Friday, May 21, 2010



to draw out or extend (oneself, a body, limbs, wings, etc.) to the full length or extent

to extend, force, or make serve beyond the normal or proper limits; strain: to stretch the imagination

"he taught us drawling, stretching, and fainting in coils" ~ lewis carroll

Several years ago, we built our own house. I don't mean we acted as a subcontractor and paid someone else to do the work, I mean we built it with a hammer and nails and saws ... with our own hands.

Even so, I was ridiculously intimidated when it came to making a frame for canvas and I put off even trying until a couple years ago. Artist Jane Kenoyer has some excellent canvas building tutorial videos which I've posted here previously ... and they were very helpful in convincing me to give it a go. I'm glad I did. It's less expensive, especially for very large canvases, and I'm able to choose the ground rather than try to work around what was put there by a canvas manufacturer.

To start, you need wood for the canvas frame. These pieces are for a tiny 5" x 5" canvas, and are about one inch each way, but usually I use 1" x 3".

The canvas doesn't rest on a wide piece of wood. Rather, it's held up around the edges by just a thin strip of wood. To get that edge on any canvas frame, I bevel cut them with the table saw.

The corners are cut at 45 degree angles on a miter saw.

I nearly always use 1" x 3" pine, or 1" x 6" that has been ripped in half to make it 1" x 3". Sometimes I splurge for the clear stuff, but I've also found good solid, knot free wood in the less expensive types.

I work on one corner at a time and coat each mitered edge with wood glue. A corner vise holds them together at a right angle so they can be nailed with 1 1/2" finish nails.

Larger canvases will require cross bracing where needed.

Once I have the frame built, I tear a piece of canvas that is just slightly larger than what I need to stretch across the front, around the sides, and over the back where it will be stapled. I make a small cut and then tear the canvas. It's much easier and more accurate than trying to cut a straight line.

I buy my rolls of canvas online, and get 11.5 ounce raw canvas. "Medium weight" canvas commonly found in art stores is quite thin (7 oz, usually) and I've found isn't nearly sturdy enough for a wider canvas frame. It's also more expensive.

To stretch the canvas, start in the middle and staple opposite sides, pulling the canvas as tight as possible. Then go to the other two opposing sides and staple the middle. Work out from the middle, pulling tightly and alternating sides so everything is kept evenly taut. There's a tool called, appropriately enough, canvas pliers, which is basically a very wide pair of pliers. I haven't gotten around to getting one and use a regular pair of pliers when needed. It took making a few canvases to develop a feel for what worked best for me.

Once the sides have been stapled, the corners can be made.

Making corners is difficult to explain. It's basically like a hospital corner.

Once everything is stapled down, the canvas can be primed with gesso or whatever is preferred. I use a few very thin layers of gesso thinned with water, which leaves the canvas quite porous and suitable only for acrylics and not oils (oils will degrade fabric, so a heavier coat of gesso is needed).

Regardless of size, all canvases are basically made the same way. Below is a nearly 4' x 6' canvas I made recently. There are cross braces because the span of the sides is long enough to bow without them, but the corners of the frame are made the same way. The canvas is stretched the same way as well.

A 4' x 6' canvas can cost as much as $350 or more. I put this one together for less than $35.

Now ... if I could just decide what to put on it ...

Saturday, May 15, 2010



Old English beginnan "to begin, attempt, undertake," form of onginnan perhaps, "to open, open up" (cf. O.H.G. in-ginnan "to cut open, open up," also "begin, undertake"

to proceed to perform the first or earliest part of some action; commence; start

to originate; be the originator of

to come into existence

Do you ever have trouble getting started? Beginning?

I do, sometimes. Many times, I wait until something is fully formed in my head before I start putting it together. I think I miss out, though, when I don't just go ahead and start with whatever glimmer of an idea I have and see what happens ... or even begin with no idea at all. Because, no matter how I begin, the idea - in the making of it - will almost always


change in form, appearance, or structure; metamorphose

change in condition, nature, or character; to undergo a change in appearance or character;

become transformed

It's never exactly what it was in my head.

"Too often, we are so preoccupied with the destination that we forget the journey ..." ~ anonymous

"... let your mind start a journey thru a strange new world. Leave all thoughts of the world you knew before." Let your soul take you were you long to be ... Close your eyes, let your spirit start to soar, and you'll live as you've never lived before." ~ Erich Fromm


flit, flutter, hover, soar

clever, alert, wide awake, first recorded 18th c, reinvented in 1990s

to rise

In making these three small paintings, I used mostly the techniques I've done here before ... some resist with pastes and glazes, a bit of silk screen, some relief and embossing, etc.

To a turquoise and lime green background, I added some titanium white stripes and magenta spots. To make the spots, I cut out a stencil of watercolor paper (I ran out of acetate, but this worked better than I expected), and did a thin wash through the holes.

This is a product I find handy. It's called EZ Screen Print. It's a light sensitive sheet coated with emulsion that can be exposed in sunlight and then used as a screen without a frame. At $10 or more a sheet, it's a lot more expensive than regular silk screening supplies, but it's convenient and works well on a smaller canvas like this. I can't ever seem to use products in the way they were intended, so your mileage may vary as they say, but I just used straight from the tube acrylic paint and pushed it through the screen with a palette knife ...

and added text with permanent ink.

See you next week!

Saturday, May 1, 2010


impress: 1325–75; ME <>impressus ptp. of imprimere to press into or upon, impress, equiv. to im- + pressus ptp. of premere (comb. form -primere) to press

to press (a thing) into or on something.

to produce (a mark, figure, etc.) by pressure; stamp; imprint:

to apply with pressure, so as to leave a mark.

I love art journals. Or, rather, I love the idea of art journals. I've never been able to keep one. I get a few pages in and mess up a page or look back and want to change things around. But I need a place to put sketches and ideas ... So, this is a flexible art journal that can be added to and changed at any time.

The covers of this journal are made of 1/8 inch thick, double sided masonite. I like this as a foundation for small paintings and it's thin enough to work for covers, about the same thickness as book board and very smooth and sturdy. I've cut two pieces of this to approximately 5 x 7 in and drilled three holes in both to fit rings.

I covered most of the masonite with a thin coat of light modeling paste. This will hold impressions made with stamps or anything else. The depth of the stamp will determine how thick the modeling paste should be.

After letting this dry for about fifteen minutes or so, until it was just starting to harden on the surface, I used rubber and metal stamps dipped in water to stamp into the paste. Here, I've made this a quite subtle effect. But any stamp or any size can be used and thicker or thinner layers of paste.

Once dry, I sanded the impressed modeling paste and painted a few thin washes of magenta and turquoise, masking off the stripes with tape.

On a small, stretched canvas, the effect is more obvious because I've used larger stamps and a thicker layer of paste. The technique is the same ... I used a palette knife to put on a thin coat of modeling paste (which will also act as a resist), allowed it to dry for fifteen minutes or so, then used stamps dipped in water.

Once fully dry, I sanded lightly and did a thin wash with quinacridone magenta.

Added some lime green stripes ...

... and a silk screened moonflower.

I use this technique on large canvases to add text ... and imperfection makes it unique.

What kind of impression will you make?

Karen Valentine, from My Desert Cottage, is having a "Where Bloggers Create" blog party. What a fabulous way to get to know the other bloggers out there! If you'd like to participate, stop in at her blog for the details.