Stretching a (very small) Gallery Wrap Canvas

This post falls in sort of a "note to self" category. But I thought it might be useful to someone else as well, and hey, here is as good a place as any to save my notes. In the past couple of weeks I've stretched no fewer than twenty four of my 6" mini canvases. Needless to say, I've got it dialed in fairly well by now. But I realized that I probably have all the tiny canvases that I need (or have time to paint) this year. And I also realized that by next year I might have absolutely no idea how I did them, because I'm like that. Like what, you ask? Worrying? Forgetful? Mildly obsessive? Yes.

So without further ado, here are my notes on stretching tiny gallery wrap canvases. Or any gallery wrap canvases, if you use bigger stuff.

I started with a 6" x 6" x 2" deep canvas stretcher (I have them made by a framing wholesaler), and an 18" square of canvas from which 5-1/4" squares have been removed at the corners. [singlepic id=393 w=250 h=240 float=]When the stretcher is centered on the canvas this leaves about 5/8" from the sides of the stretcher to the cut edges of the corners. [singlepic id=385 w=250 h=240 float=]

Once the canvas is centered, I pull up each side and place one staple in its center, on the back of the stretcher frame, being careful to stretch the fabric as tightly as possible from side to side. [singlepic id=386 w=250 h=240 float=]I pick a side and continue to staple all the way across. [singlepic id=387 w=250 h=240 float=]I then repeat this on the opposite side, again stretching the canvas as tightly as possible. [singlepic id=388 w=250 h=240 float=]After stretching two opposite sides, I then fold the sides of those flaps around the frame and place a staple in each one (4 staples total). This keeps the fabric flat as you fold over the remaining two sides. [singlepic id=389 w=250 h=240 float=]

After completing the first two sides, I trim the fabric on the stapled edges to about 3/4" from the staples to reduce the bulk on the back of the canvas. [singlepic id=390 w=250 h=240 float=]After this is done I pinch together excess fabric at each corner (starting at least 1/4" away from the frame) and trim it off. [singlepic id=391 w=250 h=240 float=]

After this is done it is time to staple the last two sides. I fold up the canvas flaps, using the edge of my scissors to tuck the corner in tightly as I fold the flap under. The edge of the folded flap should run neatly along the corner edge of the frame. [singlepic id=392 w=250 h=240 float=] After folding each edge, I pull the canvas tight and staple the rest of the side to the folded corners. [singlepic id=382 w=250 h=240 float=]

Almost done! Once the sides are completely stapled, I have only to trim the excess fabric near the staples... [singlepic id=383 w=250 h=240 float=] and give the folded fabric at the corners a few good taps with my hammer to "iron" them flat. Voila! The canvases are ready for gesso. [singlepic id=384 w=250 h=240 float=]

Note: you may have noticed in the photo I am wearing gloves. I am not just wearing gloves, I am wearing gloves over other gloves with a band-aid on my middle left top knuckle. If you stretch more than a canvas or two in a day, you will understand why.

Dancing Half Moon

[singlepic id=276 w=320 h=420 float=left] It's been a short week in the studio but I have managed to paint a few pastels. Hot off the drawing board is this one, Dancing Half Moon Study. It's another small piece destined to become the sketch for a large pastel, which I will begin first thing next week. I'd been struggling for a few days to work out a new composition, then this came together rather suddenly. I love the motion in it, and the shapes reminded me simultaneously of a crescent moon, ballet slippers on point and a standing-balance yoga pose. The title is a combination of all three.  Meanwhile the art fair preparations continue. Artfest (Spokane, WA) begins three weeks from today! Most of the hard work is done but I've been making life easier for future me with some labor-saving treats. "Treats" include things like built-in shims for my Pro Panel walls and a wireless credit card terminal. I've been coveting a terminal for some time now and today I made the leap into the 21st century (or technically the late 20th). Special thanks to Pro Panels and Teamac for their help with the shims and the wireless terminal, respectively. Both are great companies and once again, neither employs me in any capacity. They are just good people.

Evolution Part Two: 10x15 vs. 10x20

[singlepic id=270 w=360 h=240 float=left] What else could I possibly need to do, I believe I asked at the end of my last post about my art fair setup. Ha. Well, there were just a few things. As expected, I did have to do some fiddling with the walls. Since I use wooden pieces at the tops of the panels, I realized I would need to make more in order to fill a double booth. Happily, I devised a method of using the old pieces from my original setup which would save money, shop time, staining and lumber. Happily, that is, until I actually looked at the original top rails and realized they were narrower than the new ones and therefore unusable.

Sigh. Off to the hardware store for 2x4s and stain.

[singlepic id=268 w=320 h=240 float=left][singlepic id=269 w=320 h=240 float=left]I spent a day building the new top rails then set up my new 10' x 15' tent, which makes the perfect staining booth, in the yard. Since I now had to stain the new top rails, I took the opportunity to see if any old parts needed touchup. The naugahyde "baseboards" did, so I started filling in the worn spots with stain. This of course looked terrible, so I then peeled off every last bit of the old stain and re-stained them all. All of this took three more days.

[singlepic id=272 w=320 h=240 float=left]With the addition of the new top rails, I now had more than would fit into the complex canvas-and-fleece carrying case I had made, so I needed to make yet another of those. The case, a sheet of canvas lined with polar fleece with pockets at the ends and velcro everywhere, rolls up like a canvas paintbrush carrier  and protects the stained wooden boards. I spent another two days making it. I will NOT EVER make another one and I really mean it this time.

And, of course, I had to order more Pro Panels to fill larger booth spaces. I had enough to fill a 10' x 15' space, barely, but not a 10' x 20' one. Which brings me to another little hitch I encountered. A few of the shows I do offer a 10' x 15' space as their version of a double booth. Which is great, so I bought the 5' x 10' extension tent and figured for those shows that offer a 10' x 20' space I could just center the now 10' x 15' tent in the space, or pop out an awning on one side to use the whole 10 x 20 area. Not so much.

Turns out if you buy 20 feet worth of space, shows want you to have 20 feet worth of tent, at least the shows I am doing. So yes, I have to buy ANOTHER 10' x 10' tent. GAAAAHHH! On the bright side, when I called and explained my dilemma to the Light Dome people, they offered to put together just the pieces I need to save me a little money. Now can I be done buying stuff?

Come to think of it I will probably need more lights...

Oh, and if you were wondering what the photo at the top of this post is all about, I did come up with a use for the boards from my original display. My husband recycled them into some very nice benches for our new greenhouse! He even ripped I don't know how many of the boards to make the slatted tops. It still took him far less time than it took me to make that stupid bag. Here's a photo of the finished benches, complete with child storage underneath.

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Want more? Read Evolution of an Art Fair Booth Part 1 and Part 3.

Evolution of an Art Fair Booth

[singlepic id=194 w=460 h=350 float=] It's getting to be that time of year again. It's officially Spring, although it will NOT quit snowing here in Spokane. We just broke the all-time annual snowfall record here. Yesterday. Joy. All the more reason to start thinking about summer!

Over the next 2-1/2 weeks I will be getting the last of my art fair jury notifications (I would say which, but I don't want to jinx them!) And, I just ordered a 5' x 10' extension for my tent. While this probably guarantees that I will not score any 10' x 15' outdoor spaces, it at least gives me an excuse to set up my stuff out in the back yard in what has become my new Rite of Spring. Setting up my display in the yard is a ridiculous amount of work, but it gets me in the right frame of mind for the coming months, works out the bugs, and helps me look like I know what I'm doing again when I get to my first real setup day.

People often ask whether artists own the tents and display things we use at art fairs. Oh, yes we do. Usually several times over, in fact. I don't think there is an artist alive who has an art fair setup and isn't constantly fiddling with it. It can always be easier to set up, lighter to carry, better looking, etc., etc. But it's getting started that can get really interesting.

It's not as if anyone can just run down to Costco and pick up a professional tent  and some nice carpet-covered display walls. Most of the time artists have to be in a few fairs before they even find out what those things are called, who makes them and where to buy them. A few artists do the research first, buy nice professional equipment at the beginning of their art fair career (probably taking out a loan to do so) and as a result spend a lot less time and money in the long run.

The vast majority probably do what I did. That is, invent their own homemade display system, spend the absolute minimum money (and maximum time) on a display at the outset, then spend that amount five times over in improvements until finally giving up and buying the nice professional display. While not an economically advisable approach, it's not without its entertainment value. If you are mildly nuts, anyway. Just for fun, here's the story of my own booth...

Year one: First ever art fair, my local show. They don't require a booth slide for the jury. While this makes it easier to enter, it also guarantees that I will still be building my display until the actual day of show setup. I bought an inexpensive Caravan canopy from Costco, and Paul and I designed knock-down walls made of wooden frames and plastic mesh walls with canvas covers. I make a canvas cover for a heavy steel shelving unit which becomes my desk, and light the art with [singlepic id=195 w=320 h=240 float=left] hardware-store clamp lights. It was such a pain to set up that we decided to transport the walls the morning of the show without knocking them down first, and almost ruined them in the process. Two hours before the show opened Paul ran to get woodscrews for a temporary fix. Meanwhile, artists passing by my booth commented that the walls were pretty, but they would never hold art without collapsing. We finished setup about a minute before the show opened. The first night we realized we had no way to close up the tent, which came with three cheap sides attached with velcro. My parents brought down a tarp. That week I ordered four zippered sides for the tent, at a cost twice that of the initial tent purchase. At the first rainfall, the tent leaked

Year two, part one: I tried to build my own awning to keep the sun from steaming up the glass in my frames, and keep the rain out of the tent. The first awning, made of PVC and nylon fabric, is a dismal failure and must be taken down 1/2 hour after the first rain starts. Two redesigns and probably $200 later, I have a working awning made from copper pipe and the old tent sides. It attaches to the canopy with custom zippers sewn on by me. I also began a new annual tradition of waterproofing my tent and sealing the seams, and devised a system to tighten the tent onto the frame to prevent water from pooling on the canopy.

Year two, part two: the first major revision. We had become absolutely sick of setting up the beautiful wooden walls. Also, I had started doing larger work and the display space was very limited. I refashioned the upright back walls so that rather than standing alone, they would hang from the tent frame. This saved several [singlepic id=196 w=320 h=240 float=left] steps in setup and gave me a little more wall space. The four-sided upright display, by this time nicknamed "The Beast" for its enjoyable setup procedure, remained part of the display. The new walls were so easy they made The Beast seem even more difficult to assemble. The lights were also replaced with a cheap modified track light set from Home Depot. The new track lights attach to the cross-bracing in the center of the tent and look much better. However, I spent way too much time warning tall people not to burn their heads on the halogen bulbs.

Year three: Propanels! My third year at shows was my first year at Bellevue, held in a covered parking garage where tents are unnecessary and ceiling height is restricted. Since my display and lights hung from my tent frame, I still needed to set up the framework in my space. I spent a good deal of time figuring out how to remove the upright post from the center of the framework to keep within the height restriction. When we arrived at the show the artists on both sides of us [singlepic id=192 w=320 h=240 float=left] had already set up and gone, and we barely squeaked the tent frame into the space without destroying it and the setups to each side of us. This was also my first year at Sausalito, where the tents are provided and once again we must somehow squeeze my tent's framework into the space provided. Sick of stressing over the tent-frame-hanging-wall setup, I broke down and bought used Propanels from an artist at Sun Valley. Although I would have loved to use them at Sausalito, we had no way to get the huge walls home from the show, and had to store them until we could return for them in the fall. Also, I replaced all my curtains for a more polished look.

Year four: More Propanels. When I bought them at Sun Valley, the show director commented that she would hate to see my booth lose its character. I took this as a challenge and started designing a system to make my Propanels look like my old walls: wooden top rails and faux-wood "baseboards" to hide storage, cords and tent hardware behind the display. After picking up my walls in the fall I made some easy, velcro-on baseboard by staining woodgrain-printed contact paper to [singlepic id=193 w=320 h=240 float=left] [singlepic id=197 w=320 h=240 float=left] match my wooden trim. I finished enough to do a booth shot then in the spring built the rest. On an unseasonably warm day all the adhesives on my contact-paper baseboards melted and they fell apart. I started over, making an entirely new set out of tan naugahyde brushed with poly stain. They attached with velcro, which I had to sew on by hand. I finished building and staining the rest of the top rails, and oh yeah, built a new desk out of wood. I also had to buy more Propanels to round out my setup. Before Bellevue, I replaced the track lights with a set of professional display lights that cost more than my original tent plus zippered walls. And I bought an expensive professional tent with expensive custom awnings. Oh, and I bought a cargo trailer to haul the Propanels. Nothing major.

Which brings us to year five: the bigger setup. With my new oils I need more display space, thus the extension tent. I'm sure this will mean more fiddling with walls. But then I am DONE! Seriously! What else could I possibly need to do?

Yeah, good luck with that...

Want more? Read Evolution of an Art Fair Booth Part 2 and Part 3.

My New Hero

 Today is the day. I'm returning to the pastel easel to start getting ready for the pastel half of my summer season. But after several months of working with relatively tidy oils, my dust-covered pastel easel and surrounding areas were looking pretty gross. My "working palette" tray contained bits and chunks of pastel representing the working palettes of about the last thirty-seven pastel paintings, and everything was covered in a film of grey. Unable to bear the thought of starting new work in these surroundings, I began cleaning. If you have ever worked with pastels and are not an obsessive clean-as-you-go sort, you know what I am talking about. It is a seriously not fun job. Seriously. Cleaning up the dust is one thing, but the worst part is trying to figure out which broken-off, wrapperless bits and pieces of pastel go with which set and where. So frustrating. But I persevered, and few hours later was ready to start on my first pastel painting. Within a few minutes I found myself dealing with a problem I encounter fairly often, which is the lack of a particular tone of dark bluish-green. As I turned a longing gaze toward my oil palette across the room, I remembered that I had two brand-new boxes of Terry Ludwig pastels sitting in front of me. Opening one, I found the perfect shade of green. At last! But to get to the pastels I had to move a piece of white paper that I had somehow missed noticing before. 

[singlepic id=188 w=320 h=240 float=left]I turned the paper over and discovered that it was in fact a blank color chart, printed with the numbers of the colors in the box below empty white boxes. If you have ever tried to figure out what color an unlabeled pastel is from a printed color chart on the side, you know how utterly useless those charts are. I've tried to make my own handmade charts, but end up starting too late in the game when the colors are all mixed up and missing labels and I invariably run out of steam within a few minutes. So this simple, inexpensive but incredibly thoughtful little touch absolutely made my day, a day half-wasted with the organizing of pastels!

So, Terry Ludwig, you are my new hero. What can I say, it's the little things.

Framing Pastels

Have you ever bought one of my unframed pastels? Is it still unframed? Then this post is for you. I've been meaning to do this for some time, and I finally did: I have a new page for my blog titled Framing Pastels. You can see it in the right-hand column under Pages. I've included tips for framing a pastel start to finish, and also for framing a piece that is already matted, such as the miniatures I sell at art fairs.

I hope it will be helpful. Most of the necessary equipment is readily available at hardware and/or art supply stores. I've also added a new section of links titled "Resources," which appears at the bottom of the right-hand column, where I have listed a few sources for mats and other supplies. I will continue to add to the list in the future. 

Enjoy my new page, and happy framing!

Oil Palette - Keeping it Simple

[singlepic id=127 w=460 h=240 float=] Pastels are so beautiful, all those colors are so candy-like and tempting. It's hard not to grab an armload of new colors every time you walk into the art supply or open up a catalog. And you might as well, because the more colors you have, the easier it is to accomplish what you want. But of course, this hoarding gets expensive, and the more colors you learn that you can't live without, the more complicated re-ordering becomes. Unless you are among the most organized of us, you will eventually lose that label for your best light-greenish white with a hint of chartreuse. And as the number of tables and boxes devoted to pastel supplies grows, the likelihood of confusion increases. I currently own well over 400 pastels.

So here's something I love about oil painting: It is so easy to keep track of supplies! Of course, when I first decided to try my hand at oils, I approached it like a pastelist. I hadn't mixed colors in so long, I assumed I wouldn't be very good at it. I went to the oil paint section of the art store and started loading up a basket with all the colors I could find. Well, all the colors I could afford, anyway. I took them home and set them aside, not quite motivated to dig in.

Here are the paints I bought:

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Then one lazy Sunday I spotted an interesting title in a bookstore, and picked it up. It was Fill Your Oil Paintings With Light and Color by Kevin MacPherson. As I began to read and marvel at the beautiful work in the book, I found myself wishing I had gone to the bookstore first. Because in the book, the author explains how he uses a grand total of five tubes of paint to achieve every color in his palette. 

I decided to try this myself, so I chose five of my many tubes of paint, and got to work. My colors differed slightly from those suggested. For instance, I use a quinacridone red in place of  the alizarine crimson, finding that I can easily get the bright coral and carmine hues I like. (Quinacridones are synthetic pigments originally developed for auto paints.) But wouldn't you know, those five colors, now perpetually sitting on top of a drawer-full of unused paint, did everything I needed to do.

Here are the paints I actually use:

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Gotta love hindsight!

Kind Veggie Brushes

From time to time I'd like to share information about equipment that I particularly like. There's nothing like having the right tool for the job. It just makes working that much more pleasant and rewarding.When I started painting in oils again, I had a pretty good collection of brushes left over from my college days. But as I got into it a bit, I discovered that there were a few sizes I was missing, and that some of my brushes were getting a bit past their useful prime. Not a difficult problem to solve, right? Except for one thing. As of about a year ago, I am a vegetarian. To keep consistent, I also don't buy leather or other animal products like squirrel-hair brushes. And I realized, as I looked at my collection of paint brushes, that the only ones I ever used were the natural-hair sort. I had some synthetic brushes but found them almost impossible to work with. They were too soft and just generally not responsive to the way I paint. I had to come up with a solution. My natural response to the realization that I must replace some item with a "vegetarian" version is to go on a research and spending spree. (I did this to excess with my favorite weakness, shoes, and found some wonderful resources like MooShoes and Bourgeois Boheme.) 

[singlepic=111,320,240,,left]For the brushes, I didn't have to look far. An online search led me to the Escoda Tadami Synthetic Mongoose Long Handle Brush. I ordered one (I found mine at Dick Blick) and fell in love. Not only are these brushes far superior to any synthetic that I have used, they are now my favorite brushes, period. As you can see in the photo below, I have started a small collection.  They are not cheap, but they are worth it, so I add a few sizes whenever I buy supplies. Highly recommended!

Making Canvas Panels

This is how I make the canvas panels that I like. Painting in oils on these is the most similar experience I have found to working in pastel. I'm not completely sure why this is, but there are a couple of possibilities. First, the canvas I use is more textured than most of the canvases you can buy, and the hard board backing behind the canvas supports the the fibers and eliminates the "bounce back" you get with stretched canvases. The hard surface mimics working on paper against a drawing board, and the enhanced texture is similar in some respects to sanded pastel paper. Also, the canvases I make seem to be more absorbent than commercial canvases, absorbing (somewhat) the first layers of paint and allowing me to drag subsequent layers across the textured surface while the lower layers show through a bit. This works best with a fairly dry brush. Anyway, enough already. Here's how I make the panels: [singlepic=98,320,240,,left] These are the things you will need to make a panel. A piece of masonite, a scrap of canvas large enough to cover with about two inches extra on all sides, some sort of "stick-flat" paste such as Yes! or Nori, a large brush, some steel wool, and something to trim your canvas. I'm using a cutting wheel that you can get at any sewing supply store.  I highly recommend this, but anything will work. Also a rag, extra pieces of masonite, and gesso will be needed--and a method of cutting your panel if desired.

[singlepic=97,320,240,,left] Here I am trimming my panel to size on a table saw. Cuts like butter. Nice! I like to work in my own set of standard sizes (standard to me, that is) so this is a great method of making surfaces. Just set the fence and cut a bunch at once.





[singlepic=93,320,240,,left] Here I have laid my panel on the canvas scrap and I am cutting it with the wheel. I should mention that my work surface is entirely covered by a 4' x 6' self-healing cutting mat. Also recommended. I found mine online and it was not as expensive as you would think.




[singlepic=96,320,240,,left] I am ready to glue my canvas to the board. The glue likes to bead up on my panels, so a quick going-over with fine steel wool makes life easier. Be sure to wipe off any dust and little wool bits with a dry rag.






[singlepic=103,320,240,,left]Here I'm applying the paste with a house-painting brush. You'll want to cover the surface evenly--not too thickly, but with enough paste to get into the texture of the canvas.






[singlepic=95,320,240,,left]Having flipped the glued panel over onto the canvas to center it, I have turned the whole thing back over and am smoothing out the canvas as much as possible. I am now ready to add weights and let it dry.






[singlepic=99,320,240,,left]Here I am placing another masonite panel over my canvas panel. This will help a great deal to get any remaining creases out of the canvas.







[singlepic=101,320,240,,left]After placing a few heavy items on the upper panel, I am ready to let it dry. I usually let it sit several hours to overnight, depending on how big a hurry I am in. Also I would normally make several panels at a time, so I stack them: canvas panel, plain panel, canvas panel, plain panel and so on, with weights on the top plain panel.



[singlepic=104,320,240,,left] After letting the front dry I am ready to glue the excess canvas to the back of the panel. I've gone over the glue area with steel wool again, and am applying glue all the way out to the edge of the canvas so it will stick to itself at the ends. You can see this on the side I have already folded. The edges will lay flat once the weights are applied during drying.


[singlepic=105,320,240,,left]With the remaining edges glued, the canvas is ready to repeat the panel and weights step while it dries.  Almost done! 

A note here: to save time and produce a neat edge, you could simply trim the excess canvas flush with the panel after the first drying.  I've seen this done but haven't tried it myself. I  personally like to leave enough extra canvas that in the future, one could, if desired, remove the panel and stretch the canvas on standard stretcher bars. 


[singlepic=91,320,240,,left]A nice even coat of gesso and that's it!  As soon as the gesso dries it is ready to paint.

For examples of works on these panels, check out my Oil Paintings page. I believe five of the pieces currently posted are on the panels. Click on any thumbnail for a large version with description and medium.