Stretching An Oil Painting

Stretching your own canvas for an oil painting is something that can save you a lot of money in the long run. Pre-stretched canvases often have a large mark-up because of their convenience.

Not only is stretching your own canvas less expensive, but it also allows you to making paintings in non-standard sizes, as pre-stretched canvases only come in a limited variety of sizes.

You’ll need a few tools and maybe one or two practice rounds, but stretching an oil painting canvas is really not that difficult of a task, and any person is capable of doing it.

To begin, you’ll need a few different things. First, you’ll need four stretcher bars and a piece of canvas to be stretched over them. Stretcher bars are the wooden bars that make up the four sides of your canvas’ frame. They are usually sold in pairs, so you’ll need to buy two sets.

If you buy pre-made stretcher bars, they’ll usually come with corners already cut and interlocking segments that allow the corners to fit together like a puzzle. If you happen to be a talented woodworker, you can also make them yourself. Some art stores will make you stretcher bars in sizes different than the pre-made ones as well.

So if you want a painting that’s six meters wide by one meter tall, you can have it. Your piece of canvas should be large enough to stretch onto the back side at least one to two inches, depending on the size you’re working on. You need enough spare canvas to work with on the backside, because trying to pinch and staple tiny bits of canvas isn’t going to work very well.

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You’ll also need a staple gun and canvas pliers. Canvas pliers are what you can imagine might be called “hammerhead shark pliers,” as they have long, flat jaws resembling the shark’s head shape.

These will help with stretching an oil painting canvas over the stretcher bars while getting minimal wrinkling. If you don’t want to use a staple gun, you can also use carpet tacks and just hammer them in, but staple guns are far easier to work with as they require just one hand (and your other hand is holding the pliers).

Once you’ve assembled your frame out of the stretcher bars, lay your canvas face down on the floor and center the frame on it. Make sure you’re putting the frame face down as well. The front side of the frame will have raised edges so that the wooden bars aren’t sitting flat against the painting. This could result in dark shadows behind the edges of your painting, so stretcher bars have been modified to avoid this effect.

Starting from the top center, pull the canvas as tautly as you can over the bar and staple it horizontally. Next, focus on the bottom center, pulling very tautly again, and staple. Your next two areas to staple are the left center and the right center.

If you notice it’s not as tight as it should be after these four staples, pull them out and try again. Now, depending on the size of your canvas, you’ll need to put the rest of the staples in, spaced about an inch apart. Keep alternating top, bottom, left and right, starting from the center and working your way towards the corners.

Last, you’ll have to fold the corners down. Pull the corner edge of the canvas straight down. Now pull the bit of canvas in from the left, and fold it over as neatly as possible. It’s almost like wrapping a present. Do the same with the right, and staple it down. Once you do this with all four corners, you’re done!

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