primer allows the canvas colour and grain to show through any unpainted or glazed areas. I experimented with a range of media; gouache, acrylics, soft artists’ pastels and oils, and found that it was a really effective surface to work on. I did a white spirit test, in which I dripped some white spirit onto unpainted canvas to see whether it would pass through to the other side-this is a great test of the priming and the Honsell passed with flying colours. Even on this tiny sample, the canvas had a good feel and spring with both acrylics and oils, and I found the fine grain worked well with gouache, without the need for any further priming. I think it would also make an interesting ground to explore with pastels, with it’s soft natural colour, but for areas where the pastel was to be built up in many layers I would add an acrylic pastel ground for greater adhesion.
My preference here is for the Golden version, shown on the right, which has a nice but not too obvious texture, and really holds the particles of pastel to the surface.
*Do also bear in mind that colours applied to this natural coloured surface will have a more subtle and sometimes slightly duller appearance, so choose this canvas, where this characteristic fits with the look you are after.
- Lovely canvas to work on.
- Very easy to achieve accurate marks due to the fine grain of the linen
- Nice spring and feel when working.
- Accepted layers of paint, texture paste and impasto with no problems.
- Glazed areas also worked well
- Soft natural colour gave a subtle appearance to colours used.
Next I looked at the ILA range 100% Cotton canvas- This is a medium grained canvas with a universal primer.
This canvas comes with rear staples, which means you can use the sides to extend your painting if you wish, but the trade-off is a little less stability over the longer term. It is a decent weight at 300gsm, and its universal primer means you can use acrylics and oils with no need for further priming.
This is a really inexpensive canvas to buy, but I was surprised how well it performed with the same range of materials tests- it handled both acrylics and oils applied with brush and knife really well. It also passed the White Spirit test with no problems. However, it showed a ‘bubbling’ almost resist when gouache was applied as a wash, and I found the surface did not take pastels well, without a primer. Nevertheless, when I added a pastel primer, I found the canvas responded well.
In the larger sample shown above, I was pleased with the way the canvas accepted heavy textured layers of paint, and quite rough treatment. I found the canvas a bit slack in feel, and a little insubstantial for my personal preference, and wouldn’t choose it for detailed work, but it really represents excellent value for money and is an ideal student/ sketch choice.
Next on my list was ILA 100% Cotton Canvas, with a triple coating and side tacks.
This canvas is 100% cotton again as with the previous one and also 300gsm in weight. This version has side tacks as well as rear staples which gives the canvas greater stability especially over larger sizes and in the longer term-the only trade off being that you can’t use the sides. It also has a triple layer of universal primer, which gives a very good quality surface for such a budget price.
- Side tacks really make a difference and result in a surprisingly stable canvas.
- Triple coating meant that it worked well with all the media tried, including gouache.
- Oils and acrylics performed well with both knife and brush.
- White Spirit test was no problem
- Pastels performed better with a pastel primer.
- In the larger sample below, the canvas again performed very well especially given the heavy layers of texture paste.
- Thick paint layers adhered well and caused no issues and scratching through paint surfaces, did not affect the integrity of the canvas underneath.
- `Nice canvas to work with; stable but with a positive ‘spring’.
- *Excellent value and budget choice-great to find a side tacked and triple coated canvas at this price point!
Gerstaecker Basic 100% Cotton Canvas was my next one to try…
Gerstaecker Basic is another 100% cotton canvas with a universal primer-it is also 300gsm and this time the canvas is double primed. This canvas performed very similarly to the ILA canvases. There was no show-through with the White Spirit test, and both oils and acrylics adhered well and handled naturally on the canvas.
With this canvas, I would also prepare with a specialist Acrylic pastel primer for use with layers of pastel.
I enjoyed working on this canvas, and felt it handled acrylics extremely well, across glazed, thickly layered impasto and multiple layers-I was also able to scratch back without damaging the underlying canvas in any way. The medium grain gives a nice tooth for textured effects and holds thick paint layers well, although I would prefer a more stable tacked as well as stapled canvas for large format work. I would definitely take the time to add an additional layer of primer for use with a highly detailed precision technique.
This canvas would also be a great choice for students, sketches and for anyone on a budget.
Gerstaecker Studio 1 is the next format on my list…Gerstaecker Studio 1 is a medium weave/ grain 100% cotton canvas, this time in the heavier weight of 380 gsm….it also comes ready primed, and has both rear staples and side tacks for stability. It has a hand-made quality pine frame with hardwood wedges or ‘keys’-these are the small slivers of wood that you place in the corners of the frame, to tighten and stabilise a canvas if it starts to sag or distort a little.
This canvas handled all of the media I experimented with well; It had a good quality surface with a
grainy texture that held onto paint and pastel effectively. No issues with the White Spirit droplet test either, with no show through whatsoever. In the larger scale test, the heavier weight of canvas gave a quality feel, and handled heavy textured effects with ease. I felt I could build up as many layers as I wanted, and feel that the canvas would also be really good for mixed media pieces. The canvas was particularly stable due to the additional side tacks and high quality frame. It responded well to both brush and palette knife and had a nice lively feel in use. For detailed work I would add a couple of additional coats of gesso and then sand lightly, as the grain here is not ideal for precision. *Really good quality at a budget price!
Gerstaecker Studio XL is the last of the cotton canvases, I tried for this blog…This is a 380gsm 100% cotton canvas, with an exceptionally deep 45mm deep frame profile. The frame is made in one piece which makes it much more stable and stronger than many other deep profile canvases. It is stable enough to be hung without a frame as well as with, and would look especially good with a wooden floating frame. The canvas is stapled on the reverse and the deep sides are ideal for continuing your painted surface on. This canvas felt really substantial, and I really liked the way it took all the materials and techniques I tried. However it was especially lovely with rich layering and texture paste, and thickly applied oils and acrylics. It passed the White Spirit test with flying colours, and this canvas also took gouache well, even without an additional primer.
*Picture on the left shows painting continued over the deep edges of the canvas, which are clear of tacks….this creates a really interesting 3D effect, and is well worth experimenting with.
The side view also gives a good impression of the depth of the textured layers.
The XL canvas took thick layers of both acrylic and oil paint with very good adhesion.
It took a base layer of texture paste really well.
Glazes worked as effectively as opaque paint.
Rough handling with scraping back techniques caused no issues with this strong, thick canvas.
The prominent texture of the canvas, worked really well for this style of painting, but as with previous canvases tested, would need additional priming and sanding to create a surface suitable for detailed work.
Canvas felt exceptionally stable in use, and I suspect would remain so in large formats.
*Lovely deep canvas, ideal for expressive textural techniques.
Next is a 100% Linen Canvas-Gerstaecker Classico…
This is a 100% Linen canvas with a medium grain. It is exceptionally durable with a 450 gsm weight, and really solid stretcher framing. It comes pre-coated with a low absorbency primer, and is side tacked as well as rear stapled for stability and longevity. It has hardwood ‘keys’ for tensioning.
This is a really substantial canvas with a good surface. Gouache performed well directly on the surface of this canvas, as both washes and solid paint. Pastels did not perform quite as well on this surface as on the Studio Xl for example-however this would be overcome with a pastel ground. Oils applied notably well and acrylics worked well applied with both brush and knife. No problems with a white spirit test.
I loved the heavy weight canvas which has a great feel. I also loved the quality and sense of stability…it feels very durable and hard wearing. The canvas surface was great with glazes and layers of glazes, as well as with texture paste and thickly applied paint. This is a great value for money choice, for a very good quality product.
and finally, Gerstaecker Excellence
Gerstaecker Excellence is a 100% Belgian Linen canvas on a quality frame. It has been prepared with a traditional rabbit size, for longevity and then further treated with two coats of primer. It’s a heavy weight canvas at 460 gsm and has a medium texture.
The Excellence canvas performed really well across all the media tests. It felt really good to use, with a nice spring to the canvas and a pleasing tooth. Oil paint went on like a dream with a really nice handling quality, and the acrylics also performed really well in glazes, thick layers and with brush and knife. It was 100% on the White Spirit test, unsurprisingly with such a good weight and with such good quality preparation. As before, I preferred Studio XL for pastels, but gouache also performed exceptionally well on this surface.
I found I really enjoyed working with this canvas. I loved it’s weight and texture, and the stability of its quality stretcher. It gave me enormous confidence in terms of being able to work in multiple layers, in a vigorous manner with no risk of damaging the canvas surface. The weight and stability of this canvas makes me think it would be ideal on much larger formats too-I was working on a small scale 41 x 27 cm canvas. It would stand up to the weight of adding multiple layers of heavy paint or collaged elements, with no problems, I’m sure.
This really is a superior canvas at a very reasonable cost. All the canvases I tried had medium textures, and this was no exception so would need further priming for a smooth surface suitable for precision work.
Buy the smallest format available for any canvases you are interested in, and use them to try out the techniques you use-make notes, on the canvas itself if you like, then you’ll know which types to buy for which kinds and styles of work.
Write the name/weight/type of canvas on the back on a stretcher, so you don’t mix them up if you buy several kinds.
If you get a dent in a canvas, trying lightly moistening the back of the canvas if it is a small dent, or both sides if it is a larger one…usually the canvas will then dry out smooth.
All the canvases in this blog come with wedges or ‘keys’ which are used to tension the canvas if it becomes slack and the canvas sags. The canvases will not need them to begin with, but they may do either during painting or at any time afterwards. If this happens, simply insert two keys in each corner, into the slots provided. They should go in so that the pointed end faces outwards to the edge of the canvas-you can use a small hammer to knock the keys in if needs be. For a large format canvas, you may also need to insert keys into the central bracing bars. Be careful, not to overdo the tightening as you can distort the frame, especially with thinner, cheaper ones.
It may sound strange but for gouache techniques on canvas, I like to add a light coat of acrylic pastel primer, which I find works brilliantly with the slightly chalky matt finish of gouache paint.
My Materials List:
ILA 100 % Cotton Canvas-available in a wide range of formats.
ILA 100 % Cotton Canvas with side tacks- available in a wide range of formats.
Honsell Naturelle Linen Canvas – available in a wide range of formats.
Gerstaecker Basic 100% Cotton Canvas-available in a wide range of formats.
Gerstaecker Studio 1-available in a wide range of formats.
Gerstaecker Excellence 100% Belgian Linen Canvas-available in a wide range of formats.
Gerstaecker Studio XL 100 % Cotton Canvas- available in a wide range of formats.
Gerstaecker Classico 100% Linen Canvas – available in a wide range of formats.
Golden White Gesso- Code 28948
Golden Acrylic Pastel Ground- Code 28956
*All available at GreatArt Uk: http://www.greatart.co.uk
For Stretched Cotton Canvases: http://www.greatart.co.uk/Canvases-Easels/Stretched-Canvases/Stretched-cotton-canvases/
For Stretched Linen Canvases : http://www.greatart.co.uk/Canvases-Easels/Stretched-Canvases/Stretched-linen-canvases/
I also used:
Acrylics in a range of colours, mainly Golden and System 3, both in heavy body versions.-http://www.greatart.co.uk/index.php?stoken=475EF326&lang=0&cl=antidot_search&searchparam=Golden+Acrylic+paints
Soft Artists’ pastels e.g Jaxell Extra Fine- Code 28863
Oil Colours- e.g Vernissage Fine Oil Colours-http://www.greatart.co.uk/2016-Catalogue/White-Paint-Discounts/Oil/Gerstaecker-Vernissage-Fine-Oil.html