Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Cotton vs. Linen

    Up until this month I have mostly used cotton canvas to paint on. Why? It is easy to obtain, all of the art supply stores stock it as well as craft stores like Michaels etc. There are many different finishes from very smooth to a heavy rough surface, but what is available in prestretched canvases is usually a thin weight with a uniform woven texture. The priming ,(coating on the raw canvas) is a white acrylic gesso.
    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.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with you, seeing them both and being able to compare them in your studio really allows me to see the marked difference in the quality of the two paintings. If you view the photographs on line you can see the differences in the quality of the paint -- just think when potential clients see it in a gallery! It'll probably be similar to the experience people have when they compare quality furniture to lesser furniture -- they may not know or understand the difference but it's obvious to them which is better.