Painting on Unstretched Canvas

What's involved in working on canvas not pulled over stretcher bars?

Painting on Unstretched Canvas
Photo ©2013 Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to, Inc.
"How do I go about painting acrylic on unstretched canvas"? -- A.N.

The same techniques apply whether you're working on stretched or stretched canvas, whether it's acrylics or oils you're using. The challenge lies not so much in how you apply the paint but in getting the canvas to not move or flop about too much as you work on it, or curl at the edges.

You can tape or pin the piece of canvas to a wall, board, tabletop or even the floor.

Big clips on the edges of a drawing board work too. Or if it's lying flat, then some heavy objects in the corners, such as tubs of paint or a half-brick.

Heavier weight canvas and larger unstretched pieces will straighten somewhat under their own weight is hung at the top and not more so much on the floor. Particularly if you allow yourself to stand on it, as contemporary landscape artist Kurt Jackson does.

If you're used to moving a canvas as you paint, for instance turning it upside down, it may work best to clip it onto a drawing board to retain this option. What you may also miss if you're accustomed to working on stretched canvas is the bounce of the surface. When against a wall it'll be more rigid, like working on board.

If it's going to be stretched later, remember to allow for part of the canvas going over the edge of the stretcher bars when finalizing the composition. There is a risk of damaging the finished painting when stretching it, for instance damaging the painted surface as you grip the canvas with your hands or pliers, and it's hard to get as tight.

If in doubt, practice on an unimportant painting or take it to a professional framer with experience of doing this.

Not stretching it is, of course, also an option. The painting could be displayed by attaching only the top to a wooden bar (a dowel, or even a solitary stretcher). If it's a small painting, it could be mounted in a box frame, as is done with watercolor paper.

• See Also: Is it Okay to Paint with Acrylics on Raw or Unprimed Canvas?
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