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 fibers, historically two materials have dominated the canvas industry, Cotton and Linen. Over the next two blogs we’re going to look into what the difference is between the two, and which is the best one for your work.
Cotton canvas, also known as Cotton Duck Canvas (It’s not actually made of Duck, the word comes from the Dutch word doek, and means “linen canvas“) is the most popular choice for students and emerging artists. Cotton canvas is more affordable than Linen, and it is usually available in a larger range of sizes, strengths and weights.
The main advantage of cotton (aside from its affordability) is its stretchiness. Cotton fibers stretch a lot easier than other fibers, allowing for a much tighter wrapped canvas without putting too much strain on the wooden support. Because it is more accessible, cotton canvas is perfect for emerging artists who are still refining their style, they are also much easier to stretch and prepare, for those who are learning the fine and very fulfilling art of stretching their own canvas.
There are a couple of drawbacks to cotton canvas; the same flexibility that makes the canvas so easy to stretch also causes it to sag when used for very large paintings, or with the strain of excessively thick or heavy paint. Selecting a heavier grade of cotton canvas may help curtail some of this slack.
It is critical that all canvases be primed, and selecting the right weight and surface texture of canvas as well as proper priming with the correct acrylic or oil gesso can help some of the sagging. Cotton is also naturally more absorbent, and so priming is essential to seal and prevent the paint from being absorbed into the canvas. The effects of this absorption can cause a painting to crack, or even erode. A properly prepared cotton canvas is more likely to withstand the effects of weight and the weathering effects of moisture and time.
Ultimately, your choice in canvas should come down to what you’re painting, what you’re painting with, and what is the intended destination of your art piece. If you are working on a high detail art piece, such as a portrait or a still life that might require a smooth untextured finish, then Linen might provide a smoother more controlled surface. If you are working on a landscape or work with loose, rough strokes, cotton canvas will probably suffice. If you are working with expensive oils, or works that are intended to go to museums or high-end collectors, a sturdier, more archival linen canvas might be the more reliable option.
Cotton canvas is perfect for the everyday artist, the emerging artist, the student artist still experimenting with sizes, weights, textures, paints and process. The affordability and malleability of the canvas makes it easier to work with. Fredrix Canvas has a large selection of Cotton Canvases of various grades and weights, perfect for your artwork!