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Ripples in Canvas After stretching Claessens #13

edited October 2018 in Studio & Supplies
Hi all,
   Forgive me if this question has come up on this forum before as I haven't posted to this forum in many years. This is a question for those of you with ample experience stretching this kind of portrait linen canvas. Only Claessen's #13 does this to me. 

The problem is the rippling on the edge in the photo, a canvas stretching issue, and it is driving me nuts. I don't know that Mark has talked about this specific issue directly but I was hoping someone could help me understand it. I "believe" I am following his video to the letter...

Do I need to invest in higher quality stretcher bars, with well-built bracing, for this brand of linen?

What am I doing wrong to cause my stretching to come up weak or uneven like this. What do I need to focus on when I am building my canvases to avoid this problem? No one has ever talked about corner keys, would that help this? I don't know how they work.

I thought about making some kind of corner bracing, or corner wedges, maybe learning more about keys to tighten the stretchers.... everyone I have talked to is dismissive of corner keys so no one ever teaches how to use them. Do any of you out there have any ideas? ;)



  • If your stretchers are slotted to accept keys they could help. There are dozens of videos on youtube about this. You could also try water to tighten things up but that is usually used after the canvas was tight at first then got slack. I don't know if that would work for you. You may have to re-stretch the canvas. Being painted on it would be easier the second time. Having a flat clean working surface and the proper pliers helps a lot too.
  • Vincent

    I have not used Belgian Linen. It looks to me that there is uneven tension. In the current orientation there is a stronger vertical force and a weaker horizontal tension, at the top of the frame.

    I have posted a key tensioning video on the Forum.

    Should resolve the ripple problem.

    Suggest anything 16x20 or larger is cross braced to stop stretchers bowing.
    Even better buy some Dibond.


  • edited October 2018
    I just ordered some stretchers from They appear to be well made from poplar and have good build quality & cross bracing in both directions. I ordered three sets to test them out first, for some larger canvases, 60in range. I am going to try them and see if they work better than the one's I got a utrecht back in the day.

    Thanks for responding and it's good to see you again Denis. How have you been, bro?
  • Hey @Sargenti , I've been stretching linen to bars for a little over a year - it was completely new to me.  The keys are very important - even when I think I have stretched and stapled tautly - when I am painting, the linen tends to loosen up - I hammer the keys in and usually that does the trick - I have had a few that I stretched in the beginning (I wasn't pulling tight enough) so I did a very scary thing but it worked perfectly - I poured water on the back - there are some youtube videos about how to do it - perhaps the equivalent of 6 tablespoons of water? - depending on the size of course.  It is amazing how that shrinks and tightens the last little bit up.

    I have even had some ghosting of the stretcher bars come through on a painting and the water took all of that away.  First, hammer the crap out of your keys - you may see the stretcher bars separate a bit as the keys are doing their work.  Hammer opposite corners - working your way around opposite sides.

    You painting looks like it is gorgeous!  Hopefully, you'll come back and share some of your work.

    Good luck.
  • Thank you, Julianna. I very much appreciate that. I had suspected keying was something I should be trying to understand better. I will try that.

    I, too, have heard about applying water to the back after stretching. I tried it but it only helped for a while. It helps tighten but I  

    I have showed my work here a little before, as I am a big fan of the Carder Method. I'll be back soon with some new work to show. I'm starting my portrait practice again. My old work, (I had to stop painting for a few years due to life getting in the way,) is on my website, You can tell which paintings are Carder Method. They jump right out! They SELL too! People love Mark's style of painting! Pure magic!
  • CJDCJD -
    edited October 2018
    I personally use about twice the number of staples as that. Is the rippling only happening after a period of time has passed once the painting is complete? You shouldn't have to brace the bars unless they're longer than 32"

    Have you had better results using other kinds of canvas?

  • As well as using shims, I use the water technique to get rid of such distortions in the canvas but I make sure it is distilled because mold can form easily in some environments where the water was applied. 
  • I will tell you my experience because I made my own canvas starting from raw linen to the frame. When I made the imprimiture the canvas lost its tightness..but only because the back was not covered on the back too.. Apart from the keys, the water and all the others things..a coat or two with water and glue on the back will tight a lot.. But first try what the others extreme ratio mine :)
  • So, the water trick works on freshly stretched canvas. Good to know. Thanks all.
  • SummerSummer -
    edited October 2018

    I have used Claessen's #13 portrait linen canvas in the past and this rippling has never happened to me when I sized the canvasses on both sides with rabbit skin glue before priming and staining.  Just thought I'd mention it.  After two years of messing around with canvas, I am one year into converting to aluminum composite panels.  Hope you will let us know what finally worked to get the ripples out of your canvasses.  Shims/Keys?  Distilled water?  Better stretchers?  Sizing canvasses first? 

  • Thank you everyone for your help on this. @CJD : I have not had this problem with any other canvas, only the Claessen's #13DP. I started using it for portraits because Mark once said it is the only canvas he uses. Has he changed his opinion on this? I have been gone for about 3 or 4 years now. A lot has changed here. Claessen's 13 double oil-primed linen is only primed on oneside side. The backside is bare linen, as far as I know..


    I love painting on Claessen's #13. It's just delicate and hard to work with while stretching it. It's easily damaged and very expensive. But the quality it lends to the finished portrait is amazing. I want to continue using it. I want to learn how to handle it and make it work for me. I just can't have the rippling. I hope the expensive stretcher bars made of poplar and the advice I have received here will make the difference.

    Thank you for commenting @Summer. I can't use aluminum panels as I am doing traditional fine art portraiture and clients expect stretched canvas. They are seasoned art buyers and they know what they want and they understand everything about the process sometimes more than I do, which can be intimidating. Aluminum panels would be a turn off for them, if you can imagine... I need to learn how to make this Claessen''s #13 work for me. I buy the double oil primed roll and it's beautiful just the way it is. I just need to learn how to handle it.

    Thanks to each of you for your advice. I just received my Geneva paints today and am excited to try the new formulation. I have been using Mark's old formula from the early days of his original DVD. I still have a lof of his special medium in jars. I am looking forward to having a solvent free studio, finally. Thanks @Mark_Carder for furthing the development of a healthier studio environment. Of all your many accomplishments, advancing the movement to a solvent free studio is sincerely most appreciated. Huge gratitude for that.

  • You might try to find a place (gallery) or an artist that routinely stretch linen and either have them do it for you or get them to let you in to see how it is done... or both. I don't think the poplar will be any better than the pine and will be more difficult to get the staples in as it is a little denser than white pine.
  • SummerSummer -
    edited October 2018
    I just pulled this from the Supply List on DMP which will update Mark's recommendations for you.  Mark experienced a dreadful event with the Claessen's double-primed #13 and changed his recommendations in an Announcement.  I can't seem to find that thread.
    "canvas & stretcher strips

    If you buy pre-stretched canvas, I recommend Centurion brand primed linen canvas.

    If you're going to be stretching your own — which I demonstrate here: — you'll need to buy canvas and stretcher strips."

    I know exactly what you mean when you say that customers expect artists to use traditional canvas.  I've experienced that myself.  In fact, switching to composite aluminum and creating my own floater frames is much more archival than I could have ever hoped for with canvas but the nostalgia isn't there and I miss that.  I will still use canvas now and then because it is more romantic to paint on.  Claessen's Belgian linen # 13 is also my favorite. 

    I hope you will let us know the outcomes of the things you will be trying.  :)


  • edited November 2018
    I have done significant research into this issue and experimented with what I learned. I appear to have solved the problem, and very simply, I might add. The Claessen's #13 DP produced for the general market and sold through Blick's and Jerry's dont use rabbit skin glue as a ground, from what I've learned. They use the PVA-type process which allows for being able to wet it after stretching.

    Very few people I talked to know much about stretching linen. I've found the proper way to handle it, is to stretch it, (double oil primed #13) like any other canvas, without too much tension and then soak the back with water, from a spray bottle. (and I recently did several large Claessen's #13 linen canvases on various brands of stretchers and they are ALL tight as a drum now : ) :-1:

    My previous experience with Claessen's #13, making baltic birch panels for plein aire, showed me how much linen shrinks when you wet it with glue. (Miracle Muck) A small 11x14 inch panel can shrink-in an 1/16th to 1/8th-inch in both dimensions. A lot of artists, I found on youtube, using linen were stretching it unprimed an then putting on the prime after, which causes shrinkage and tightens it up. They were stretching the stuff without canvas pliers!! Just pulling it with their hands and stapling it! ! lol! I was, "like whuuut?"

    But it works beautifully. You just have to treat the linen AFTER it's stretched, either with water, if it's PVA-based oil-primed linen, or with rabbit skin glue if it's just bare unprimed linen. Either one, makes the linen shrink onto the stretchers really tight. If you do it too tight, and have sharp corners on your stretchers, it can actually tear. So, I knock the sharp edges off stretchers, just very gently, with a sanding block before I stretch it. Then I do a ordinary stretch like on Mark's video, then I soak the back with water, if it seems loose. (Water won't work with the rabbit skin glue version of claessen's from what I understand. It could actually ruin your linen, I've heard.You have to know your materials and be aware of what you have and how to use it.)

    But mine are all coming up roses now and I fixed the ones that were rippling from before. The problem was instantly gone! totally solved and it hasn't come back. If it does ripple again in the years ahead, I will just wet the back again with a hand-held plastic spray bottle. But I shouldn't need to, water makes the linen shrink and it seems permanent, like a cheap sweater!:D

    Just give it a good misting and let it dry. 
  • Thanks for that detailed report. You made some worthwhile discoveries in your search. I'm glad you found a solution. Thanks for sharing. As for everything coming up roses... don't add MiracleGrow to the misting water.
  • Sargenti said:
    You have to know your materials and be aware of what you have and how to use it.

    Isn't that the truth!  Thank you for the update.  I've updated my file with some of your findings if I should need to prepare another canvas.  Glad to know that your problems are now resolved with just a simple solution.  Hope you used distilled water in that spray bottle.  Just another precaution.

  • "Lotus Heart"  Love that one!
  • VERY HELPFUL!!!! THANKS!!!! Just found a good spray bottle (not easily purchased here for some strange reason!)

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