Choosing the right canvas for your paintings and artworks

This review is written by Lisa Clough aka Lachri (website | youtube)

Choosing the right surface to paint on is just as important as the type of paint that you buy. If your canvas is too rough you will have trouble with smooth blending and detail work, while if it’s too smooth, you will have issues using a palette knife or heavier brush strokes. Today I’m going to share some tips on choosing the right type of canvas for your project. I personally only use Fredrix canvases. I made that switch several years ago after having some horrible experiences with generic brands where the paint didn’t stick right or the stretcher bars warped badly, so all of the canvases I will be talking about today are from Fredrix.

Fredrix canvases are primed in a way that the primer bonds to the canvas itself so you’re not going to have issues with the primer peeling or flaking away from the canvas later on down the road. They also use very high quality stretcher bars that do not warp, and are formed in a way that you don’t have the paint brush pushing against that stretcher bar as you work, which causes weird lines around the edges. If you’ve used cheap canvases you know what I’m talking about there. It’s always annoying to have a border around the canvas where the paint caught as the canvas hit the stretcher bar as you applied your background. That doesn’t really happen with these canvases because of how the stretcher bars are formed. Especially on the Pro Seriese line.

Before I get started I feel that I should mention that I have done several videos using Fredrix canvases where they provided me with the canvas for that video. That said, even before I made some of the videos where they gave me the canvas to use, I only used their products because of how much I love the quality that they consistently produce. I am not paid by Fredrix, these are all my personal opinions.

Fine Detail Work

If you’re like me and you love painting fine detail, then you’re going to want a very smooth canvas. you have a few options within the Fredrix line that will work great for you. These smoother canvases will also be helpful in achieving smooth blending (like for your skies and clouds).

Fredrix Blue Label

This canvas is a polyflex cotton blend that is triple primed. Why does it matter that it’s triple primed? Well all those layers of primer add to a smoother painting surface for you! I’ve used these canvases for portraits, tiny detail, oil painting, acrylic painting, wildlife and surreal work. They are one of the lowest cost quality super smooth canvases I’ve found. I’ve probably painted on this specific canvas more than all other canvases combined. Between its smooth surface and lower price than some of the others I will be talking about, it’s just an all around great canvas.

Oil painting on a Fredrix Blue Label Canvas

Fredrix Red Label

I’ve bought a few of these because I got a great deal for them on sale, but they do have a bit more tooth than I typically like for my fine detail work. With this canvas, I add a layer of Liquitex Gesso then sand it down so that I can have a smoother working surface. They aren’t terrible to work on without smoothing them out, but they are not my go to canvas.

Acrylic painting on a Fredrix Red Label canvas (video)

The painting above was done after I added one coat of gesso and sanded it down. Still it was more rough than I like to work on for fine detail and smooth blending. Another coat of gesso and sanding would likely have made it closer to the blue label. This of course is just going to come down to personal preference though. If we look a bit closer, you can see how much of that tooth of the canvas still shows.

Acrylic on a Fredrix red label canvas after one coat of gesso and some sanding to smooth it out.

Pro Series Belgian Linen and Pro Series Oil Primed Linen

If I could only work on one canvas for the rest of my life, it would be one of these. The surface is even smoother than the Blue Label. For years I would read where an artist said they were working on Linen canvas and I always thought it was more of a “look how fancy I am, I’m using the most expensive canvas type I can find”, but that it wasn’t really that much better. Then I tried the canvas myself and realized that it really is an amazing surface to work on. It costs more so it’s not one I would start a student out on for practicing, but they really are great to work on.

The main difference between the Belgian Linen and the Oil primed linen is that the oil primed can only be used with oil paint. If you’re working with acrylics, go with the Pro Series Belgian Linen instead. If you’re working in oils I do prefer the oil primed canvas. The paint just glides across the surface (slightly more so than the non oil primed variant). Smooth blending and fine detail work is just beautiful on this surface.

Asian Elephants painted in acrylics on a Fredrix Pro Series Belgian Linen canvas (video)

Nature Core Paint Boards

The Nature Core Paint Boards come in two varieties: Belgian Linen and Mixed Media. Both are amazingly smooth surfaces to work on. The canvases on these two surfaces is wrapped around a ¾” recycled chipboard and a vegetable-based, bio-plastic core. These are archival and look like your standard stretched canvas at a glance. The surface is harder though, and quite smooth. Paint just glides across the belgian linen so smoothly. It’s great for techniques where you want to rub some of the previous layers of paint off for a rougher, more grungy look. I also feel like working on this surface is easy mode. I can dry brush (which is a look I normally avoid) but it looks like I’ve blended everything out smoothly. If you’re having trouble blending your acrylic paints smoothly, this may be a perfect option for you.

Acrylic and airbrush on a Fredrix Nature Core Belgian Linen Paint Board (video)

If you do a lot of airbrushing, the Mixed Media paint board is my favorite. This is the same surface as the Fredrix watercolor canvases, but wrapped around the ¾” board just like the Belgian Linen variety. This canvas is also amazingly smooth. I find that paint dries a bit faster on the mixed media board than it does on the Belgian Linen Nature Core board, but because it is so smooth, blending is still pretty easy on it. Being as smooth as it is though, when airbrushing you can’t see the grain of the canvas which can be a bit annoying on other surfaces.

Acrylic paint against an airbrushed background on a Fredrix Nature Core Mixed Media Paint Board (video)

My only real complaint about the Nature Core Paint boards is that the largest size available is an 18x24”. If you like to work larger, this is not the surface for you.
12oz Dixie and 20oz Ultimate

These two canvases are both from the Pro Series line. They are cotton canvases that are MUCH heavier weight than the canvases I previously mentioned. There is quite a bit of tooth on both of these canvases, the 20oz Ultimate having the most. These would not be great canvases for fine detailing, glazing, and smooth blending, but if you’re working with heavy paint and a palette knife, or any other technique that is going to require heavy application, these are going to be the canvas for you. Because they are so heavy weight, they aren’t going to be prone to sagging like some of the lighter weight canvases I’ve talked about. This is especially important if you’re working large. The difference between these two canvases is that the 20oz Ultimate is heavier weight and has even more tooth than the 12oz dixie. More tooth means that when you’re applying heavy layers of whichever medium you’re working in, that paint will have more to grip to.

Neither of these canvases work for the style of painting I personally do, but Fredrix did send me some samples so I could test them all out. In this video I am comparing 4 different styles of painting on the Fredrix Pro Series Belgian Linen, Oil Primed Linen, 12oz Dixie, and 20 oz Ultimate canvases.

Video review


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