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Painting surfaces/canvas

Hi all, I've read so many posts on preferences for paint surfaces, but I'd really like to stay with canvas.

So far, I've bought prepped canvas on a board or stretched on wood. I've then prepped it with tinted acrylic paint which I wasn't satisfied with, then just recently I bought some gesso and used that.

Even so, the canvas seems to kind of shred, that's too strong a word, but sometimes a fine fiber will pop up or a knot will become evident (and a distraction to me).

I am not a craftsman by any means, I have little time or energy to paint so I need to have a quick and easy solution for my surface so that I can maximize my paint time, rather than prep and clean up which seems to consume me.

Maybe I just need to apply gesso, let it dry and do it again more than two times? Or just several layers of tinted acrylic?

I'd love to try a really smooth surface someday, but for now I have plenty of canvas.

(by the way, I accidentally grabbed my little bottle of OMS instead of the SDM and wondered why I was getting right down to the surface of the canvas! Note to self: Label everything)


  • Hello @Renoir.  These boards are archival and museum quality without any fuss and bother.  Surface is smoooooth.  I believe @movealonghome was looking for something to paint on with a smooth surface as well.  

    And I've been using this label maker for years which I ordered from Amazon.  Hope this helps.

  • You could try an oil primer to the canvas if you want a smooth slick surface.
  • @Renoir ; am I understanding correctly that you would rather use what you have and not purchase anything else at this time?  Personally, for me, I hate gesso and acrylic - it is plastic.  Even when I used cheap cotton canvas from WalMart, I never liked gesso - I just use a wash of color with mineral spirits to kill the white. The cotton kind of drinks it up instead of sitting on top like gesso.  If your goal is to make your canvas on hand smooth like wood or aluminum, I've heard good things about rustoleum?  

  • @Julianna Yes, I think you understand me correctly. So you use oil paint mixed with some mineral spirits? If so, how long do you wait until you paint?
    Also, rustoleum spray painted? directly to the canvas? 
  • Just be sure to seal the canvas.  Modern store bought canvases are primed with acrylic gesso and if that is what you have then you are good to go.  if you have raw cotton canvas you have to prime it with something first.  otherwise, oil will make it rot, and without the oil, the pigment will not stick.  Personally, i have struggled with canvas prep for two years and am still working on it.  Its so personal its hard to make suggestions.  Its almost like your favorite brush.
    Cotton canvas is bumpy and depending on the type, can also be smooth.  You can smooth a bumpy canvas, or one with a heavy weave, by applying acrylic gesso in several coats and sanding between each coat until you have the smoothness you want.  Then you can stain it any way that suits you.
    The interesting technical info I learned recently is that acrylic gesso tends to be less flexible than the canvas.  That leads to cracking.  This is the same concept as the fat over lean rule, which is short hand for never put a rigid surface over a flexible surface. 
    So the conclusion to that is if you want to use acrylic gesso on a painting that is meant to last forever, use a panel of some sort.
    If you wish to use an oil based ground, which is good for linen or cotton canvas, seal the canvas with a flexible primer such as rabbit skin glue.  Or let Claessens do it for you.
  • @MikeDerby, lots of professional painters that charge an absolute fortune for their paintings use gessoed canvas... in your opinion would using the little strengtheners/ stiffeners that come with it not stop some of the movement/ bounce ?
  • @Julianna, rustoleum here is a brand name...did you have any particulate product in mind ..interesting.
  • edited January 2018
    @Renoir ; most of my life, I've just made a wash with a neutral color to kill the white - it dries fast.  I actually mixed a cardboard color that I keep in a jar and thin it down as a wash with mineral spirits - I doubt you have raw canvas - you stated it was prepped - I assume something store bought?  @marieb ; - I haven't tried it but I bought a can at a hardware store here - Stefan Baumann has a youtube video about prepping surfaces and mentions it - that was the first that I had heard of it and since that, I  have heard others say it works really well.  I think some here on the forum have used it.    start around the 6 min mark: 
  • @marieb I cannot explain the near universal use of acrylic gesso as a primer and ground except to guess that it is more flexible in its current formulation than the days when Mayer was writing Artists Materials and Techniques.  I can tell you that Mark provided me an oil primed linen canvas pre-stained with griffin alkyd for my class.  His new stain is oil based.  Mayer does not say you must do one thing over another.  He does say that if one of your goals is permanence, there are practices that are proven.  Gesso was originally used as a ground for egg tempera, and then only on panel, but that was a different formulation.  The advice I got early on was to buy the best archival materials I could afford.  For flexible mounts, that appears to still be oil primed linen canvas.  For panels and aluminum, I think there is a wider acceptable range of materials.
  • @MikeDerby thanks for taking the time to reply... interesting :)
  • @Julianna, I like Bauman, watched some of his vids on you tube last night ..:)
  • Folks

    I worry about Bauman’s limited wardrobe. His explanations are drawn out to the point of tediousness.


  • JPBJPB -
    edited January 2018
    I had to reply to this because of how much of a struggle an adequate painting surface has been to me while developing. (Lol) Hopefully it'll relieve some similar pains to other artists. After all, a painting is only as good as what it's painted on.

    A substrate i've ended up running into (after getting worn out from making my own canvases--a lot of them--that look like this:) that i enjoy a lot is heavy canvas glued, with acrylic medium, to sealed hardboard. It makes a durable, contemporary and professional looking panel that's very nice to paint on. (I'll get pictures soon.)

    The acrylic medium holds the canvas on the board well, but also gives you the option to take it off and remount for edits, or to put on stretchers, unlike a lot of glues.

    They seem "reasonable" out to 30"x40" until it gets heavy, but if you've got "monkey hooks" they're probably fine quite large.

    It's a little heavier & doesnt have the bounce, but considering the trade-offs in price, space-savings and effort, who cares.

    Edit in:
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