Saturday, January 8, 2011

Stretching Canvas - Old School Style

In preparation for an upcoming show in August at the Philadelphia Sketch Club, I decided to stretch some new canvases the old school, traditional way. It's really linen but everyone has no clue what I am talking about when I say stretching linens. Maybe they think I was talking bed sheets? I used to prepare all of my "canvases" this way, and stopped for a couple of years. But, I wished to paint these on a really great surface and, so, I dusted off the stapler, pulled out the cooking pot and purchased some fresh rabbit skin glue and oil-based primer for painting on linen.

Here are the steps for the month-long process of stretching one's own canvases or linen.
1.First, I prep the stretchers. I make sure they are square and that the corners are flush. If one corner is not flat I will get out the chisel and sandpaper and flatten the corner. If I do not do this then the canvas will wrinkle in the corner.
2. Before I begin stapling, I precut the linen approximately 3-4 inches larger than the stretchers. This allows me to staple the linen to the stretchers in this somewhat unconventional way. I make sure that there is some slag in the linen. This is very important because the glueing process will stretch the linen so tight that it can warp the stretchers, making the linen worthless to paint on.
Because this process, from start to finish, takes at least a month to complete,
I prepare as many linens as I can fit (or afford) laying flat, in my workspace

3. After all of the linens are stapled, I begin to cook the rabbit skin glue (I don't know if the stuff is really from rabbits and I'm leaving it that way) which comes in the form of crystals. When properly cooked the hot glue is liquid and easy to brush on. Almost immediately the linen will begin to tighten like a drum as the glue cools. Cover the pot of excess glue and place in the fridge for the second coat. As the excess glue cools it becomes jelly (Do not ingest, it not that kind of jelly.) After the first coat is dry, I slowly reheat and liquify the glue for the second coat, this time I coat the sides as well.
Once the second coat of glue dries (2 coats=approx. 1 day) I can begin the priming.

4. I prepare the oil primer (thick paste) into a liquid (like syrup) mixing in Mineral Spirits. Using a brush made for priming linens and canvases, I coat each linen with enough primer to cover well but not so much as to leave brush strokes. After 3-5 days the first coat will be dry and ready for a light sanding and a second coat. The more coats one puts on the linens, the smoother the surface. Personally, I put on 5-8 coats to achieve a very smooth finish.
I line the top of the excess oil primer paint with wax paper to avoid a skin from developing then cover the bowl, as well as the brush, with plastic wrap. Then, into the refrigerator. The cold will slow down the drying of the oil primer (oil paint as well) to prevent the excess oil primer and brush from drying. Warn your roommates that it is not Brush-On Food!

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