With over 100 years of experience in crafting the finest quality artists’ canvas, Claessens is recognised worldwide as a leader in the field. From Keith Haring to René Magritte and Roger Raveel, countless artists have recognised the exquisite properties of a Claessens canvas as a base upon which to create their artworks. Based in Belgium, this family-owned business has stayed true to the values of its founding father, Victor Claessens, who adopted a small-scale approach to production and pioneered a unique fusion of modern and traditional techniques. Here we take a special behind-the-scenes look at the making and story of each Claessens canvas.
The birth of Claessens: A growing demand for prepared artist canvases
The life of each canvas begins in the company’s Belgian headquarters, which was founded over a century ago by Victor Claessens in the flax growing region near the river Leie, once home to many influential Flemish painters. Up to the turn of the twentieth century, many professional artists prepared their own canvases – but as more and more amateurs turned to painting, Claessens recognised that the demand for high quality prepared canvases was growing.
Nowadays, much of the work is done by machine, but the core of the production process has remained unchanged. Each Claessens canvas undergoes a rigorous treatment and production process in order to meet different requirements for artists.
From plant fibres to a ready-primed canvas
Claessens Artist’s canvas is traditionally woven from 100% pure flax (linen), 100% pure cotton, 100% pure jute, a mix of linen and cotton or a mix of linen and jute.
Claessens produces canvas mostly from flax, which is grown mainly in the district around the river Leie in the region, where Claessens has always been based. Canvases produced from flax have spanned the history of art, and have been trusted by Old Masters for their superior quality and durability.
Using the Finest Quality Raw Linens
As soon as the fabric arrives to the Claessens headquarters, it is meticulously inspected for any weaving faults: for example, excessively thick threads and any unevenness is carefully removed.
Sizing the Canvas
The next step involves sizing the raw canvas by applying 2 coats of synthetic PVA glue.
Different paints are then produced to prepare and prime different types of canvases – for example, oil or universal.
The Making of a Claessens Oil-Primed Canvas
For oil primed canvases, the next step involves applying a primer of zinc white paint bound with linseed oil to the glued linen, by means of two knives.
The canvas is then put into a drying room for three days where it air-dries naturally. After this first initial drying time, the canvas is then sanded and a coating layer based on titanium white is applied to the canvas by means of two knives and a roller. The canvas is then placed in the drying room for another ten days.
The Making of a Claessens Universal-Primed Canvas
For universal-primed canvases, two coats are applied of acrylic-bound titanium white paint to the canvas by the means of a knife. This is done once with a ‘knife’ and not rolled at the last stage.
As the primer and coating are water-based, these universal primed canvases are dried in a hot-air oven, where the water can evaporate more quickly.
Final Inspection & Quality Control
Once dry, each canvas is carefully inspected one last time before being put onto 10 metre rolls and stocked in the warehouse prior to shipment.
Selecting the perfect canvas for you
Depending on your medium, style and practice, there is a Claessens canvas for you. Here at Jackson’s, we offer the following options:
Claessens Canvas – for artists who stretch their own canvases, available by the metre or as a 10 metre roll.
Jackson’s Ultralite Boards – ideal if you’re looking for ready-made boards with a Claessens linen canvas. A high quality yet economical choice, and a practical, lightweight solution when on the go or working en plein air. Readymade boards are available as 5×7, 8×10, 9×12, 10×12 or 12×16 inches.
Different Textures of Canvases
Claessens produce canvases with a multitude of different textures, from heavy to medium and fine. For example, if you’re looking for an extra fine and smooth texture, the Claessens 109 Fine surface (363 gsm) will be best suited to you, while Claessens 166 Medium Surface (415 gsm) offers a heavier medium texture linen, ideal for landscape painting. The tighter weave and stronger thread count of the 166 style allow the linen to support large scale works and heavier paint layers.
If you’re looking to experiment or test out the different textures, why not try the Claessens sample book.
To view Jackson’s complete range of Claessens Canvases, click here.
A Claessens Canvas FAQ
How can I prevent creases in the canvas?
Creases are bad for any canvas. Work carefully when stretching the canvas and keep any unused canvases rolled up. Slight creases will disappear during the stretching process, but heavier creases are almost impossible to eliminate!
What if the canvas gets loose?
When you stretch the canvas out in a humid environment, you run the risk of it slacking when placed in dry environment. Therefore, always stretch your canvas in an area with as little humidity as possible. Temporarily stretching the canvas and letting it dry thoroughly before affixing it permanently is another solution. The natural fiber is at the longest when it is dry and it shrinks when the humidity rises. Given the natural properties of its fibers, the canvas reacts to both climatic conditions and the paint which is applied.
Can I still use older canvases?
Oil-prepared canvases tend to dry and become hard over time. Yet this does not make them totally unusable. You can paint on older canvases, but often it is harder to stretch them. You can slow down the ageing process by rolling up the canvas for storage and keeping it upright against a wall. Never store it flat on the ground or on a table.
How exactly are oil-prepared canvases made?
Claessens takes the greatest care in producing its oil-prepared canvases. Synthetic glue, which is less sensitive to humidity, is used rather than hide glue. We have not used white lead for many years, in accordance with Belgian and European legislation. The coating itself consists of an oil paint, linseed oil as a binder and chalk, zinc white or titanium white as grounds and pigments.
What about cracks around the edges?
Older oil-prepared canvases may get cracks along the edges of the canvas stretcher. These are entirely superficial and are related to the ageing process, so there is no need to worry. This will have no effect on the painting. At worst, this area will have increased absorbency, but the double layer of glue should protect the fibers adequately.
Can I stretch a slack canvas using water?
Avoid doing this at all costs: it is bad for the painting. When a canvas gets slack, you can easily fix it by adjusting the wedges in the corners. If this does not work, you can always consider removing the canvas and stretching it again following the rules of the art. Do not use water because water will only temporarily tighten the canvas, it will slacken again once it is dry.
What is the best way of storing a stretched canvas?
Lean the stretched canvas in an upright position against a wall. Do not lean smaller canvases against larger ones as this can lead to denting. It is best to store the canvases according to size, back to back and front to front.
How can I get rid of the yellow discoloration?
The front of oil-prepared canvases can occasionally have yellow discoloration. This is caused by the linseed oil when there is not enough daylight around. This can also happen when one canvas is placed in front of another for a long period of time. This discoloration is a natural phenomenon and will rapidly disappear when the canvas is once again exposed to daylight or sunlight.
Is there a way of preventing slight dimples?
Slight dimples in the canvas can be caused by small differences in tension in the fabric during manufacturing. The only way to get rid of such dimples is to stretch the canvas harder. Sometimes you can see such dimples on the sides of the canvas rolls. You can solve this problem by cutting these sides.
What if the canvas is too smooth?
If the canvas is too smooth for your taste, you can roughen it up using a pumice stone or very fine sandpaper. Try to work as evenly as possible across the entire surface area of the canvas.
How hard can I stretch my canvas?
Always stretch the canvas as evenly as possible. How hard you stretch it is a question of personal preference. Some painters prefer a very taut canvas while others do not. The following is one of the methods you can use:
- centre the canvas carefully on the frame
- affix it temporarily, for example by the corners
- start in the middle of one side and work toward the edges
- use a nail or a staple every 4 – 8 cm
- now work on the opposite side and stretch the canvas using a canvas plier.
- use the same method for the third and fourth sides
- while stretching; check the front or finished canvas continually to ensure the stretch is correct otherwise make adjustments as needed.
- do the corners last
I really enjoyed this article/ad. Thanks.
A very good informative article, especially for new to oil
Nice to have a History lesson as well on how Canvases are made.
really loved watching the video and reading
your article. Fascinating to see the process
in the factory. I would love to visit and see
for myself. thanks
Thank you for your lovely feedback!
Is there a reason why zinc is used in oil
primed canvas and titanium in
universal/acrylic? Is it just to speed up
drying, or something else?
Hi Dusty, zinc is traditionally used in oil priming because it forms a hard and bright white surface. Titanium white alone can be spongy and a more yellow shade of white when bound in oil.
Hi Evie, thank you for your reply, that
makes sense. I really appreciate in
depth articles like these, big thank you
to your team!
Thank you for your kind words!
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