Acrylic Paint is made of pigment suspended in an acrylic polymer emulsion. They are faster drying than oils, and are more easily manipulated with the use of a wide variety of mediums available for acrylic painting technique. Acrylics were first developed in the mid-1930s and boasted a mixture of qualities also possessed by either watercolour or oils. Many artists enjoy using acrylic colour because although they dilute in water they dry waterproof, and they are faster drying than oils, yet colours can be just as intense.
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Maximum lightfastness levels. Smooth buttery consistency. Holds peaks. No colour shift. Highest levels of pigmentation. Good coverage/opacity levels. Optimum colour brilliance and colour depth. Durable paint film. UV and weather resistant.
If you were new to acrylic painting and you wanted to choose the best brand of acrylic colour to use, you would come across phrases such as the ones above in nearly ALL the literature you would read about any of the professional (and in some cases, the student grade) acrylic colours on the market. You would then be none the wiser; which acrylic colour should I use? Which is the best for my painting techniques? Do they really all behave in the same way? In this investigative survey we will guide you through the factors to consider and the comparisons we can make between the brands available at Jackson’s Art Supplies, as well as the other art materials you might choose to invest in. This will enable you to buy your art materials online with confidence.
Lightfastness refers to the amount of resistance a pigment in a particular paint has to exposure to light. Pigments can be organic or inorganic and are either naturally sourced (dug up from the ground) or synthetic (produced chemically in a factory). All fine art colour will use pigments that have a very good (ASTM II) or an excellent (ASTM I) lightfastness rating where possible. The internationally recognised classification for lightfastness, ASTM, was originally founded by the inventor of Liquitex acrylic colour, Henry Levison, during his retirement, and since then the ASTM rating scale has had very little improvement or expansion, despite the fact that many more pigments are now used in acrylic colour. In Britain we also refer to the British Standard Wool scale rating, which is a much more recent scale and takes many more pigments into consideration, as well as how pigments behave in sunlight when used as a mid-tint (mixed with a little white) and then used as a full-tint (mixed with a lot of white). The highest level of lightfastness on the BS Wool scale rating is 8, and the lower the number the poorer the lightfastness. It may be because of the BS Wool scale rating that Schmincke are particularly proud of their PrimAcryl titanium white, with its ‘high pigmentation, opacity and cover rate which allows for incredibly brilliant mixtures’, which would also allow for maximum lightfastness ratings when testing pigments as tints. Lightfastness, as well as being a characteristic of the pigment itself, is also affected by the concentration ratio of pigment to acrylic binder (the acrylic liquid that the pigment is suspended in). As you might expect, more expensive professional acrylic ranges have a greater concentration of pigment and so are considered more lightfast than cheaper student grade paints (other phrases to look out for include ‘high loading of pigment and ‘intensely saturated’; they all mean the same thing). Sadly the most fugitive or least lightfast pigments are the fluorescent colours, and to date no acrylic paint manufacturer has been able to produce a fluorescent colour that is of ASTM I or ASTM II rating. However they are often useful and there is still a market for them, and that is why brands such as Acrylicos Vallejo (AV), Daler Rowney System 3 and Golden still offer these colours in their ranges.
Another claim by many professional grade acrylic paint brands is the brilliance of their colour as well as depth. How do they achieve it and what do they mean anyway? Colour brilliance (the brightness or purity of a colour’s appearance) is best achieved with the use of a single pigment in a colour; by not mixing pigments colours are able to sing and appear vibrant, and when mixed with other colours by you on a palette, the colour mixes you produce are less likely to appear dull. This is why many brands including Winsor and Newton (‘69 single pigment colours, 86% of the range’) and Golden (‘only 30 of our 101 colours are mixture colours’) are very proud of the number of single pigment colours they have in their ranges. As Daler Rowney say in their Cryla acrylic literature, ‘Mix as few colours / pigments as possible. The more pigments that you mix together the more likely you are to create dirty colours, try and limit your colour mixes to mainly two colours with only a touch of a third. Be careful some colours are already a mixture of pigments so additional colour should be added to them sparingly’ (It is interesting however that it is very difficult to find in any of their literature a statement of how many single pigment colours they have in their range). The other factor that maximises colour brilliance and depth is the milling, or grinding of the pigments so that the smallest possible particle size can be achieved. A triple roll mill is used to do this – this is a machine comprising of 3 steel rollers that rotate in alternate directions. Between each roller is a very small gap. As the colour passes through the mill the pigment is crushed to a smaller particle size by each of the 3 rollers. This process, which has been in use since the invention of acrylic colour, allows more light to travel through the paint film and thus create the depth, richness, and strength of colour. It also allows the transparency or opacity of the pigment to show through to its maximum potential without compromising on the brightness of the colour. Do not be fooled by brands who say all their colours have ‘excellent covering power’ as this implies they have added opacifiers to their colours, including the transparent pigments, just so that inexperienced painters think they are getting good value for their money, when in fact they are losing out on the beautiful variations in characteristics that these pigments have to offer! In direct contrast to this is the statement made by Golden in their description of their Heavy Body colours – ‘Each heavy body colour is formulated differently depending on the nature of the pigment. Colours that tolerate higher pigment loads dry to a more opaque matte finish. Colours that are more reactive and do not accept high pigment loading dry to a glossy finish and tend to be more transparent.’ The real experts of acrylic colour are sensitive to the characteristics of the materials with which they are working.
However, the extent of one’s sensitivity of the characteristics of the pigments being used in each colour is an area for debate. Golden are actually one of the few acrylic paint to make statements such as ‘Heavy body colours contain no additives such as matting agents, therefore the gloss of each colour will be different,’ for the reason explained above – they feel it is better to keep the natural characteristics of the colours unmodified. But other professional and student ranges do modify their ranges. Winsor and Newton’s student range, Galeria, state that their colours dry to a ‘smooth satin finish’, Amsterdam Expert acrylic dry ‘uniformly gloss’, Old Holland New Masters make the contradiction in their literature to say that they allow for the unique characteristics of the pigments to define the behaviour of the paints, but then go on to say that all colours ‘dry to a satin gloss’. Of course there is argument for both – if one is well acquainted with the characteristics of pigments in their unmodified state, one might wish to take advantage of these. However if you are less acquainted with the characteristics of pigments then you might misidentify the undulations in the sheen of Golden colours to be a dulling of colour caused by manufacturing faults or the sinking of colour into an unevenly primed support. If this is the case the sheen can be made uniform again once the painting is finished and dry by varnishing the work. Modified colour will dry with a uniform sheen across the painting surface (unless one is painting on an unevenly primed surface) and so varnishing is not necessary to unify sheen (although might be desired in order to protect the work from dust, wear and tear, and enhance lightfastness). Lascaux Artist Acrylics and Jackson’s Artist Acrylics are relatively unusual as their colours have been modified to dry to a ‘semi-matt finish’ – most other brands dry semi-gloss.
Ranges of acrylic colour like to tell you how many colours they have- it shows they offer you maximum choice and maximum control over your palette. What is more important than the size of the range is how many single pigment colours they have – these are the colours that will offer you the greatest control over your colour mixes, or if you prefer to paint with colour straight out of the tube, try testing the colours that you feel will communicate your idea the best. There is no reason not to mix colours from a number of different ranges, and this is a particularly good idea if you want to also explore the differing consistencies and drying times on offer from varying paint manufacturers. Student ranges of colour may substitute more expensive pigments with synthetically developed substitutes; these have the word ‘hue’ after their name. The fluid and airbrush colour ranges may not have the heavier pigments in their ranges as it is impossible for these pigments to suspend evenly in their very liquid acrylic polymer binders. Always remember that colours of the same name may behave and appear slightly differently between brands. There are always varying consistencies, drying times, and concentrations, not to mention variations in the blends of pigments if the colour is not a single pigment hue, so never think a French ultramarine in Golden Heavy Body can be replaced by a French ultramarine by Daler Rowney Cryla mid painting unless you have tested the 2 paints checked that any differences are ignorable. For painters just starting out in acrylics there are a number of acrylic paint sets on offer from brands including Jackson’s Daler Rowney, Golden, AV, Winsor and Newton and Turner, which include a basic palette of colours, perfect for exploring this exciting medium with.
This factor does differ among some of the acrylic colours – student colours tend to all have ‘medium’ consistency (Lukas Studio, Galeria and System 3), AV Artist Acrylic boasts ‘high viscosity’, Cryla say their paint is ‘very heavy body’, Lascaux say their artist acrylic is ‘thick’ and Golden Heavy Body say theirs is ‘thick and buttery’. Jackson’s Artist Acrylics are particularly versatile in that they are formulated to brush out easily, yet retain structure when built up impasto. The one common feature of the consistency of all these paints is their smoothness. This is in part due to the binders that they use, but more crucially, due to the fine nature of the pigments (which as discussed in the previous paragraph also enhances the brilliance of colour). The cheapest acrylic paint has an uneven consistency because it has coarser pigment particles in it that have not been properly triple roll milled and cannot suspend evenly in their binder. This means the pigment will actually sink down the binder over time and will be difficult to mix evenly again. ‘Golden Fluid Acrylic Color’ paint, as the name suggests, is the consistency of double cream and is pourable and self-levelling, yet rather than achieve this by being thinned down with mediums and be of a lesser concentration than other ranges of professional grade acrylic paint, it is of the same pigment concentration but just uses a thinner consistency binder to many other professional acrylic colours. For this reason Golden do not produce some of the heavier pigments in the fluid range such as the Cadmium colours. The same is also true of AV’s Premium Airbrush colour and Liquid Acrylic. The consistency of acrylic colour can be manipulated in a couple of ways – firstly with the use of mediums, gels and pastes, of which there are hundreds, that allow acrylic artists more versatility and control than any other kind of painter, and secondly by mixing different type of acrylic colour with one another i.e. if Heavy Body colour is too thick you could mix it with some fluid colour.
If you ever ask an acrylic painter why they choose to paint in acrylics over oils, a common response is ‘oils take too long to dry’. Acrylic colour usually has an ‘open’ time (the time it is wet on the surface for) of around 15-20 minutes, but it seems that many new ranges including Winsor & Newton Artists’ Acrylics have worked on extending the open time to around 30 minutes. Cryla, one of the first acrylic ranges to ever be developed, have chosen not to extend drying times and claim their paints only stay open for around 5-10 minutes, explaining on their website that ‘This is a great advantage to artists who wish to paint quickly, as paintings that may have taken weeks to complete in oil, because of the necessity of waiting for paint layers to dry, can be completed in one session with Cryla Artists’ Acrylic’. Golden’s Open acrylics have the same drying times as you might expect with an oil paint range, i.e. a few days, and this range is popular with painters who like oils but not the need to work with solvents. The drying times of Open acrylics can be sped up by mixing with regular acrylic colour, and conversely regular acrylic colour can be manipulated to extend drying times by mixing with Golden Open acrylic. The drying time of acrylic colour can also be extended with the use of acrylic retarders – these are acrylic mediums that often also extend the colour and slightly increase the transparency of acrylic colour, but most importantly prolong the drying time. There are many other acrylic mediums on the market that manipulate the colour in a number of different ways (I will discuss this later on) – but do check on the labels to see if they state whether the medium will extend the drying time, as many of them do this as well as manipulate the appearance of colour.
At this point I should point out that all acrylic colour does actually take a little longer to dry than one might expect. Acrylics dry when all the water content in the wet paint moves away from the paint; it either seeps into the support that the paint has been applied to, or it evaporates into the air, and what remains is the acrylic polymer binder; tiny solid transparent particles that move closer together, causing the layer of paint to contract and form a solid ‘film’. This process happens fastest at the top and bottom of the layer – where the paint can either easily evaporate into the air or where the absorbency of the support pulls the water out of the colour, almost as if by process of osmosis. So therefore a skin forms on the layer of wet colour. The rest of the layer will take a little longer to lose its water content as there is less exposure to elements that encourage the liquid to leave. This is why very thick layers of acrylic colour can take years to dry. If you paint a painting with really thick paint, it is sometimes possible to feel the ‘sponginess’ of the paint – where the colour is still wet beneath the surface. When in this state colour is still water-soluble and relatively unstable, and more quantities of water can actually be re-absorbed into the layer of paint, and on occasion cause cloudiness. For this reason it is absolutely crucial that finished works should be left to dry completely before any varnish is applied, as any expanding or contracting of a semi-dry paint film will cause varnish to form blooms and cracks. Drying times of acrylic colour can be affected by other external factors. If you are painting in very hot conditions, this will speed up drying, and if you are painting in very cold conditions, this will slow the drying process. Very humid conditions will slow the drying process as the air is already heavy with liquid. A strong airflow or wind may cause the surface of paint to wrinkle or crack.
Colour shift is caused by an acrylic binder having a different appearance when wet to how it looks when dry. Cheap student and school acrylic colour will have a larger colour shift to more expensive acrylic colours. The very highest quality ranges either state they have ‘no colour shift’ or ‘very little colour shift’ such as Schmincke PrimAcryl, Winsor & Newton Artists’ Acrylic, Old Holland New Masters, Golden and Daler Rowney Cryla. The truth however is they all have some amount of colour shift. In the case of Winsor & Newton’s Artists’ Acrylic, it claims in large print there is no colour shift but when you watch the video they have illustrating the point, you see that the binder that they use, in its wet state, although translucent, is milky in colour. When the binder dries it dries to a perfectly clear, colourless solid. The transition from milky binder to clear solid will have some influence on the appearance of the paint, and when it dries it will become ever so slightly darker. Until acrylic paint manufacturers manage to develop a binder that has exactly the same density as water this will always be the case.
Artists who intend to paint work intended to exhibit out of doors will be concerned about the weather resistance of the materials they are working with. No colour can be 100% weatherproof. A painting exposed to strong winds is likely to suffer cracking, one that is in an area of very strong sunlight will fade even if the colour is the highest quality, and very cold conditions may prevent solid paint films from ever forming. If weather resistance is of paramount importance we recommend varnishing the finished work with MSA varnish to enhance protection from all these conditions. The more expensive paints with their stronger acrylic binders are likely to be more weather resistant as a result in their unmodified state than their cheaper equivalents.
Acrylic Gouache colour is acrylic paint with an additive that causes all colour to dry matte. It is particularly favourable among illustrators as the uniformity in sheen is akin to the finish of most printed images, however many fine artists also favour the use of matte acrylic gouache. Acrylic gouache tends to be a little more fluid in its consistency than regular acrylic colour. Lascaux, Turner and Acrylicos Vallejo all produce professional quality acrylic gouache. Turner’s colour range is particularly extensive, and is divided into several colour categories – Greyish, Japanesque, Lame, Lumi, Metallic, Pastel, Pearl and original. They have been divided in this way to help with palette selection (colours within each group are particularly complementary to one another). As with any additive in acrylic colour, the characteristics of the pigments themselves will be altered and there may be some effect on the brightness of some of the pigments, although of course all paint manufacturers would try and minimise this.
Acrylic Ink, unlike drawing ink, is a fast drying fluid acrylic colour consisting of super fine pigment particles suspended in a watery acrylic emulsion. Acrylic Inks are waterproof when dry. The best acrylic inks, like all colour, are the ones with a high pigment concentration. Because the pigment particles are so fine acrylic inks will not clog air brushes and dip pens as easily as regular acrylic colour would (although we always recommend cleaning all painting tools thoroughly after use). Acrylic Inks can be used for a variety of applications including airbrushing, printing and stamping, calligraphy, dip pen drawing, and watercolour effects. Acrylic Inks can be mixed with all kinds of acrylic colour, regardless of whether it is heavy body or fluid, artist or student quality. Acrylic Inks are available at Jackson’s Art Supplies from Liquitex, FW (Daler Rowney), AV and Magic Colour.
Acrylic spray paint offers a means of applying thin and even layers of paint, dispersed through the nozzle in tiny droplets. Spray paints allow you to blend colours with ease. The layers are so thin they tend to dry very quickly. Professional acrylic spray paints offer low pressure handling, which means that you have much greater control over thin applications of colour. Spray paints can be applied to many surfaces including canvas, wood, concrete, metal, glass and even flexible surfaces, without cracking.
It is really good practice when using these sprays to wipe the nozzle with a rag after each time you apply a spray of colour – this will help prevent the nozzle from clogging, as these paints are pretty fast drying and are susceptible to clogging if one is not careful.
Paint markers are pens that contain paint. They are versatile products and can be used for a wide variety of hobby and craft purposes. They can be used to write or draw on glass, plastic, metal, stone, wood and card.
The paints that these markers contain can either be oil-based or water-based. They create dense, opaque marks that are often glossy in finish. They're very permanent, especially on porous surfaces, but can usually be abraded from non-porous surfaces over time.
Those who favour working in acrylics are often attracted by the myriad ways the paint can be manipulated with the use of mediums. Acrylic mediums and gels are made using the same acrylic resin binders that manufacturers use in making paint, to which various other materials including marble dust, stone and mica are added in order to alter the consistency and behaviour of the medium which in turn will manipulate the paint when the medium is mixed with it. Jackson’s Artist Acrylic range includes a number of gels and mediums which are described below, and we also sell acrylic mediums by Golden, Liquitex, AV, Daler Rowney, Winsor & Newton, Lascaux and Ara.
Acrylic gel medium is available in Daler Rowney (known as ‘Impasto Gel Medium’), Jackson’s, Golden (known as ‘Heavy Gel’ and is available gloss, matt or semi-gloss), and AV. Jackson’s Acrylic Gel Medium is made from acrylic polymer emulsion, and is of a heavier viscosity that the Jackson’s Artist Acrylic. By adding this medium to your colour you will extend the colour, increase its transparency, and slow the drying time a little. Gel medium is particularly good for heavy impasto techniques. Golden also do a ‘Regular Gel’ in gloss, matte or semi-gloss, and this is of a similar consistency to Golden Heavy Body Acrylic but still may be thicker than some other acrylic colour ranges. (Please note that brands can be mixed).
These mediums will thin heavy body acrylic colour, but are usually of a similar consistency to fluid colour. They extend the colour and increase the transparency. It is worth checking each individual brand with regard to how they affect the drying time – AV’s does not alter the drying time because it is made using the same acrylic emulsion as the paint itself. Jackson’s and Golden also do their own versions of this product.
Jackson’s, AV and Golden all offer retarders as part of their acrylic medium ranges. These slow the drying time right down, and also extend the colour and increase its transparency. It is advised not to mix more retarder than 10% of the colour you are mixing with as this will weaken the bonds between the acrylic polymer particles in the paint too much and cause instability in the dry acrylic paint film.
There are so many other mediums and gels to explore, so if you are interested in really making unique paintings then it is worth having a look. There are mediums to make paint appeared cracked and aged, mediums to make paint stringy, sandy, gritty, pearlescent, pasty…there are gels to alter consistency, reduce brush marks, increase brush marks, increase gloss and decrease gloss. Experiment where you can, you might even want to mix mediums and see what other possibilities there are.
Acrylic varnishes offer a protective coating to a finished painting, keeping it safe from dust and surface damage (scratches etc.). Some varnishes also have UV light resistors which will prevent colour fade. We recommend applying an isolation coat over your painting prior to varnishing - a soft gloss gel medium would be ideal for this. This will allow for the varnish to be removed in future, if necessary, with no damage risk to the painting itself. Always ensure that you varnish work in a dust and dirt free environment, and remove any dust or dirt from the surface of your work prior to varnishing.
Acrylic Varnishes are available in an aerosol can as well as in a bottle. There’s a good argument on both sides regarding which is easier to apply. With sprays make sure you start spraying on something other than your finished artwork (the work surface beside perhaps) in order to gauge how much pressure you need to push the nozzle with to get the right amount of varnish coming out. Then continuously move the spray over the finished work making sure you give the whole surface as even a layer as possible. Always stop spraying if you stop moving, to avoid an uneven application. A few thin layers is always better than 1 thick layer as it will allow for the varnish to dry properly and be more solid and stable in the long run. Read the label of the varnish to find out the drying time you need to allow between layers. A good tip is to turn your work 90 degrees each time to apply and new layer of varnish as this will help to achieve a more even application. Sprays can be particularly useful when varnishing a delicate work where applying varnish with a brush could damage the surface. It is also good for impasto work where varnish might gather in between undulations in the surface if applied by brush.
Brushing varnish on can also be a little tricky. First give the varnish a very good stir (but not shake as you do not want air bubbles for form), check the consistency; if it is too thick then thin it down with a little water or an acrylic thinner. Use a relatively stiff haired varnish brush (usually hog hair with split ends) and work on a flat surface where possible. Only load the bottom third of the brush as if you load the brush with more varnish than this it will be very difficult to apply it evenly. As with spray varnish, more layers is preferable to one thick layer, so it is good to try and practice applying the varnish thin and evenly. When applying a varnish with added matting agents (satin, semi-gloss or matt varnish) it is a good idea to only use it on the final layer of varnish in order to maintain the appearance of the colour depth and brilliance in your work.
With any varnish application, it is much easier to clean up when the tools are still wet as you can do this with soap and water. Dried acrylic varnish requires washing with ammonia.
MSA (Mineral Spirit Acrylic) varnish is a more permanent layer than regular acrylic varnish and needs to be cleaned/thinned with solvents, although it is still acrylic based.
Acrylic (and oil) painting brushes traditionally have a longer handle to allow the painter to achieve more movement when painting, which can create more expressive marks. Natural and synthetic hair brushes are available in a range of textures - stiffer, thicker hair such as hog or da Vinci Impasto is ideal for more gestural, impasto painting, but the softness of sable hair or Jackson's Procryl is more suitable for thin applications of colour such as glazes and washes.
Oil and Acrylic brushes usually come in filbert, long flat, short flat (or brights) and round shapes. Watercolour brushes are available in more specialised shapes and can also be used with acrylic colour, but these have shorter handles and some watercolour brushes have softer hair than a conventional acrylic brush.
Palette knives are really useful for mixing colour on to a palette, as brushes get very loaded with paint easily and it can be difficult to get the paint back on the palette! It is much easier to use the smooth metal of a palette knife to move the colour around. Cheaper palette knives tend to be a lot thinner but this can be to an artist’s advantage when using a palette knife as a painting tool, as it allows for a little more spring. The more expensive palette knives such as the excellent Jackson’s palette knives are made of an incredibly sturdy carbon steel blade, and could almost be used as a paint scraper. A paint scraper is a tool with a slighter sharper blade, which is effective in taken dried layers of paint off a painting support or palette.
There are 2 main types of acrylic primer – regular acrylic primer and gesso. Both are made up of acrylic resins mixed with pigment, they are cheaper than artist acrylic colour because they contain opacifiers to ensure that they provide good coverage. Acrylic Gesso replicates the qualities of traditional gesso, a mixture of French chalk or whiting and rabbit skin glue, and is absorbent with a slightly heavier tooth than acrylic primer – the more layers you apply the more absorbent. Because of this a few coats is required if you are going to apply oil colour to it, as there is a rick of the oil sinking down to the fibres of the canvas support and causing damage. You can also choose to prime your canvas with a black gesso primer by System 3 if you prefer to work on black (this will have a dramatically different effect on your transparent colours). Acrylic clear primer allows you to work on the natural colour of the canvas without having the absorbency of the raw fabric.
Primer dries smoother and is not absorbent, but a few coats with light sanding in between will make a good solid surface on which to paint. The white colour of regular gesso or primer helps colours to maintain their luminosity. All white gessos and primers can be tinted by adding acrylic colour and mixing. Acrylic primer, unlike oil primer, does not cause natural fibres to rot over time so can be used without the use of glue size. Many oil painters today use acrylic primer instead of rabbit skin glue size as it does not require heating, and its whiteness means you need fewer coats of white lead oil primer to achieve a bright white, glossy surface.
Gessos and Primers should be applied to surfaces as thinly and evenly as possible - more thin layers creates a superior surface on which to work than fewer thick coats. We recommend the use of a wide, relatively springy soft hog hair flat brush. Sanding the primer/gesso surface between coats with fine sand or glass paper will create a super-smooth surface.
Before you shop for canvas, you need to consider what’s available. There are a lot of choices to be made so think about what it is you are using the canvas for, where will you be painting, what will be practical and what will help you achieve the results you are looking for.
Acrylic colour can be painted on to all sorts of surfaces, from canvas to sanded metal, and below you can browse through the traditional fine art surfaces we offer for acrylic painting. Canvas Panels and boards are made by gluing primed cotton on to a rigid board, so that you get the texture of a cotton surface, but not the 'spring' you would get from painting on to stretched canvas. Our ready-made stretched canvases take away time consuming stretching and priming processes, and are available in a range of weights, grains and sizes. If you prefer to make your own canvas we also have all the materials you need to make your own, including our very easy to use stretcher bars, available in 6 depths, 2 of which are made of aluminium re-enforced wood for maximum durability and strength.
Finally, canvas sheets pads and boards are a mixture of specially prepared acrylic painting papers and primed cotton sheets that are relatively lightweight and excellent for taking outdoors, travelling, or for experimenting with techniques.
Conventionally, canvases are tightly stretched on to a frame, which creates a spring in the fabric when pressure is applied, i.e. when a paint brush applies paint to it. It is generally considered that the more tightly stretched a canvas, the more enjoyable it is to paint on, as the tension in the surface has an element of vibrancy. The tightness of a canvas must be the same across the whole frame so that the grain of the fabric is square to the edges, with no skewing.
Ready-made or pre stretched canvases most commonly have a universally primed canvas stretched on to a wooden frame with bevelled edges (so that the edge of the frame does not leave an imprint when the canvas is painted on). This means that the canvas is coated with a white acrylic primer, which sufficiently coats the fabric for both oil and acrylic painting. Most ready-made canvases are triple primed (coated 3 times), and some have even more layers of primer. Lots of thin layers of primer is preferable to one thick layer as it is a more stable priming, which is less susceptible to cracking over time, and will be much more likely to be even across the whole surface.
Canvas is fixed to the frame with either tacks on the sides, or staples on the back, or both. Ready-made canvases are available in a range of depths, and if this is of importance to you it is vital to check the dimensions. Standard depth canvases are generally considered to look more traditional and are easier to frame, whereas deeper canvases tend to be associated with contemporary or more modern art techniques, although the trends are always changing. This choice is one of pure aesthetic; a standard depth canvas does not perform better or worse than a deep edge or chunky canvas, although thin bars may need to be reinforced with the use of a cross bar for larger sized canvases. Daler Rowney have a range of canvases ideal for landscape painting, due to their long thin dimensions (but of course they are not exclusive to painting landscapes, just as good for abstract or figurative painting too!). Bella Arti, our ‘professional’ grade pre-stretched canvases are made to gallery standard and are also available in extra fine grain linen, medium grain linen, clear primed linen (an extra coat of acrylic medium is required for oil painting) as well as deep edge cotton. Again, all these choices give you the artist the opportunity to select the right surface for the idea you have in mind for your work.
Our own brand Jackson’s canvases are available in deep and standard depth cotton universal primed canvas, and we also do canvases by Winsor and Newton, Daler Rowney, Loxley and Pebeo.
In addition to readymade canvases, Jackson’s Art Supplies offer a variety of other canvas supports. Canvas panels are sheets of compressed card on to which universally primed cotton canvas has been glued. These are ideal for quick sketches, but can also be easily framed as finished paintings, and we sell ranges by both Winsor and Newton and Jackson’s. Artist’s canvas boards by Bella Arti are made of acrylic primed cotton duck glued on to MDF with shear edges – slightly sturdier and heavier, and a great rigid support with the grain of a canvas. Daler Board, an entirely unique product range by Daler Rowney, is an affordable and rigid oil primed support ideal for taking out of doors.
Perfect for experimentation and easy to cut to size are the wide range of canvas pads that we sell. Belle Arti and Fredrix offer canvas pads made of sheets of universally acrylic primed canvas, glue bound on one edge, so that you can paint on sheets while they are still in the pad, or you can fix to a board with glue or masking tape for more stability. Oil and acrylic blocks by Clairefontaine and Hahnemuhle as well as pads from the Daler Rowney System 3 and Georgian ranges are made of specially treated papers designed for use with either oil or acrylic paint (please note the acrylic papers are not suitable for use with oils) and all varieties have a fine art linen effect texture. Oil/acrylic blocks are glued on all 4 sides and sheets need to be sliced with a palette knife after the work is complete and dry – this prevents any warping in the sheet during the drying process. Pads are only glue bound on one side, and in all cases, can be presented to gallery standard by reinforcing on to a backing board and framing. Conversely they are also a cheaper option for those buying art supplies for a school or art society that need to be creative within a budget.
If you can’t find the right length, width, depth, canvas grain or priming all wrapped up in one desirable canvas, then you might want to consider ordering one of our bespoke canvases using the ‘Bespoke Canvas Builder’. You may have been commissioned to paint a portrait or landscape that requires very specific dimensions. We are able to construct canvases using our professional grade aluminium reinforced bars from NB Frames as well as our traditional wooden stretcher frames, with a wide variety of different French and Italian cottons and linens.
Many artists would prefer to make their own canvases to their own specifications, and we sell all the tools and accessories an artist would require to make their own canvas. But before you start, time to make some decisions…
First you need to decide your canvas depth i.e. how far it sticks out from the wall. If you’d prefer to have a thinner canvas, but your work is going to be over a metre long or wide, remember to order cross bars to reinforce the structure. Deep edge canvases do not really need cross bars (and aluminium reinforced bars certainly don’t!) but they can be useful for carrying purposes (remember however that they can also add to the weight of the canvas). All the art stretcher bars are already mitre cut at the ends for assembly and have slots for centre bars as well as bevelled edges, but the assembly of the aluminium bars differs from that of the professional wooden stretcher bars so be sure to read the information on their appropriate pages before purchasing.
Cotton duck is a lot cheaper because it is made of shorter threads that have been woven together. The result is that it is weaker than linen (yet still sufficiently durable with the right treatment), and the grain looks different. Cotton tends to be lighter in colour. It is available off the roll primed and unprimed, in a range of grains and weights, and we recommend a heavier weight canvas for larger paintings. The rest of the decision making process is down to you and your aesthetic preferences. Our linens are available in grains ranging from extra fine to rough, as well as varying weights. The French linens have a slightly more irregular grain due to the differing manufacturing process, but this can add a character that may be desirable to how you want your work to appear. To make your own canvas as quickly as possible, purchase a ready primed canvas and you can start painting as soon as it is fixed to the frame – however the downside is that it is much more difficult to get good tension in the fabric in comparison to stretching untreated canvas, and then sizing and priming it. Ultimately the decision is likely to depend on how much time you have and how important the tension in the canvas is to you. If you make canvases regularly you may wish to consider purchasing one of our 10-metre linen rolls to keep you in good supply.
Canvas pliers are vital for achieving a good amount of tension when stretching your canvas. Place your canvas frame in the middle of your piece of canvas and make sure you have enough canvas to wrap around to the back of the frame. Use the pliers to grab enough of the material between the teeth of the pliers, and then use the ridge on the underside of the pliers to gain leverage over the edge of the frame and stretch around to the back of the frame. Always stretch canvas from the middle of the bars moving outwards, and always insert staples opposite the ones you have just put in. A staple gun is the easiest to use and small tacks is the traditional method. Finished pictures or artwork that have been made on un-stretched canvas can be fixed to a frame once dry, and do not need as much tension when being stapled – just make sure they are fixed square to the frame and that you do not lose too much of the image when wrapping the work around to the back.
Tacks can be gently hammered in the edge of the canvas frame before a staple secures the canvas to the back – this does help a little with achieving a good amount of tension, and also adds a traditional look to the finished support. The pressure that a staple gun provides makes it easy to punch in staples to secure the canvas to the back of the canvas frame. Remember to leave enough room at the corners to fold your canvas neatly before punching in the final staples.
Your canvas is now ready to use, but you may wish to prime it in order to create a less absorbent surface that it white and therefore enhances the luminosity of your colours.