This year I have become increasingly interested in the process of creating high quality, handmade canvases. A fairly long process, but one that gives my painting a weight and character that a shop bought canvas just doesn’t have. It is a wonderful feeling to look at a finished piece of work and think: ‘I made that entirely from scratch’, akin to when you serve up a meal to your whole family that you slaved over for hours!
I invite you to take a look into my process of canvas making, now a pivotal part of my practice and one that I am proud to share with you.
The ‘stretcher’ is the wooden frame that the canvas is stretched around (hence the name). This is made from four pieces of wood that are cut to size, sometimes needing a middle support piece if it is a larger canvas. The corners are connected using a method called ‘half lap joints’, which consists of sawing, hammering and chiselling, all quite loud and scary but very important. And there you have it, the frame!
The canvas is then stretched and pulled over the frame and subsequently stapled in place. In order to ensure your canvas doesn’t ruffle up like a flamenco skirt, you have to place one staple on each edge at a time, whilst turning the frame for each staple to create an even stretch. Next, the corners are folded neatly and secured with some more staples. Once you have stapled the whole circumference of the canvas, each about 2cm apart, the canvas should be fairly firm and smooth. This is the exciting bit where I can start to envisage what type of image will grace the canvas following its completion.
However, If I was to paint on it at this stage, the paint would bleed into the canvas and look like a wonderful muted tie-die. Therefore, to prepare the canvas for paint, you must first prime the canvas to seal and tighten the fibres and stop any absorbance. I use the traditional method of rabbit skin glue, which, unfortunately, is made from exactly what it sounds like. I personally choose this primer because it dries clear, leaving my canvas in all its speckled natural glory.
Sometimes painting on bright white can be a little intimidating…
Rabbit skin glue comes in crystal form, which is diluted in water in a 1:11 ratio and left overnight to become a jelly-like liquid. The next day, the jug of rabbit skin jelly is placed in a water bath of around 65 degrees (or alternatively you could put the jug in an old car washing bucket filled with boiled and cooled water like me!). This is then painted on the canvas quite roughly, ensuring the whole frame is covered and it’s all soaked in to the fibres. A couple of coats and once its dry you’re ready to go!
And now I can pick up my pencils and brushes and get going on whatever the next project has become, on my one of a kind, pride and joy!
And recently, I’ve been making my own floating frames for my paintings… but lets not get into that today…