If you stretch your own canvas over stretcher bars, cotton is fairly easy to stretch as it has a slight give to it. For my work, I usually stretch raw cotton, than put three coats of Liquitex acrylic gesso on top. The canvas shrinks slightly producing a drum tight surface to work on.
Painting is not only about the subject but the way the paint lays on the painting surface as well. Wanting to see something different in my work I decided to try a roll of linen canvas.
I decided to use an oil primed linen canvas because this is a more traditional treatment and I was ready to try something new, but traditional. I found it is a challenge to find canvas finished this way because the oil priming, which is white lead paint is not a process that is looked favorably on in the US. I found a brand not manufactured here and ordered a roll.
I decided to paint two similar pictures at the same time in order to really see the differences in the surfaces of the oil primed linen and the acrylic primed cotton. Below are the two paintings.
The one at the top is on cotton canvas, the one on the bottom, linen
Each painting has identical colors of paint, I applied it to one than to the other, but the one on linen appears darker.
The second thing is the painting on cotton has a smoother almost homogenous appearance, while the linen has a more organic look.
The feel of the surface was also different. The oil primed surface allowed the paint to sit on it and be easily pushed around by the brush, while the acrylic primed cotton, being much more absorbent, pulled the oil from the paint causing it to be more difficult to manipulate. Below is a close-up view of both.
Acrylic primed on cotton
Oil primed on linen
The linen surface made it easier to achieve variety in the brushwork, producing a more interesting image to look at. Somehow this creates more depth also. Give this a try for yourself, experiment with different surfaces, you may find one you like a lot better than what you are using.