I often get questions from fellow artists on how to build, stretch, and paint on the large canvases I often prefer to work on.
“Approach,” oil on Italian linen measures 6 foot tall, by 9.6 foot in length.
What defines a large canvas? I would say any substrate that measures over 5 foot in one direction. With that said, there are thousands of larger paintings across the world in museums and galleries, but once an artist reaches over the five foot threshold, there’s a few challenges that come into play.
Here, just a few tips and observations of the trials and thrills of working on a large stretched canvas.
- Hand crafted: I prefer to work on stretched canvas or Italian linen that I then prime, and sand myself. I find that most store purchased canvases simply don’t provide the quality, the depth and authentic feel of a crafted canvas. Also, I find that store bought canvases have a synthetic feel – which translates to a “flat amateur effect.”
- Studio space: Room to work in and to view your work from afar. Large work means having enough space to step back, really far back, to view your work from a distance. A behemoth painting meant for a corporate environment needs to have impact from afar. Close up, the details are what makes your work also worthy of purchase.
- Cost and investment: Simply stated, its expensive to create a large canvas. Wood for the substrate, the canvas, the primer, the paint, heat and lighting, and then, a method to transport the work. It alls adds up and quickly I would say. One very large canvas, let’s say, 6 foot by 10 foot, could easily run close to $1,000 in materials and indicentals alone.
- Energy and endurance: Working on a large canvas is like racing a 5K one day, and then running a marathon the next. Seriously. I would recommend hitting the gym for overall strengthening exercises, yoga, and pilates, and perhaps, adding massage for shoulders, neck and arms. I’ve been competitive runner since college, and moving large paintings, and painting on them, is not for the faint of heart. Unless of course, you have a studio assistant who can help with the work.
- Doors, hallways, and transport: Measure all doors, hallways, entranceways, and the vehicle you will be using to transport. Improper measurements and planning can result in a few heart breaks.
- Re-stretching: The easiest way to transport a large canvas is to create and use a system where you feel comfortable removing the painting, rolling it up, and rebuilding and re-stretching at its new location. I’ve had the good fortune to meet and visit the studio of contemporary artist Joseph Marioni. His system is flawless. For now, I prefer to keep my work on the stretcher and rent a good truck.
- Trusted masters: I am very fortunate to have my husband Bob Agentis who has mastered, through trial and error, the true craft of building and stretching large canvases. Stay tuned for a few more tips.