Artists have been painting on several surfaces, from rock faces to train cars, for centuries, but the canvas is a relatively modern innovation.
It was popularized during the Renaissance era in the region of Venice, Italy. Originally made from hemp, linen became the primary material for canvases since it was leftover from sails of ships no longer in use.
As linen became too costly for the average artist in later years, cotton was the preferred textile due to its affordability and how easily it stretched. Keep reading to learn ten reasons you should paint on canvas rather than other media and why canvas is used for painting in the first place.
Why Is Canvas Used for Painting?
Just scroll through Pinterest or Etsy art, and you’ll see how often artists decorate canvases in their illustrations.
Canvas is used primarily for its ease of transport, low cost, and absorptive capacities. Linen and cotton are the most common materials, but cotton is still the favorite.
There are two basic cotton canvas types: duck and plain. If the threads are more tightly woven, you’re probably painting on duck, which means the thread count is higher.
Avoid cheap canvases that are loosely woven. They tend to cause distortions as the paint dries.
The benefits of the canvas are many. Read on to find 10 reasons why novices and professionals alike prefer the surface over other alternatives!
Canvas Durability: Your Painting Will Last Longer
Unlike wooden surfaces, the canvas is less prone to warping. Humidity may cause the material to shrink or expand, but this won’t be very noticeable.
The tightly woven threads render the surface sturdy yet still yielding enough to interact dynamically with the artist’s brushstrokes.
For a more durable canvas, try rhino or sailcloth fabrics. Both are woven with synthetic fibers. While these are viable options, some acrylic artists opt for water-repellent waxed canvas slicked with beeswax or paraffin wax.
Canvas Material Is Absorbent
Artists call the process of canvas preparation priming. Though it’s also recommended for acrylic painting, priming is essential when oil paints seep into the canvas and create dull blotches.
The canvas’ quality of absorbency can be manipulated and customized to the artist’s liking.
Priming provides sealing enough tooth (the grain or feel of the surface) for the paint to bind to and additional support.
Sometimes, after one or two layers of gesso, artists may also apply primers, like polyvinyl acetate (PVA), to give the canvas flexibility as a preventative measure against unwanted cracking.
Preparing the Canvas Isn’t Labor Intensive
Most canvases come primed with gesso. This prevents the fabric from absorbing too much of the paint and dulling colors.
Suppose you don’t buy canvases complete with the frame, no worries. The fabric (esp cotton) stretches easily, and it’s only a matter of a few staples to pin the corners and sides to the frame.
Canvas Is Dirt Cheap and Can Be Found Everywhere
The low cost of both canvas and frame makes it an especially attractive option for painting. Almost every local art store has several shelves dedicated to canvases of many shapes and sizes. There are also a ton of convenient online ordering choices.
Here are a few linked below:
Now, let’s take a look at another reason why you should paint on canvas.
Wall Hanging Options Mean More Space to Work
Hanging your work frees up space in your studio. The canvas’ lightweight frame allows you to put it virtually anywhere. Nail your paintings into the wall, use sawtooth brackets if you’ve already got nails to hang them from, or even try adhesive strips.
In addition, if you’re planning to sell your artwork, keep in mind wall art is highly recommended in popular home decor advice.
Canvas Allows You to Get Creative With Texture
The woven quality of canvas gives artists plenty of room to explore when considering how to convey texture. For example, if the artist wants more of the threading to come through, they may use less gesso. It’s also a great surface for supporting materials, like drywall mud, that produces striations, convexities, indentations, and other interesting visual details.
Canvases Are Easy to Transport
For the art student traveling from class to class, portability is a huge concern. Canvas paintings slide nicely into art bags.
You can cover the face of your painting with plastic or parchment paper. Professional artists use acid-free glassine paper, but it tends to be a little pricey.
However, if you haven’t attached your painting to a frame, roll it carefully and bind it with a rubber band.
Canvas Is Great for Underpainting
Underpainting is what artists do when they need to lay down a base tone for their painting. This usually takes the form of a light wash of color.
When the underpainting dries, then the underdrawing can be applied. With the canvas’ smooth surface, you’ll have no trouble mapping out your composition with a preliminary sketch.
There Are Different Kinds of Canvas to Fit Your Specific Needs
There is a whole array of types of canvas that suits a diversity of budgets and applications.
To name a few, there are:
- Watercolor canvas
- Stretched canvas
- Canvas panels
- Canvas rolls
To highlight one alternative within the family of canvas types: canvas boards possess qualities of both fabric and panel. The fabric is typically affixed to MDF (medium-density fiberboard) for more solid backing.
Carry On the Canvas Painting Tradition!
If you’re attending your friend’s swanky soiree, impress the artists there with a little art history knowledge. Canvas first transformed the art scene in the 1500s.
Influenced by the Italian trend, Spaniard painters ditched wood panels and took to the new material. Though many trace its origins to Venice, Egyptians used canvas-like material as well.
Study some of the early works of the Venetian school. Artists like Titian and Bellini painted elaborate scenes featuring the notoriously tricky human figure. There’s plenty of inspiration at your fingertips. You’ll be following in a vibrant tradition of masters.
While wooden panels, glass, and even metal are used for painting, you may find canvas is the most inviting and interesting of all.
If you’re hesitant about embarking on your first canvas adventure, check out the many free Youtube tutorials available for beginners like this one: Canvas Painting for Beginners | Acrylic Mountains.
More formal courses can be found on Skillshare or Udemy. There, you’ll find everything from how to stretch the canvas over a wooden frame to detailed step-by-step walkthroughs about how to gesso. So, get your brushes ready and give the canvas a try. Happy painting!