Monday, April 4, 2011

Canvas Preparation

For my oil painting I prepare my canvases with an oil based ground.  This is done for several reasons.

  • Oil paint on an oil ground yields a good chemical bond (not just a mechanical bond).
  • The surface is much less absorbent than gesso so the intensity of the paint stays high.
  • The paint sits on the surface.
  • The paint is easily shoved around (manipulated) on the surface.

Here is how I start.  In this case I am using Grumbacher MG white.  I like a lead white as well.

Notice the contrast with the Oil White - Brilliant

Please pardon the colours in the studio.  The camera thinks this is a warm white.  Not.

In order to fill the pores of the canvas I spread the thick paint with a knife.

This is thick and gooey - and fast drying

I then smooth the surface with a brush.  The degree of tooth and texture is a personal thing.

Usually I use a large hardware store bristle brush

When this is dry you might want to sand it to your preference before future steps.  You can use as is with the brilliant white helping for high key paintings done in one sitting.  Or you can colour the canvas with the ground colour and value of your choice.  This aids colour harmony and makes colour and value judgement easier.  The following canvas was stained with a transparent red oxide, ultramarine mix applied with an alkyd butter.  This gives the surface a strong set of layers to work on.  It is really a second layer of oil base.  This makes the surface "fast" and stops the paint from sinking in and losing its intensity.

This was applied with a rag

The surface is very nice to work on.  Holding the brush loaded with paint and making the stroke with the side of the brush deposits paint according to the pressure used.

Here is a loose canvas patch prepared the same way using yellow ochre, red oxide and alkyd butter.  The paint is applied with the flat bristles to deposit the paint.  I like the loose canvas when I am travelling by air.  Twenty canvases are around 1 cm thick - and light.  I travel very light with just a back pack.

Hold the brush using the full handle to deposit the mark

Wrong location?  Just change the brush angle to pick up the pile of paint and deposit it when it should go.  The angle used is like using a scraper.

No blending or licking, just pushing and moving


  1. Curious, are you starting with an unsized bit of canvas or linen or what?
    Lately, I've been recycling my mothers old linen handkerchiefs for miniature work, it makes a nice surface, but I have been using gesso. I like the idea of skipping the gesso and priming with paint. Will try that.

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