Wendell Myers Fine Art

Thoughts on Quality Materials

stretcher bars assembled and ready

One of the things that has continued to frustrate me throughout my painting experience is the difficulty of finding materials and supplies that are of consistently high quality but are still affordable.   There are lots of products out there, whether you are talking about paints, brushes, canvas or whatever.  Much of what is available, unfortunately, caters to the casual hobbyist, for whom the main consideration appears to be cost.  Lots of supplies are available in rediculously small quantities (e.g. 2 oz tubes or jars of paint), and quality that is mediocre at best.  I guess this makes sense for people who paint small paintings on an occasional Sunday afternoon, hang them in the guest bedroom or give them all away to family and friends, but if you’re serious about what you are doing, it just doesn’t cut it.  Finding quality paint is pretty easy. Most folks agree that you can’t go wrong using either Golden or Liquitex.  Quality is consistently very high with both brands.  Affordability for many is an issue with these brands; they are not cheap, but in terms of cost per painting, both brands are reasonable.  There are lots of other brands out there, which one could certainly try, but these two appear to be the standards by which other brands are judged.  

For me, the real challenge (leaving brushes aside for now) has been finding consistently high quality, at an affordable price, in canvases, whether you are talking about prestretched canvases, or bulk canvas and stretchers.  As I said in my last post, one advantage of stretching your own canvases is that it gives you complete control over quality.  You can (and should) select the highest quality canvas and stretchers that you can afford (more on this in a future post).  

Prestretched canvases are more problematic, due to the expense of the human labor involved in their preparation.  Most of what’s on the market is imported from countries in Asia where labor is much cheaper.  Some of the quality is really, totally, abysmal. I started with Michaels, and their best prestretched canvases are the “Artists Loft” gallery wrapped, 1.5″ deep. They are kind of pricey, but often on sale for 40 or 50% off.  Sometimes you can do even a little better than that.  I watch for sales and only buy them on sale (you can sign up for email notification on Michael’s website).  The quality is really good, but I still occasionally have encountered problems.  i have one finished painting, which I like quite a bit, which will need to be restretched because one stretcher has bowed inward; apparently too much tension on the canvas.  Some don’t have enough tension and develop ripples at the corners.

Looking for a less expensive option, I tried prestretched canvases from wholesaleartsframes.com, an online source in California.  Their prices were great but their quality was terrible.  I ordered several 24 x24 inch, several 30 x 30 inch and one 24 x 48.” Pam urged me to return the entire shipment, but I thought it was not bad enough to justify the hassle of repacking the entire shipment and returning it.  I am still regretting that decision!  I have restretched several of the worst, and have framed one to get rid of the warp.  Just noticed the other day that one of these isn’t square, isn’t even close, and I have been working on this painting on and off for a year.  I will either have to just trash it or restretch it and rework portions.low quality stretcher strips

Some of the stretchers from canvases I have restretched are pictured here.  Don’t know if the poor quality really comes across, but these are flimsy, light weight, full of knots and splits, twisted, warped, terrible!

A brand that’s very popular around here is “The Edge” gallery wrapped canvas.  I have tried these, and I don’t believe the quality is acceptable.  Pretty flimsy stretchers with a tendency to warp.

One that’s quite a bit better is Paramount Pro.  This is a good, heavyweight canvas on pretty heavy duty stretcher bars with 1.5″ depth, which is available from multiple different online sources.  Again, watch for sales, you don’t want to pay full price.  I am currently looking for something of even better quality, as these sometimes come with dents and dings along the edge, which is a real issue since I don’t frame my paintings.

I’ll let you know when I find it!  Any suggestions are very welcome!


Canvas: Stretch it or Buy it?

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.


Ok, so that plan had mixed results.

My painting studio mirrored painting wall

Mixed results:  I did manage to get ALL of the finished paintings OUT of my studio. Which means they will be out of my way for CREATING!  However, I was not able to hang as many as I would have liked.  My family has a very contemporary aesthetic, and didn’t like the way my paintings were beginning to “clutter” the nice, white walls (!).  I have to admit, things were beginning to look a little cluttered.  Think “art fair” vs. gallery.  So, now I have 63 finished paintings hung around the house, and another 55 stored in various places…In my studio now, are ONLY:  10 paintings in progress, and 15 prepared canvases, as well as all my “stuff.”  Paints, brushes, worktables, palettes, etc.  Of course, since my studio doubles as the family’s exercise room, I have to share it with a Nordic Trac ski machine and a large (foldable, thankfully) treadmill, but I do manage to work around those issues.


No Storage Space

After painting seriously for more than two years, I am encountering a common problem.  I am being crowded out of my studio by finished paintings! 

Painting studio

You can see by the photo above that my studio is getting cluttered with stuff, and this photo was taken several weeks ago, so it’s even worse now!!  Every time I try to work, I find myself relocating stacks of finished paintings before I can actually DO anything. Then I invariably find that something I need is hidden behind one of the relocated stacks, and I move it again!  This scenario is repeated multiple times during each work session.  This has become a major disincentive to getting into the studio!!  NO MORE!!  I have spent a lot of time this weekend hanging finished paintings around the house.  I want this to accomplish two things: 1) Get the clutter out of my studio so I can work.  2) Make it easier to show the occasional interested visitor my work (this is actually a good potential source of sales–so it should be as easy as possible).  I am starting to hear complaints that I now have too many paintings up around the house, so I will move my hanging efforts down to the level of the kids’ rooms, family and exercise room.