Favourite Foundations: Choosing Your Painting Surface

January 4, 2022

Selecting the right foundation is critical to the longevity of your painting, and your enjoyment of creating your next masterpiece. Discover the quality and performance of Fredrix Canvases. 

To an artist, a blank canvas presents a world of possibilities, but before your canvas gets perched up on your easel, you need to decide what kind of canvas is best for your work. Although now, there are canvases made of various synthetic fibers, historically two materials have dominated the industry, Cotton and Linen.

COTTON CANVAS

Cotton canvas, also known as Cotton Duck Canvas (the word “duck” comes from the Dutch word ‘doek’, and means “linen canvas“) is the most popular choice for students and emerging artists. Cotton canvas is more affordable than Linen, and it is usually available in a larger range of sizes, strengths and weights.

 

The main advantage of cotton (aside from its affordability) is its stretchiness. Cotton fibers stretch a lot easier than other fibers, allowing for a much tighter wrapped canvas without putting too much strain on the wooden support. Because it is more accessible, cotton canvas is perfect for emerging artists who are still refining their style, they are also much easier to stretch and prepare, for those who are learning the fine and very fulfilling art of stretching their own canvas.

 

There are a couple of drawbacks to cotton canvas; the same flexibility that makes the canvas so easy to stretch also causes it to sag when used for very large paintings, or with the strain of excessively thick or heavy paint. Selecting a heavier grade of cotton canvas may help curtail some of this slack.

It is critical that all canvases be primed, and selecting the right weight and surface texture of canvas as well as proper priming with the correct acrylic or oil gesso can help some of the sagging. Cotton is also naturally more absorbent, and so priming is essential to seal and prevent the paint from being absorbed into the canvas. The effects of this absorption can cause a painting to crack, or even erode. A properly prepared cotton canvas is more likely to withstand the effects of weight and the weathering effects of moisture and time.

Choosing Cotton Canvas

Ultimately, your choice in canvas should come down to what you’re painting, what you’re painting with, and what is the intended destination of your art piece. If you are working on a high detail art piece, such as a portrait or a still life that might require a smooth non-textured finish, then Linen might provide a smoother, more controlled surface. If you are working on a landscape or work with loose, rough strokes, cotton canvas will probably suffice. If you are working with expensive oils, or works that are intended to go to museums or high-end collectors, a sturdier, more archival linen canvas might be the more reliable option.

Cotton canvas is perfect for the everyday artist, the emerging artist, the student artist still experimenting with sizes, weights, textures, paints and process. The affordability and malleability of the canvas makes it easier to work with. Fredrix Canvas has a large selection of Cotton Canvases of various grades and weights, perfect for your artwork!

LINEN CANVAS

Linen canvas is made from the fibers of a flax plant. Because it is laborious to produce and top quality flax is harvested mainly in Western Europe, linen canvas is higher priced than most other canvases. Despite it’s higher price, linen canvas is the canvas of choice for many established artists, as it provides a stronger, smoother surface and has proven to be most durable.

Linen retains its natural oils, making the fiber itself more flexible and protecting the surface and the paint on it from becoming brittle and cracking. This makes Linen a more durable surface, and perfect for archival purposes, like artwork destined for museums and high end collectors. It also makes it an ideal surface for heavier applications of paint and large scale artworks.

The texture and weave of linen is more natural and spontaneous than that of cotton, and many artists find this to be a perk to work with. While both linen and cotton can be purchased in a variety of textures and weights, linen tends to provide, even after both surfaces have been primed, a smoother, stiffer surface to work with.  These surfaces are ideal for high detail work, as well as working with thicker and heavier layers of paint.

Preparing Linen Canvas

Like all canvas, but probably even more critical with linen being used for oil painting, proper preparation is essential. Linen canvas must be both sized and primed for an ultimate surface. Sizing is an adhesive coating, usually consisting of natural hide adhesive. A coating of this prevents the gesso from coming in contact with the canvas fibers, and protects the canvas from deterioration as well as allowing for maximum flexibility, protecting your art from cracking over time. In addition to sizing, a high quality oil gesso should also be applied.

The process of preparing a linen canvas is both more costly and more difficult than cotton canvas, as it’s lack of flexibility in raw form make it a harder canvas to stretch properly. You can of course, purchase pre-stretched and pre-primed Fredrix linen canvas of various sizes and weights, perfect for your next masterpiece. Linen canvas will move more based on moisture. As such, it needs strong stretcher bars to prevent warping and needs to be stretched tighter to prevent sagging.  Fredrix Pre-stretched linen uses thicker stretcher bars for a tighter fit which helps prevent sagging and warping. Once you have mastered the art of linen stretching, you can also purchase rolls of linen and custom prepare these to be the perfect surface to accommodate your particular style of painting.