Recent News from Liz MedwidUpdated with news about shows, sales, new projects, and other news related to art.
I have been working with artist’s gold as a background to some portraits. It took some time to learn how and when to apply the gold, but when I got it looking right, I knew I would have to varnish the final piece. Preserving artist’s gold is important because artist’s gold is not real gold, and will tarnish over time.
I was hesitant to varnish before doing all my research and testing a piece, because I believed the varnish might reduce the shine of the gold. I’m glad to say that I have found a varnish, and tested some pieces, and my gold continues to shine. Here’s what I did:
This is one sheet of artist’s gold, which I have placed on a board for testing. At the time, I was testing other things, like the effect of gold paints over gold leaf, and the contrasting effect of some metallic powders applied with different media. This is my “before” picture.
I began by applying my varnish (I selected Artisan Water Mixable Gloss Varnish because I work with the Artisan oils) to the very edges of the gold leaf. I wanted to make sure I covered all the edges first, since missing a section of the edge could mean inviting some tarnish in later.
I covered the entire area, and didn’t notice a discernible change in the reflective shine of the gold (or the other media on the gold). The varnish line continues to be visible around the outside of the piece, even after the varnish has dried.
When I applied the same technique to some small oil portraits I am working on, I began by covering the edges, and then systematically worked inward towards the painting. I wanted to cover this gold now because I have been taking my time on this portrait, and the gold is a variegated… I wasn’t sure I would be able to spot tarnish if it started to appear. On a finished painting, I would work all the way to the dried oil paint of the portrait, and then varnish the entire portrait including the gold again in 6-12 months. Waiting the full 6-12 months ensures that the paint has fully dried before applying the varnish, and in the meantime, your artist’s gold leaf has already been protected.
I’m sure there are many other methods and products out there, but this one tested well in my studio!
First, gather your tools together.
- enough gesso for three layers
- sponge, brush, or roller to apply gesso
- paper plate
- fine sand paper and hand sander
My canvas is 22″ by 50″ – my largest canvas to date – and I knew I would need extra gesso to cover this area. Pick up some more if you think you might run out while priming your canvas.
Cover the canvas evenly using a sponge brush, roller, or large brush. Be methodical, and add wider to your brush when it becomes too sticky.
As you are working on the first layer, be sure to gesso the sides and back of the canvas.
Allow each layer of gesso to dry, and then sand any rough areas of the surface. This step is a matter of taste, since you may want to leave some texture beneath your final painting. However, if you canvas fabric has little bumps, or you notice some grains of gesso on your surface, this is the time to sand those off. If you are painting a portrait, imaging where the face might appear, and make sure that area is smooth. It can be difficult enough to fix minor problems in the eyes and lips without fighting accidental texture on your canvas too!
I found the sanding was not too messy, since I was careful when applying the gesso, and I didn’t have many imperfections to correct. I did this on a linoleum floor, and wiped the powder with a damp cloth. It wasn’t the factory job I was expecting!
Repeat the gesso and sanding steps until you have three layers of nice smooth gesso. I found it was useful to move in a single direction for one layer, then turn my canvas over to move in the opposite direction for the next layer, and so on, to counter any effect of the light or my working habit on the final result.
The finished product: a nice big canvas for this master study project! Did you know that Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Proserpine is part of a triptych? I might have reason to build another canvas soon.
In Part 1, I discussed assembled a custom stretcher frame using prefabricated stretcher bars from the art supply shop. Now, let’s start stretching a custom canvas over those bars.
First, gather your tools together.
Stretching your canvas:
- canvas, unprimed and heavier weight
- fabric scissors
- staple gun with staples to attach canvas
- canvas pliers
You can often buy canvas by the roll or by the yard at your local art supply shop. I only wanted a small amount, so I ordered by the yard, but if you are making several large canvases, it might make more sense to buy a roll. You can’t see the rolls properly above, but the top one is primed, the darker brown one is linen, and the one near the bottom is 12oz unprimed. Beneath that are two 10oz unprimed rolls in half the width of the other rolls.
I decided to use the heavier 12oz unprimed canvas. Unprimed canvas is easier to stretch, and I wanted to try my hand at priming.
This canvas came on the wide 84″ roll, so I only needed one yard. You can see some wrinkles pressed into the canvas, but these will stretch out.
Canvas is usually smoother on one side than the other. Depending on which side you want to paint on, place your canvas on your working surface with the facing side down. Roughly measure the amount of canvas you will need to wrap over the edge and back of the stretcher, and place your stretcher in the corner of your canvas, leaving that margin for folding. Then, cut and tear the canvas along the other two sides. The goal is to have your stretcher sitting on the canvas with enough canvas on each side to wrap around the sides and back of the bars.
It starts with one staple! Place a single staple in the middle of your longest side. There is no tension yet, so just place the canvas up and over the stretcher bar, and staple.
Your second staple is directly across from the first, pulling tightly with your canvas pliers. Third and fourth staples go in the centre of the shorter sides, again pulling tightly with your canvas pliers.
When your first four staples are in place, one in the centre of each side, begin stretching and stapling on one of the longer sides (if you are working with a rectangle), about 2.5″ apart, moving from the centre. Move around your canvas as you work, adding staples diagonally across from each previous staple. You should be pulling as tightly as possible with your pliers, keeping the canvas flat on the edges, and work outwards toward the corners.
Make sure you start on the shorter sides as you progress towards the corners, so you are maintaining tension in all directions as you work.
When you approach the corners, and you feel confident about your current staples, use your scissors to cut the excess canvas from the back of the frame. The canvas should now just cover the back of the stretcher bar.
Now, temporarily fold your corners into place to test the placement of your fold. Your corners should be folded so that the extra bulk appears on the sides of your finished work, and not on the top and bottom of the stretcher frame. Your positioning will depend on the orientation (portrait or landscape) of your painting.
Before I stapled the fold down, I added a few additional staples near and beneath where I knew the fold would be, pulling tightly with the canvas pliers each time. Then, I added three staples to secure the fold itself.
When your folds are stapled securely, you should be able to test your canvas by tapping on the front. Your canvas should sound like a drum, and bounce back to your touch.
You will probably have room to stretch and staple between all your existing staples. Adding those extra staples will help prevent ballooning on the canvas later on. Finally, when everything is good, tap all staples in firmly with a hammer.
Please watch for Part 3, which will describe priming your canvas. In the meantime, here is a Pinterest-friendly preview of this tutorial.
I usually buy stretched canvases from the local art supply store, but my next project requires a large size that is not in stock. It’s the perfect opportunity to learn how to stretch a custom canvas for fine art!
This project isn’t very difficult, but it is much easier with the correct tools, and a little understanding of what might cause problems for your painting in the future. To start, get your tools together:
Building your frame:
- stretcher bars in the correct length and width
- measuring tape
- right-angle ruler
- hammer or mallet
- staple gun with staples to attach wood
My frame is 22″ by 50″. I also selected the gallery-sized stretcher bars, which are thicker than the standard stretchers, for two reasons: first, I thought a heavy duty frame would resist bowing in the middle when I stretch the canvas, and second, it is possible to show paintings on gallery stretchers without framing them. I like to have that flexibility!
You will need 4 stretcher bars, which are beveled with a raised outer lip to hold the canvas away from the support, and cut at 90 degree angles with interlocking teeth at each end.
Line up the corners, and begin sliding them together as best you can. You will probably need a hammer or mallet to make them fit properly. When you have 3 sides together, check your right angles and measure the diagonals (they should be identical in length).
Before you add the 4th and final side, staple the pieces together at each corner on both sides of the frame. I found it was easier to begin with 3 sides well joined, and then add the last side without making too make more adjustments.
When the sides are all together at right angles, check that the corners are not too sharp, and make sure the joining teeth are not sticking out too much. These could poke through the canvas or cause a tear. Use sand paper to remove any sharp points or rough edges.
Although these stretcher bars are convenient, they are not always perfect. Mine all lay flat on the table, but when they were joined, some tension in the corners caused the frame to twist a bit. I don’t have a solution to this problem, except to check the bars in the shop to make sure they are the same wood, and the same cuts. My bevels were slightly different in shape, suggesting that a different machine could have made the different sizes, so that the joining teeth might have been made differently. If you are pickier than me, this might drive you crazy enough to return the stretchers and try new ones. I decided to keep these, and place the best end at the top of the painting. I am too excited to start this painting to waste time driving back and forth to the art store!
Finally, check your corners and diagonal measurements again. If you are happy, staple the last bar into place, use your hammer to set the staples all the way in, and get ready to stretch your canvas.
Please watch for Part 2 and Part 3, which will describe the process used to stretch a custom canvas for fine art and priming your canvas. In the meantime, here is a Pinterest-friendly preview of this tutorial.
The SAPG Fall Show and Sale just ended, and I was so happy to be able to participate in this event!
I showed five of my most recent pieces on a single board, and tried to incorporate some QR codes to make it easier for people to share my work.
I don’t think people used the QR codes much, but they have potential in future events: for adding contact information, providing background information or additional narrative context, and helping people share ready-made images with their friends.
I made one of the pieces, “Skull and Rose,” into a Halloween card that can be shared on Facebook. I thought the painting suited the Halloween theme, and added the text,
Is that red a splash of paint? I hope it is! I fear it ain’t…”
It was great to meet with other artists and art enthusiasts, and chat about all the paintings at the show. I look forward to seeing you all again soon!