When I was back in Virginia a couple of weeks ago, a wonderful friend asked me to design an artwork for her home. She sent me her specs – she wants to fill a 22″x36″ space with three tall and skinny canvases. While I have some stretchers on hand, the dimensions required that I stretch the canvases myself. I’ve been using the same method that I was shown in a painting course 10 years ago and so far, it seems to work great.
Step 1 – A trip to Jerry’s Artarama in Raleigh for some canvas and gesso.
Step 2 – After a quick trip to the home improvement store for some 1×2 poplar strips, I used the power of mathematics to cut them down to the right dimensions.
Step 3 – I glued and nailed the frames together. While waiting for the glue to dry, I used some heavy things I had laying around to weigh them down and help everything stay in place.
Step 4 – I laid the stretchers down on top of the canvas and cut it to the right size allowing for about 1 3/4″ extra on each side. To cut the canvas, all you need to do is make a small slit. Then you can pretty much tear it like a sheet of paper.
Step 5 – Here’s where a good staple gun spares your wrist. To wrap the canvas around the stretcher, start in a corner and staple the canvas to the back of the frame. Then move to the opposite side of the canvas. Continue to work your way around the stretcher to allow the pressure to be equally distributed. Make sure you pull the canvas tight and staple every half-inch to an inch.
Step 6 – The corners. This is a critical step. I fold the points back and pull them as tight as possible while smoothing the folds underneath as best I can. Uniformity is very important, you want to make sure the corners all match.
Step 7 – Using gesso and an old brush, I paint the canvases. Just like when stapling, I start in a small area, then move to the opposite side and continue quickly until the whole canvas is covered, including the sides of the canvas.
Step 8 – I like to let my canvas hang out for a while. I lay it flat and try to monitor it to make sure it doesn’t start to warp. Sometimes that happens and it sucks. Usually its because the stretchers were too thin or the canvas is pulled too tight. I can typically avoid warping since I make my own stretchers, but not always.
Now I’m ready to paint! I can’t wait to dive into this new artwork. My friend gave me permission to interpret this one pretty broadly. She gave me a few colors to work with and some ideas, but also gave me a lot of freedom to come up with something for her. I’ll be sure to post some pictures of the completed work.