Friday, January 6, 2012

The Canvas Wars

Every painter I know has serious terminal angst over what canvas to use- lead primed, double-primed, cotton, polyester, panels, strainers or stretchers. Whew!

I will only try to address the problems inherent in large life-sized formats- yunno- the biggies.

There seems to be a consensus among conservators that lead priming is superior- however the standard easily available pre-primed canvasses like Claessens 13 DP and Rix 111 are now using oil based primers- not lead anymore. This lead me to my latest unfortunate adventure in canvas stretching- PRIMING MY OWN!

Whoo- I read all the stuff I could get my hand on-in books and on the internet. Got all the right stuff- Rublev lead primer from Natural Pigments- PVA size ( I chickened out on the rabbit skin glue).
and Claessen's unprimed #13 linen.

What a horror show-! Do you have any idea how long and hard it is to properly prepare an 8' canvas. I sized-then primed, then sanded and sanded. It was 8' of total warty crap! I was doing a nude so I did not need something that would make my model look like she has a skin disease. No wonder J.S. Sargent used pre-primed.

More tomorrow.

Well January 31st is not exactly tomorrow.....

Since I was up a tree without a canvas and hired a model- I had to get something. I remembered

a well-respected figurative artist ad recommended some double lead primed linen from the New York Central Art Store. It was fine woven lead primed portrait linen. I have a great deal of respect for that art store and use it frequently- but the linen was a total disappointment. It was sloppily prepared and I had to sand it to get rid of the many imperfections. Even after that when I started to paint the model there were obvious and disfiguring slubs and bumps all over the figure part- even though I had gone to great lengths to avoid this. The worst was a large horizontal slub through the chin.

I could not go on so I had to find another quality option ASAP. When I hire a model I cannot in good concious lay her off as she depends on the income. The Italian Art Store- the best and most reliable art store on the planet- dispatched some linen samples- specifically ArtFix. No good- they were either too slick- the quadruple primed portrait linen- the other were too rough. I had bought a roll of this stuff before and gave it away ($900 dollars worth)- it was like painting on a shower curtain. In desperation I saw Blick was having a sale on the RIX 111- not lead primed but oil primed and only about $420 for oil double primed linen (56'x6yds) including shipping. For me the surface was perfection- just enough tooth, and beautifully prepared right here in the USA.

There was an AAAARRGH moment- a few days later I walked into a local Utrecht store in Providence. In the back was a stack of Claessens DP 13- a linen I had used for years. I had called this store and some poorly informed clerk told me that they only had acrylic primed linen in rolls. Ahem.

In the future I will be investigating polyester linen- as I think that is the future.

I have found an oil primed acrylic canvas. The Fredrix site for some strange reason does not advertise it, but it does make it.

New york Central Art has the oil primed version of this for a 55" X 6 yards:

It is under a hundred dollars. It is very even and would do as a portrait linen- but it was a tad- just a tad too bold a weave for me. Almost right but not quite. I am really fond of the RIX 111 DP.

You are best off calling the 212 number and asking for the canvas department. The 800 number is really only for the stuff listed in the catalogue.

 UPDATE: Sadly as of July 11 2016 this epic store is closing. We are now only left with the Walmarts of  art stores like Jerry's, Blicks and Cheap Joes.

I think it is a great value and they will send you a free sample.

This is an update: If you want  premium stretchers and stretching services this my go to guy, Chris Polson at

Phenomenal service and quality stretchers. When he says they will be there they are. He does my gallery wrap canvas stretchers.  Look at his client list- he is the stretcher guy to the stars!

I am now having him stretch my canvasses, you can get the kits much more cheaply.

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