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Preparing Your Canvas For Painting
Preparing Your Canvas For Painting
Actor: Larry Withers
Director: Larry Withers
Genres: Indie & Art House, Special Interests, Educational
NR     2006     0hr 35min

A properly stretched and primed painting canvas is a pleasure to work on. By preparing your own canvas you can determine the size, canvas grade, and quality of materials. In this video, you will learn step by step the meth...  more »


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Movie Details

Actor: Larry Withers
Director: Larry Withers
Genres: Indie & Art House, Special Interests, Educational
Sub-Genres: Indie & Art House, Art & Artists, Crafts & Hobbies, Educational
Studio: On Air Video, Inc.
Format: DVD - Color,Full Screen
DVD Release Date: 05/04/2006
Original Release Date: 01/01/2006
Theatrical Release Date: 01/01/2006
Release Year: 2006
Run Time: 0hr 35min
Screens: Color,Full Screen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 2
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

One Method Of Stretching, Two Methods Of Priming
Stephen Tashiro | Las Cruces, NM United States | 06/30/2010
(4 out of 5 stars)

"The DVD "Preparing Your Canvas For Painting" by Larry Withers shows one method of stretching an artist's canvas and two methods of priming it. Larry demonstrates getting the canvas to where it has two coats of primer on it. For artists who want an extremely smooth painting surface, this does not go far enough.

Instructions about how to prepare a canvas for painting are only slightly less controversial than instructions about how to reform the tax code or conduct foreign policy. People have two motivations for painting on cloth stretched over a wooden framework. One motivation is durability. A restorer can move cloth from a warped framework to a new one. A painting on a rigid panel can't be moved off the panel if the panel warps. The second motivation is that painting on cloth follows a tradition. It is one of the "rules of the game" that define a particular craft. Since we have limited knowledge about what restoration technology will exist in the future and what materials and methods were actually used in the past, neither motivation leads to a single "best" way of preparing a canvas. . The methods that Larry demonstrates provide a good introduction even if the viewer decides to depart from them.

Some painters begin with a detailed drawing or don't wish to show noticeable brush strokes. They need a smooth painting surface. Larry's demonstrations don't achieve that. The two coats of primer demonstrated on the DVD may leave the weave ( the "tooth") of the canvas still visible. More coats of primer with a light sanding between will cover the tooth, but the surface will have visible brush strokes in the layers of primer.

The DVD is a professional production. Larry demonstrates and narrates smoothly, speaking from a script. The camera work is good, The total length of the DVD is about 35 minutes. Each section must be played individually.

Synopsis of the DVD

Introduction And Materials (about 5 min)

Larry says that you should use an oil primer if you plan to paint with oil paints. If you plan to paint with acrylic paint, you should use an acrylic primer (acrylic "gesso"). To support his assertions, he demonstrates how the different flexibility of materials can cause a surface to crack by coating a rubber ball with plaster and squeezing the ball.

Larry points out that the oil in oil based primers and oil paints will rot cloth. Hence rabbit skin glue must be used to seal the cloth before the oil based primer is applied. He could have mentioned turpentine by name also, since it eats through cloth (and plastic containers !) rather quickly.

Acrylic gesso also seals cloth against against oil and turpentine. Many artists use acrylic gesso as a primer for oil painting. They disagree with Larry on the grounds that the problems associated with using the rabbit skin glue are worse than the problems caused by the dissimilarity of acrylic primer and dried oil paint. They follow the rule that one may paint with oil paints on top of acrylic gesso or acrylic paint, but that one should never paint with acrylic paint on top of oil paint.

Larry mentions these materials:

1. cotton or linen canvas - The "weight" of the canvas should be at least 12 oz. ( The term "canvas" is used ambiguously by artists to mean cloth, the cloth mounted on a wooden framework or a finished painting. In this case, "canvas" means the cloth by itself.)

2. stretcher strips ( the 4 wooden pieces that form the framework)

3. pinking shears

4. heavy duty staple gun

5. 1/2 inch staples

6. "wide" brush -It looks like a house painter's brush about 3 inches wide, so it's "narrow" by the standards of a hardware store.

7. "light" sandpaper - I assume this means something like 100 grit paper

For acrylic gesso primed canvases:

8. canvas pliers

9. acrylic gesso

For oil primed canvases:

10. powdered rabbit skin glue

11. A 1 qt pan -for boiling water and holding the glue

12. palette knife -with a long straight edge

Materials that appear on the DVD after this section are:

tailor's chalk
rubber mallet
brad nails
carpenters square
tape measure
measuring cup
measuring tablespoon
metal yardstick
utility knife
formalin ( which is a 40% solution of formaldehyde)
spray bottle

Stretching Your Canvas ( about 13 min)

Larry uses 1/2 inch staples and a manual staple gun. (He doesn't mention using tacks.) The framework he uses is a "stretcher" and it is made from 4 "stretcher strips" of the kind sold in art supply stores. He demonstrates assembling the framework from the strips and squaring it. He cuts the cloth with pinking shears. His method of attaching the cloth is to staple it to the sides of the bars every 2 inches. He staples the cloth to the back of the stretcher in only a few places to keep it from having loose flaps. ( He does not demonstrate a "gallery wrap" where the staples are used only on the back side of the stretcher bars.) He demonstrates 5 methods for folding the canvas at the corners of the frame.

When rabbit skin glue is to be used, Larry says the canvas should not be pulled taut during the stapling. When acrylic gesso is to be used, the canvas should be pulled taut with canvas pliers.

He demonstrates adding a wooden brace to the framework. He advises doing this for paintings more than 36 inches on a side.

Larry does not mention the type of framework called a "strainer". The corners of a "stretcher" have some mobility. The corners of a "strainer" are glued or stapled so they are rigid. On the web, there are many articles by artists about building frameworks from lumber available at hardware stores. Most of these designs are technically "strainers", not "stretchers", although many articles do use the word "stretcher" to refer to any framework that holds the cloth. Some ready-made canvases sold in art supply stores are on "stretchers"; others are on "strainers".

When Larry staples the canvas at the corner of the stretchers, it isn't clear to me whether he avoids placing a staple that would lock the stretcher strips at the corner and make the "stretcher" more like a "strainer".

Larry's demonstration of stapling is too idealized; his staple gun works every time. Staple guns often leave several staples incompletely driven. People must tap them down with a hammer or remove them and try again.

Sizing With Rabbit Skin Glue ( about 5 min)

Larry demonstrates mixing rabbit skin glue by mixing 6 level tablespoons of powdered glue into a 1 qt of water at just below boiling. The mixture is allowed to cool to the consistency of applesauce. He warns that if the glue hardens that one should not attempt to revive it by heating it again. He brushes the glue on the front and sides of the canvas in a criss cross pattern. He scrapes the surface gently with a palette knife to remove excess glue. Larry runs the palette knife around the back between the canvas and the frame to make sure the front side of the canvas hasn't become glued to the fame. When the glue has hardened, he gives the surface light sanding and brushes off the debris with a dry brush. (In all sections of the DVD, when Larry demonstrates a "light sanding", he uses such a light touch that the canvas surface isn't noticeably pressed down. His sanding will merely knock off small particles that have lightly attached themselves to the surface. It isn't the kind of sanding that would remove a ridge that was an integral part of the surface.) He applies a second coat of glue by the same method.

Larry doesn't explain whether leftover rabbit glue is discarded. He doesn't explain how to clean the brush and pot when you finish with them.

He explains that rabbit glue may decay since it is organic matter. A treatment to prevent this to apply a 4% formaldehyde solution. He demonstrates preparing the 4% solution by diluting formalin (a 40% solution of formaldehyde that can be purchased from chemical supply stores). He sprays this solution only on the back of the canvas.

Priming With Acrylic Gesso ( about 3 min)

He scoops gesso from its container into a plastic bowl. He thins the gesso for the first coat with water. He paints gesso on the front of the canvas with strokes that go parallel to one edge of canvas. He also puts gesso on the sides of the canvas. When the first coat has dried, he gives the canvas a light sanding and brushes off the debris with a dry brush. He applies a, second coat using bursh strokes are that are perpendicular to those of first coat. He demonstrates how the gesso can be tinted with acrylic paint before it is applied.

Priming With Oils ( about 3 min)

He scoops oil based primer from its container into can. He thins it with paint thinner. He brushes on a coat of primer on the front and sides of the canvas using a criss-cross pattern of strokes. After the primer dries he gives the surface a light sanding and brushes off debris with a dry brush. Then he applies a second coat. He says to wait 1 1/2 weeks before painting on the canvas. He demonstrates how the oil primer can be tinted with oil paint before it is applied.

Caring For Your Canvas ( about 5 min)

Larry demonstrates the "keys" that should be be inserted at the corners of a stretcher. He shows how wrinkling in the corner of a canvas is fixed by tapping on the keys.

He advises stapling a backing board of light material on the back of the framework. The corners of this backing should be cut out to allow air to circulate.

Larry says that rabbit skin glue is hygroscopic; it will absorb water from the air and swell. He advises controlling the temperature and humidity around paintings. The best way to store paintings is to frame them and hang them on a wall. He says un-hung paintings should be stored vertically. Use spacers to keep the front of a canvas from touching other surfaces or wrap the canvas in bubble wrap.

Credits (about 1 min)
Whether you play the "Credits" is optional!

I rate this DVD as four out of five stars to indicated that it is an above average demonstration of some methods for preparing a canvas. The DVD does not sufficiently explain how to attain a smooth surface with acrylic gesso or oil primers, so it doesn't teach the whole story of "preparing your canvas for painting" for artists who want such a surface.

( An interesting alternative to Larry's methods is "A Remarkable Way to Stretch Canvases (and Other Essentials of Canvas Preparation)" by James Bernstein. This article is available on the jamesberstein dot com website and the goldenpaints dot com website.)