Introduction: How to Stretch a Canvas
A stretched canvas to an artist is like a piece of paper to a writer.
The only difference lies the availability of a piece of paper to a stretched canvas.
A genuine artist (specifically a painter) tends to stretch their own canvas rather than buying a pre-stretched canvas due to an artist's individual preferences and desires for the specific work of art.
The reason a painter would hire an assistant or have an apprentice stretch their canvas is due to the amount of time it can take to stretch canvases. Stretching ten canvases can take up five hours because of preparation, initiation, and drying time.
A busy painter with many projects due will not have time to stretch their own canvas when needed on demand.
Step 1: Materials Needed
- Blank canvas (texture of canvas varies depending on artist's specific needs)
- Note: Blank canvas can be called canvas, blank canvas, or canvas fabric.
- Stretcher rods (sizes range depending on size of final canvas desired)
- Staple gun
- Staple remover (incase of mistake)
- Note: apply gesso in an open area with ventilation, and give time and space to allow gesso to dry.
- Large paint brush with flat bristles
- Small piece of sandpaper
- Scissors or X-acto knife
- Safety goggles
Note: All of these materials can be bought at local art stores.
Local Art Stores in Towson:
Plaza Art Store - 519 York Road, Towson, MD
Michaels Art Store - 1238 Putty Hill Ave., Towson, MD
Step 2: Safety Precautions
- Since a staple gun will be used, make sure to take precaution by wearing safety goggles, keeping eyes protected.
- When applying gesso, the chemicals used in the acrylic can be quite strong. Make sure to apply gesso in a an open studio with proper ventilation or outside to prevent headaches, dizziness, ect.
Step 3: Purchasing the Correct Materials
Picking out stretching rods:
- It is important to know the final size of the canvas.
- For example, if the final canvas is 18'' x 32'' then two 18'' rods and two 32'' rods must be purchased.
Note: The brand purchased does not matter.
Picking out blank canvas:
- There are many different fabrics of canvas- this is completely up to the artist's preferences and desirabilities of the painting.
- (Fabrics range depending on the type of paints used and the desired texture of the painting.)
- Usually, the canvas will be rolled up (the way fabrics would be in an art store), and an employee will have to help you cut the desired amount of canvas.
- Note: Find an employee in the store if you are having trouble finding blank canvas.
- When deciding how much canvas to purchase, refer back the size of the final canvas. You want the canvas to be significantly larger than the frame itself so it has room to stretch.
Note: Do not exaggerate and buy an excessive amount of blank canvas (just slightly larger than the size of the frame).
***I have provided images of what both stretching rods and blank canvas will look like in the store.
Step 4: Putting Together the Frame
After all of the materials have been purchased, the first step is putting together the frame of the canvas.
1. Pick up the four purchased rods. There should be two rods for the length (in the example I used 18'') and two rods for the width (in the example I used 32'").
2. Observing the edges of the rods, notice the slits at the end. This is where the two rods will fit into one another.
3. Taking one of the length (18'') rods and one of the width (32'') rods, hold them next to each other until they create a "L" shape.
3a. The rods should easily slide into the slits on the edges forming an "L" shape.
Note: you may want to use a little force when placing the rods into one another, making sure they hold their place.
4. Using the second length (18'') rod and second width (32'') rod, repeat step 3.
5. After completing these steps, you should have two "L" shapes. You will want to form these "L" shapes together into a rectangle (one will be in the shape of an "L" and one will be a backwards "L").
5a. In order to complete the frame, slide the remaining rods into the remaining slits.
6. You should be left with a 18'' x 32'' rectangle frame.
Step 5: Cutting Canvas Fabric
1. Using a large enough table or open floor space, lay out the canvas, then place the stretcher frame (created in last step) face down of the canvas.
2. There should be at least 2'' to 3'' of canvas fabric around the frame. If there is over 5'' of excess fabric, trim the fabric down to 3'' margins around the frame. When cutting, a X-Acto is the easier option; however, scissors will also complete the task as well.
Note: when using scissors, it is easier to create a cut in the canvas and then tear along from there, for this will provide a straighter line.
Step 6: Before Stretching the Canvas
It is important to note the orientation of the painting. For example, does the artist was a vertical portrait canvas or horizontal landscape canvas? This will be important when stapling the edges of the canvas. In the picture example, the canvas is a landscape canvas, so the longer edges are the horizontal.
Make sure the frame is lying center on the canvas. Take this time to smooth out an creases in the canvas as we begin the process of stretching the canvas.
Step 7: Stretching the Canvas
1. Starting with the longest side of the frame (this may be the width or the length depending on the orientation), take the excess 3'' of canvas and stretch this overtop of the frame, like you are folding the fabric.
2. Once you have created a tight fold, using a staple gun, staple the canvas once in the middle of the frame.
Note: You always want to begin stapling in the middle of the frame to assure tightness. Do not begin putting staples in the corners.
3. Either rotate the canvas or move to the opposite side (I find this easier).
4. Pulling the canvas very tightly, begin repeating step one.
5. Repeat step 2.
6. Moving onto the shorter sides of the frame, stretch the excess 3'' of canvas overtop of the shorter sides.
7. Repeat step step 2.
8. Move to the last side of the frame, and repeat step 2.
Step 8: Stapling the Canvas
At this point, there should be one staple in the middle of each side of the frame.
From here, begin additional stapling. Starting from the middle staple, continue stapling until reaching the corners, leaving 3'' between each staple.
Step 9: Folding the Corners
Note: Folding the corners is going to be the hardest part of stretching the canvas because this will ensure how professional the canvas looks, and will also allow the canvas to sit amongst a wall.
1. At the first corner, pull the excess fabric on the end of the stapled side, so that one straight edge is even with the corner, and staple the edge of the taught fabric.
2. Pull the excess fabric around the side of the frame.
3. Using two hands pinch the fabric into two triangles.
4. Pull the fabric over the frame covering the original stapled corner, and place two to three staples.
5. Repeat this process on the opposite corner, and then repeat until all corners are stapled.
**Follow the pictures in order for additional help.
Step 10: Assuring Tightness of the Frame
Great job! Reaching this point means that the canvas is completely stapled and ready to test for firmness.
When checking for firmness, flip the canvas over and tap the center. The canvas should feel very tight, the a way a drum does when being tapped on.
If you find that the canvas is not tight enough (you would know if the canvas is not taught or there are creases on the front), then you must take this time to re-staple.
You will want to use a staple remover, and start removing staples from the corners until you find the problematic area where the canvas was not stretched tightly enough over the frame.
Step 11: Finishing and Priming the Canvas
After the canvas has been stretched and checked for firmness, the canvas is ready to be primed.
In most cases, artists use gesso, which is an acrylic primer; however, different artists will use different primers and toners.
Today, we will be using gesso.
1. Take out your gesso and large, flat paint brush.
1a. Since, gesso is an acrylic paint and tends to have a toxic smell to it, make sure you are in a large room that is ventilated very well.
2. Apply the first coat of gesso, and let it dry thoroughly.
Note: When applying the gesso, move the paint brush in one direction, applying thin coats.
3. Apply the second layer; however, if you applied the first coat in a horizontal direction, this time apply the coat in a vertical direction. This assures there are no areas of the canvas that have been missed.
4. Once this coat has completely dried, using a very small-grained sandpaper, go over the entire canvas with the sandpaper to flatten any excess texture or bumps from the primer.
5. (This step is optional and is left up to the artist) A last step of primer can be added after the canvas has been sandpapered. Make sure to move the brush in one direction for this assures a quality canvas.
6. Repeat step 4.