Nobody ever said that being an artist is cheap. Nor does the ability to paint come to anyone overnight.

Well, to anyone except maybe the likes of John Everett Millais or Kieron Williamson.

So, does your canvas more resemble an abstract painting with every brush stroke, when you really wanted it to portray a human figure?

Do even primary colours mix poorly on your palette?

If so, you may benefit from drawing tutorials offered online or taking art instruction at your local community centre.

In the meantime, let us talk about art supplies and how to choose the right materials and drawing tools for your medium.

Blank Canvas: the Basics

If you wish to learn how to draw and paint, you must choose the right type of canvas: linen, cotton, a synthetic blend.

If you have taken art lessons, you may already know that renderings in oil, water and acrylics all represent differently on the same type of canvas.

These different types of canvas will also affect your drawing techniques.

It would not do to have your drawing and painting skills reduced by a canvas not suited to your medium, would it?

And what is it, exactly, that you wish to render? Do you want to draw people, or specialise in depicting the human face, in caricature or cartoon? What about landscape drawing? Or seascapes?

Do you want to make a beautiful picture in pastel or watercolor to brighten the dark walls of a hallway?

Are you more into reproducing works by the likes of Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) or Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944)?

Do you want to become a virtuoso of the brushes like contemporary expressionist painters and impressionists?

To create an oil on canvas, a watercolor painting or a nice acrylic painting, you should start with a stretched canvas on a sturdy frame.

A poor quality canvas might stretch further as you sketch on it or fill in your sketches, later causing the paint to crack.

Artists have the option of purchasing prepared canvasses, that is to say: canvasses that have been pretreated with primer or gesso, for a smoother drawing surface.

If you wish to prepare your canvasses yourself, you might require several layers of primer, sanding your surface between layers.

The number of layers depends, of course, on the quality of the cloth you are working with.

These are just some of the aspects of learning to draw and paint that you must think about.

Other than buying canvas and stretching frames, you must also consider the basic accessories necessary to create a work of art:

  • charcoal and graphite, for shading and outlines
  • pencils, for initial sketches
  • colored pencils – indicators of which colours to apply once you start painting
  • erasers, for those inevitable, erroneous lines
  • supplies for your medium: oils, watercolors, acrylics, chalk, pastels or others
  • brushes and associated supplies - be sure to choose the right brush for your medium

The traditional beret and pinafore, of course, are optional.

This is what Superprof focuses on in this article: how much does it cost to render a work of art? Unlike digital art, which can be shared virtually, for example with interactive whiteboards, a traditional medium needs a good support: good-quality paper or, in this case, canvas.

Unprimed linen canvas is naturally a dull brown colour
This is what unprimed linen canvas looks like. Source: Pixabay Credit: Spectagal

Prices for Various Plain Canvas

Luckily, there is a measure of standardisation in the art world, as far as canvas sizes go.

Imagine every painter sizing each and every work differently: what a nightmare to frame and display!

Besides, one of the fundamental concepts of art is in fact balance. How can you balance a display if every canvas is of a slightly different size?

To that end, canvas stretchers available for purchase are sized according to art industry norms. You can see a table of those sizes by visiting Lucy Art.

Whereas France has distinct canvas size standards specifically for portraits, landscapes and seascapes, other countries, such as the U.S.A., Germany, and Italy are more flexible in their sizing.

Those countries do maintain a distinction between portrait canvases – longer than they are wide, and landscape canvases, representing the inverse. Even digital mediums painted with a drawing tablet differentiate between portrait and landscape format.

That means that you would have an easier time painting a triptych here, in the UK, than anywhere in France – even Montmartre, where artistic legends such as Picasso and Renoir, at one time, hung their hats.

Far better than publishing a breakdown in price for each size of canvas available, let us talk for a moment about canvas types and their prices.

Anyway, it would be rather cumbersome to publish prices because canvas sizes can vary so widely.

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Cotton Duck Canvas

Don't let imagination run away with you: this cotton fabric does not come with ducks already drawn on it, that you must paint over.

This type of canvas comes in various thicknesses and weaves. The lowest cost canvases are loosely woven and rather thin. They might distort when stretched or worked.

If you are just learning how to draw, you may consider visiting a fabric store to purchase this type of material, as it would cost less than at an art supply store.

Even today, in the age of digital drawing, buying canvases is still frequently done.

Linen Canvas

Considered superior to cotton because of its tight weave and finer thread, this canvas is less likely to stretch or shrink after stretching and priming.

This type of canvas is considered ideal for portrait drawing.

In fact, what is known as portrait linen has a very smooth surface, perfect for drawing faces and capturing every shading and detail.

Of all the drawing materials, linen canvas may be among the most expensive.

Synthetic Canvas

On this type of surface, the general consensus is mistrust: it simply hasn't been around enough to have stood the test of time.

If you hope to preserve a drawing through generations, it would be best to go with tried and true materials, like linen or cotton.

However, if you stand on the cutting edge of modern art or are creating three dimensional tableaux, you may want to give this slightly lower priced type of canvas a try.

Most important to remember: when stretching and priming this type of canvas, make sure the material does not distort, and that it can support their weight of the primer as well as your choice of medium.

This type of canvas would be ideal for pencil drawing, cross hatching, and light oil pastels.

Canvas Panels

We would be remiss if we did not mention these: primed fabric glued onto a board.

These panels are ideal if you are taking drawing lessons, or if, in your art class, you've advanced to drawing the human form.

How to draw lips, how to draw hands, how to draw eyes; how to draw a face...

Why fill up your sketchbook when you can practice realistic drawing and shading techniques on a relatively inexpensive canvas?

In using these prepared panels, you should beware of textures and quality: at best you could get decent canvas, glued onto an acid-free board.

At worst: for a few pounds, you get cheap canvas that warps under pencil strokes and distorts as you erase errant lines.

Still, they have some value to the novice artist, being as they are more stable, and may be cheaper than and easier to work on than canvas paper.

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A thin canvas on a sturdy frame such as this is a mismatch
A deep frame such as this one would hold up well to canvas pressures Source: Pixabay Credit: PDP

Pricing According to Canvas Sizes

Stretching canvas for drawing art is in fact an art in itself.

How are these frames for canvas constructed?

Should the stretching frames be glued together, or more intricately composed: by means of tenon and mortise?

That last is in fact the most popular way to build a canvas stretching frame.

Rather than gluing the mitred pieces of wood together, creating joints in the wood provides a much more stable frame.

Why is there such a difference in technique?

Primarily because glued frames tend to be very weak. They do not move well and, once you apply pressure on the canvas, such a frame is more likely to warp or bend.

As you might know, pressure on a canvas includes: drawing perspective lines, pencil sketching (with any type of pencil), or any type of figure drawing that requires emphasis lines or shadows.

Of course, your eraser stresses your canvas whether you use it to blend or obliterate.

Another fact that speaks against glued frames is display: once you've finished your rendering, be it a still life or a portrait, you will want to display it.

It would not do for your masterpiece to bow away from the wall. Or bulge, or sag. Or come apart, literally at the seams.

The very last effect you want to add to your latest pencil portrait is a giant gash or crease, where the stretching frame came apart or tore through your canvas.

Of course, if you were creating a digital painting, you wouldn't have to fret over torn canvases.

By contrast, jointed frames are much more durable and forgiving: of movement, of pressure, and of other factors such as humidity and light.

What kind of cash outlay can you expect for such a sturdy canvas stretcher?

Naturally, if you intend to ply your drawing skills on a 5 inch square canvas, you will pay a lot less than if you would render a perspective drawing on a one meter by one meter twenty canvas.

Checking The Works for bargain canvas prices, we find some at less than £80 for a dozen 12x16 primed canvases.

If you are after 9cm x 7cm canvases, you can get a dozen for right around £10.

Another point to consider, as you investigate stretching frames, is the depth of the frame itself.

Shallow frames tend to be unstable and prone to warping.

To forestall this problem, many artisans cross their frames: brace them by placing a strut within the frame.

Works done on this so-called traditional profile frame lend themselves rather easier to framing and displaying.

Traditional profile frames can be used for any type of art, from drawing simple shapes all the way to complex subjects, like drawing animals.

A rule of thumb is: the cheaper the canvas, the thinner the frame should be.

If you prefer realistic drawings, maybe a hunting scene or an historic battle, you should perhaps invest in the more durable deep profile.

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This deep-frame canvas should be wrapped
Such a canvas might be suitable for wrapping - continuing the colour around the sides Source: Pixabay Credit: Azazelok

Wrapped Canvases

In art school, you might have studied enormous canvases whose sides are wrapped: painted as a continuation of the theme on the canvas.

In fact, art galleries nowadays encourage artists to wrap the sides of their paintings, so that they do not have to be framed, as framing is fairly expensive.

If you are into realism, or more of an illustrator, this might be an appealing solution for you.

However, the best use of deep profile canvases is for larger pieces: an expanded family portrait, for example, or still lifes of nature scenes.

Choosing your drawing and painting supplies depends on the type of art you wish to produce, but also on how much you have to invest in your art.

You can buy top of the line stretched canvases to suit your needs or, if you are barely beyond drawing stick figures, you could wait until you learn how to draw people before investing heavily in your passion.

This guide is meant to help you along in your choices.

Happy drawing!

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As an Englishman in Paris, I enjoy growing my knowledge of other languages and cultures. I'm interested in History, Economics, and Sociology and believe in the importance of continuous learning.