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Artist's Canvas

The History of Artist's Canvas

Gummed Canvas

Canvas has been the most commonly used artist's painting surface for centuries. There are surviving examples of paintings on canvas from as far back as 1410, but painting on canvas didn't gain wide popularity until the 16th century. The shift to canvas was a movement headed by Venetian artists, who had ready access to local sail cloth, considered superior to other woven cloth.

Artist's canvas was originally made from hemp. Linen (created from flax) was found to be smoother and more durable, and soon replaced hemp in popularity. Linen is still widely used today, but has been surpassed in popularity by cotton canvas, which is a bit more readily available, and much more economical than its flax counterpart. Recently, some manufacturers have begun experimenting with synthetic fiber as material for artists' canvas.

What is there to know about canvas?

What is an Artist's canvas?

An artist's canvas is woven fabric, most commonly made of cotton or linen (flax), usually stretched around a support, and then sealed with a sizing and ground to prepare the surface for painting with one or more of several media.

The Anatomy of a Stretched Canvas?

Artist's canvas was originally made from hemp. Linen (created from flax) was found to be smoother and more durable, and soon replaced hemp in popularity. Linen is still widely used today, but has been surpassed in popularity by cotton canvas, which is a bit more readily available, and much more economical than its flax counterpart. Recently, some manufacturers have begun experimenting with synthetic fiber as material for artists' canvas

Shapes and Profiles: Rectangular, Round/Oval, Beveled

Rectangle Shape

Most people familiar with stretched canvas are used to simple, rectangular frames. Rectangular canvas is by far the most common shape stretched canvases come in. Rectangular canvases can be found in every depth, and with every common canvas fabric type. Most rectangular canvases have stretcher bars that are relatively flat on all sides. The unique profile is part of the aesthetic.

Floater Shape

A relatively new type of canvas profile is the beveled canvas, where the stretcher bars that make up the rectangular frame slope dramatically to either the front or the back. (Wilson Bickford's Beveled Edge Canvas has the slope visible in the front, while the Fredrix Float Canvas features the slope to the back.) These canvases are not meant to be framed.

Oval Shape

Round and oval canvases are not as common as rectangular canvases, but consumers are usually familiar with that shape. You might recall seeing an old oil colour portrait on an oval canvas hanging up in someone's home, or in an art museum. They are still sometimes used, especially for portraiture. Round and oval canvases are a bit more difficult to frame, simply because frames aren't as common for these shapes.

Depths: 1/2", 3/4", 1" - 1 1/2", 2 1/2", 3"

What is an Artist's canvas?

Canvas Depths

Stretched canvas also comes in a variety of depths. This can be anywhere from the slim ½" canvas to the boldly stated 3". The most common sizes one will probably see are the ¾" and 1½", and manufacturers often offer both these depths for consumers. The Edge canvas is available in ¾", 1½", 2½" and 3" depths. Frames that are 1" or less are the easiest to frame, but the Illusions floater frames have a series made especially for 1½" deep canvas in several color options. This makes it convenient for artists who like to paint the sides of their canvas, or have a deeper profile, but also wish to frame their work. Keep in mind frames can be adapted to fit your canvas (within a ½" range) with offset clips. You'll almost always find canvas with a depth greater than 1 ½" to be gallery-wrapped, so the sides can be painted, and the canvas displayed without a frame. Not only is it impractical at that point to have a frame that deep (and that heavy), the point of the deeper edge is so that it can be painted

Sides/ Back of the Frame: Side-Stapled, Splined, Gallery-Wrapped, Cross Bars & Braces

Two important things to take notice of when selecting your canvas are a) how the canvases are secured to the stretcher bars, and b) the stretcher bars themselves.

Side-Stapled

There are a few ways that stretched canvases are attached to the stretcher supports. The first is side-stapled. This is found most commonly on very inexpensive, student-grade canvas. Galleries will rarely accept art on this type of canvas without a frame. (Jerry's no longer sells canvases stapled on the sides)

Gallery Wrapped

The second type of fastening, and easily the most common, is the gallery-wrapped canvas. This is a process where the canvases are stretched around the bars, and stapled on the back. Most canvases are folded at the corner, but some are actually cut, to eliminate that little ridge that the folded canvas creates. This is simply a matter of preference. However, if the canvas has been cut, that does make re-stretching it more difficult, should re-stretching be necessary. Galleries will often accept art on gallery-wrapped canvas without a frame, especially if the sides are also painted.

Splined-back

Finally, there are stretched canvases with splined backs. Much like a gallery-wrapped canvas, the canvas itself is stretched over the front and sides of a canvas, and pulled around the back. Unlike gallery-wrapped, there is a special groove in the back of the stretcher bars, into which the canvas is jammed, and then secured into place with a rubber strip that resembles a shoestring. These are often stapled on the back in just the corners, for added security. Splined canvases are a nuisance to re-stretch.

Canvas Close-up Stretched canvases have supports called stretcher bars, or stretcher strips, which are normally made of kiln-dried pine. Stretcher bars give the stretched canvas their depth. The thinner the bar, the weaker it is. So, to prevent warping, the bigger you want your canvas to be, the deeper (therefore stronger) you'll want the stretcher bars to be.

Stretcher Bars

Stretched canvases often also have another bar going across the center in one or both directions. This is called a cross brace, or cross bar. Cross braces can go in either one direction, or both. When purchasing a canvas, make sure it has at least one cross brace if the size is 20x24 or larger, or two (one in either direction) if the size is larger than 30x30. If you're purchasing a canvas where one dimension is twice the other (ex., 10"x20"), make sure your canvas has one cross brace. If one dimension is thrice that of the other, (ex., 10"x30"), then check that your canvas has two parallel cross braces. This aids in warp prevention. No one likes a canvas that won't cooperate with a frame because it's bending in two different directions

When selecting your canvas in a store, very gently press your hand against the stretcher bar on the front. If the bar is completely flat, you may notice a slight indentation about an inch to two inches in. This will only become more pronounced while you're painting, and you may very well end up with a little crease all the way around the inside of your painting, especially if you're heavy-handed. Good quality canvas manufacturers use stretcher bars with a small rounded 'lip' on the outer edge that prevents the canvas from pressing against the rest of the stretcher bar. This helps to keep creases from forming during the painting process

Sizes: Ultra-Mini, Mural, Common Sizes for Framing & "Panorama" Sizes

Ultra Mini Canvases

Need a really tiny canvas? Say, mouse-sized? It exists. Need a massive, elephant-sized canvas? It exists too. And just about every size in between is either available or can be custom-stretched. Ultra-small canvases are fun, and an easy way to get creative. Artists can either create mini masterpieces, or put many small canvases together to create one larger piece. Artists looking to create murals on a stretched canvas are covered, too. These giant sizes are good for theatre backdrops or just a way to ensure the mural you spent weeks on doesn't get rolled over when the painting crew comes in to redo the walls.

Canvases

Artists sometimes find themselves with a particular canvas in hand, whether because the size just struck their fancy, or it's been collecting dust in the back of their studio for a while and they're tired of staring at it. They paint a gorgeous painting, and go to find a frame equally as gorgeous, and…wait, why are there no frames in this size? Or a consumer buys a painting they're in love with, and then find out they can't frame the painting unless they pay an arm and a leg for a custom job. It's an all-too-common frustration. Knowing standard sizes can really help cut down that annoyance.

Some of the most common sizes (in inches): 4x6, 5x7, 6x8, 8x10, 9x12, 11x14, 12x16, 16x20, 18x24, 24x30, 24x36, 30x40 Less common sizes that still have pre-made framing options (in inches): 6x6, 12x12, 10x20, 12x24, 12x36

There is a range of sizes that are rather popular, called 'panorama sizes'. Sizes such as 10x20, 10x30, 12x24, 12x36, etc., fit into this range. Some of these sizes are difficult to frame, but gallery-wrapped canvases, especially 1½" and deeper can go without framing.

The Canvas Itself

This is the part most people pay extra attention to, and for good reason. The canvas itself is the part you work your magic on. The surface you choose can impact your work in many ways. Listed here are the four types of canvas you'll find.

Linen Canvases

Linen

Of the professional artist's canvas made today, linen is the oldest type. Made from the flax plant, linen is easy to spin into durable, uniform strands that are woven into varying weights and weaves to achieve different effects. With some brands guaranteeing their linen canvases to last 500 years, it's easy to see why artists concerned with preserving their artwork might choose linen. In addition to its longevity, linen canvas is quite versatile. Some of the finest grade portrait canvases are linen. On the other hand, some of the most textured landscape canvases are also made of linen. Linen canvas can be either acrylic primed (excellent for acrylics, acceptable for oils), or oil primed (excellent for oils only). Unfortunately, only a very few stretched canvases are available in linen.

Cotton Canvases

Cotton

Cotton canvas has overtaken linen canvas in popularity, mainly because of the reduced cost. Cotton canvas is estimated to last about 100 years. Depending on how well it's cared for, it can last much longer. Cotton is usually only acrylic-primed, which is excellent for acrylics, but only 'okay' for oils. So, depending on your medium and concern with how archival your painting surface is, you may want to consider trying a cotton canvas (for a somewhat smoother canvas, try Paramount or the Edge. For a more textured feel, you might like Winsor & Newton).

Jute Canvases

Jute

An unusual type of canvas worth mentioning is the jute canvas. There are a couple of manufacturers that utilize this fiber for fine art canvas. Jute canvas is made from the spun vegetable fibers of the Jute plant, found primarily in India. It is a bit coarser than the average linen, and makes for a unique painting surface. Jute isn't anywhere near as popular as linen or canvas, but it has its own merits. For canvas rolls, try Fredrix.

Synthetic Canvases

Synthetic

The newest addition to the fine art canvas family is the synthetic canvas. Fredrix has been experimenting with synthetic, or man-made, fibers, and has woven them with natural fibers to come up with something called Polyflax. Canvases made with Polyflax tend to be very smooth, and excellent for portraits. It is also excellent for large sizes, given its considerable strength compared to cotton. Because polyflax is such a new notion, its archival qualities aren't really yet known. However, Fredrix has been around for 140 years, and is a well-trusted company. These canvases are made in Mexico, and primed in the United States.

Stretching Your Own Canvas

Whether you're interested in an oddly sized canvas, needing a particular surface that doesn't come in pre-stretched canvases, or you just prefer to do it like the old masters, stretching your own canvas is still a popular option. There is no end to the array of choices when it comes to canvas type, and stretchers strips can offer economy, while heavy duty stretcher bars can ensure that massive stretched canvas you need won't warp. Below, we look at some of the various points of stretching your own canvas.

Types and Sizes of Canvas

Canvas Rolls

When stretching your own canvas, you'll start with a roll of canvas. As discussed in the previous section, canvas comes in several different fiber types: cotton, linen, jute, or synthetic blend. These canvases can be unprimed, acrylic primed or oil primed. Roll canvases also range widely in both weight and texture. Finally, the rolls themselves range in size, from 52" wide to 144", and from 6 yards long to 30 yards.

When deciding what type of canvas to buy, consider your medium. If you're working with oils, you may want a linen or jute, which are ideal for oil colors (especially oil primed). If you're working with acrylic, tempera, or collage, you can choose any acrylic-primed surface with ideal results. If you work in watercolor or gouache, and are looking for a new surface to paint on, consider the Yes! Canvas. It has a unique surface that allows it to accept watercolor.

Stretcher Bars

Stretcher Strips

When stretching your own canvas, you can choose your own stretcher bars based on your need. For the most part, manufacturers make sure their stretcher bars only fit with themselves, and no other brand. Keep that in mind when purchasing stretcher bars, if you don't have a brand you already like.

Stretcher bars are generally classified as stretcher strips (or light duty), medium duty, and heavy duty. When planning the size of your canvas, consider the following loose guidelines for the minimal sturdiness your stretcher bars need to be:

  • Under 30" – Light duty
  • 30"-50" – Medium duty
  • Above 50" – Heavy duty

As mentioned with pre-stretched canvases, stretcher frames larger than 20"x24" will need a cross brace. Frames larger than 30"x30" should have one in either direction. Or, if your piece is very long, you'll also need a cross brace. Cross braces stabilize against warping. When purchasing your cross braces, read the description to see if you'll need to buy one of each type; some cross braces (especially heavy duty ones) come in one group with a top notch, and one group with a bottom notch, so they'll fit together smoothly.

So, the most important question: 'How do I know what size cross brace to buy?' The answer is easier than you might think. If you're getting one cross brace, go with the smaller size and match the size of the stretcher bar. If you're getting two cross braces, get one for each measurement. For example: If you're stretching a 20x24 canvas, you'll need one 20" cross brace. If you're stretching a 30x40 however, you'll want one 30" cross brace, and one 40" cross brace. This is the same system for pretty much all manufacturers.

Gessoing Your Stretcher Bars

Stretcher Bar Video

Say you've chosen your canvas size and put together the canvas frame. If you've purchased an unprimed canvas, you may be staring at a piece of raw canvas and a bare stretcher frame. What's next?

It's generally much easier to stretch your canvas first, and prime it after. So, go ahead and stretch your canvas. For tips on stretching your own canvas, check out the video to the right:

Rabbit Glue

Next, it's time to break out the primer. No, I don't mean the Kilz. First, are you painting with oils or some other media? If you're painting with oils, you'll need different materials. To prime your canvas, you'll need to begin with something to seal off the canvas. The most traditional sealant (called a size) is rabbit skin glue. Be aware, this is exactly what it sounds like; an animal by-product. If you're against using animal products, steer clear of this one. Rabbit skin glue serves as a sizing; a barrier between the canvas fibers and the acidity of the oil paints. Without a size, over time oil paints will seep through canvas fibers and eat them away, ruining the painting.

PVA

While rabbit skin glue is the traditional sizing, recent studies have shown that its hygroscopic qualities eventually cause cracking in oil paints. For the sake of your painting's longevity, you may be more interested in a modern alternative. Artists needing to size their canvas that don't want to use rabbit skin glue for one reason or another often use PVA (Poly Vinyl Acetate) sizing such as Gamblin's PVA Sizing. Unlike rabbit skin glue, PVA will not tighten the canvas. So make sure your canvas is stretched properly before applying the PVA.

When applying your sizing, keep in mind the point is to coat the fibers completely, so they're entirely sealed off from the acidity in oil colors. This means that soaking through to the back is not only acceptable, it's desirable. This is especially true if you have a slightly looser weave canvas, as the ground will likely "strike" through the canvas. If you've sized your canvas properly, this is no cause for concern.

Painting Grounds PVA

nce you've applied your sizing, it's time for the gesso, or ground. If you're painting with oils, you will probably want an oil ground. This is a non-absorbent ground that helps prevent sinking, a process where oil paints literally sink into the ground and lose their luster. Several companies make oil grounds. You might want to try Gamblin or Williamsburg's Oil Grounds. (Be advised, Williamsburg's Oil Ground contains Lead Carbonate, a traditional pigment that is known to be harmful if handled improperly.) Apply two or more thin coats, depending on how smooth you want the surface.

If you're working with any other media, or you don't want to worry about specific oil grounds, then acrylic gesso is for you. With acrylic gesso, you do not have to size the canvas. Simply apply two or more thin layers of the acrylic gesso, and you're ready to paint!

Alternatives to Canvas

Canvas isn't the only surface out there to paint on. In fact, before stretched canvas, wood panels were the most popular artist's support. Now, we have cardboard canvas panels, as well as gessoed wood and masonite panels. The following are some common stretched canvas alternatives.

Canvas Panels: Wood, MDF, Paper Particleboard

Linen Panels

So you may not like stretched canvas so much. You might not like the fact you have to tighten your canvas. Or you may want to use a heavy medium that the stretched canvas can't support. Or maybe you want to do a couple of quick studies, but not waste your stretched canvas. Enter the canvas panel. If you're looking for a rigid support, you'll want a canvas board with a masonite base. If you want to do quick studies, or if you're looking for something less expensive, you might prefer a paper particleboard. A word of warning; in high humidity, paper particleboard can warp. Keep that in mind when considering what sort of panel to buy.

Other Types of Panels: Ampersand, Gessoed Wood Panels

Before stretched canvas, artists painted on wooden supports. Today, there are many other rigid supports available. The company Ampersand has several lines of MDF supports with various grounds. For something less expensive, try their Artist's Panels, gessoed boards with a canvas texture. For a smoother support, Ampersand has the Gessobord line—no prepping required. Just unwrap and paint!

If you're looking for a support that's a little more traditional, you'll want a wood panel. Try the Panelli wood panels, which are 'Old World' from their substrate to their gesso formulas.

What Kind of Canvas Do I Need, Anyway?

So now you've got a good idea what a canvas is, and everything said canvas. The only thing left is…which one is right for you? The lists below should point you in the right direction.

What If I Paint With:

Oil Paints

Charvin Oils

As an oil painter, you're using one of the oldest common paint types still in use today. Oil colors require special surfaces to bring out their full potential. Look for a canvas that is oil-primed. While oil colors can be used on acrylic primed surfaces, acrylic grounds are absorbent, which can cause the oil paint to 'sink'; that is, become dull. Conversely, if you are planning to do an underpainting in acrylic, then you will have to use the acrylic-primed canvas, as acrylic cannot adhere to oil (but oil can adhere to acrylic). For a stretched oil-primed canvas, try the Centurion OP DLX, or the Raphael Oil-Primed Linen. If you want to stretch your own canvas, try the Artfix Belgian Linen C-series rolls. And finally, if you're looking for a panel, we suggest the Raphael oil-primed linen panels. As a less expensive option, you may want to try a canvas panel, like the Winsor & Newton Artist Canvas Panels. Remember, if you don't underpaint with acrylics, oils can sink on acrylic primed canvas. This can always be prevented by a layer or two of oil ground (50406).

Acrylics

LUKAS Acrylics

As an acrylic artist, you can paint on just about any kind of artist's surface and still get excellent results. With acrylic, one doesn't have to worry about lengthy drying times or sinking, as with oil paint. When looking for a substrate to paint on with acrylics, look for the terms absorbent, acrylic-primed, or gessoed. Check out The Edge stretched canvas, or for a super-smooth finish, Fredrix Blue Label. Planning an odd size painting? Try the Paramount Roll Canvas. For a rigid painting surface, you may want to look into the Ampersand Gessobord.

Watercolors

Davinci Watercolors

Beyond paper, artist's surfaces are limited for the watercolorist. The best alternative we've found is the Yes! Canvas, available in stretched canvas and canvas rolls. Yes! Canvas also has panels available. If you're looking for a rigid surface to paint on with your watercolors, you're in luck! The Ampersand Aquabord is made just for that purpose. Neither surface requires framing behind glass like watercolors normally do, but we do suggest a fixative (34755).

Mixed Media

Collage

If you're working with mixed media or collage, chances are you're using water-based mediums that can also be used with acrylic paints. Because of this, you can use the same surfaces acrylic painters use. Keep in mind though, that collage can quickly become too heavy for stretched canvas. If too much weight is placed on the canvas, it will sag. If you're going to be placing a lot of foreign objects on the piece, or using a lot of medium, consider instead an MDF panel like the Ampersand Hardbord. For lightweight collage, or mixed media, try the Yes! Canvas. For a unique look, you might want to consider the Fredrix Float Canvas.

What If I Want a Canvas That Is:

Economical

Economic Canvas

The least expensive artist's supports are usually canvas panels with paper particleboard backing. In some cases, you get what you pay for. Particleboard is prone to warping in high humidity or if overworked. We've found that Creative Mark canvas panels are less likely to warp than some other brands. If you still want a stretched canvas, we do still have inexpensive options. Practica canvas is an excellent place to look. Finally, if you need several canvas, or are working with odd or large sizes, stretching your own canvas can save you a bit. Unprimed cotton canvas duck is quite inexpensive.

Luxurious

Luxurious Canvas

If you're looking for a top-of-the-line canvas to paint on, you'll most likely be looking for linen. If you prefer stretching your own canvas, there is a broader range of fine canvas available, such as the Raphael Oil-Primed Linen or the Artfix Belgian Linen.

Heavy Duty

Earthy Linen

When working with large sizes, it's imperative to have a beefy canvas that will hold up to large sizes and heavy paint weight. Or sometimes, you just need your canvas to make as much of a statement as your paint does. The Edge canvas is a heavy-weight stretched canvas, at 14oz. Heavy weight canvas is more widely available in canvas rolls. Spectrum All Media Canvas comes in a hefty 15 oz roll, but keeps a finer touch for finer detail.

Trendy

Beveled Canvas

Consider this: every artist is different, and art material manufacturers are constantly coming up with new styles of canvas to meet that need. Don't be afraid to experiment and find something 'out-of-the-box' that you like. Always trying to keep up with the Joneses? If you're a competitive spirit or always after the newest trends, try these canvases: Wilson Bickford's new beveled canvas in an interesting twist. With stretcher bars that slope towards the outside, this is an unusual look that doesn't require framing. Conversely, the Fredrix Float is a relatively new canvas that appears to be hovering off the wall. Again, this is achieved through the shape of the stretcher bars. Last but not least, the Fredrix Blue Label canvas is a unique blend of cotton and polyflax, a synthetic fiber blend. When most canvases are made exclusively of either cotton or linen, this is sure to be a conversation starter!

Environmentally Friendly

Eco Friendly

Everyone is concerned about being 'green' these days, and rightfully so. Why not extend that environmental consciousness to your art? Charvin gummed jute canvas is made from jute, a fibrous plant grown mainly in India. Renewable and being a plant that requires little pesticides or manual watering, the jute plant is definitely friendly to the environment. It's important to consider not just a product that's environmentally friendly, but a company that considers that in everything they do. Ampersand, the makers of Gessobord, Hardbord, and the Value Series Artist's Panel, is one such company. They use only products from sustainable resources in their boards, and use no formaldehyde or volatile organic compounds.

Miniature

Mini Canvases

Looking for an extra small canvas? Most brands go down to 6x8", maybe even 5x7". But any smaller, and you're out of luck, right? Not quite! The Edge Canvas makes 8x8", 6x6", 5x5", and even 4x4" canvases. Need something even smaller? Try the Paramount Ultra Mini Canvases, which are as small as 2x2"!

Extra Large Canvases

Extra Large

Sometimes you just need a really, really big canvas. Usually you'll see a canvas brand go up to 30x40. Some go larger, 36x48 maybe. But what if that just isn't big enough? Try The Edge canvas, which goes up to an impressive 60x72". Still need bigger? Fredrix Polyflax® Acrylic Primed should have just what you need. This brand goes up to 72x108".

What If My Skill Level Is:

Beginner to Amateur

Winsor and Newton Board

If you're just getting started, chances are you don't want to spend a lot of money on your painting surface. After all, what if you find out painting isn't for you? Or at the very least, you know your first paintings probably aren't going to be stellar—why waste money on what you might end up tossing out? For a cheaper canvas that you can still frame if you pleasantly surprise yourself with a masterpiece, try the Practica canvas. For cheap practice support, you can try canvas panels, like the Creative Mark or Winsor & Newton, or canvas pads, which are just sheets of canvas or canvas paper to paint on. If you want to dive in head-first and try stretching your own canvas, or working really big, the army cotton duck canvas blankets are a great, inexpensive place to start. Worried about wrinkles, or prefer something already primed? Paramount canvas rolls are inexpensive, but quality.

Intermediate or Hobbyist

Fredrix Canvas

If you've just started really getting into painting, or you've decided that, hey, you're pretty good!, you might want to move up to a better grade of canvas. For something still budget-friendly, look into the style="text-decoration:underline">Fredrix Red Label canvas. Or, if you're an oil painter, try the Centurion OP DLX Canvas. (Remember, the OP DLX cannot accept acrylic paint; if you under-paint with acrylics, you may want to try the regular Centurion linen.) Since you have some experience under your belt, consider exploring outside the box—the box of stretched canvas, that is. Ampersand's Value Series Artist's Panels are a great place to start.

Professional

Gessobord

So, you’re a professional. You have your art hanging in galleries and people’s homes, and you have your own place at various shows. You have a whole different list of priorities than the beginning or hobby artist. You need a quality canvas with a good primer and that will last. If you’re looking for a professional, archival canvas, you’ll most likely want linen. An inexpensive place to start is the Centurion canvas, which comes in oil or acrylic primed. If you prefer to stretch your own canvases, options really open up for at the professional. If you need something smoother for portrait or fine detail work, you might like the Artfix Belgian canvas, L84C (oil-primed) or L84U (acrylic-primed) series, the finest weave available on the market today. Finally, if you’d prefer instead a hard surface, try the ¾” or 2” cradled Ampersand Gessobord.

So, What Else Do I Need to Know About This Canvas?

Do I Have to frame It?

What your painting is on and what you’re going to do with it dictates whether you ‘have’ to or do not have to frame your painting. For starters, if you painted on a piece of canvas paper, of course you’re not going to just hang up a sheet of paper on a wall (the fridge is another story). The painting needs to be dry-mounted and framed, or secured in a frame with a backing behind glass.

If you’ve painted on a canvas panel or flat masonite/wood panel, and intend to show in a gallery, most galleries require these substrates to be framed. If you’re selling it or giving it away, you do not have to frame it. Keep in mind the artist community saying, ‘unframed paintings tend to remain unframed’. That beautiful painting you spent hours on may never make it up to the recipient’s wall if it doesn’t have the necessary accoutrements to just hang it on a nail and be done with it.

If your painting is on a stretched canvas up to 1” deep, many galleries will accept this type of painting without a frame—as long as the sides are painted and there are no staples on the side—that is to say, the canvas is gallery-wrapped. Canvases over 1” are difficult to frame, and not particularly meant to be framed anyway. Oval frames also do not usually require framing for shows. It’s always best to check with your gallery for their rules.

What Kind of Frame Do I Need?

Deep Canvas

Framing Non-Rectangular Canvas and Very Deep Canvas

If your frame is 1.5" or deeper, has an unusual profile like the Float or Beveled canvas, or is oval-shaped, the good news is, you usually don't have to frame it. Actually, of the list I just mentioned, oval ones are really the only ones that can be framed. Unfortunately, this requires a framing shop, whether online or locally. Depending on the size, they may have something to fit your needs, or you may have to get it custom-cut. Custom cut frames can carry hefty price tags, so look out if you're particularly budget-conscious.

Framing Custom Sized Canvas

Frames

f you have a regular ol’ rectangular canvas that’s 1” or less deep that happens to be an unusual size, good news! Custom size frames don’t have to cost an arm and a leg. If you’re looking for something simple, you can probably get the size you need from frame kits. If you do want a frame a little more ornate, Jerry’s does carry custom wood and metal frames for most budgets. And don’t forget, if it is gallery wrapped, you may not have to frame it at all. Canvases can be hung with just D-rings and wire, or sawtooth hangers.

What Kind of Accessories Are There for Artist's Canvas, and What Do They Do?

Retensioner

The most common canvas accessory is the wet canvas carrier. It comes in many shapes and sizes, but serves the same function: to keep anything from getting on your wet canvas—and to keep your wet canvas from getting on anything else. Another tool for use with canvas that is not to be overlooked is the canvas tightener. This is a little spritzer bottle with a substance inside that immediately tightens your canvas without the hassle of stretcher keys. Most importantly, it's acid-free, so you don't have to worry about the integrity of your painting.

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