To an artist, a blank canvas presents a world of possibilities, but before your canvas gets perched up on your easel, you need to decide just what kind of canvas is best for your work. Although now, there are canvases made of various synthetic fiber, historically two material have dominated the canvas market, Cotton and Linen. Last blog, we went over Cotton Canvas, today, we’re looking at Linen Canvas, what the difference is between the two, and which is the best one for your work.
Linen canvas is made from the fibers of a flax plant. Because it is laborious to produce and top quality flax is harvested mainly in Western Europe, linen canvas is higher priced than most other canvases. Despite it’s higher price, linen canvas is the canvas of choice for many established artists, as it provides a stronger, smoother surface and has proven to be most durable.
Linen retains its natural oils, making the fiber itself more flexile and protecting the surface and the paint on it from becoming brittle and cracking. This makes Linen a more durable surface, and perfect for archival purposes, like artwork destined for museums and high end collectors. It also makes it an ideal surface for heavier applications of paint and large scale artworks.
The texture and weave of linen is more natural and spontaneous than that of cotton which tends to have a more mechanically consistent weave, and many artists find this to be a perk to work with. While both linen and cotton can be purchased in a variety of textures and weights, linen tends to provide, even after both surfaces have been primed, a smoother, stiffer surface to work with. These surfaces are ideal for high detail work, as well as working with thicker and heavier layers of paint.
Like all canvas, but probably even more critical with linen being used for oil painting, proper preparation is essential. Linen canvas must be both sized and primed for an ultimate surface. Sizing is an adhesive coating, usually consisting of natural hide adhesive. A coating of this prevents the gesso from coming in contact with the canvas fibers, and protects the canvas from deterioration as well as allowing for maximum flexibility, protecting your art from cracking over time. In addition to sizing, a high quality oil gesso should also be applied.
The process of preparing a linen canvas is both more costly and more difficult than cotton canvas, as it’s lack of flexibility in raw form make it a harder canvas to stretch properly. You can of course, purchase pre-stretched and pre-primed Fredrix linen canvas of various sizes and weights, perfect for your next masterpiece. Linen canvas will move more based on moisture. As such, it needs strong stretcher bars to prevent warping and needs to be stretched tighter to prevent sagging. Fredrix Pre-stretched linen uses thicker stretcher bars for a tighter fit which helps prevent sagging and warping. Once you have mastered the art of linen stretching, you can also purchase rolls of linen and custom prepare these to be the perfect surface to accommodate your particular style of painting.