DIY – How to Prepare a Canvas

Whether you’re trying out a new hobby or are looking to delve into professional artistry, you should know how to prepare a canvas. See all the tips you’ll need below.

Canvas Prep

Is it important to prime a canvas before painting acrylics?

Even if you buy primed canvas vs. unprimed canvas, most artists still like to prime their surface with gesso before applying any type of paint.

What is gesso?

Pronounced as “jess-o”, this primer is painted over canvas before actual paint is applied.

Why do you put gesso on a canvas?

The most common type of gesso looks just like white paint (but can also come in clear, black and other colors); it has a binding agent in it that protects the canvas and makes paint application smoother. Without it, your initial paint layer will bleed into the weave of the canvas, meaning you’ll use up a lot of paint making layer over layer until your lines are clean and colors are vibrant. Canvas can also deteriorate over time when certain mediums, like oil paints, are applied; gesso helps prevent that from happening.

How do you apply gesso to a canvas?

There are different kinds of gesso that are best suited for various types of acrylic and oil paints. No matter what type of gesso you use, you will apply it evenly with a large brush or sponge, let it dry, and then repeat 2-3 times. In case your gesso doesn’t dry smooth (and that’s the intended texture you’re going for), carefully sand it down to the desired level bit by bit, while being careful not to over-sand and damage the canvas.

How to Stretch Canvas

For professional painters or artists who paint often, it’s more affordable to buy materials in bulk and stretch it to size by hand, instead of purchasing pre-stretched canvases. Note that it’s difficult to stretch primed canvas, so it’s recommended to use unprimed canvas then coat with gesso before using.

To stretch your own artist canvas, you’ll need:

  • A large, clean surface to cut your canvas to rough size
  • Unprimed canvas
  • 4 stretcher bars (2 pairs of equal length; You can make your own stretchers  or buy them from a craft store)
  • Fabric scissors to cut canvas to size
  • Staple gun with stapes
  • Canvas pliers
  • Tape measure
  • T-square

To see each step, check out the excellent video tutorial by John Peters on the right-hand side of the page. →

Have any expert tips to add? Leave your comments below! Let’s learn and grow our skills together.

Get Canvas in Multiple Colors and Sizes

GG Knows – A Dictionary of Textile Terms

Meet GG, one of the beloved founders of Chicago Canvas & Supply. Although she’s no longer with us, her vast knowledge of industry terminology lives on in this textile dictionary! Each month, we’ll pull from GG’s personal collection of terms—don’t miss out by subscribing to our blog over on the right-hand side of this webpage.

Ready to learn something new? Let’s get started!
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How to Choose Your Portrait Background

When we think of good photographs, we usually defer to the lighting, shadows, the emotion it evokes, and so on. But the background of your photo is what pulls everything together, with the ability to enhance or detract from some of your photos best qualities. To find out which fabrics to consider for portrait backgrounds, keep reading.

What to Consider Before Choosing a Photography Backdrop

The background of your portrait or studio photo helps draw attention to the subject. That being said, a backdrop can really make or break a photo. When it comes to choosing the best portrait background for your shoot, here are a few things to consider:

  • Fabric size and weight: Something that’s too heavy or bulky isn’t ideal. What’s going to be easy to carry around?
  • Location: Your fabric size and weight must accommodate your location. Will you be inside or outside? How much room will you have? Will it be windy? Will there be humidity? All of this may have an effect on your fabric.
  • Your subject: Are you shooting a person, or an object? Product photography requires clean backgrounds. You can get more creative with texture if your subject is a person. When shooting people, your background works to add emotion and context to what you’re trying to convey.
  • Color and texture: Remember to emphasize, not draw attention away from, the subject. Your fabric’s color and texture will help create the look and feel you want for your photo shoot.
  • Lighting: Your lighting technique will vary between dark and light backgrounds. Understand your fabric’s light reflecting qualities beforehand!
  • Budget: Are you looking for a short-term fix or a long-term reusable solution?

 

Muslin Backdrop

Muslin is a finely-woven cotton fabric with multiple uses. Used heavily within photography and set design, muslin is a favorite among creatives for its versatility, light weight and flat, “clothy” effect and feel. The durability of the fabric helps too (it won’t rip like vinyl or paper).  Muslin can be hung as a solid backdrop, or easily draped over chairs or other items.

 Why Muslin?

  • Non-reflective cotton absorbs light
  • Light weight; portable and compact
  • Durable and reusable
  • Washable; can be steamed and ironed
  • Versatile; different styles and colors
  • Less expensive than canvas

Canvas Backdrop

Some photographers want a heavier background, in which case canvas would be a good choice. Canvas backdrops provide a high-quality look for clients. However, if your project has tight budget or weight/portability restrictions, we would recommend muslin, vinyl or paper instead.

Why Canvas?

  • Professional look
  • Compact
  • Durable and reusable
  • Doesn’t wrinkle like muslin
  • Versatile; different styles and colors

Two Backdrops for the Price of One

Chicago Canvas Theater Fabrics at Stage Expo

Chicago Canvas had the pleasure of exhibiting at USITT’s Stage Expo March 19-21.  From costume displays to gorgeous fabrics, the Stage Expo always provides a dynamic hands-on environment to learn about the latest happening in the entertainment industry, including audio, lighting, set designs, and media. We even saw art being created on canvas with the artist standing up and using paint brushes with long 3′ handles on. Cool!
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How to Evaluate Drop Cloth Quality

Finally giving up on old sheets and newspapers for protecting surfaces while painting?

Whether you are a professional contractor or a weekend warrior, choosing the correct canvas drop cloth quality can make the difference between success and failure. Most canvas drop cloths are fabricated from Cotton Duckcloth. This has nothing to do with a duck or animal skins.  Duck refers to an even flat weave type of canvas.
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