Canvas: Stretch it or Buy it?

by wendellmyersart

Canvases being stretched on studio floor

I have gone back and forth between stretching my own canvases and buying pretstretched, prepared canvases.  It’s not easy to know which approach is really better.  Back when I was in art school (in Milwaukee, in the ’70s) we all were much too cool to buy prepared canvases.  We were too cool to buy pre-made stretcher strips!  In order to be seen by your classmates as a “serious” art student, you had to buy molding (brick molding was a favorite) and build your OWN stretchers on which to stretch your canvas!

Each approach, however, has its own advantages and disadvantages.  Buying prepared canvases certainly saves a LOT of time, and this is time you can use for painting, or for promoting your work.  On the other hand, in general it costs a lot more than stretching your own canvas.  The biggest downside, however, is that you are stuck with someone ELSE’S idea of acceptable quality.  Much of what’s available in prepared canvas is simply junk, and just not good enough for creating works that you hope to sell for hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars!

Stretching your own canvases can save you quite a bit of money, but it takes a lot of time, and, contrary to popular belief, it is NOT easy to do well.  It is, however, a skill that one can beome quite good at with some consistent effort.  To me, the BIGGEST upside is that it puts you in control of quality.  Very high quality canvas is available in bulk from many sources.  The best stretchers available are very much higher quality than what’s generally available in prestretched canvas.  Of course, that gets us back to the cost factor.  The very highest quality stretchers, which combine wood with aluminum for strength and dimensional stability, get quite expensive!

More on quality in my next post.