The Painting Surface

Most students will do their paintings on commercially prepared canvases or painting boards. In doing so they are handing over to the art manufacturers the responsibility of deciding the size and proportion of their painting (as well as the qualities of the primer). These values are too important for anyone but the artist to decide.


A canvas is composed of two things: the cotton fabric surface and the wooden frame around which the fabric is stretched. The fabric is usually something called Cotton Duck, which is a thick and beige colored. The wooden frame is called a stretcher. Don’t ever, ever, ever call it a frame (cos a frame is something completely different), Really good ones are very difficult to make. Quite good ones are pretty easy (if you have the tools). In class I will show you how to do this in detail, but till then here is some random info:

FYI: the Facebook documentation of my last stretcher making demo. Timber can be bought from: Hong Wen Hardware Timber. Location here. The timber you will need is ‘two by one‘ and 15mm ‘quadrant moulding‘. Before you start, come to talk to me as there is a lot to know.


Board is heavy and sensitive to damage. It is, however  very easy to make.  Additionally, there are some primers which are prone to cracking is applied to flexible surfaces like canvas. Boards do not share this weakness. Nowadays, the best painting board surface is Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF).

Size and proportion

The size and proportion of a painting should be considered separately.

The size of a painting is strongly related to the size of a human. A painting is an object. Is it a delicately small object? Is it a stranded, domestically scaled object? Is it a commandingly large object? You decide. Do not let this important decision happen by accident.

The Proportion of a painting is related again to the human body. Is it the same general proportion as a standing human? Or is it more like the proportion of an environment that a human would find themselves within?

Tip: if you are stuck deciding the proportion of your canvas, try stealing it from a painting that you like. Use maths to do this. Painting A = the painting whose proportions you wish to steal, painting B is your painting, and all you know is how tall it should be and that it should have the same proportions as painting B. Therefore (solve for Width B):

(Height A X Width B) / Height A = Width B

Easy peasy.

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