29 July 2009

Building Canvas Stretchers - part II

First there is the tree. It gets torn up into little bits and re-assembled into a sheet of plywood. The sheet of plywood is then torn up into little bits and re-assembled into, in this case, my stretchers. The logical next step would be for my paintings to be torn up into little bits and made into something else, which would also in time be torn up, and so on...

But now on to the practical aspects of building stretchers.

I always do my cutting in the hallway outside the studio to avoid getting sawdust all over everything. This is particularly important if there are any wet paintings around.

The strips of wood I prepared a few days ago, and the trusty power saw.

Make 45 degree cuts with the higher bevelled edge outside.

Cut gussets for the corners. 1/8" thick doorskin works well - 8" for larger stretchers, 6" for smaller.

Wood and gussets ready to go.

Use a carpenter's square, wood glue and 2" nails.

7-8 nails per corner works well - not too many, but enough to hold it together. The 2" nails are long enough for everything.

Measure from corner to corner. If it measures the same both ways, the stretcher is "square". (Meaning not a lozenge shape - this works for rectangular stretchers too :)
If it is not square, it can be manipulted a bit at this point to make it square. 1/16" off is nothing to worry about; 1/4" off will need adjustment.

Glue and staple or nail the gussets. This will set the corners and help prevent the stretcher from going off square when it is moved around.

Final check: make sure the finished stretcher is not twisted. This is very important for the painting to hang flush to the wall - have you ever seen a painting which has one corner lifting off the wall? Right.

I find the easiest way to check this is to free-stand it on the floor and eye it from above. The top and bottom bars should be parallel.
Free standing is important because if you are holding it, it may bend a little. If it is laying on a table, the surface of the table may not be flat.
If the stretcher is twisted, you can twist it the other way to get it straight. Usually twisting until you hear a slight crack will do the trick, but you will need to eye it again to be sure.

A magical process of deconstruction and reconstruction: 2 sheets of 3/4" plywood become 12 stretcher frames.

Final note: I generally cross-brace the rectangluar stretchers one at a time just before I am ready to use them. I don't know why I don't do this along with the rest of the process, but there it is.

23 July 2009

so then I had this idea...

Spent the last few days stitching them up, bit by bit as time allowed. The really dark lines are parts of my old studio sweater cut up into thin strips and stitched on.

They will be 39x39" each. Yesterday I prepared the lengths of wood, and tomorrow another job-free day, so I can finish building the stretchers!

22 July 2009

Building Canvas Stretchers - part 1

Quite a few people have asked me if I build stretchers for other artists, and I have to say no. Then they sometimes ask how I do it, and I'm happy to explain. Now here is the illustrated version!

Today I began to build what I call "strong-back" stretchers. You can see one on the wall behind my work table in the photo above. They are mostly used for larger canvases, to avoid excessive cross-bracing.

Building strong-backs is a 2-part process. First the lengths of wood are prepared, then they are cut to the desired size and assembled into stretchers.

I like to use plywood because I ship my work to places where the humidity is very different from here.  Because plywood is made with thin layers of crossed wood grain, it is less likely to warp and twist than a solid piece of wood.

Ordinary construction-grade spruce plywood is fine.  It should have 6 or 7 layers of ply, and should not be terribly expensive.

To begin, I buy 2 sheets of 3/4" plywood at the lumber store. I have them rip one sheet into 2" strips, with a slight bevel (10-15 degrees) on one edge. The other sheet is ripped into 1 3/4" strips with no bevel. I take away one little pile of straight-edge strips, one little pile of bevelled strips. That's the easy part.

Now the idea is to glue one of each piece together.

Put some glue on the edge of a non-bevelled (1 3/4") piece. Make sure you use enough glue to get a good join.

Then lay a bevelled (2") piece on top and nail the two together. A nail every 12" or so should do it.

This is the profile you're aiming for. Ok, it's flipped upside down from how I nailed it, but you get the idea, right?

This is not a great glue join.

This one is better. A good glue join here is important - it will not separate when you begin cross-cutting.

Wipe off any excess glue, put it on the "finished" pile and continue along until all the strips are assembled. I let them sit overnight (sometimes longer) to make sure the glue is set before I begin the cross-cuts.

That's all for now. In a day or two I will cut and assemble the stretchers - stay tuned!

15 July 2009

and then...

I forgot to use my brain and made a rather poor decision.
This one had some nice stuff going on, but I am suddenly very sick of layering those toxic alkyd glazes, 20 or 30 glazes on each painting.

So in my new-found excitement about underpainting thickly and with limited colours, I decided to have a go at this one.
I think I could have used different colours to better effect, and maybe left some of that interesting subtlety of the glazing - but no, magenta and green it was, and covered the whole thing up in one fell swoop!
This is painfully bad:

Ok, yeah, I'll be able to make a good painting out of this eventually, but I think I just made it a lot harder for myself!

what it looks like from here

Yesterday I had a beautifully productive day. I did this:

34 x 60"
I plan to add a couple of colour glazes and a bit of foreground detail work to finish it up.

And this:

32 x 61"
I'm kinda thinking this one is done, bang, that's it.
Here is a closed-up of the stitching, some of which I did by hand using very long stitches to pull the fabric in:

11 July 2009

leaping out now

So now there is a series underway, 9 canvases 12x12" each.
Kind of liking the way they look right now...
Still ideas for a little further painting, but thinking to keep them quite monochromatic.
I really really really like the watery acrylic paint soaked into the raw canvas!

A couple of considerations:
If I leave them with just acrylic on the unprimed canvas, will they deteriorate over time? I think so.
What options?
Coat with matte or gloss medium, then uv varnish.
However then the raw look of the canvas will disappear.


And there is the second one, well under way.
I sure like the raw look of them right now. Should I paint over with oil?
Perhaps just wait.

05 July 2009

starts & finishes


oil on stitched canvas
48 x 56"

ongoing series:

and a new start:

I have decided to break out and start using photographic references for my paintings! This idea has been bouncing around in my head for awhile now, and finally I have got a printer and it's up and running so I can print some of my super-close crops and begin working from them.

I am really very excited about this...!

01 July 2009

photo opportunity

Today I decided to take some action shots in the studio...

And, remember this?

Now looks like this:

I find myself trying to simplify things lately. Kinda liking it.