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Homemade canvas and stretcher bars

Hello,

I am new to painting and am fortunate enough to be part of a free art school. However, I now want to take my art home and take this hobby a little more seriously. 

Trouble is I am on a budget. 

I have set up a cheap studio space with proper lighting (as per Mark Carders recommendations) and have bought high quality paints and brushes. The next step/expense is canvas, which to me seems way overpriced!

As an avid YouTube learner I did some research and it seems good old painters drop cloth is a popular alternative to pricey art store canvas. I know Mark Carder uses an acrylic primed rolling hills linen canvas on pre-made stretcher bars. But for me that is way to expensive.

So, my solution:

Buy 2x2 or 2x1 planks, cut to size with mitre saw. Bevel an edge with an electric planer. Drill and screw together corners. 

Buy a commercial painters canvas drop cloth and cut to measure predetermined stretcher bar size and stretch.

Buy or make my own acrylic gesso and give the canvas a generous couple of coats. Sand to desired texture and paint!

Any comments would be much appreciated. :)

Comments

  • edited March 29
    That should work, @geofffery_38. Linen is very expensive and a bit of a waste when we are just starting out. I still use cotton canvas. If you are handy with a saw there's no reason why you can't make your own stretchers. I imagine the trick will be making sure they are square. Don't worry about not being able to use the most expensive materials. They are unnecessary. The important thing is to get painting. If you paint a masterpiece the conservators will know how to conserve it.

    Welcome to the forum. :)
    geoffrey_38
  • geoffrey_38

    Yes. I’ve seen YouTube videos using drop sheets on 4x2s for large canvases.

    Expect higher absorbency, hairy texture and a shorter life.




    Denis




  • dencal said:
    geoffrey_38

    Yes. I’ve seen YouTube videos using drop sheets on 4x2s for large canvases.

    Expect higher absorbency, hairy texture and a shorter life.




    Denis




    Why would the life be shorter? And if you gesso the canvas a hairy texture would be sanded away.

    I watched this video 

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0vdkN0IDc5U

    and then this one is good for building professional frames.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H5tApIe58GE&t=929s
  • geoffrey_38

    Shorter life: Look along the length of 4x2 structural pine, often bowed, knotted and or twisted. Premium dressed all round pine is good when new, but even here progressive deformation, shrinkage and exudations are common. Screw fixings will loosen, joints may be compromised. Canvas may show staining and inside edge ridging from the 4x2. I noticed at one point in the video I supplied that the frame did not sit flat on the work bench, that is it rocked corner to corner.

    Hairy texture: As a heavy duty trade product a drop sheet is coarse fibre, low thread count fabric. A few nobly lumps here and there,  the odd seam or seed husk. The lower cost is possible because drop sheet canvas also misses out on some finishing steps that smooths and softens the fabric. Gesso and primer will typically twist the shorter staple length fibres resulting in a hairy surface that can be difficult to correct by sanding.

    Denis
    BOB73
  • edited March 30
    dencal said:
    geoffrey_38

    Shorter life: Look along the length of 4x2 structural pine, often bowed, knotted and or twisted. Premium dressed all round pine is good when new, but even here progressive deformation, shrinkage and exudations are common. Screw fixings will loosen, joints may be compromised. Canvas may show staining and inside edge ridging from the 4x2. I noticed at one point in the video I supplied that the frame did not sit flat on the work bench, that is it rocked corner to corner.

    Hairy texture: As a heavy duty trade product a drop sheet is coarse fibre, low thread count fabric. A few nobly lumps here and there,  the odd seam or seed husk. The lower cost is possible because drop sheet canvas also misses out on some finishing steps that smooths and softens the fabric. Gesso and primer will typically twist the shorter staple length fibres resulting in a hairy surface that can be difficult to correct by sanding.

    Denis
    Thank you for the reply,

    I am in Covid19 lockdown so any conversation is good conversation.

    The video you supplied was very amatuer. No-one with any sound reason would use a 2x4 for a canvas stretcher bar. The video(s) I supplied are a little more professional. 

    I would use timber similar or equivalent to those used in contemporary stretcher bar production, but at hopefully a smaller cost.

    With regards the drop cloth canvas: Of the videos I have watched related to this subject many if not all the comments are full of praise. Most likely from poor struggling art students or graduates.

    I liked tassieguy's above comment:  If you paint a masterpiece the conservators will know how to conserve it.

    I thought stretcher bars are there to create a solid platform to paint on and allow the painter or consumer to then dismount the painting and restretch if they so desire. 

    Canvas is canvas and is a step up from the water strength paper I have been using for acrylic painting. Truth be told the more I make by hand the better I feel as a producer of an object. For me the less alienation the better! 

    I love to be as much a part of the artwork as possible.

    dencal
  • geoffrey_38

    Fine. Looks like you have thought through the problem.
    Yep. At 71 we have been locked down for three weeks or so.

    Denis

  • Back in the day I used brick molding for stretcher bars.  Brick molding is straight and dry and won’t warp like a 2x4.

  • For cheap but fairly good quality canvas you can buy raw cotton duck and prime with 4 coats of golden acrylic gesso. This is the best quality acrylic gesso. Let it dry for at least 3 days before painting on it. This will give you a surface that is actually more archival (and much cheaper) than what mark carder recommends, which is overpriced junk linen with a layer of zinc in the priming which causes cracking and delamination in oil paint.

     See goldens instructions for acrylic gesso use on their website.

    These products go on sale often too
  • An even cheaper and much easier option is to paint on dibond. Find a local sign making shop to sell it and cut it for you.

    Google just paint painting on dibond for info.

    More archival than stretched cotton canvas and cheap and very easy to prep.
    dencal
  • Quarter-inch thick Masonite panels are also inexpensive and are great for starving artists. Gesso both sides though.
  • I have painted on canvas duck and even drop cloths before they require (IMO) an inordinate amount of prep time and materials for ground and priming. You're ideas on your own frame materials is good but I would use half lap joints or mitered half lap joints if you have the equipment. and avoid screws. small wood dowels are better. Also the heavy canvas is more difficult to stretch evenly and can tear as easily as linen if using pliers.
  • BOB73 said:
    I have painted on canvas duck and even drop cloths before they require (IMO) an inordinate amount of prep time and materials for ground and priming. You're ideas on your own frame materials is good but I would use half lap joints or mitered half lap joints if you have the equipment. and avoid screws. small wood dowels are better. Also the heavy canvas is more difficult to stretch evenly and can tear as easily as linen if using pliers.
    Thanks. Any advice feedback is much appreciated. 

    Watched this Mark Carder video last night https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Aw820hyZS0 in it he explains how to stretch a canvas over stretcher bars. Of interest is that he uses his own home made stretcher bars. Maybe a new video in the future if he wants to. 

    I have been watching many professional instructional videos on how to construct stretcher bars. Many variables to consider. Most important is to get a true right angle and have the ability to have it hold first during the stretch and second over time without warping. 

    Even if I do go down the drop cloth route I think it will be a cheaper version to make any mistakes whilst learning to stretch canvas. 

    Thanks again.
  • Getting a square frame can be tricky depending on your wood working skills and tools, table saw and jig or chop saw.  I’m wanting to try my hand at reproducing some old Dutch style frames at some time and I can see there’s a bit of skill involved there.
  • Mona Lisa was painted on wood.  I would highly recommend it. These days, mostly people are painting on composite products, or ACM.  But unless you can get someone to give it up for free ACM is orders of magnitude more expensive that composite wood.  Nobody knows how long the ACM laminate will last, and I don't personally care.  Wood is pretty much eternal if you know what you are doing.

    I Would use prepped canvas, if you want the canvas route.  Many very serious artists use it taped to a backer board.  It works pretty much as well as canvas that is mounted on a frame, and has huge advantages in cost and storage.  For someone who wants to save money and do lots of practice, I don't see why one would use frames.  The exception would be for a gallery wrapped presentation, because if you attempt to gallery wrap a painted canvas chances are it cracks.  So if you want that gallery look it is better to frame it before you start.  Gallery wrap is OK if you like it, but is really killing your market.  However, if it is just for you, rock on.  If you take a canvas and wrap it on a frame, and add a frame, any cracking will not show.  Pros do this, though I would check with the community to be sure that it works with oils as well as acrylic.

    ----------------------------------------------------

    I am intrigued by the path of using Irish linen tea towels as Van Gough did in one of his masterpieces, but that is a lot of work.  But one can pick up an Irish linen tea towel for 15 dollars and down.

    ------------------------------------------------------


    I have not bought art canvas from these folks, but I have bought a ton of canvas from them, and it was exactly as advertised, top quality stuff. 

    They sell, for instance, 8 oz 60 inch primed canvas for 6.50 a yard or less.  So you get enough to do a 30 x 36 taped down canvas for 3.25 (though I suppose one would actually use a heavier canvas for such a large piece, so call it 4 15 x 18 canvasses.  Maybe it needs extra gesso, but at least it has the scratch coat.  And maybe it is fine for gesso if the quality is as good as their canvas duck.  I have no relationship with them, or anyone else on earth, for that matter.



  • geoffrey_38 said: Thank you for the reply,

    I am in Covid19 lockdown so any conversation is good conversation.

    The video you supplied was very amatuer. No-one with any sound reason would use a 2x4 for a canvas stretcher bar. The video(s) I supplied are a little more professional. 

    I would use timber similar or equivalent to those used in contemporary stretcher bar production, but at hopefully a smaller cost.

    With regards the drop cloth canvas: Of the videos I have watched related to this subject many if not all the comments are full of praise. Most likely from poor struggling art students or graduates.

    I liked tassieguy's above comment:  If you paint a masterpiece the conservators will know how to conserve it.

    I thought stretcher bars are there to create a solid platform to paint on and allow the painter or consumer to then dismount the painting and restretch if they so desire. 

    Canvas is canvas and is a step up from the water strength paper I have been using for acrylic painting. Truth be told the more I make by hand the better I feel as a producer of an object. For me the less alienation the better! 

    I love to be as much a part of the artwork as possible.


    2x4s are fine if the quality is fine, but around where I live we send all the good wood to the US.  But some 2x4s are straight and clear, southern yellow pine is very good.  However, it is usually cheaper to use a raw source, but then one needs a planer to do it efficiently, or a well set up hand tool shop.

    As you have been watching quality video, I assume you have come across the fact that the rim of the wooden frame is raised and radiused.  Wood working is just woodworking, difficulty is irrelevant once you know how.  But if one was short on tools and ability the profile is probably the hardest thing to tackle.  Making the slip joints with wedges is less difficult as far as tooling is concerned, but more difficult as to technique, if one happened to have a well enough equipped shop one could run the molding with a hand plane, or shaper.  The slips and wedges can be cut on a table saw, and you can get a good one that will do the job for 60 bucks.  Square is a zero problem in the big picture, knowing how to get stock dead straight and square, or having the tools that do it automatically, is a bigger hurdle.  If your stock is nice and straight, cutting the corners is a nothing.  They make stretcher sets, that in the US (I'm in Canada) are so cheap, it is hard to see the point of making them if the parts are actually straight.

    Your comment about doing all the parts is noble, though it does remind me of when I took up golf and got more fascinated with ball retrievers and the technique of using them, than I cared about getting the skill to avoid the water.  I liked to do everything myself, but I am not sure it is really the best choice, I just can't help it.
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