I was taken back in a large art store yesterday when the clerk said, “we don’t carry supplies for stretching canvas.” Really? I had come in to purchase the wooden stretcher bars to supply the framework needed for the Belgian linen canvas I customarily use for portraits. As grocery stores and hardware stores have come to cater to convience items I am convinced it is valuable for the artist to know how to stretch their own canvas.
Painting is typically a solitary exercise. It’s the easel, the canvas and the artist. I love that my studio is in my home and my family members come in to chat with me while I paint. My studio sits across the entry hall from our kitchen and so I can hear the voices of loved ones while they cook or visit and I can be a part of the mix, yet have my space to create. For me, it is a wonderful, although occasionally chaotic, combination.
There is something symbolic about stretching a canvas besides developing the skill to accomplish this task and to also save money by purchasing the canvas in rolls. Another person is needed to stretch the canvas. There is cooperation involved. Four hands are needed. It’s a visual demonstration on how we need each other and work together, and occasionally how I need to listen and accept his leadership in our home.
First the stripping must be fitted together and made absolutely square. Then one uses the specially made pliers that have a wide grip to stretch the canvas across the wooden framed strips and the other person staples the edges. Be sure to start in the middle of the longest side and then alternate to the shorter sides so that the tendency to pucker is systematically worked out. Do no more than three inches at a time then switch to the exact opposite side and repeat. When you get to the corners fold under one side so that the corner is smooth to fit inside the frame. After the sides are all stapled fold the excess fabric across the back of the strip and tap in tacks to secure the rest of the canvas (pictured above).
Stretching ones canvas gives one a sense of accomplishment, saves a little money and gives us some time to work in cooperation with someone who supports our artistic endeavors and believes in us – and that is the best part of all.