Adhesive Advice

Q. I normally paint on stretched canvas or gesso-primed Masonite panels. I’ve noticed a growing number of artists in my area are gluing canvas to Masonite and I’d like to try this myself. But I’m only familiar with Elmer’s Glue-All or 3M Super 77 Spray Adhesive. What type of glue would you recommend for this process?
Kirk Roush
Edmond, OK

A. If you’re going to glue canvas—either preprimed or primed after attachment—to a panel, I’d recommend using a panel of Luan plywood, birch plywood or Masonite. All of these create very sturdy, durable supports. The plywood or Masonite should first be coated with two coats of polyurethane varnish such as what you’d find at hardware or paint stores as a floor-coating varnish. My preference is to use the solvent-based urethane varnish since it won’t warp the panel as will often happen with the water-based urethane varnish. Follow the directions on the label.

I’m not familiar with the 3M Super 77 Spray Adhesive you mentioned, but I can recommend the following since it’s what I often use: neutral pH polyvinyl acetate adhesive such as that made by Lineco Inc. and available through many conservation suppliers or from Pearl Paints. It’s basically an acid-free version of Elmer’s white glue. It’s only necessary to use a thin coat—too much glue will saturate the canvas. You can take care of several panels at a time, and simply stack them with separation papers in between and weighted overnight for drying. You may size and prime the canvas after the adhesive has dried.

I wouldn’t recommend using Elmer’s white glue since it’s acidic. But when you think about it, the plywood, Masonite and fabric are all acidic, as well, but to a lesser degree. If you decide to use Elmer’s, mix a half cup of powdered white chalk (available at hardware stores) with a cup of water. Then add that to a quart of Elmer’s glue. Adding the chalk directly to the Elmer’s glue will result in a very thick paste. If it’s too thick to thoroughly mix, add just enough water to make it workable. This chalk (calcium carbonate) will neutralize the acidity of the Elmer’s glue.

Ross Merrill is chief of conservation at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

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