The Acrylic Painting Academy: Stretching Canvas

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Lesson Description

A step by step look at stretching and preparing canvas for painting. In this lesson, we learn to stretch canvas and prime the surface with gesso.

Lesson Materials

Unprimed canvas roll, stretcher bars (4), Gesso, Gesso brush (polyester fibers) or sponge, staple gun, staples, scissors.

Lesson Resources

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Lesson Discussion

  1. matt,
    1.what unprime canvas recommended (cotton,linen-white/gray,)and from company? many layers of gesso recommended? do you recommend sanding inbetween?
    3.generally,about how large a frame you recommend the use of stretching plyiers?

    • Hi Linda and Raquel,
      Sorry I missed this one before…

      1. It depends. If you want a textured surface that will accept the paint a little easier, then go with cotton. If you want a very smooth surface, perhaps for a portrait, then go with the linen. For most raw canvas, I haven’t found a huge variance in quality, so any brand will be fine.
      2. I would suggest applying as many layers as it takes to cover the raw canvas completely. Depending on how thinned the gesso is with water, it may take just a few or several layers.
      3. This also depends. If you can stretch things by hand then you don’t need the pliers. If it is difficult to stretch the canvas effectively, then pliers may be used. For me, anything above 18″ by 18″ or so and the pliers come out. Since I don’t usually create paintings that are large, I rarely need the pliers.

  2. This is exactly why I have stayed away from painting! If I don’t plan on selling paintings or becoming another Kahlo, is there anything really wrong with using already stretched and gessoed canvas?

    • Hi Maureen,

      No, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with using pre-stretched and gessoed canvas. In fact, most of the surfaces that I use are purchased “pre-made” from an art supplier.

  3. Am I suppose to water down the gesso? I buy it by the gal and usually only apply one coat, which helps seal my corners and backside over staples. I will sand a little if the surface is too rough. I have made very large canvas paintings but they are usually no wider the 40″ and have never used pliers. I might start using them however.

  4. Hi Matt – do you apply gesso to the sides of the canvas? I’m assuming the answer is yes if you anticipate that the finished painting will be unframed?

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