Start here with Canvas Stretching, the first part in preparing your own canvas.

Canvas stretching and preparing your own canvas is something all artists should learn. Even if you've purchased a canvas that's ready to go!  It's also part of every oil painting technique you will use.


You need a solid painting surface to paint fine details.

Understanding canvas stretching will help you buy the right pre-stretched canvas too.  If you have already bought your canvas, you can skip this and move on to the Canvas Preparation Page

There you will learn how to create the egg shell smooth surface that is needed to achieve the tight details within the finishing layer of this technique.

Otherwise, continue below for the adventurous that want to make their own canvas's with gesso prepared canvas and stretcher bars.
Canvas stretching isn't that difficult, and after a few times will become second nature to you.

Also, do check the link pre-stretched canvas at the end of the article.  It will educate you even more on canvas stretching and what to look for in a quality product!

Canvas Stretching, in aien't yoga, but...

Learn and Master Painting In the photo you see stretcher bars, canvas pliers, a simple staple gun, canvas cut close to the 9 x 12 size I'll be needing. About 4 inches over on each side to allow for gallery wrapping the bars. This allows the piece to be displayed without a frame and the edges can be painted.

(If you are a Manchester United fan, you'll appreciate the mug on the work table too!)

Canvas stretching

Here I hold up one of the stretcher bars. There is a great deal of high tech machining on these pieces. The Corners are cut to allow easy fitting of two pieces together and strong enough to prevent buckling or twisting of the frame. They are also machined to allow the frame to expand for canvas stretching with corner tabs.

Canvas stretching

A close look from the edge and you will see the bead that allows space between the canvas and the frame. This helps prevent shadowing around the edges that can be mirrored in the final painting. (a smooth line or transition area that coincides with the thickness of the stretcher bar).

Canvas stretching Canvas stretching

Start assembling your frame. Snug the pieces together. You can use a rubber faced hammer to tap things into place.

Canvas stretching

Always check for squareness! I use a small square here to get it close, but the best and easiest method is with a String!

Canvas stretching

I've taken a piece of string and tied a knot at one end. I then line this knot up to one corner of the frame. Running the string diagonally to the opposite corner, I pinch it and hold this measurement.

This method is especially good for the large canvas's that I put together.

Canvas stretching

I then check the other diagonal corner to corner for the same length. If its off a little, a simple tap brings it into square.

Canvas stretching

I can now begin stapling the canvas in preparation for canvas stretching. I start by stapling one side completely. Be careful, make sure your staples do not penetrate the corner miters that need to slide in and out! The one I just put in I had to take back out!

Canvas stretching

I then grab my pliers. The photo shows me pointing to two areas of interest. The back end of the pliers is a leveraging horn, and this should set against the back edge of the stretcher bar.

Canvas stretching

If you don't have enough material, that's ok, it just makes for a better canvas stretching. Grasping the material and using the leverage horn, rock the canvas back pulling it tighter.

Use your free hand to then push the material down against the back of the stretcher bar. Release the pliers and grab the material with this hand to keep pressure against the canvas. Keep the canvas down against the wood. See the next 2 photos.

Canvas stretching

While you are holding the canvas in place, staple it. The gesso and canvas against 2 edges usually holds in place well enough for you to put down the pliers, and grab the stapler. Keep downward pressure with your thumb to keep it taut whilst popping in the staple.

Work outwards from the initial center placed staple. One side of the center then the other side with each stretch and staple insertion.

Canvas stretching

I'm beginning my fold over for the corner. Think about what your subject matter will be and if your painting will be a horizontal or vertical format. (Landscape or Portrait formatting)

This particular canvas is for a customer that wants a still life of onions on the landscape (horizontal) format. I'll be posting this paintings progress on the "On the Easel" page of this website.

Canvas stretching

This is a simple fold or crease to hold the material while stapling the rest. Remember, don't staple these corners yet. Canvas-stretching must be completed and this will be one of your last steps.

Canvas stretching

Start again in the middle. First one side.

Canvas stretching

Then the other.

Work down both sides alternating one side to the other always working outwards. Like tightening lug nuts on the car, working opposite sides while tightening each nut.

Canvas stretching

This photo show tapping in of the corner tabs. Note the orientation of the tab. Put it in backwards, and it will not work properly.

The tapered edge is opposite or away from the corner. This allows it to push the bar outwards, thus stretching the canvas a little more. Put them in and tap tight.

You can then do a final staple of the corner folds of material. This will keep everything in place. This should leave you with a pretty tight canvas.

Canvas stretching

If later you need to re-tighten, pull the corner staples out (they restrict movement of the bars) and re-tap these corner tabs, and re-staple.

Canvas stretching

You can also simply spray a little water on the back of the canvas and get an instant tightening while you paint.

Click here to back up to the top of Canvas Stretching page.

Click here to get to the Flemish Technique Explained page.

After you've completed Canvas-Stretching, go to the next lesson, Canvas Preparation, to get the eggshell smooth surface to paint on.

And if you've bought a factory prepared canvas, you will really need to see this video, and additional photo's on problems I have found with these, and how to overcome them to get that just right stretch!

Expanded canvas preparation, canvas stretching the right way!

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