Friday, March 27, 2009

The joys of construction

It has been several busy weeks in the studio. And I have not even picked up a brush! I have sold two prints on my FineArtAmerica print on demand site. That was wonderful, but problematic, my old digital camera I have been shooting my art with was only 3.4 metapixel and produced fuzzy images. After a frantic day of trying to tweak the images to be good enough and faced with losing the sale - I bit the bullet and bought a new camera. It is a 10 metapixel Cannon and I am loving it. The images are so clear you can see the grain of the canvas on screen I can not wait to see how the reproduce. I have since spent four days taking art of the walls, removing frames (when I could) and reshooting 30 of my paintings. I set up in the shade of the house in the back yard and configured my easel to hang the paintings on and I got some great shots.

I have also found a local source for giclee prints. Have yet to see the affordability of the service, but it is always nice to find local sources for things. Being and artist is not always about smearing paint on canvas. There is much to do behind the scene. Sketches have to be done, stretcher have to be built, canvas stretched, canvas primed, paintings framed, marketing done and the list goes on. Here in my studio in north east Florida, I am coming into the summer. Which, since I paint in the garage, I will have less optimal time to be in there painting. I will spend my time during the hottest times of the year construction the foundation for fall, winter and spring paintings.

I will try to have built enough canvases to get me through the creative season. I love to build stretcher. I do not buy commercial stretcher bars, unless I have to, or they are given to me. I prefer the old fashion way of buying my wood and building it to size. Over the 30+ years of my career, I have come up with a system that I find very suitable. . .

1) I start with the straightest 1 X 2" pine I can get. I also get some sort of trim wood to create a "lip" to keep the canvas off the face of the stretcher wood. If I can find it I prefer 1/4" quarter round, but that has become hard to find. So I usually get 1" X 1/4" screen stock. It has a flat edges on one side and rounded edges on the other side.
2) I glue and tack the screen stock on the 1 inch side of the 1 X 2. off setting it so a little of the screen stock is above the 1 X 2 creating a "lip". I use to build the main stretcher first and add the screen stock around the edge. But I find I have more control of the final size by adding the edging first and then cutting to size.
3) I then miter cut the stock and begin the construction. I usually make two or three canvases at a time so as to keep the clean to a minimum. I use a power miter saw, but back in the day i did it with a miter box and a back saw. If the canvas has a side over 36 inches I will create a brace in the middle so that when the canvas is stretch the wood of the stretch will not bow.
4) The canvas I buy is unprimed. One, because I like to prime the canvas myself. Priming canvases is a meditative process, I have know artist who buy premade canvases spending the time to prime the canvases before they paint on it. The other reason to buy unprimed canvas is that it stretches much easier. Primed canvas is stiff and takes a mighty strong person to get it to be tight. And tight is the objective.
5) Roll the canvas out on a clean and dry surface and place the built stretch on top. Using sharp scissors cut the canvas with enough extra to wrap around to the back of the stretcher. (this is called a gallery wrap) Starting in the middle of one side staple the canvas to the stretcher. Rotate the canvas and stretcher 180° and pull the canvas tight stapling in the center opposite to wear you started. Repeat on the adjacent side. Now working out from one center point pull the canvas tight and slightly towards the corner. Do the same on the opposite side.
6) The corners: you can cut the fabric so the corner is flush, I usually tuck the extra inside itself and pull the canvas to the back put several staples in it to hold it tight. I also make sure that I have only one tucked corner per side. It makes for an easier framing of the painting.
7) Prime the canvas. I use rabbit skin glue. You can get this in a crystal form at a good art supply house and I prepare according to the package, only make enough for the canvases you are preparing. You do not have to do it but I feel it helps tighten the canvas. It is applied warm to the canvas surface and edges and it shrinks the fabric and secures the canvas even more to the stretcher wood. It also adds an archival quality to the canvas. [Originally it was used because the artist did not have 'gesso' or acrylic paint. Oil over time rots canvas. So the glue 'sized' the canvas to protect from rot. The artist would spread and thick coat of white oil paint (lead white or titanium white) with a knife or trowel. This would take weeks to dry.] After the glue is dry I apply at least two and better three coats of acrylic white primer allowing each coat to dry throughly.

Only after all of this am I ready to put paint to canvas, but I would not have it any other way. This is time to think about what you are going to paint, to think about the days event. What ever, I need this time, I relish it and it makes me the artist I am.