A Bit About Canvases

In this post, I want to share some words about the types of canvases available for paintings, as well as about framing. I’ll try to answer of few of the questions that seem of interest to my studio visitors.

People have been creating art by painting for thousands of years. We’ve come a long way from the early cave paintings, but along the way all sorts of things have provided the base for paintings. Walls, doors, windows, even the occasional ceiling (special thanks to Michelangelo!) have all provided places for brushes, knives and fingers to place pigments to create images.

skeletal frame for stretched canvas, 30x40
skeletal frame for stretched canvas, 30×40

Nowadays, most oil paintings are made on wood or canvas. Many old (and new) masterpieces are on “stretched canvas.” This is where a skeletal framework of wood is made first, perhaps half to one inch thick, or even 2 or 3 inches. Thicker provides more strength for larger paintings, and also facilitates gallery wrapping. (More on that later.) Then canvas is stretched across the skeleton, pulled taut, and tacked or stapled in place, ready for painting. See the image of the back of a 30″x40″ stretched canvas. The skeleton is 7/8″ deep, and includes the outer frame, into which the canvas is stapled, as well as 2 cross pieces to give the large canvas strength to hold the tightly stretched canvas.

Alternatively these days, many paintings are created using thin wood panels with canvas glued down onto them. Both stretched canvases and canvas panels are readily available in art stores, so we artists don’t need to make our own. (Been there, done that, now I buy them ready to paint.)

Stretched canvases come with a variety of types of canvas. In fact, “canvas” is often taken to mean any surface on which to paint. Most canvas is made of cotton, from the cotton plant. The more expensive linen canvas is made from the flax plant. Cotton may be stronger, allowing for tighter pulling, but linen may be finer. Artist’s choice here.

Once framed in a nice wood frame, one may not see much or any difference between a canvas panel painting and a stretched canvas painting. But one advantage to the stretched canvas is that it can be made with the canvas pulled not just across the front of the skeleton, but around the edges as well, with the staples out of sight on the back. Then the artist can paint around the edges. This is termed a “gallery wrap.”

Grand Coast, 36×48, in 5″ wood frame, but with edges painted for gallery wrap style hanging if preferred

A gallery wrapped painting can be hung with no frame. This style is more common with modern art than with the more traditional landscapes and still lifes I work on, but either may work. On my larger paintings, I sometimes paint around the edges, continuing the front image or simply painting a matching solid color. Personally, I like wood frames, but each collector can choose their own style. The 36″x48″ painting pictured here has a 2″ deep stretcher frame, and I did paint the full wraps all around. I went ahead and framed it, but since the side edges are all nicely painted, it can be removed from the frame and hung nicely without any frame.

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