An essential knowledge of the basics…
When it comes to your artwork a lot of the selection process for materials comes from personal preference, but having essential knowledge of the basics can help you choose based on what works best for you and your work.
Replacing wooden panels, stretched canvases are now the most common support for painting, offering a fabric surface with the most common options being linen or cotton fabric. Here is a short guide outlining the characteristics of both types of canvas material for those who need a little help with their selection.
This is a soft, fluffy fibre that grows around the seeds of cotton plants and is most often spun into a thread in order to make the soft and breathable fabric we are familiar with. For canvases, it is more flexible therefore can be stretched easily, and more tightly without putting strain on the wooden frame. However, this flexibility means it is less stable when working with very large sizes and when working with very fluid size you should be careful not to overstretch as this will cause the material to contract and may cause warping.
Cotton is generally not as strong as linen but this can be improved for by selecting a very heavy weight cotton fabric to make up for the lack of strength or apply the canvas to a board. The majority of the fabrics popularity for canvases comes from it’s affordability as it is less expensive than the traditional linen making it ideal for school, students and beginners.
Made from the fibres of the flax plant, the manufacture of linen is more difficult than cotton. This material offers a better quality due to its strength which will allow for a heavy hand when painting and is less likely to become slack. It is more durable and retains natural oils which preserve the materials flexibility and stop it becoming brittle. Linen also offers a higher resistance to decay and better longevity, although when applying oil paint or oil primer the surface should first be primed with a size as direct contact with oil will cause the fibres to weaken over time.
Whilst linen is the traditional and in some cases superior choice, it can be more difficult to stretch and prime due to its stiffness, and the cost is higher. Although paying a little more is always necessary when a higher quality is desired!
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