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Make Your Own Canvas - Create Canvas Wall Art

Updated on July 21, 2016
Notice how the surface is stiff and smooth.  It's ready for painting!
Notice how the surface is stiff and smooth. It's ready for painting! | Source

Stretching Your Own Canvas is an Art

Back in my earlier days of painting, I would paint on wood panels. They were cheap, provided an instant hard surface on which to paint and were quite durable.

It was all good and well when the ultimate fate of those wood panel paintings was to end up on my walls at home.

But when I sold and had to ship them, they were heavy and not fun to deal with - at all.

I switched to canvas - a much lighter material when it came to shipping and transporting.

But I ran into another problem: for canvas that's any bigger than 18" x 24", pre-stretched canvas can be cost prohibitive. Even the 18" x 24" variety can be prohibitive if we're talking 10 or 20 pieces.

I was at the art store recently and a canvas that was 5' x 4' costs $150!

Thus, not too long after I switched to canvas, I learned to stretch my own. At first, I admit I was a little intimidated and I didn't know what I was doing.

However, now that I've done it numerous times, I feel quite confident. To me, it's like another form of art: crafting your piece of canvas so that you can create a work of art.


Another Artist's Take on Stretching Your Canvas

Making Your Own Canvas

It's not hard!

I do not have carpentry skills, either. In fact, I don't even make my own frame (also called a stretcher).

Dealing with Frames

You can purchase the stretcher bars at an art store or if you have some do-it-yourself skills, you can make your own.

I admit I do not make my own, but my husband does have great carpentry skills. I specify the size and thickness and he makes it for me. He often uses scraps of trim to make them.

Indeed, an added benefit of stretching your own canvas is that it's the exact size and thickness that you want.

What You Will Need to Stretch Your Canvas

  • unprimed canvas - fabric stores carry unprimed canvas usually and isn't hard to find
  • scissors (or razor blade)
  • stapler
  • frame or stretcher, assembled
  • gesso (a primer for the canvas)

Leaving adequate amounts of canvas are necessary to fully wrap around the frame.
Leaving adequate amounts of canvas are necessary to fully wrap around the frame. | Source

Buy or Stretch a Canvas

Pros and Cons
store-bought
Hand-made
Economical
no
yes
Convenient
yes
no
Customizable
no
yes
Craftsmanship
yes
yes, after practice

How to Stretch the Canvas

First, make sure you have enough space for the size of your stretcher. Lay out the canvas and place the stretcher over it.

If you're mathematical and/or like precise measurements, you can measure everything out. For this part, however, I personally don't do any measuring.

However, the next thing you want to do is cut the canvas so that it extends out from the frame by 3-4 inches. This is so you can fold it around the stretcher later on.

An illustration of how the canvas will wrap around the frame.
An illustration of how the canvas will wrap around the frame. | Source

Staple the Canvas

When you go to staple the canvas, start in the middle of one of the sides of the frame. Wrap the canvas around and staple it toward the middle of the frame but a little ways away from the edge of the canvas.

Then, go to the opposite side and do the same. Except this time, pull it as tight as you can get it, but not so tight you have to strain to do so. You can use pliers at this step, if necessary, to help pull the canvas and stretch it over the frame.

Then, go to the side (or turn the canvas and stretcher by 90°) and staple, pulling as best you can. Do the same with the opposite side.

Staple opposite sides as you go, working your way out to the corners.
Staple opposite sides as you go, working your way out to the corners. | Source
Working from the middle, move out toward the corners of the frame.
Working from the middle, move out toward the corners of the frame. | Source

When Stretching the Canvas, Make It As Tight As Possible

Keeping the canvas tight is crucial so that it doesn't sag later on. But, don't fret about it, either - just do the best you can.

Continue stapling every 2-3 inches until you make your way out to the corners.


Dealing with the Corners

There are several ways you can approach the corners.

Some people approach it like wrapping a present and fold the corners as such.

I personally like to "hide" the seams so that you can hardly see them.

Essentially, it involves pleating and tucking a bit. You hold your finger at the end, make a pleat, and then a final fold down the back of the frame. Take a look at the photos to illustrate how exactly to do this.

I put my finger at the edge of the frame to hold the canvas while I make a pleat.
I put my finger at the edge of the frame to hold the canvas while I make a pleat. | Source
A staple to hold the canvas will help me then to make a pleat with both hands.
A staple to hold the canvas will help me then to make a pleat with both hands. | Source
Making the first pleat.
Making the first pleat. | Source
Staple the pleat into place if it helps.  That way you have something holding down the fabric when you're dealing with the final flap of canvas.
Staple the pleat into place if it helps. That way you have something holding down the fabric when you're dealing with the final flap of canvas. | Source
The outer flap will eventually cover all the seams.
The outer flap will eventually cover all the seams. | Source
The outer flap now nicely covers the inner pleat.  Staple into place and do this for all four corners.
The outer flap now nicely covers the inner pleat. Staple into place and do this for all four corners. | Source
The next step is to prime your canvas with gesso.  Here, the canvas is still unprimed and has wrinkles.  The gesso will take care of that.
The next step is to prime your canvas with gesso. Here, the canvas is still unprimed and has wrinkles. The gesso will take care of that. | Source
Gesso primer.
Gesso primer. | Source

Apply Gesso to your Canvas

Though you have your canvas framed, it's still not ready to paint on just yet. You need to prime the canvas.

If you tried to apply paint at this stage, the cloth would absorb the paint and go through the porous fabric.

Gesso works by waterproofing and filling in the porous tiny holes in the fabric to smooth it out. It has the added benefit of taking all the wrinkles out and markedly stiffening the canvas to facilitate a flat and sturdy paint surface.

Once you apply canvas, allow at least 24 hours of drying time before you paint on it. This will allow it to fully stiffen the canvas and waterproof it so that it won't absorb any oil or acrylic paint.

Read the instructions for the specific primer you get. Some gesso is white, some is black. Some needs to be sanded and others require different drying times.

Though not the most environmentally friendly of choices, a foam brush works well to gesso a surface because you don't have to wash it; you can throw it away when finished.  If you leave any gesso on a paintbrush, it will ruin it.
Though not the most environmentally friendly of choices, a foam brush works well to gesso a surface because you don't have to wash it; you can throw it away when finished. If you leave any gesso on a paintbrush, it will ruin it. | Source

Begin to Paint!

Now that your surface is ready, you can begin to paint.

Shortly after snapping the photo at the top of this article, I did indeed begin to paint on it.

If you're interested, take a look at the completed painting.

I hope this tutorial was helpful; ask any questions in the comments.

About the Author:

Cyndi is a freelance writer, photographer, artist and teacher. She loves studying language, arts and culture and sharing that knowledge with others.

Did you know you can write for HubPages? It's fun, easy and you can even make some money doing so.

© 2013 Cynthia Sageleaf

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    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      And a brilliant tutorial on canvas creating by our very own Cyndi...HOORAY!

      Is there any end to your talents? I think not!

    • cclitgirl profile image
      Author

      Cynthia Sageleaf 4 years ago from Western NC

      LOL, Big Bro. I learned this a long time ago when I started having to do my own canvases - back in 2006 I think. :D Thank you so much for your feedback. Always appreciated!

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 4 years ago from southern USA

      Great informative hub here. I need to share this with my son, who is an artist just starting out, and, yes, the costs associated with purchasing large canvas is too high for his budget. So, this is very helpful advice here.

      Voted up +++ and sharing

      Blessings, Faith Reaper

    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 4 years ago from New York, New York

      Totally passing this one onto to the artist in our family (Kevin). Thanks Cyndi for sharing this and I am sure this will help Kevin out in the future!! Also voted and tweeted, too!!

    • europewalker profile image

      europewalker 4 years ago

      Useful article. I like to paint as a hobby which can get quite expensive after purchasing paints, brushes and canvases. I will have to give this a try. Voted up and useful.

    • MelChi profile image

      Melanie Chisnall 4 years ago from Cape Town, South Africa

      The timing of this article could not have come at a better time. I JUST started paining on canvas again after 12 years. It took me a few months after I bought the ready made canvas frame to start paining but I'm halfway finished! To save money I'm definitely going to invest in making the canvas frames myself. I didn't know it was this easy. Thanks Cyndi, this is GREAT! :) Sharing all over.

    • onegreenparachute profile image

      Carol 4 years ago from Greenwood, B.C., Canada

      Very interesting!! I had no idea how to do this and often wondered. I just might start painting again.

      Thank you

      Up and sharing!

    • cclitgirl profile image
      Author

      Cynthia Sageleaf 4 years ago from Western NC

      Faith Reaper - thank you so much! I do wish your son much success and hugs to you. Thank you for your feedback. :)

      Janine - yay! Kevin sounds remarkable. :) Thank you so much for the votes and tweets. HUGS!

      Eurpoewalker - it CAN get expensive for sure! Thank you so much for your feedback and I hope that when you give this a try, it goes really well. :)

      Melanie - I am SO glad to know you're painting again. I've seen your work and it needs to be seen ALL OVER! :) Thank you also for the shares.

      Onegreenparachute - Yes! Painting is so much fun. :)

    • livingsta profile image

      livingsta 4 years ago from United Kingdom

      Beautiful explained with clear steps and pictures. Thank you for sharing this, was a really useful hub

      Votes up and sharing!

    • randomcreative profile image

      Rose Clearfield 4 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      Thanks for this great tutorial! I would love to try this technique sometime.

    • Ruchira profile image

      Ruchira 4 years ago from United States

      Great hub, Cyndi.

      I am a lazy bum. Usually buy the canvas but, since i do not paint regularly, i can afford it ;)

      informative hubwith many votes.

    • alocsin profile image

      alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA

      Sounds like a great way to save money. But how much does a 5' x 4' canvas cost that isn't stretched? It might be good to add that info so we can compare the savings. Voting this Up and Useful.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      I always wondered how the canvas was made ready. Now I finally know.

    • jocent profile image

      jocent 4 years ago

      There was an artist who rented our place and I never bothered what he's doing with those canvasses. I thought it was ready ready made and I only look at his craft after he's finished and was loading it for shipment. He was so good that his art is selling that much, now I understand that it is not just the artist alone to get credit but to the smallest detail like the canvas share the limelight. Thanks for the good info.

    • ytsenoh profile image

      Cathy 4 years ago from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri

      This is so good I'm sharing with my daughter. I really enjoyed your details and your instructional visuals. Very well put together and helpful too. Thank you!

    • cclitgirl profile image
      Author

      Cynthia Sageleaf 4 years ago from Western NC

      Livingsta - thank you for your feedback. I appreciate it. :)

      Randomcreative - knowing your creativity, I can just see you soaring to new heights. :)

      Ruchira - thank you and lazy? I don't even THINK so.

      Alocsin - 5' x 4' canvas that you make? It depends on the materials you buy. Canvas can be $8-$15 a yard. If you can find the wood to make a stretcher, it'd be free. :) If you have to buy the wood, I'd say $10-$15. :)

      Aviannovice - hehe, yeah, homemade isn't as refined as machine-made, but it's definitely a different kind of art. :)

      Jocent - that's incredible! I hope to be like the guy renting your place - very soon. :)

      Ytsenoh - thank you so much. I hope your daughter finds this useful. :)

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 4 years ago

      I took an oil painting class years ago and remember having to learn how to paint on canvas. It is a texture that allows for the blending of paint easily. This was a really good article on making your own canvas.

    • cclitgirl profile image
      Author

      Cynthia Sageleaf 4 years ago from Western NC

      Teaches - I'm thinking I should try oil one of these days. I've always worked with acrylic, but I think it might give me a different perspective. Thank you. :)

    • profile image

      AudraLeigh 4 years ago

      I could totally see you on the "Next Design Star"! I don't know if you decorate housed, but you have the artistc ability and and an outline here suitable to have your own show! John seems like he is a wonderful guy and is very supportive your art. Great piece here my friend!

    • cclitgirl profile image
      Author

      Cynthia Sageleaf 4 years ago from Western NC

      Hehe, Audra, I haven't heard of that show. But that is such a sweet compliment. You should talk - you NEED to write a hub or something about the amazing stuff you're doing. If not, I will. Hehe.

    • RealHousewife profile image

      Kelly Umphenour 4 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      I always wondered how they do that - make the canvas look smooth. So they paint a flat layer over it before beginning - interesting!

    • cclitgirl profile image
      Author

      Cynthia Sageleaf 4 years ago from Western NC

      Kelly - hehe, I LOVE the gesso for that. It smooths out the wrinkles, waterproofs and mega-stiffens it. It's great. Hehe. Thank you. :)

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Glimmer Twin Fan 4 years ago

      Very cool!!!! I love this because the artist is truly making their own art from beginning to end. It also saves money. Great hub!

    • cclitgirl profile image
      Author

      Cynthia Sageleaf 4 years ago from Western NC

      Glimmer Twin Fan - thank you so, so much! I appreciate your feedback and I got your awesome tweet, too. Have a WONDERFUL fay! :)

    • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

      Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

      Oh, wow! I need to try this - I love the idea of really getting into the 'guts' of the painting. That's the way the original masters worked. Not, of course, that I aspire to that level!!! Great information here.

    • cclitgirl profile image
      Author

      Cynthia Sageleaf 4 years ago from Western NC

      Marcy - ha! I am NO master, but I do have fun with making the canvas. Very economical AND I get to be part of the artistic process from start to finish - I think that's what I like best. :)

    • pinto2011 profile image

      Subhas 4 years ago from New Delhi, India

      Very nice idea. I think it has pushed me to pick my old school brushes.

    • Toytasting profile image

      Toy Tasting 4 years ago from Mumbai

      Hey Cclitgirl, Thank you for sharing this. It really inspires me to make my own canvas. Voted up and sharing!

    • cclitgirl profile image
      Author

      Cynthia Sageleaf 4 years ago from Western NC

      Pinto - hehe, thank you! Yes, yes! I would love to see what you come up with!

      Toytasting - thank you! It's fun for sure. :)

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      CC, you really are artistic!!! And you'll need to give more lessons, please! Sharing, yo!

    • cclitgirl profile image
      Author

      Cynthia Sageleaf 4 years ago from Western NC

      Michelle - hehe, thank you! I do love me some art. :)

    • CarlySullens profile image

      CarlySullens 4 years ago from St. Louis, Missouri

      This is such a detail and a well written hub. I remember taking my first painting class in college. He had to stretch our own canvases and learn how to do this well before we could buy pre-stretched canvas. Learning how to stretch your own canvas gives you more options as a painter. Instead of painting with a standard 24 x 20 inch canvas you can make it any size you want. Voted up and shared with all my art therapy friends. :)

    • NornsMercy profile image

      Chace 4 years ago from Charlotte, NC

      Ooh, awesome! I can't wait to try this. :) Voted up ++

    • cclitgirl profile image
      Author

      Cynthia Sageleaf 4 years ago from Western NC

      Carly - that's awesome! And congrats again on your HOTD - fellow artists and artist appreciators unite! :)

      NornsMercy - hey there! I'm so glad you're going to try this. Yippee!

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 4 years ago from California

      This is a great piece Cyndi--It shows exactly how to do this and makes it look easy!

    • cclitgirl profile image
      Author

      Cynthia Sageleaf 4 years ago from Western NC

      Audrey - yeah, it's not too bad! Thanks for stoppin' by. :)

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 2 years ago from California

      Still a great hub! Hope you are well!

    • cclitgirl profile image
      Author

      Cynthia Sageleaf 2 years ago from Western NC

      Aww, Audrey! Yes! Thank you so much. :) Been so busy with changing jobs and selling our house. We're almost to the due diligence date. Fingers crossed. :P

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Cynthia, this is pretty cool idea for this hub. I give it two thumbs up for useful!

    • cclitgirl profile image
      Author

      Cynthia Sageleaf 2 years ago from Western NC

      Kristen - ha! Thank you! I do have fun making artwork. :) When we get into our new house in a couple weeks, I might have to make some more! :D

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Congrats on the new house, Cynthia! You're most welcome. Go for it!

    • cclitgirl profile image
      Author

      Cynthia Sageleaf 2 years ago from Western NC

      Haha, Kristen, I might have to hub about it, too. :)

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      :-) I'll be looking forward to it this summer.

    • cclitgirl profile image
      Author

      Cynthia Sageleaf 2 years ago from Western NC

      Kristen - ha!

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