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You Have Your Paints… What do You Paint On?

June 13, 2010

canvasAlthough paper can be used as a painting surface, canvas is the most common choice. Fortunately, there are many choices when it comes to canvas, one to suit every artist’s level and budget.

1. Canvas Paper

This is a synthetic imitation of real canvas. The paper has more of a plastic-like sheen than a feeling of fabric, but it does have the texture of woven fibres. Canvas paper is available in pads, and is great for artists new to painting and for those looking for an inexpensive surface for studies and sketches. It’s also very easy to frame.

2. Canvas Board

This is a gesso-ed piece of canvas stretched over cardboard. You can buy these or make them yourself. This is another good option for beginning painters, but they can be tricky to hang.

3. Pre-stretched Canvas

Personally, this is my favorite. These can be bought from any art-supply store in a variety of sizes, dimensions and depths.

Painting on a stretched canvas is completely unlike painting on any kind of paper or board. As one of my instructors once said, the canvas paints back. The stretched fabric has a give that can take some getting used to.

When buying pre-stretched canvas, make sure you get the ones with the staples on the back, not on the sides. Also, double check for any dents in the stretcher bars.

4. Stretching Your Own Canvas

This allows you to customize the size and dimension of your canvas to your exact specifications. It also allows you more control over the tension of the canvas. Many artists prefer using their own stretched canvas for these reasons.

There are two ways you can make your own canvas: you can buy pre-made stretcher bars, which you assemble and then stretch the canvas over, or you can build your own canvas stretcher bars.


It’s important to note that there is a definite hierarchy when it comes to these four options. Most “professional” artists will tell you that an artist should make their own stretchers. This isn’t always practical, or possible, though. If you are selling your work, or trying to get into a gallery, I would recommend that you work on stretched canvas even if they are pre-stretched. If you approach a gallery with works on canvas board, you may get sneered at!


From → Painting

One Comment
  1. You can also seal a good quality, acid-free thick paper/bristol board. This is great for acrylics or thinly painted oils. Thick oils would crack on this method. Paper is easy to frame, like you said

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