Canvas is made of either cotton or linen fibre. The first is considerably cheaper than the second, but it is not necessarily inferior. Both come in various grains. Choosing the proper canvas is important. The surface quality should be the first consideration, for this quality can radically affect the painter’s work. The right grain for the task at hand can often make his work easy. The wrong grain often impedes its progress. Improperly coarse-grained canvas will make it difficult to create a painting surface on which brush or knife strokes register easily. Coarse grain needs a great deal of paint to fill its interstices, and even if the paint is heavily applied, it will swallow up brush or knife marks.
Generally speaking, the smoother the canvas surface, the more easily brush marks will assert themselves. On the other hand, a surface that is too smooth tends to make the paint slide and slither. Canvas surfaces without definite “tooth,” or grain, are not satisfactory for work with the painting knife. Such canvas is primarily for alla prima painting.
All in all, a medium-smooth canvas, double-primed, is the best choice for beginners. “Double-primed” means that the raw fabric has been treated with two layers of priming solution. Canvas can be purchased by the yard. This costs much less than buying it already stretched. Stretching canvas is a very simple process even for the inexperienced. Stretcher bars and wooden keys can be bought in any art supply store.
1. Assemble four stretcher bars to form a rectangular frame.
2. Fold the canvas over one of the stretcher bars. Anchor it with a
3 /s inch upholstery tack hammered through the center. A stapler can be used for this purpose.
3. Pull the folded canvas horizontally toward one end of the bar. Anchor it with a tack. Follow the same procedure at the other end.
4. Fasten the canvas firmly with tacks placed about two inches apart along the entire bar.
5. Follow this procedure along the opposite stretcher bar, and at the same time pull the canvas taut vertically.
6. Fasten the canvas along the two remaining stretcher bars, using the same method. While tacking the last bar, stretch the canvas taut.
7. Nail down the folds that form at the corners.
8. Place the wooden keys in the slots provided for them at the corners of the stretchers. Hammer in gently. This will pry the bars apart and thus correct slack, making even the limpest canvas taut as a drum.
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The best panel for our purpose is Masonite, available at any lumber yard. Sizes up to about 20 to 24 inches, Vs inch thick, will not need supporting braces. Larger panels warp easily, hence they may require cross-bar bracing unless a panel 1 A inch thick is used. However, such panels are rather heavy.
Ready-prepared Masonite Panels
Ready-prepared Masonite panels are available in most supply stores. But in my experience, these are all unsatisfactory in one respect or another. Some are too absorbent to be used for oil painting. And the surfaces of all commercial panels are much too smooth, due to the fact that the gesso surface is sprayed on and often smoothed after the spraying. This gives the panels a mechanical finish that imparts a certain slickness to the painting.
How to Prime Masonite Hardboard Panels
However, with the availability of an acrylic material called Liquitex Gesso, priming a Masonite panel has become a simple and effortless operation. Before priming, the gesso should be thinned with an equal amount of water. Using a broad brush, the mixture should be applied thinly to both sides of the panel in order to prevent warping. The priming dries in a few minutes.
Then a second and third coat should be applied. A surface prepared in this way can be used for oil painting as soon as it is dry, that is, within minutes. Thinning the somewhat thick gesso solution with water is necessary to avoid brush marks. Experience has proven that heavy brush marks on the priming will always interfere with the texture of paint applied over it. For alla prima work, only the smooth side of the panel is suitable.
Watch the following video on “How To Gesso A Hardboard Panel“