14x18 - Oil and wax on canvas mounted on a cradled panel
I painted this one from a small sketch that I painted last February. I liked the subtle, almost monochromatic quality to the color that I saw that afternoon. The colors used to paint this one were Titanium white, Naples yellow light, ultramarine blue and Indian red. To enhance the translucency of the light effect, I used Gamblin's Cold Wax Medium, and loved it.
All of that is to say that lately, I've been enjoying painting on cotton (not entirely due to it's affordability, but that is a factor) versus linen. A little secret... I spent the entire summer painting on pre-stretched cotton canvas with an acrylic emulsion primer, that I purchased at a deep discount in one of the local 'hobby' stores. I just couldn't turn down a 2-pack of 16x20's for $7.99! They have a good tight stretch, I LOVE the weave, and also love the way the primer on them takes the paint. They're manufactured in Vietnam, and they do it right over there. I burned through a truck load of these things in 11x14 and 16x20 sizes. My method was to give them a coat of an acrylic wash of cerulean blue and burnt sienna as a tone, and then go to work painting on them.
However, I also know that to be the most archival, we are better off painting on fabric mounted to, or on a primed inflexible substrate like MDF, Gatorboard, Dibond, or other treated wood surface. That sort of bums me out. I like the give of the stretched canvas or linen. I feel the sensitivity of the paint through the brush more than I do when painting on a hard surface or on linen or canvas mounted on a hard surface. But I'm trying to adapt.
Since I enjoyed painting on those acrylic primed, pre-stretched canvases all summer, I am continuing to explore that idea and found some very nice 12 oz cotton canvas, unprimed, at my local Meininger's Art Supply store in Boulder, CO. It has a weave that is not the normal, very uniform weave of cotton canvas. It's a little more erratic looking, more 'linen like', a medium texture surface that looked like it would be nice to paint on.
My other favorite painting surface of late is the cradled panel, usually with a Baltic birch ply wood surface. So here's my procedure for making a painting substrate from the raw cotton canvas and the cradled birch panel.
Materials used - Raw canvas or linen, Lamin-all adhesive, a cradled panel, a 4" medium nap roller & tray, Gamblin's PVA, an acrylic emulsion primer (aka acrylic gesso), brush to apply gesso and PVA, a hard plastic brayer (6" wide) and some sand paper.
Procedure - I cut the canvas with about 2" extra all around to help prevent it shrinking to a smaller dimension than the edge of the board when it gets wet from the PVA and primer, and to make it easier to trim to a nice, clean edge. (seen in the photos above) Using the 4" roller, I roll on a generous coat of the Lamin-All glue, being sure to cover the edges especially well. Lamin-All is a 'heat re-activated glue', meaning that it can be applied to the board, allowed to dry, then have the canvas laid onto it and heated in a dry mount press which will adhere the canvas to the board, because the heat activates the glue again. Since I don't have a dry mount press, I use it as a 'wet mount' glue. I prefer it to others ( like Lineco (an acid free book binding glue) or Miracle Muck), because it dries VERY fast. Which means I don't have to cover and weight these panels.
While the glue is still wet (it will dry fast in open air) I lay the canvas onto the cradled panel, being sure to get the weave of the canvas square with the edge of the panel. I use my hands to lightly work it into the glue, from the center out, then use the plastic brayer to work it down into the glue better, so that it's well adhered. Work the edges down so that they are glued solidly. The Lamin-All dries fast enough, and the canvas is heavy enough, so that weighting isn't even necessary. I don't personally have the space to cover them all and weight them, so I have to do it this way. I check on them every 10-15 minutes, run over them again with the brayer to be sure that the canvas is adhering well, and that seems to work fine. Then let them set over night. The Lamin-All dries fast, but I like to be sure that it's completely cured before I size and prime the canvas.
The next day I begin the priming process. First I brush a coat of the PVA size onto the canvas, being liberal with it. That does a couple of things. One is that it seals the absorption of the canvas some so that when I go to apply the primer, it takes less primer. Secondly, the PVA soaks into the threads of the cotton, offering greater protection. Once that's dry, and it doesn't take too long, I begin to prime. That's pretty simple, use a wide, stiff brush (the cheap hardware store hog bristle stain brushes work great), and apply a thin coat of the acrylic primer. Once that's dry, I lightly sand it, and apply 3 more coats, sanding in-between each coat. Easy enough...
In a few hours, when the primer is good and dry, I lay the panels with attached canvas onto a cutting board, canvas side down, and using a new blade in a mat knife or carpet knife, I trim the excess canvas off tight to the edge. I will be framing some of these if not all, in floater frames. That being so, I try to get a very nice, clean edge when trimming the canvas off. I don't want tag threads or gouges into the edge of the cradled panel. A little cautionary care here, and it works out great!
I find that this is a pretty absorbent surface, depending on the acrylic primer that I pick to use. A little more sanding, and then a layer applied with a straight edge, like a piece of mat board, to fill in some of the dips in the canvas weave, and I'm done.
The canvas I purchased cost $8.28 a yard. The cradled panels have to either be purchased (Cheap Joe's has some good ones for a very reasonable cost), or made. I don't like table saws (I've known a few life long, skilled woodworkers lose appendages or be seriously injured on them), so I either have to make them with less convenient equipment (Skil saw and miter box) or purchase pre-made. One thing that I'm about to do, is see if there's a local cabinet shop that will make them for me, or make the components for me so that I can finish them, and save some $$$.
Cost- The 14x18 cradled panel for this painting is $7.19 from Cheap Joe's. I have about $1.00 in the canvas, $1.00 in primer and PVA? Under $10.00 is a good guesstimate. The big picture is, I have a surface that is exactly ( for now ) how I like it! That makes the time to make it worth that money, and more.