Notebook, 1993-

MATERIALS & METHODS - Painting - Oil Painting - Supports and Grounds

Characteristics - Painting Methods - Materials and Equipment - Manufacture - Protection of the Picture

Flexible Supports- Textiles

Heavy fabrics have been used as supports for pictures at least since the thirteenth century. They have several obvious advantages over wood panels. Textiles are lighter than panels, and even large paintings on canvas may be easily moved. Textiles may be obtained in very large sizes, making possible the execution of large decorative paintings. The back of a painting done on textile is more accessible than that of a panel picture to various restoration techniques.

On the other hand, textiles, being flexible and thin, may be punctured or damaged more easily than rigid panels. Furthermore, textiles expand and contract in response to moisture, even to atmospheric humidity. Since this movement is often quite vigorous, paint films applied to textiles must be sufficiently elastic to withstand such movement without cracking. [p. 95]

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In general, heavier textiles are used for larger, thicker paintings, whereas thinner and lighter fabrics of finer weave are used for smaller pictures. However, the selection of the weave is a question of the artist's personal preference, and first-quality canvas is available and equally permanent in a great variety of weaves from smooth to rough. [p. 96]

Textiles made of hemp, jute, cotton, and flax have been employed by artists. Linen fabric, woven of flax fiber, is preferred over the other textiles because of its durability, because it accepts sizing and priming films very well, and because it becomes brittle less rapidly than most other fabrics. Also, in respect to expansion and contraction as a result of moisture, it is less troublesome. It may be obtained in a great variety of weights, from light to heavy, and in many weaves, running from rough to smooth. The fibers used in making artist's canvas should be of equal weight in both directions, warp and weft, so that the movements of expansion or contraction are equal in both direction. It should be of heavy, close manufacture but should permit the ground coats of priming to be forced down into the interstices of the weave. Very flimsy fabrics of wide mesh should be avoided, for they do not have the strength to support heavy layers of ground and paint. If untreated linen is held up to the light, it can easily be compared with other samples for character and quality of weave. [pp. 95-96]

Cotton is usually considered second choice to linen. Sailcloth or cotton duck--heavy, tightly woven cotton fabrics--are often used to make student-quality canvas. As mentioned before, cotton does not age as well as linen, and it seems to expand and contract more in response to moisture. Furthermore, in most cases the character of the weave appears more regular, mechanical, and less interesting to paint upon than that of a good grade of artist's linen.

Mixtures of linen and cotton or linen and nylon should be avoided because the fabric is apt to show uneven shrinkage or expansion, due to the fibers' differing rates of moisture absorption. [p. 96]

Jute is often found in rough fabrics, such as burlap sacking. It is inexpensive and so is sometimes used by students for sketches. Jute becomes extremely weak and brittle with age and should not be used for permanent painting. Those artists who are fond of its rough, heavy surfaces should be able to find a heavy linen textile of comparable weave to use in its place. [p. 96]

[Kay, Reed. The Painter's Guide to Studio Methods and Materials. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1983.]



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