Friday, July 2, 2010

Thirsty Canvas

There is a lot to know about canvases. Aside from coming in a wide variety of sizes and shapes, there are differences in the fabric that is used as well as differences in the stretcher bars. There are also differences in the primers used on the canvas fabrics. I've learned to always buy canvas on the thicker, sturdier stretcher bars. There is nothing worse than spending many hours on a painting and then having your stretcher bars warp on you! Gallery wrap canvases may look prettier because of their nice clean, staple free edges but I don't see the point of painting the edges of a canvas. I always hope that my paintings will one day be hung in a beautiful frame and the edges will never be seen.

Many years ago I actually prepared my canvases from scratch. I bought raw fabric, good stretcher bars, rabbit skin glue, powdered gesso, and oil prime. I was so "pure" to the art of making good canvases, I didn't even use a staple gun. I used tacks. Do you have any idea how hard it is to keep a canvas taught, position a tack into place and then hammer it? It is a LOT of hard work making a good canvas from scratch!!

One day I finally decided that I would much rather spend my time painting than making canvases.
Normally I use Fredrix canvases. I have for years. The quality is always good. On  a couple rare occasions I have purchased canvas from other manufactures. I recently purchased five 16x20" canvases from a new source and was pleased when they arrived.

The texture is good. They have the correct type of stretcher bars - those that interlock but can be adjusted. Oil paintings are "breathing" entities so the canvas foundation needs to be able to adjust with the environmental conditions too.

Day before yesterday I finally painted on one of these new canvases. I suspected from the look and feel of the primed canvas that they were going to be "thirsty" canvases and I was right. A "thirsty" canvas drinks paint. It really does!!

One of the nice qualities of oil paint its that you can push is around when it is on the canvas. On a "thirsty" canvas you really cannot indulge your paint bullying tendencies at all. You can almost hear the slurp as the canvas sucks in all the lovely paint and holds it right where you put it.

Don't get the idea that this means it is a bad canvas. It just works differently than most of the canvases I am used to and it will take a couple of layers of paint before it finally decides that I win and I can move the paint as I want to.

I've worked with "thirsty" canvases before and while I will not say that I prefer them, they are an interesting change. I find that I like being forced to reevaluate how I apply my paint and that I need to form a relationship with this individual canvas to make it work for and with me.

The above painting (Half Mushroom) was done on a "thirsty" canvas.

It is my guess that there is more chalk in the gesso used on these canvases. It would seem logical that the adhesion of the oil to the canvas is going to be very secure.

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