Priming a Canvas for Oil Painting

The canvas is a conventional surface commonly used for oil painting. Nonetheless, it is notable that the generic canvas materials you get from stores are unstable and can stretch or shrink. This is due to the reason of wetting and drying of the priming material, atmospheric changes and paint.

Before you start priming a canvas for oil painting, the stretching bars used must be made of seasoned timber and the canvas must be strong enough to withstand the priming process.

Professionals always choose linen canvas due to its strong and resistant characteristic to rotting and mildew. Conversely, cotton is more readily available and cheap; however, it is prone to mildew and is less stable. You need to size the canvas to give it control in the absorption of liquid paint by the fabric.

Prime the canvas before stretching

The best time to prime the canvas is before you stretch it, but there are artists who prime and size a lightly stretched canvas. When you are priming a canvas, you will need to take more caution than you would when using a board or painting a wall. This is because the canvas is flexible and can crack when the primer is brittle.

Hence, it is essential that the primer is supple itself. Conventionally, rabbit glue is best to use because of its capacity to retain flexibility. Nowadays, there are many good alternatives that you can consider such as PVA mediums for priming.

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Priming a canvas step by step

In order to stretch the canvas, you will first need to assemble the stretcher bars on a flat surface like the floor or a table. Then ensure that the frame is a perfect square, which you can confirm by folding the canvas diagonally from one corner to the other.

Tools required are a pair of canvas pliers and a staple glue gun..

• First, fix the frame square by stapling from corner to corner on each joint.

• The next step is to reduce or trim the canvas to a size that is about 10cm or four inches larger than the actual frame.

• Start tacking or stapling from the center of the outer edge on any of the longest bars and then extend to the midpoint of the reverse bar, repeat this exercise with the rest of the sides.

• Keep on stretching across the framework from one side to the other by working out from the middle of every bar and leave the corners for the last.

• At the corner spots, fold the canvas neatly on to the back of the framework without cutting the canvas to fit into the corner

• After tacking the corners, finish off by stapling or tacking the extra canvas to the back of the frame. Ensure that the canvas is just tight enough, but  not too tight, this is because the canvas may shrink when the paint is drying

• You will get stretcher bars with the wedges or keys. Simply use them to open or tighten the finished painting.

• If the finished canvas suffers a dent, dampen the back of the dent area with some clean water and leave to dry, normally the canvas will shrink flat and will cover up the dent.

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