Guide to Canvases

Written by Hannah Clark


Canvas choice is a personal thing and only through trial and error will you find what is right for your style of artwork.

Canvas has been used for many years by artists throughout history for a variety of mediums but it is most traditionally used for oils and acrylics as the mediums need enough 'tooth' on the surface. The weave of the surface isn't suitable for watecolours or gouache.

The two main choices of surface are linen or cotton. Linen is harder to stretch over bars and to prime and therefore more expensive than cotton but it has a smoother and stiffer surface. Cotton is more affordable and easier to stretch but is therefore bouncier.

There is also the choice between canvas and canvas boards. Canvas boards are a better choice when travelling and painting, being that they are less easily damaged and more compact.

Traditional canvases come in 2 depths: gallery or otherwise known as deep-edge and regular. The deep edge canvases are approx 1” deep, whereas regular are ½” deep generally. It is down to personal preference as to which you choose: deep edge canvases are more expensive but they don't tend to require framing and you can also create wraparound paintings by painting on the edges of the canvas. Regular depth canvases are cheaper but usually require framing when complete for preservation and impact. At Lovelys, we can frame regular and deep edge canvases with regular moulding or 'float' framing. Please contact us for more information.

At Lovelys we stock ready primed cotton and linen canvases in a wide variety of sizes, as well as cotton canvas boards. We stock the Winsor and Newton and Loxley brands, as they have a long reputation of using best quality canvas for artists use. We also stock linen unprimed clear gesso canvases.

Even the best of canvases sometimes suffer from problems such as creasing but this can usually be rectified by spraying the canvas lightly with water, increasing the tension with the wedges and left to dry overnight.

The tension of the canvas, as in how 'springy' it feels underneath the brush or palette you're using may not be tight enough for you and this can be rectified with the wedges that are usually supplied with your canvas. First the tack on each corner joint must be removed. Insert a piece of card between the canvas and bars to protect the canvas from any damage when using your hammer. Then it is to hammer the narrowest angle point of the wedges into the slots of the stretcher bars. See my diagram below. Take care when adjusting the tension, as the final paint film will be under too much stress if tightened too much.