Saturday, November 6, 2010

How to Stretch a Canvas

One must have in a painter's arsenal is knowing how to stretch a canvas. So, here goes, some step by step instructions on how to stretch a canvas. Through the photo series, I stretch my own gallery wrapped canvas. Gallery wrapping simply means that the canvas is wrapped all the way around the edges and stapled to the back and the sides are primed just as the surface.  The clean edges allow the finished painting to be hung without a frame, if you so choose.

Materials You'll Need:
  • Wood ( I use 1 x 3" pine)
  • Canvas
  • Hammer
  • Nails
  • Angle
  • Scissors
  • Plyers
  • Staple Gun
  • Large Paint brush
  • Acrylic Gesso (white or tinted)
Step 1: Align Stretcher Bars

Lay out the wood stretcher bars. Align them, use the angle to make sure they are at 90 degrees.

Step 2: Nail Stretcher Bars

Nail the stretcher bars together at the corners. Use the angle while hammering to ensure the bars are secured at right angle.

Step 3: Layout, Measure, and Cut Canvas

Layout Canvas

To ensure that there is enough canvas to wrap around, measure the depth of the stretcher bars and add 2 to 3" more. The stretcher bars shown are 3" deep, so I've measured 6" around the entire frame. Cut canvas accordingly.

Step 4: Wrapping the Canvas

Starting at the center of one side of the frame, use the plyers to help get a good grip on the canvas (doing this with your hands will lead to raw knuckles, learn from my experience). Pull the canvas firmly with the plyers in one hand and using the staple gun secure the canvas to the frame.

Continue pulling the canvas and stapling, working opposing sides to ensure an evenly stretched canvas. Start at the top center, move to the bottom center, then right side center, and finally left side center. Start again 2 to 3" right of top center and continue as above. Repeat from 2 to 3" left of  top center. Work in this way until all sides of the frame are covered.

Step 5: Corners

Once all the sides are covered, there'll be excess canvas at the corners. As a professor said when teaching me how to stretch a canvas, "If you can make a bed, you can stretch a canvas," at which point I realized that I didn't know how to fold the corners of a mattress. Well, now I do.

Pull the excess canvas into a sharp triangle, make sure there's no slack in the edges of the canvas. Fold the triangle to one side of the stretcher, making a 90 degree angle (as shown in No.2 above). Wrap the excess behind the canvas and staple.

Step 6: Gesso

Use an acrylic gesso to seal the canvas. Paint 2 to 3 coats of gesso on the surface and sides of the canvas. Let the gesso dry between each coat.


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