Yes, the canvas IS important

January 11, 2016


Any decent source will tell you Yes, the canvas for oil painting is EXTREMELY important. And when you start painting and let your artwork dry you finally get it. You understand, that the canvas wave, the material used for priming (the white finish of the canvas which you then paint on) significantly influence the final look of the whole painting.


When choosing the right canvas you must consider at least three aspects. They are

-  canvas material




-  priming

      acrylic primed,

      oil primed

-  stretcher bars


Speaking about oil painting the ideal situation is to use Linen canvas, Oil primed, stretched on a frame of kiln dried pine bars.


Due to the natural characteristics of the flax plant the linen canvas becomes the most durable over time. It retains the shape better than cotton and is better withstanding changes of the atmosphere. And if you think about it, linen is just simply proven over centuries. The best grades of the linen fabric for manufacturing canvases are produced in Flanders region, Belgium, Netherlands and some of the Eastern Europe (according to Ralph Mayer's "Artist's handbook of materials and techniques"). Belgian linen is traditionally the Artist's Best (and therefore most expensive).


You can be an amazing artist and create a wonderful piece. But if you let it dry and look at it in a few days you can already notice the change in the color. It is connected to the natural chemical process of oil drying together with it's refraction qualities. It is improtant to know that the acrylic primer is very absorbent and takes the oil like a sponge out of the paint, leaving the color pigment lay dry and dull on the surface. That is why the right priming is so important. On the oil primer (which can be used only for painting with oil paint and not with acrylic) the paint stays where it is supposed to be, the color stays nice and strong. The overall look is much better than with the acrylic primer. A double-primed linen canvas would be even better for the permanency of the artwork.


Stretcher bars bought as bargains at craft retailers are normally made made very cheaply somewhere in China. They are very thin, which is not a disaster for smaller pieces. But the bigger the piece - the thicker and more durable the stretching frame should be. American based Fredrix company is producing a very satisfying product of several thickness grades.


-> As a conclusion: The canvas will decide a lot whether your painting will look dull or bright. For oil painting your best choise is Belgian linen, double oil-primed and on a sturdy professional stretcher frame. 


Happy painting!


Believe in the power of art,

Vitaly Borisenko