The painting frame, falsely called canvas, is painting support that’s made out of three accessories: the frame rods, the canvas itself and the fixing components. This great painting tool, let’s call it, was discovered in the 15th century and it has helped many painters and artists and it’s still on the list of every painter buying list.
History of the painting canvas
During the Renaissance, fabric gradually took the place of the wooden panel for painting. Indeed, the panel was very heavy to transport and the paint was easily damaged by cracks in the paint layer.
The fabric stretched over a frame solved the problem of the weight and elasticity of the support. Of all the existing fabric supports, canvas was chosen for its durability and the experience gained over centuries.
Hemp and linen are already known for boat sails. Cotton was added later, towards the end of the 19th century. Linen and cotton remain the most popular up until this day.
How To Choose the Right Canvas
When choosing your fabric, it is important to take into account the weight and density of the woven fabric. This kind of information is difficult to obtain, but manufacturers generally tell you the weight of the fabric. This is usually the weight per square meter.
Linen was discovered as early as the Stone Age and in the tombs of Ancient Egypt. It has been clearly demonstrated to be a piece of durable fabric. The linen strips of Egyptian mummies are still flexible today.
Flax fibers come from the plant Linum usitatissimum whose fibers are stronger than any other natural fiber and can reach between 0.80 and 1.20m in height.
Flax fibers are round and not flat like cotton, which gives them an irregular texture. Chemically speaking, the fibers contain 70-80% cellulose and the same oil like the one found in linseed (linseed oil).
The presence of this oil allows the fibres to remain flexible. The irregular texture of flax is ideal for figurative painting because it gives depth to the subject.
Linen is more difficult to stretch than cotton and costs 2 to 3 times more than cotton. This is still the reference for painting canvas and it’s the most popular choice.
Cotton, like wood and linen, has been used since prehistoric times, especially in the Orient. It began to be appreciated by artists in the 19th century because of its lower price.
Cotton fiber is made of pure cellulose and is sensitive to acid and bleach. In fact, only unwashed cotton fabrics should be used in painting.
There are several aspects to be aware of when using cotton as a paint carrier. In figurative painting, cotton has a less interesting texture than linen. The grain is finer than that of linen. Moreover, it is less resistant due to its shorter fibers.
Cotton is less durable than linen because of the absence of oil. Cotton fibers are made of virgin cellulose which is sensitive to acidity. Exposure to pollution, acidity, UV over several decades will weaken the cotton canvas. Cotton fiber tends to be elastic and dries slowly when wet.
Nevertheless, cotton is still a good choice of fabric for small budgets. It is a good choice if you are a beginner or if you just don’t want to invest much in painting equipment. There are some very good frames covered with cotton nowadays.
Polyester is a canvas that has recently been introduced to the art material market since the end of the 20th century. It is a resistant, regular fiber, indifferent to humidity and withstands heat. Its grain is very fine. The conservation qualities are guaranteed by the manufacturers but we do not yet have enough hindsight to be absolutely certain.
The canvas can be sold virgin, primed with white or transparent gesso. In the latter case, it is ready to paint on. If you buy it virgin, you will have to prime it yourself with gesso or an undercoat adapted to your painting.
The weight of the fabric can vary from 150 to 450 g/m2. The grammage is very important for the stability of the frame and the technique used. If the painting requires heavy impasto work or the format is large, a heavy, thick and tightly stretched canvas is required.
The correct tension of the canvas is of the utmost importance.