I’ve always been a bit of purist when it comes to life and it’s no different with my paintings. The first painting class I took was in college and I remember the first day very well. Prior to the start of the semester we were given a materials list to bring with us the first day of class. We had the option to bring our own stretcher bars to build and stretch our own canvas. I thought this was a great way to partake in a tradition painters have experienced for hundreds of years. So the first day of class came and our professor instructed us to take out our materials and begin to work. I took my stretcher bars up to the front of the class where the provide canvas roll was located as well as the work table. No one followed. However a sound followed instead. Every student in that class ripped the plastic off of their store bought canvas and began painting before I even had a yard of canvas unrolled. That sound was replaced with me hammering nails into the bars that supported my stretched canvas. All the while I was smiling knowing I was doing the very thing that Van Gogh, Da Vinci, and other masters have done before me.
I believe building one’s own canvas is a part of the painting process itself. From time to time I’ve painted on store bought pre-stretched canvas and the painting always seemed to be missing something. I still build all my own canvas and go to great lengths to do so. I no longer even buy stretcher bars but build my own. I start with a 1″x6″ piece of wood and use a table saw to cut it into 1″ strips. Once I have the strips I glue quarter round onto the edge:
Once I have them dried I then glue and nail the corners:
These are then let to sit and dry:
Once they have sufficiently dried it’s time for the canvas to be stretched over the support:
You would think that everything is all set by this point but the canvas needs to be treated. I first scrub down the canvas and then apply gesso which is a painting primer. I then sand down that layer and apply another layer followed with another sanding. After all of that I have a canvas that is ready to be painted on.
After looking at that process it would be easy to say “Why not just buy a store bought canvas?” There are a couple of reasons why I insist on building my own. First is quality control, I can build any custom size I want to my specifications. Secondly the satisfaction of making it myself. There always seems to be more “riding” on a painting with a canvas that I personally stretched. I always take more time and care painting knowing that I’m responsible for the canvas. For going to such lengths you could call me crazy or maybe it’s just that I’m old fashioned.