Recently I started painting on canvas again. Last year I had to build a giant painting (12ft x 6ft) for a clinic in Bethel, and decided it would be best to paint it on canvas, roll it up, then fly there to rebuild and re-stretch it. I was pleased with the results. The end product was quite different from the hardwood plywood panels, but I found it to be easier to put certain details into the painting. The finishing work required to put a painting on the wall — framing or painting the sides, has always been a hurdle for me, and I remember one of my college professors praising my paintings, but criticizing my shoddy frames. I often see paintings framed poorly, and I have striven since those early college failures to produce professional looking pieces. I still have some of those old canvases rolled up, but fortunately I did away with the garish frames. In my defense, I was framing them on the catwalk balcony at my dorm room, because the sculpture professor wouldn’t let me make frames in the state-of-the-art sculpture lab.
A finished canvas without a frame needs to have a full wrap so the edges may be painted. I didn’t make canvases that way until I was taught how to do so in class. Frames need to have a lip that covers the front edge of the painting so you don’t have a distracting gap. Previously, I used to laminate a piece of hardwood to the edges of a painting and sand the edge back to make a finished looking box, which is impossible with canvas. That also takes a ton of work, since I am without a wood-shop, just like in the old dorm-room days. Operating a table saw and a chop saw outside in the snow and 10 degrees is not my idea of fun. Nobody ever told me being an artist was going to be easy. In fact, I was told a successful artist works harder than most people. I don’t know how hard I actually work, but I do seem to always be out of time. I don’t really like power sanding, so I ordered a case of professional grade canvases. I’ll give them a try and maybe I can just paint the edges and skip that snowy outdoor time with the annoying power-tools.
Painting on a canvas is completely different than the techniques I have been using on the hardwood panels. My gold and red underpainting doesn’t work the same, so I have gone back to a traditional painting technique I haven’t used in a decade. I was always about getting the colors to scream on the surface, but I am now more interested in getting a more accurate depiction. I am now making an underpainting that represents the grayscale values, and not the primary colors I always used previously, which makes me like using canvas way more. Canvas paintings reproduce better as canvas prints, since it is the same material used to begin with. The gold and red painting surface that I have been using, looks great as an original, but always misses a bit as a reproduction. I am switching over for completely practical reasons. It seems very few people purchase original paintings. I sell 20, or more prints and then maybe one original. Even though my originals are pretty affordable, and I price my prints a bit higher than average.
Painting on canvas takes more time as I am forced to work with layering techniques. The alla-prima technique looks lackluster without the red and gold underpainting. It is necessary to build up layers to completely cover the canvas and fill in the little white spots that form around painted objects. This takes more time and requires mixing mediums. I will probably have to charge more for originals, since it takes way longer to make canvas paintings. I originally started painting on the red and gold panels because it worked so well in a Plein Air (outdoors painting) environment. I could start and finish a painting before it started to rain, or the sun moved too far, changing the shadows. I was also making smaller pieces. Are the red and gold panels to be retired forever? Of course not! I will still make some pieces using my signature technique, but I also have bought two large canvases and want to see where these traditional materials lead me.