How to Stretch Painted Canvas

In this Q&A, Michael Skalka explains how to mount painted canvas to a board—or how to stretch that canvas for framing.

Q. Due to limited space and money, I began a series of paintings on unstretched canvas. Now I notice wrinkles or slight warping in the canvases. What’s the best way to bind a 36×48-inch unstretched, painted canvas to a wooden support as I flatten out the wrinkles?

A. Mounting a canvas on a wall and using the building’s structure as a temporary easel is not uncommon. An acceptable method of mounting the painting would be to place it on a stretcher and carefully tack and tension the canvas in the same fashion as would be used with a blank pre-primed fabric. That method would solve both the problem of removing the wrinkles and of preparing the canvas for proper hanging.

A better way to mount the canvas would be to use a solid, flat support. This type of support includes hardboard; cabinet-grade, birch plywood; and medium-density overlay (MDO). You can achieve a flexible, permanent bond with a long-lasting, polyvinyl acetate adhesive like Jade 403 (familiar to bookbinders). Household polyvinyl acetates (all-purpose white glues) become brittle over time and may promote adhesion failure.

The trick in gluing is to create a good bond without air pockets. Working with a finished painting prohibits the use of brayers or other rollerlike flattening devices to press the surface down to the board. Fingers applying gentle pressure are the only safe tools you can use to ensure that the canvas is making uniform contact with the board.

Lay the canvas on an unglued board, making sure that your painting surface is correctly squared and oriented. Fold the canvas in half to expose the board underneath. Quickly apply glue to the portion of the board you’ve exposed. Working from the center, slowly lay the canvas back onto the glued board a few inches at a time, pressing the canvas evenly with your hands to push out any air pockets. After you’ve glued down the first half of the canvas, gently fold the unglued side onto the glued side. Apply adhesive to the board and repeat the same incremental rolling process to the second half of the canvas.

Look at the completed piece in raking light (light hitting the canvas at an angle) to detect any air pockets. If pockets are evident near the edge, gently squeeze out the bubble or tease up the canvas to release the air. In most cases, be prepared to reapply adhesive to the area that has been pulled up. Keep the work of art lying flat, face up, for several days to dry thoroughly.

This Q&A originally appeared in the May 2010 issue of The Artist’s Magazine. Click here to order a print or digital subscription of this premier art magazine.

You might also be interested in the DVD Framing Matting & Hanging: A Beginner’s Guide, available at NorthLightShop.com.


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