Friday, February 5, 2010

Priming new canvases today!

My canvas prep methods might be somewhat boring to talk about, but they are a big part of the direction my paintings take, as well as the end result. I take particular pride in knowing and implimenting classical techniques that help oil paintings last for generations.

Today I applied the first coat of oil primer to five new canvases. Two days ago, I stretched a portrait-grade (finest weave) Belgian linen on three of them, and a slightly rougher grade on the other two. The selection of linen (I avoid using cotton canvas) is very important because in many ways it will dictate the style I paint with. The finer the weave, the tighter the details I can get - this is perfect for commissioned portraits, because portrait clients in general like a detailed portrait with a great likeness. The medium-textured linen is great for a more painterly style, as it can handle a great deal of thickly-applied paint, and provide more texture for setting the mood. I love using rougher canvases for experimenting and "playing" with the paint.

After stapling the linen on to the stretcher bars, I tighten and seal the new canvases with two coats of rabbit-skin glue. I know, it sounds cruel, because this stuff is actually made from rabbit collagen...but it's been tried and true for centuries. Not only is it is the best coating to protect a canvas from the linseed oils in paint (which would naturally destroy canvas fibers over time), but it also makes the canvas so tight that you can pluck it like a drum. The glue comes in powder form and has to be dissolved in warm water and applied with a large brush. It's amazing to see the canvas begin to instantly tighten with the first stroke of glue.

Anna priming a new canvas.jpg
After that, the canvases need two coats of oil-based primer, with a thorough sanding between coats. I prefer oil-based primer to acrylic gesso, as gesso tends to absorb oil paint much more, causing it to lose its luster. I find that I can use less paint and get better colors by using oil primer. The surface is also very smooth and easier to glaze and scrape with a palette knife when the occasion calls for it. For example, I like to scrape off the first couple of layers of paint on a child's face in order to make it completely smooth in the final layers. The glaze can be used to very subtly change skin tones; if the canvas is too rough, a glaze will just collect in the hills and valleys of the canvas surface and look bad.

I'm always excited about having fresh new canvases at my disposal. In about ten days or so, they'll be dry and ready to go. What will I use them for, I wonder...?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...