It’s essential for any artist working with a canvas to know how to stretch a painting. Priming and stretching your canvases is a crucial skill to master. Sure, you could pay a professional to do it for you, but learning how to stretch a canvas painting yourself is far more rewarding, not to mention cost-effective. When you first try canvas stretching, you might not get it right the first time, and that’s okay. You might even end up permanently ruining a perfect canvas, but you know what they say; you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs. Please think of this as a significant step in your art business’s research and development phase; all it is is trial and error.
If you’ve never attempted canvas stretching before but want to learn how to do it on your own, this guide will break down every step so that you’ll be stretching your canvas painting before you know it.
What Is Canvas Stretching?
Canvas stretching refers to stretching a blank, printed, or painted sheet of canvas fabric across a wooden canvas frame to display on a wall or a stand. Standard tools used in the stretching process include;
- A staple gun
- A hammer or mallet
- Measuring tape
- A staple remover
Those experienced in canvas stretching can use these tools to stretch canvas fabric across a frame and secure it across each side to create a piece of art that you can hang on your wall or display on a stand.
The Canvas Stretching Process
To begin stretching your canvas, place the canvas cloth out across the floor. It’s best to do this on the floor, as it provides a flat, even surface. Next, you’ll need to use a strainer frame. These are available at most art supply stores, but you could also try to make one yourself if you want to take the extra effort. Place the frame down onto the canvas, making sure it’s placed evenly; that way, you don’t end up with a crooked canvas.
Next, you want to take a pair of scissors and begin cutting the canvas fabric around the border of the strainer frame. We recommend using tailor’s scissors, specially made to cut through cloth without damaging it. Remember that it’s best to use sharp scissors; blunt scissors may cut jagged, uneven edges and spoil your canvas. While cutting around the frame, you should leave about 2 inches of fabric along the outer edges.
Use a sharpie to mark the middle of each side; this will help to ensure that each parallel side is perfectly even so that your canvas keeps its symmetrical rectangular shape rather than ending up looking crooked and uneven. Making sure the frame is placed perfectly within the center of the fabric, begin folding each side across the edges of the frame. Ideally, there should be enough fabric to wrap securely around the entire surface of the frame’s wooden panel. Repeat this process for all four sides of the canvas. If you’ve been cutting your fabric correctly and carefully positioning your frame, the material should wrap evenly around each side.
Once you’ve secured the fabric along each side of the canvas frame, begin stapling or nailing the material onto the frame. This step might be more straightforward if you mark each point beforehand to place each nail or staple on even and perfectly parallel points of the canvas frame. Once you’ve successfully finished stapling one side, the others become easier, and the rest of the process seems to happen naturally. However, you must ensure that the canvas is tightly secured and stretched across the entire frame to avoid creases in the fabric. Essentially, you want to ensure that the tension between each parallel side remains constant. If you’ve been careful about cutting your canvas fabric evenly and positioning the frame correctly, achieving the correct level of tension shouldn’t be difficult, but it is a step you need to get right, so be careful. To check if you’ve achieved the perfect degree of tension, tap the fabric surface, and it should make a sound that resembles that of a drum.
Finally, you want to fold the corners of the fabric into the corners of the frame, ensuring they’re tucked in neatly before stapling them down. There you have it; your canvas is finally ready to be primed. If you followed this guide to the letter and still didn’t get a perfectly stretched canvas, don’t worry. Canvas stretching takes time to master; keep trying until you get it right. If your canvas has uneven folds or creases, or if the fabric bulges and sags at different points on its surface, start over; you’ll get it right eventually.
Making Your Canvas Frame
You can purchase your canvas frame from your standard art supply store, or you can choose to build your own canvas frame from scratch. First, you’ll need to buy pieces of wood from your local hardware store. Prepare the wood by sanding it down so your fabric can wrap around it smoothly. Next, decide the exact dimensions of your canvas. Carefully cut each piece of wood down to the desired dimensions. Make sure that each parallel piece of timber is of exactly even length. The slightest discrepancy will completely offset the shape of your canvas. Next, you want to use a strong hammer and nails to secure each size of wood into the body of your rectangular frame. Some people may choose to use glue, but you can use glue and nails if you want to go the extra mile. Choosing to build your own canvas frame from scratch allows you to use better quality materials than what you’ll find at your standard art supplies store. You may even be able to save money by building your own.
Where To Get a Canvas Stretched
Learning to stretch a canvas on your own can be intimidating. If you don’t feel like you have the time or resources to learn how to do it yourself, that’s perfectly fine. There are professionals that will be happy to stretch your canvas for you for a price.
If you want to get your canvas stretched, take it to a local art supplies store. Stores that sell pre-made canvas frames will usually be willing to help you stretch your canvas. There are other places that you can go to get your canvas stretched too. For example, you could try taking your canvas fabric and frame to a local art gallery, and see if anyone there would be willing to lend you a helping hand.
If all else fails, you could always take your canvas and frame to a local woodworking or carpentry store and ask a professional woodworker to help you. In fact, this may just be your best bet, because they’re sure to have the tools necessary to do the job right.
Hopefully, this guide provided you with some helpful insight about canvas stretching. Now that you know every step that canvas stretching entails, are you interested in trying it yourself? Or would you still prefer to invest in getting help from a professional? Of course, there is no singular correct answer one way or the other; it’s best to assess your priorities and do what works best for you and your art.