Today I spent the day preparing my stretcher bars & canvas for a new painting. If you’re like me, you’ve tried dozens of procedures for preparing painting surfaces. I’ll spare you the grizzly details of what I’ve tried, why it worked or didn’t, etc. Instead, I’ll just tell you what I’ve found that I like best and why.
If you want a smooth texture, but not the ultra smoothness of a gessoed panel, Utrecht Belgian Linen #66J is fab. www.utrechtart.com It is thick and heavy and tightly woven, even though it is only single weave, and best of all, it comes UNprimed! While that may dismay some of you, who, like myself, were persuaded to use Clausen’s double oil-primed linen right from the supplier, and felt daunted by the thought of multiple stages necessary to even get ready to paint, I can assure you that the end result is worth every bit of the effort.
First, buy the heavy duty Utrecht stretcher bars if the painting will be very large (mine will be 36″ x 40″ and I knew the typical art store variety would warp or bow–I have had that happen and I can tell you it is NOT fun!). They are so well made and solid! Then stretch and staple the linen to the bars as usual.
But here’s the best bit–ever had a beautifully stretched linen canvas nice and tight when you start to paint, only to have it bag & sag when it’s finished & hanging on the wall? Or in a show? And no amount of restretching will fix it? Well! Here’s the secret–instead of sizing the stretched canvas with rabbit skin glue, as the Old Masters did, use Gamblin’s PVA Size, http://www.gamblincolors.com/materials , which completely takes the worry out of working on linen! Even though the label says it won’t tighten the linen after application, it DOES! It should be as tightly stretched as you can get it, then, once the PVA size is applied–ZAP! It’s as tight as a drum! And it STAYS that way! Gamblin says it’s ok to paint right over the size, if you like the color of the linen, or proceed to the gesso. We all know that the constant bagging & tightening of the linen is really bad for the paint film once the paint is dry. That’s why so many artists like panels, as they eliminate this problem. But the PVA Size prevents the linen from bagging & sagging, and let me tell you, that alone will have you jumping for joy!
I recently had an occasion to test two linen canvases at an outdoor event, on a day that was beastly hot & humid. One painting on linen was sized with rabbit skin glue, and the other with Gamblin’s PVA Size. The sagging ripples across the one with rabbit skin glue were evident to all, and reappear even inside on rainy days. The other canvas was tighter than tight!