Canvas originated during the thirteenth century replacing the popular wooden panels that were preferred surfaces for oil painting. Canvas fabrics are best known for durability. After being primed properly, a canvas can possibly hold paint for several hundred years with no signs of wear.
Synthetic materials, cotton, hemp and linen are often used in making canvas for artists. Some of the very first canvas was crafted using hemp. Today, linen and cotton are the most popular. A basic canvas made of cotton is usually constructed using cotton duck which is available in various weights. Fabric weight is the description of thread thickness and weaving tightness. Many artists prefer linen canvas because of it tight, finely woven threads.
Choosing a Canvas
Artists must determine whether to use stretched or roll canvas. These artists must choose between raw or primed canvas as well. Stretched canvas has already been pulled over a frame tightly. With rolled canvas, artists will need to stretch and staple the canvas on a frame. Stretching a canvas can be a difficult task at first. However, with a bit of practice, the task can be skillfully mastered.
Canvas in raw form must be primed before using. Primer such as Gesso will help in preventing fibers from breaking down after paint is applied. For acrylic artists, there is no need to prime the canvas. Acrylic paints do not deteriorate fibers in the canvas like oils will. Watercolorists will need a canvas designed for using watercolors. Watercolor canvases will allow the paint to stay wet and workable longer.
Looking at Canvas Panels
Available canvas panels have fabric which has been glued to a board in a neat fashion. Higher quality canvas panels have been tightly wrapped around top grade boarding. Cheaper versions of canvas panels have loose wrapping and use cardstock instead of boards. These may easily warp after being painted. Canvases that sag or have a weave that is loose will often not withstand time and elements. Images in the painting may become distorted in time as well.
Various Types of Canvas Discussed
Linen canvas is a preferred canvas type because of the thin threads with stiff weaving. Belgian linen is often considered the very best of all linen canvases. It gives more visibility due to the brown hue of the fibers. Portrait linens provide an exceptionally smooth surface that delivers a higher quality image than most others.
Cotton duck is one of the most expensive types of canvas. These are available in various weaves and many different weights. Cotton duck canvas is rather affordable. However, these are often loosely woven and sagging may occur. Artists should choose a tighter weave when using cotton duck canvas for the best results possible.
Watercolor canvas was specifically designed for use with watercolors. These canvases have a specific mark. Watercolor canvas allows the watercolors to remain wet for longer periods of time making them easier to work with. Coarse paint brushes should never be used on this type of canvas as damage could occur.
Synthetic fiber canvases provide exceptional support for your paints. This type of canvas is not the most traditional and may not be preferred by all artists. This canvas will hold the weight of primer and usually resist tearing or straining during painting.
Many beginning artists choose canvas paper. It is a very affordable option for the young artists. Canvas paper has a textured surface that imitates an actual fabric canvas. Many art schools and classrooms tend to use canvas paper in teaching students the various techniques of painting and watercolor techniques.