I’d like to share what I know about canvases that are available locally. It is the most important part of your painting. It’s also known as the “support.” Even if you are playing around, for fun, you just never know when a piece will turn into your favourite painting. The support will allow for your image to appear clearly and to hang properly; and, if not already stretched, be easier to frame. During the creation of your piece, you don’t want that surface to be bending and drying with strange fold marks—a distraction to say the least.
Living in the Yukon has us dependent on what local suppliers choose to sell. In Whitehorse, we have Arts Underground Cupboard, Yukon Office Supply, the Great Canadian Dollar Store, Walmart, the Frame Shop and Northern Frameworks. The latter two sell five-star canvases! This is where you get the absolute best on the market, made to order. I choose the latter two for most of my work, but be prepared to pay more. It is the best quality, so if you are selling your paintings, it is the right and best choice for quality control.
These are made to order, so the wood is dry and straight, cut and framed to perfection; no warping, no surprises later on. You may have to supply the raw canvas, which is available at Yukon Office Supply and Arts Underground. You can save a little cash by priming it with professional gesso (thin coats to start). You’ll need about six coats altogether, in both fabric-grain directions.
Three- to four-star canvases
If the last suggestion scared you, you can get prepared canvas, but just watch out. Where is it coming from? If it is from China, give some thought as to what is happening with that wood frame in all of the climate changes in travel alone! Typically, anything from China is cheaply made. When you’re choosing prepared canvas, look at it carefully. It may be warped (When you lay it on the ground, flat, is one or more corners lifting from the floor?). Having said that, China also has low-, medium- and high-grade canvases that are sometimes nicely made, but that are usually available only in a smaller format (the larger the format, the more warpage!). Check the quality of the canvas—the lighter the weight, the worse it is—paper-thin is not good!
One- to two-star canvases
Non-stretched canvas boards are available at the retail locations I mentioned, but not at the framers. These are usually flat and economical; just take extra steps to do more coats of primer. Factory primer seems to be so thin that it has no “teeth” to adhere your paint job to. You’ll notice flecks of white canvas showing through, which are not easy to cover. I use these all the time in lessons and small studies; just look out for bent corners or damaged edges. There are all-wood supports, too, which are wonderful, smooth, hard surfaces to paint on and can handle heavier mark making, but just do the floor test to check for warp.
Whatever you do, do not waste your time with stretched canvas that shows bending and folding canvas on the surface, in any form, right on the shelf (especially on the corners). A well-stretched canvas should be as tight as a drum! When you want your project to look good, you don’t need any weird cast shadows in the way!
Good luck with your sourcing, and do your paintings justice with good support!