Oil Painting » Painting Supports » Canvas Painting
Canvas is an extremely heavy-duty
fabric used for making sails, tents, marquees, and other functions
where sturdiness is required. It is also popularly used on
Canvas as an artistic material
Artists use small (or sometimes much larger) pieces of canvas
as a base for their works of art. This canvas is stretched
across a wooden frame called a stretcher, and is coated with
gesso before it is to be used (although some modern
artists, such as Francis Bacon and Helen Frankenthaler,
sometimes paint onto the bare, unprimed canvas). Early canvas
was made of linen, a sturdy brownish fabric of considerable
In the early 20th century, cotton came into use.
Cotton, which stretches more and has an even mechanical weave, is
less preferred than linen by the professional artist. The considerable
price difference, however, prompts many beginners, and even mid-level
artists, to choose cotton over linen. One can also buy small, pre-prepared
canvases which are glued to a cardboard backing in the factory and
precoated. However, these are only available in certain sizes, and
are not acid-free, so their lifespan is extremely limited. They
are usually used for quick studies. Pre-gessoed canvases on stretchers
are also available. Professional artists who wish
to work on canvas usually prepare their own canvas in the traditional
One of the most outstanding differences between
painting techniques and those of the Flemish and Dutch
Masters is in the preparation of the canvas. "Modern"
techniques take advantage of both the canvas texture as well as
those of the paint itself. A novice artist often finds it nearly
impossible to approach the realism of such classic art, despite
skill in applying the paint. In fact, Renaissance masters took extreme
measures to ensure that none of the texture of the canvas came through.
This required a painstaking, months-long process of layering the
raw canvas with (usually) lead-white paint, then polishing the surface,
and then repeating. The final product had little resemblance to
fabric, but instead had a glossy, enamel-like finish. Though this
may seem an extreme measure to the modern painter, it is crucial
if photographic realism is the end goal.
With a properly prepared canvas, the painter will
find that each subsequent layer of color glides on in a "buttery"
manner, and that with the proper consistency of application (fat
over lean technique), a painting
entirely devoid of brushstrokes can be readily achieved.