Painting Tips #1 – tight canvas

Late last year I said that I had a series I wanted to do this year about some of my favorite painting secrets. Well, they aren’t really secrets but rather tips. So I’m labeling it that way. These may be things that you know or maybe not. Either way, they are things that I learned that have made my painting skills grow really quickly and I’d like to share them. Here we go.

The first thing I do when I start painting on any wrapped canvas, I spray the backside of the canvas with water from my water bottle. Using my hand, I spread the water evenly across the back. Then I let it dry. If I’m in a hurry for it to dry, I flap the canvas up and down like a fan.

Once it’s dry, I tap on the canvas and listen to the sound. If it’s weak, I spray the back of the canvas again and do it all over again. Once I tap on it and it has a deep sound like a drum, then I’m ready to paint.

There are other ways to tighten a canvas, usually using little wood wedges, but this is my favorite. Since the back of a canvas is rarely primed like the front, the water seeps into the canvas and tightens it naturally. With some canvas frames, I’ve had the problem of wrinkles in the corners, so do check the front side. If you do get little creasing wrinkles in the front, simply take the water bottle and spray under the stretcher bars into the corner and your wrinkles will be gone shortly.

What happens if you’ve already started painting and realize that you forgot to tighten the canvas? This happens to me all the time. Because I’m so use to working on tight canvases, I usually realize I’ve forgotten to tighten after I get the painting blocked in. No worries. I spray the back as normal and let it tighten. Because it’s tightening evenly and slowly across the whole canvas, I’ve never seen any negative effects to the painting already done – though this was a big worry for me at first. I’ve sprayed both oil and acrylics after I’d already started painting, but since oil dries so much slower, be careful not to smudge the front against something while you’re working on the back.

I have also noticed that some canvases do loosen a bit after an initial tightening. This seems to depend on the brand. I have sprayed the backs of nearly completed paintings to retighten and I’ve also done a couple completed paintings as a test. I’ve never had to tighten a canvas more than twice, so far.

Why does tightening a canvas help out the painting? With it tight, it provides more resistance against your brush and gives you crisp color right where you want it. If the canvas gives under your brush, it’s going to take more paint which is more likely to clump your paint in “pools.” So if you’re painting leaves of tree, you get masses of paint that cover in a pattern much like the shape of your brush rather than little particles of color that side from the ends of the bristles in a myriad of varied shapes adding dimension to your leaves.

If you haven’t been tightening your canvas, why not try it with your next painting? Let me know what you think.

4 thoughts on “Painting Tips #1 – tight canvas

  1. Dawn, your art work and photographs are beautiful. Remember to listen to your heart for it speaks the truth. Nay-sayers don’t have confidence in their own dreams. Built them up and they will see you have special talents. Mary Nida

    1. Thank you for your comment, Mary. I believe in your words and confidence in dreams is something I too wish for everyone.

    1. Thanks, Amy, for your comment.

      Just as a follow-up to this post, I’d like to add that some canvas will relax over time. Some that I’ve done this technique with to tighten the canvas have since started to ease up a bit. Others stay tight as a drum. So you might want to test it out on your favorite canvas brand and see how it holds up over the next 6 months. That would be a good indicator. If your brand doesn’t stay as tight as you would like, try another brand.

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