Canvas has been the go-to choice for painters over centuries. Even today, when it comes to choosing a painting surface, canvas remains the first choice for painters, especially for acrylic and oil paintings. You need not be an expert to paint on a canvas. It can be used by both beginners and masters. Canvases come in numerous shapes, sizes, and forms to suit varied needs and budgets. There is something for everyone who wants to paint.

Canvas can be used for all kinds of paintings, ranging from smaller works to large, expansive creations. However, artists prefer canvas as a surface because it feels great under the brush and ensures longevity. It is also light and easy to carry around.

Before canvas became the popular choice among artists,  painting with oil paints was done on specially prepared wooden panels. These provided an even and rigid surface to paint on.

But there were certain constraints in the form of environmental factors like moisture, dust, sunlight, etc. that would cause damage. Also, these being heavy were difficult to transport. As a result, lightweight stretched canvas gained preference and eventually became the first choice for painters.

Canvas Painting
Choosing canvas over the paper to paint can end up being a great experience. | Source: pixabay.com
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Characteristics of a Canvas

There are various types of canvas for painting. The choice of the canvas should depend on the type of paint being used. So when you have to choose one for your art, you will have to consider factors such as fabric, texture, and priming.  These determine the overall quality of the canvas and the kind of paint that it is most suitable for.

Fabric

The most common canvas fabric is either linen or cotton. Of the two, linen is considered the better kind of fabric due to the quality of the surface and its durability. But it is an expensive material. Cotton comes a close second since it is more affordable, suitably durable, and provides an excellent surface for painting.

Texture

A canvas is made by weaving natural fibers together.  The texture of the canvas depends on how finely it's woven. Different textures are suited to different types of painting.  For a work that requires more detailed brush strokes, a finely woven canvas with a smooth surface is perfect.  Large-sized paintings or art that requires broad brush strokes are best delivered on rough weaves.

Prime

To ensure that a canvas shows the true colours of the paint, a technique called priming is applied to it. In this, the surface of the canvas is primed with gesso, a mixture of plaster of Paris, glue, chalk, or pigment.  Priming a canvas prevents the paint from being absorbed into the fabric of the canvas. While the majority of canvases are primed, some artists use unprimed canvases for the dull, textured colour it produces.

Paints
Oil and acrylic paints reveal their best colors on canvas. | Source: pixabay.com

Types of Canvas for Painting

The good thing about canvas is that it is available in various forms to suit different applications and budgets. When you walk into any art shop to buy your supplies like drawing pencils, paints, etc., you will mostly find cotton versions pre-primed with acrylic gesso. You will also get expensive linen canvases primed with oil primer.

If you are in the mood to splurge, you can avail of a bespoke canvas-making service at a high-end art supply shop. Here, you can get a pre-made canvas of highly durable quality but you might end up spending a bomb on it. The most popular types of canvas are stretched canvas, canvas panels, canvas pads, and canvas rolls. Understanding how to spend on your equipments is absolutely necessary, it will also help you understand how to paint better.

Stretched Canvas

This canvas is mostly used for acrylic and oil paintings. Stretched over a wooden frame, called stretcher bars, they are usually made of cotton. To make the surface ideal for painting, the canvas is primed with gesso.

The wooden frames come in different sizes and thicknesses. The choice of frame usually depends on how the painting will be displayed. If you intend to frame the artwork, then a traditional thick frame is better, while thinner frames are suited for unframed paintings.

Canvas Rolls

Canvas rolls are suited for the needs of experienced painters who like to prepare and stretch their own canvas. They are also used for very large paintings and come in both linen and cotton. The rolls are found in different weights, textures, and fibers.  Both primed or unprimed versions are available. They’re usually sold by the yard, or in rolls, which can get quite expensive.

Canvas Pads

Besides the stretched canvas and canvas rolls, other common forms of canvas include canvas pads and canvas panels. Canvas pads are sheets of primed canvas that are spiral-bound in a book. The sheets used in many pads can be stretched or mounted, but their longevity is not like that of a stretched canvas.  They are ideal for novices or students as they are inexpensive and can be used for practice.

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wall painting
Smaller paintings with detailed brush strokes are best executed on cotton or linen canvas. | Source: unsplash.com

Canvas Panels

This type is ideal if you are starting out with canvas paintings. Stretched canvas is more expensive and as a beginner, it's wise to opt for cheaper but reasonably durable alternatives like the canvas panel.

Usually made from primed cotton canvas that’s mounted onto a rigid board, these are great for practice and are lightweight and easy to carry, making them perfect for students. While canvas panels offer nearly the same quality surface as stretched canvas, they don’t age as well and are thus mostly suited for practicing basic painting techniques.

Types of Primer Treatments

While you can always use drawing tablets or interactive whiteboards for your art, painting on canvas can be a very fulfilling experience. There are varied types of paints that you can choose to paint with. Depending on the type of paint, you need to choose the type of primer coating for your canvas. Based on the treatment type, priming can be classified into 3 categories.

Oil Primed

An oil canvas is exclusively meant for oil paintings.  The primer applied for this type of canvas is zinc white, bound with linseed oil. After the surface is treated with this, the canvas is put into a drying room where it is left to air-dry naturally over a period of 3 days. After that, it is smoothened with sandpaper before a second coating based on titanium white is applied. The canvas is then sent back into the drying room for 10 more days.

Absorbent Primed

Absorbent canvases are intended for tempera. They are given two primer layers of chalk, bound with glue based on rabbit skins. Because this primer is water-based, these canvases can be dried in the dry-air oven, where the water can evaporate more quickly.

Universal Primed

A canvas primed with an acrylic primer is usually called ‘universal primed’ because a canvas with this surface can be used for oil or acrylic painting. If it is labeled as acrylic gesso this sometimes means it is more absorbent than the acrylic primer.

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brush strokes
For oil paintings with broad brush strokes, a rough weave textured canvas can be a good option. | Source: pixabay.com

Making the Right Canvas Selection

The choice of the canvas should rest upon the kind of painting exercise the artist wants to undertake. If your work is just for fun or practice, you need to use an inexpensive canvas. Explore different textures to figure out which one is most suitable for your needs.  Depending on the kind of art that you want to create, here are some recommendations for the canvas type you can use.

Fine Details

When you are painting with water-colours, you may not want the texture of the canvas fabric to interfere with the detailed brush strokes. You may want thin layers of paint to glide smoothly over the canvas. Sometimes acrylic paintings also need a similar surface. In this case, you may need to use linen canvas or a cotton one with a very fine weave.

Bold Brushwork

Cotton jute twill, cotton duck, or any canvas that is heavier is best suited for experiments with bold brush strokes. Palette-knife painting or textured paintings show the desired results on rough weave canvas. This fabric is also suitable for large-scale works of art provided they are correctly stretched.

Want to find out more about painting techniques and master this form of art? You can find online painting classes in India on websites like Superprof that helps to connect students with hundreds of teachers across the country. Look up the credentials of the tutors offering art classes and select the one who fits your needs. Very soon you can have your own canvas painting framed and hung on the wall. This will surely turn out to be a very enjoyable experience!

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Shreyanjana

Shreyanjana is an archaeologist who ironically finds the written word to be the most powerful means of storytelling. A travel buff and a photography enthusiast, she has been writing and sharing stories of all sorts ever since she can remember.