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 ...


Michelle May said...

I can't wait to see what you put on that large canvas. Man that sure did save a lot of money making it yourself! I'm totally impressed that you built your own home too! Fantastic!

The Rich Ant said...

wow you built your own house. I have be saying I want to build my own canvas for the longest but I guess I should invest in some power tools first.

nollyposh said...

WoW! GirrrL! Now that is paSSion! (Witha double SS!)
(Ps) i posted a trailer that my son made in honor of the last ~Lost~ sighhhhh...

Lisa Viger said...

hi michelle!

rich ant, you can always use a router to make the beveled edge ... the rest can be done with a miter saw and hammer & nails

oh, i have to see it nolly! i'm sure it's awesome! i'm so looking forward to seeing how it ends (kind of) ...

Deborah said...

Well hello Ms. Lisa! Ever so happy to make your acquaintance. Thank you for stopping by so that I could come take delight in your little world. **blows kisses** Deb

Linda@ Lime in the Coconut said...

OH! I ammm so excited! I need to stretch a canvas about 4X6'.and have been begging a friend to help. Now I'm going to go through your post...word for word!


claudia said...

Very nice blog,Compliments and have a nice day from Tenerife!!!!

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