The Art of Recycling

Q. I’d like to reuse some stretched canvases and canvas boards that I’ve already painted on. What should I do to prepare these surfaces for a new painting?
Frances Stark
Carmichael, CA

A. I generally don’t recommend this procedure for a few reasons. First, you can jeopardize your health in properly preparing the surface, which involves sanding and releasing harmful dusts into the air. Second, if the new painting is in oil, it might turn out well but be subsequently ruined by the re-emergence of the previous image, an effect called pentimento.

Finally, the preparation of these surfaces involves a good deal of labor, and given the ease of obtaining new materials it seems like a false economy.

But if you’re determined to reuse these supports, the process is the same for canvases and canvas boards, and I’ll assume that you’re asking about oil paintings and that the paintings are thoroughly dry. First, remove the paintings from the stretcher bars, stretch them flat on a piece of plywood and fasten them down. Gather an electric orbital sander, 120-grit open sandpaper, like that used for automotive body work, and a respirator that can filter out toxic particles (in case there’s any lead white or heavy metal pigments in the paint). Then use the sander to sand off the image down to the ground, but be careful not to sand all the way through the ground or too near the crease where the canvas was folded over the stretcher bars. Finally, wipe the surface with a rag moistened with alcohol, and let it dry completely. Then paint away.

 

 


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