Canvas Basics and Boards from Bristol to Foam. Tips for Artists

Canvas and canvas products are the traditional surfaces for oils and acrylics. The canvas products you will encounter are:

1. Traditional Canvas – canvas, primed with gesso, stretched on standard size stretchers. Cotton, cotton blend or linen fabric, used for oil and acrylic painting. Also refers to the finished product of canvas stretched onto stretcher bars and primed. Primed canvas gallery wrapped on thinner stretchers. Perfect size for framing, as smaller stretchers fit inside rabbet of the frame.

2. Heavy Duty Canvas – are similar to traditional canvases, but stretched on deeper and heavier stock stretchers. Both Traditional and Heavy Duty Canvases should be Gallery Wrapped, meaning the canvas painting surface covers the front and sides of the canvas without staples exposed on the sides. Traditional and Heavy Duty Canvases are also both re-stretchable, allowing for tension adjustment throughout the life of the painting. Less prone to warping due to size of stretchers. Also, painting may be hung without a frame because the canvas has no staples showing. Primed canvas gallery wrapped on large stretchers.

3. Canvas Panels – An inexpensive primed canvas wrapped around a chipboard core. Not as stable as stretched canvases due to their tendency to warp, but a good beginning alternative to more expensive stretched canvas. Canvases that have a layer of gesso on the fabric stretched around the sides of the stretchers and attached in the back.

4. Masonite – a rigid board that has been primed with gesso (an acrylic-based primer for canvas and Masonite) used for surfaces that will be painted with oils or acrylics (either pre-primed or primed prior to painting). More stable than canvas panels, but without the flexibility and longevity of stretched canvas. Construction-grade wooden board coated with gesso. Used for oil and acrylic painting.

Boards – from Bristol to Foam

Here’s a bit of information on different boards and their applications.

1. Bristol – not really a board at all, but is, in fact, a multi-ply paper, available in plate finish or a cold-press vellum finish. The plated finish is used for ink and fine detail applications while the vellum finish is used for pencil drawing and other dry media. Rigid smooth or vellum finished multi-ply paper which is versatile as it can be used with many different media.

2. Illustration Board – available in several thicknesses and in both Plate and Cold Press finishes, Illustration Board is the surface of choice for classic graphic arts, for rigid ink and pencil drawings. Dense board with one or two sides of art paper attached. The surface may be a plate, hot press or cold press. Hot Press, Cold Press or Rough Paperbound to a wood pulp core. Versatile as different surfaces accommodate many media. Offers rigidity for unframed or free-standing work.

3. Poster Board – Inexpensive, hot press coloured board with multi-plus made from raw pulp with a colorant added. Typically used for school art projects and children’s art. Not suitable for other art applications because of their rapid degradation.

4. Mat Board – Archival board primarily used for creating mats on the framed art, mat board is sometimes used for pencil, coloured pencil, charcoal, and pastel due to its rigidity and interesting surface texture. Very interesting results can be achieved with pastels on suede finished mat board.

5. Foam Board – a rigid board most commonly used for filler and mounting as well as a surface for pencil, ink, pastel and charcoal. Plate or cold press finished boards with a core of plastic foam. Primarily used as a rigid filler or mountboard for framing, but can be used as a surface for dry and some wet media.


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