Painting On Linen Canvas

November 18, 2014

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Painting on Linen Canvas


Why paint on Linen?  Well made cotton canvas is far more popular, and probably half the price or less. A Conservator friend, professionally trained in Europe as a young man, now with many years of experience repairing and restoring fine art works, says he prefers linen because it gives the highest quality it is possible to get in a painting surface. Of course, this is a somewhat subjective judgement.

The bottom line is that linen offers the professional artist a lot more control over the quality, elegance and longevity, of his/her painting surface than does cotton.

A Linen surface versus a canvas surface is like the difference between the smooth side of a masonite board and the rough side. Linen is exceptionally strong, light, and flat compared to canvas. Light canvas is floppy like muslin, light linen is still flat, accepts the glue and gesso sizing, and presents a perfectly smooth and strong yet somewhat flexible (depending on the stretching tension) surface to the brush. Linen has no equal for longevity whereas cotton gets yellow at the back, and can absorb moisture and gradually deteriorate over the decades. Linen offers a much wider variety of weaves and weights than does cotton.

In short, linen has a distinct interesting personality, compared to cotton, which is a highly standardized commercial product.

Many professional artists, masters of their art, insist on using only the best supports for their work. Starting with the best surface, properly sized and primed, on stretcher bars that remain straight under maximum tension, their minds and hands are free to explore the emerging work with no distractions over failing equipment.  Linen plus Upper Canada stretchers ( which also have distinct personality) make the ideal supports, one might even suggest the word “sublime”.

Linen will likely behave differently from cotton as it is being primed by a pvc  or rabbit skin glue, and gesso. The prudent way to get started would be to buy a piece and experiment with it. Some like to prime a piece larger than they need, than cut it and restretch it their desired size and tension. Be aware that linen, as it dries after priming, may put a lot more stress on the stretcher bars than you are used to with cotton. It is likely best to start out with pre-primed linen, which is nowadays an excellent, professionally made,  product.

Here’s what our web site has to say about it:

Stable, durable, strong yet supple!
Linen, while more expensive than cotton, is the traditional choice for professional artists.   Linen is the most durable fabric to put paint on and due to its strength, is ideal for large paintings . It’s warp and weft threads are equal in weight so less susceptible to the expanding or contracting problems created by moisture.  Linen is very receptive to sizing and priming applications and it retains its natural oils which preserve the fiber’s flexibility and keeps the canvas from becoming brittle.  Linen has a more “natural” weaved finish than cotton and is available in a variety of textures, weights and smooth or rough finish. Because of its strength linen holds up to a heavy painting hand and does not become slack as easily as cotton canvas.
With its proven longevity, natural strength and stable weave linen is an ideal canvas choice for  paintings especially large ones.  Linen canvas retains its natural oils preserving the fibers flexibility and your art.  We are stocking three textures: Medium, Smooth and Fine Portrait for your varied artistic needs.

First spun about a century and a half ago linen canvas has a host of other benefits outside the world of art as well.  The low ecological impact of the flax plant is one of them and Libeco-Lagae have taken care to see that the finishing steps in the process of creating linen canvas are likewise responsible.

we are now carrying Libeco-Lagae Certified Belgian Linen.

Here is a quote from another art materials supplier,

“Linen, although expensive, is traditionally the painter’s preferred fabric. There are four reasons for this. One, linen is the most durable of all fabrics for painting. This is because the warp and weft threads are equal in weight, making linen less susceptible to expansion and contraction problems from moisture. Two, linen retains its natural oils over time, which preserves fiber flexibility and decreases embrittlement with age. Three, linen is very receptive to sizing and priming films. And four, linen is characterized by a pronounced weave- less uniform and mechanical than that of cotton- and thus more interesting to paint on. Available in a variety of textures from smooth to rough, and in weights from light to heavy, linen maintains its distinctive weave even through layers of paint.
While linen is a more durable painting fabric than cotton, stretching raw linen requires more care and delicacy than does cotton and is far more time consuming. If you have never stretched a canvas, raw linen is not a good practice material. It is far too costly and finicky to attempt to stretch linen without experience. If you want experience, stretch cotton, which is available in inexpensive student grades. Imperfections can be smoothed with a pumice and these canvases provide a great surface for all kinds of painting.”

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