Correct Side for Painting on Canvas Explained

  • By: Michael Smith
  • Time to read: 15 min.
Michael Smith
I'm Michael Smith, the founder and creative director of Art and Drawing. With over a decade of experience in the art and design industry, my keen eye for detail and passion for creating inspiring artwork drive my work. I'm dedicated to capturing the world's beauty through vibrant, expressive pieces that spark imagination and emotion.

When it comes to painting on canvas, it’s crucial to understand which side to use for optimal results. The choice between the front and back of the canvas can greatly impact the quality and longevity of your artwork.

The front, or primed, side of the canvas is the recommended surface for painting. It is typically primed with sizing and a primer, providing a smooth, absorbent, and neutral base for the paint. This ensures proper adhesion, vibrant colors, and lasting durability. Painting on the front side allows you to achieve the desired texture and absorbency for your artwork.

Though it is possible to paint on the backside of the canvas, it may result in a less desirable painting surface. The backside lacks the priming and sizing treatments, making it more susceptible to damage and less capable of retaining the colors’ vibrancy. Additionally, painting on the backside may not provide the desired texture and absorbency, impacting the overall quality of your artwork.

Key Takeaways:

  • Prioritize the front, or primed, side of the canvas for painting to achieve optimal results.
  • The front side is typically primed with sizing and a primer, providing a smooth, absorbent, and neutral base for the paint.
  • Painting on the backside of the canvas may result in a less ideal painting surface, lacking priming and sizing treatments.
  • The backside of the canvas is more susceptible to damage and may not provide the desired texture and absorbency.
  • Choosing the correct side of the canvas is crucial for achieving the best results in your artwork.

Understanding the Importance of Sizing and Priming

Before applying paint to a canvas, it is important to understand the role of sizing and priming. Sizing is the first treatment applied to a fabric painting support, such as canvas. It stiffens the cloth, helps maintain a flat plane, and closes the apertures in the weave network. Sizing also isolates the fibers from direct contact with the oil paint vehicle, which can have negative effects on an unprotected canvas.

Priming, on the other hand, provides texture, absorbency, and a neutral, uniform base color. Artist’s primers are formulated with high solids to provide absorbency and hiding power while minimizing shrinkage and movement in the lower layers.

By applying sizing and a primer to the front, or primed, side of a canvas, you can enhance the longevity and quality of your painting.

Implementing sizing and priming on the canvas creates a surface that is receptive to paint while ensuring the preservation of the canvas fabric. The sizing process protects the canvas from the damaging effects of direct contact with the oil paint vehicle. Additionally, sizing helps the canvas maintain a flat plane, preventing warping and buckling. Priming adds texture, allowing the paint to adhere better to the surface, and provides a neutral base color that won’t interfere with the intended colors of your painting.

Benefits of Sizing and Priming:

  • Stiffens the canvas and maintains a flat plane.
  • Closes the apertures in the weave network of the canvas fabric.
  • Isolates the fibers from direct contact with the oil paint vehicle.
  • Provides texture and absorbency for better paint adhesion.
  • Offers a neutral, uniform base color that won’t affect the intended colors of your painting.
  • Enhances the longevity and quality of your artwork.

With sizing and priming, you can ensure that your canvas provides an ideal painting surface that allows the paint to adhere properly, maintains its color vibrancy, and lasts longer. So, remember to properly prepare your canvas by applying sizing and a primer to the front, or primed, side before starting your painting.

Benefits of Sizing and Priming
Stiffens the canvas and maintains a flat plane
Closes the apertures in the weave network of the canvas fabric
Isolates the fibers from direct contact with the oil paint vehicle
Provides texture and absorbency for better paint adhesion
Offers a neutral, uniform base color that won’t affect the intended colors of your painting
Enhances the longevity and quality of your artwork

By understanding the importance of sizing and priming, you can ensure that your canvas provides the optimal surface for your painting, allowing you to create art that captures your vision and lasts for years to come.

Potential Issues with Painting on the Backside of a Canvas

While some artists find the backside of a canvas appealing, there are potential issues to consider when painting on the unprimed side. The back of a canvas may maintain a stiff, flat plane, but the exposed fibers can still react to moisture and humidity. This can lead to warping and buckling of the canvas. Additionally, the backside is directly exposed to contact with the oil paint vehicle, which can have negative effects on the canvas fabric. Unsized fabric is also more receptive to dust and dirt, making unpainted passages vulnerable and difficult to clean. Furthermore, painting on the unprimed side can result in a waxy, low-shine finish and a weak paint film if too much oil is absorbed by the canvas. These potential issues can impact the overall quality and longevity of the painting.

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To illustrate the potential issues with painting on the unprimed side, consider the following:

Moisture and Humidity: Unprimed canvas fibers can react to variations in moisture and humidity levels, causing the canvas to warp and buckle. This can lead to an uneven painting surface and potential damage to the artwork.

Direct Contact with Oil Paint: The backside of the canvas is directly exposed to the oil paint vehicle, which can deteriorate the canvas fabric over time. This direct contact can weaken the canvas fibers, compromising the stability and integrity of the painting.

Wicking of Oil Paint: Without a protective primer, the unprimed canvas fibers can absorb too much oil from the paint, resulting in a waxy, low-shine finish. This excessive absorption can also weaken the paint film, making it prone to cracking or flaking.

Dust and Dirt: Unprimed canvas is more receptive to dust and dirt particles, making unpainted areas vulnerable to contamination. Cleaning these areas can be challenging and may risk damaging the painting surface.

To avoid these potential issues and ensure the best results for your artwork, it is recommended to paint on the front, or primed, side of the canvas. The primed side provides a smooth and absorbent surface that promotes proper paint adhesion, color vibrancy, and longevity. Additionally, the priming process helps protect the canvas from moisture, humidity, and direct contact with the oil paint vehicle.

By understanding the potential issues associated with painting on the backside of a canvas, you can make informed decisions and take the necessary steps to create artwork with a durable and visually appealing result. It is always advisable to prioritize the longevity and quality of your paintings for their preservation and value.

Tips for Painting Directly on Linen

If you prefer to paint directly on linen canvas and still want to protect the canvas and reduce excessive paint absorption, treating the fabric with a synthetic sizing is recommended. Linen canvas offers a unique texture and natural canvas color that can enhance your artwork. By applying a layer of synthetic sizing such as PVA or acrylic-based sizing to the linen canvas before painting, you can help protect the canvas while still revealing its natural characteristics.

It’s important to note that a simple sizing layer will not provide the same level of absorbency and tooth as a full primer. Therefore, when painting directly on linen, it is recommended to use thin applications of paint that are minimally diluted. This will help preserve the natural texture of the linen and avoid over-saturation.

When applying paint to a linen canvas with a synthetic sizing layer, consider using techniques that require minimal paint dilution. This will help maintain the integrity of the linen and prevent the canvas from becoming overly saturated. By using controlled brushstrokes and layering paint strategically, you can achieve the desired effects while preserving the unique qualities of linen.

To summarize, when painting directly on linen canvas, remember these tips:

  • Apply a synthetic sizing layer to protect the canvas and reduce excessive paint absorption.
  • Use thin applications of paint that are minimally diluted to preserve the natural texture of the linen.
  • Experiment with techniques that require minimal paint dilution to maintain the integrity of the linen.

By following these tips, you can unlock the full potential of painting on linen canvas and create artwork that beautifully showcases the unique qualities of this exceptional painting surface.

Choosing the Right Canvas or Panel for Your Project

When it comes to selecting the perfect surface for your painting project, the choice of canvas or panel plays a crucial role. Each painting medium has its preferred surface, and understanding the characteristics of different options can help you make an informed decision.

Canvas for Oil and Acrylic Paintings

If you are an oil or acrylic painter, canvas is the go-to choice. Canvas provides a durable and versatile surface that allows for easy application of oil and acrylic paints. Whether you opt for a canvas roll or pre-stretched canvases, you’ll find a wide range of options to suit your needs.

Canvas rolls offer flexibility and allow you to cut the canvas to your desired size. On the other hand, pre-stretched canvases come in various sizes, including different heights, widths, and depths. Traditional canvas has a thinner edge, while gallery-wrapped canvas features deeper edges that give your artwork a three-dimensional effect.

Canvas Panels for Hobby Projects

If you’re a hobby artist looking for a convenient and budget-friendly option, canvas panels may be suitable for your needs. These panels consist of primed canvas mounted on sturdy cardboard. While canvas panels are great for practice or casual projects, they are not considered archival for professional artwork. However, they can still provide a satisfactory painting surface for your creative endeavors.

Alternative: Wood Panels for Added Flexibility

For artists seeking a different approach, wood panels offer an excellent alternative to canvas. Wood panels provide a sturdy and stable surface, making them ideal for techniques involving de-construction and layering, or the incorporation of additional media. You can choose from panels with or without sides, with cradled panels having sides that can also be painted as part of your artwork.

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Watercolor Paintings: Beyond Canvas

While canvas excels for oil and acrylic, watercolor painters typically opt for a different surface. Watercolor paper is the preferred choice, as it offers the necessary absorbency and texture to achieve the desired effects. Watercolor paper comes in various forms, including handmade and machine-made options, with different textures such as rough, cold-pressed, and hot-pressed, allowing you to choose the surface that best suits your artwork’s needs.

Considerations for Canvas and Panel Selection

When choosing the right canvas or panel for your project, several factors should be taken into account. Firstly, consider the size and depth that best suits your artistic vision. The choice of canvas size will depend on your desired dimensions for the artwork. Additionally, think about whether you prefer the edges of your canvas or panel to be painted or left blank, as this can impact the overall presentation.

Remember, the right canvas or panel will provide the foundation for your artistic expression. By understanding the strengths and characteristics of various surfaces, you can make an informed decision that enhances your creative process and brings your vision to life.

Canvas or Panel Type Suitable for Advantages
Canvas Oil and acrylic painting Durable, versatile, available in rolls and pre-stretched options
Canvas Panels Hobby projects, practice Budget-friendly, convenient, satisfactory painting surface
Wood Panels Versatile techniques, additional media Sturdy, stable surface, flexibility in artistic approach
Watercolor Paper Watercolor painting Provides necessary absorbency and texture for watercolor techniques

Exploring the Versatility of Wood Panels

Wood panels offer a versatile surface for painting, providing various benefits for artists who want to explore different mediums and techniques. Whether you prefer to incorporate additional media or experiment with de-construction and layering, wood panels can meet your artistic needs.

When it comes to wood panels, you have options. You can choose panels with or without sides, allowing you to decide whether you want the sides to be a part of your artwork. Cradled panels, for example, have sides that can be painted, creating a cohesive and visually engaging piece.

It’s important to note that if you opt for raw wood panels, it is crucial to seal the wood before painting on it. Sealing helps protect both the paint from substances in the wood and the wood from the paint, especially when using oil paint. By sealing the raw wood, you ensure that your artwork remains vibrant and preserved for years to come.

Wood panels provide a sturdy and stable surface for painting, providing excellent durability for your artwork. They can be a great alternative to canvas, offering flexibility and allowing you to explore various painting techniques without worrying about the limitations of traditional canvas surfaces.

Benefits of Wood Panels:

  • Sturdy and stable surface for painting
  • Flexibility to incorporate additional media
  • Opportunity to experiment with de-construction and layering
  • Ability to paint on all sides with cradled panels
  • Protection for both the paint and the wood with proper sealing

With wood panels, you have the freedom to express your creativity and explore new possibilities in your artwork. Embrace the versatility that wood panels offer and elevate your painting experience.

The Preferred Surface for Watercolor Paintings

Watercolor painters typically choose watercolor paper as the preferred surface for their artwork. Watercolor paper can be handmade or machine-made, with handmade papers generally being stronger and more expensive due to the random distribution of fibers. Machine-made papers come in different types, including rough, cold-pressed, and hot-pressed. Rough paper has more texture, cold-pressed is more versatile for various painting techniques, and hot-pressed provides a smooth surface. The choice of watercolor paper depends on the desired texture, absorbency, and tooth for the specific painting project.

Paper Type Texture Absorbency Strength
Handmade Paper Varies Varies Strong
Machine-made Paper Rough Medium Moderate
Machine-made Paper Cold-pressed Medium Moderate
Machine-made Paper Hot-pressed Low Moderate

In watercolor painting, the choice of paper is crucial for achieving the desired effect. Rough paper with pronounced texture can add depth and character to a painting, while cold-pressed paper strikes a balance between texture and versatility for different techniques. Hot-pressed paper offers a smooth surface, perfect for detailed and intricate work. When selecting watercolor paper, consider the tooth (texture), strength, and absorbency that best suit your artistic vision.

Properly Preparing Canvas and Wood Surfaces with Gesso

Before you start painting on canvas or wood surfaces, it’s essential to properly prepare the surface by applying a primer called gesso. Gesso serves several important purposes in surface preparation, including sealing, protecting, and enhancing the quality of your artwork.

Gesso acts as a sealant for the canvas or wood, preventing the paint from seeping into the fibers or pores of the surface. By creating a barrier, gesso helps to conserve paint, ensuring that the colors remain vibrant and true to your vision. Additionally, gesso provides a better binding surface for the paint, promoting adhesion and longevity.

Acrylic gesso is the most commonly used type of gesso. It is available in different colors and consistencies to suit various artistic preferences. Acrylic gesso is known for its durability, flexibility, and compatibility with a wide range of painting techniques.

To apply gesso, follow these simple steps:

  1. Stir the contents of the gesso container thoroughly to achieve a consistent texture.
  2. Use a wide, flat brush to apply the gesso in one direction across the entire surface, ensuring even coverage. Don’t forget to include the edges.
  3. Allow the first coat of gesso to dry completely before applying a second coat. Applying the second coat in the opposite direction helps to achieve a smoother and more uniform surface.

Once the gesso is dry, you have the option to sand the surface to further refine it and create a smoother painting surface if desired. Sanding can help remove any imperfections or brush marks, resulting in a flawless and professional-looking finish.

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Properly preparing your canvas or wood surfaces with gesso sets the foundation for a successful painting. It enhances the absorbency of the surface, allowing the paint to interact with the gesso layer and create the desired effects. Take the time to apply gesso before you start painting, and you’ll be rewarded with improved results and a more satisfying artistic experience.

Benefits of Gesso How to Apply Gesso
Seals and protects the surface Stir gesso thoroughly
Conserves and enhances paint Apply with a wide, flat brush
Provides a better binding surface Apply in one direction, including edges
Enhances absorbency Allow the first coat to dry before applying the second coat

Stretching Watercolor Paper to Prevent Buckling

To ensure your watercolor paper stays flat and free from buckling or warping while painting, it’s crucial to stretch the paper before you begin. Stretching the paper helps minimize distortion and curling that can occur when water is applied to the surface. Here’s a traditional method for stretching watercolor paper:

  1. Start by soaking your watercolor paper in a clean container of water for about 10-15 minutes. This allows the fibers of the paper to absorb moisture and expand.
  2. After soaking, carefully remove the paper from the water, allowing any excess water to drain.
  3. Next, secure the damp paper to a sturdy board using tape along the edges. Make sure the paper is taut and smooth.
  4. Leave the paper taped to the board and let it dry completely. This usually takes overnight or longer, depending on the thickness of the paper and the humidity in the air.
  5. Once the painting is complete and the paper is dry, you can cut it from the board using a craft knife. Be careful when cutting to avoid any damage to the paper.

This stretching technique ensures that your watercolor paper remains flat and stable throughout the painting process, allowing you to achieve the best results.

Benefits of Stretching Watercolor Paper: Drawbacks of Not Stretching Watercolor Paper:
  • Prevents buckling and warping
  • Minimizes distortion and curling
  • Creates a stable painting surface
  • Allows for smoother paint application
  • Enhances color vibrancy and blending
  • Increased risk of buckling and warping
  • Uneven paint absorption and drying
  • Difficulty in achieving precise details
  • Limited control over paint application
  • Potential for paint pooling and uneven washes

By taking the time to stretch your watercolor paper before painting, you can ensure a smoother painting experience and achieve the desired results in your artwork.

Conclusion

In conclusion, when painting on canvas, it is best to use the front, or primed, side of the canvas for optimal results. Sizing and priming the canvas provide important benefits such as stiffness, protection, absorbency, and a neutral base color. By using the primed side, you ensure that the paint adheres properly and maintains its vibrancy over time.

Painting on the backside of the canvas is possible, but it comes with drawbacks. The unprimed side may be more susceptible to damage from moisture and lacks the protection and finish provided by priming. Choosing the right canvas or panel for your project depends on your preferences and the specific requirements of your artwork. Stretched canvases, canvas panels, and wood panels each offer unique advantages, so select the one that suits your needs.

For watercolor paintings, it is recommended to use watercolor paper, which offers excellent absorbency and texture. Watercolor paper, whether handmade or machine-made, provides the ideal surface for achieving the desired effects in watercolor painting.

To ensure the longevity and quality of your artwork, proper preparation is essential. Apply gesso to canvas and wood surfaces before painting to seal and protect the surface, improve paint adhesion, and provide a better base for your artwork. Following these guidelines will help you achieve the best results in your canvas painting endeavors.

FAQ

Which side of the canvas is used for painting?

It is recommended to paint on the front, or primed, side of the canvas for the best results.

What is the purpose of sizing and priming?

Sizing stiffens the canvas and isolates the fibers from direct contact with the oil paint vehicle, while priming provides texture, absorbency, and a neutral base color.

What are the potential issues with painting on the backside of a canvas?

Painting on the unprimed side may result in a less ideal painting surface, moisture-related damage, lack of protection, and a less desirable finish.

Can I paint directly on linen canvas?

Yes, treating the fabric with a synthetic sizing before painting can help protect the canvas while maintaining its natural color and texture.

What is the best canvas or panel for my painting project?

Canvas is the most popular surface for oil and acrylic painters, while watercolor painters prefer watercolor paper. Choose a canvas or panel that suits your project’s size, depth, and whether you want the edges painted or left blank.

Are wood panels a good alternative to canvas?

Yes, wood panels offer a sturdy and stable surface for painting, especially for artists who want to incorporate additional media or use specific painting techniques.

What is the preferred surface for watercolor paintings?

Watercolor painters typically use watercolor paper, which comes in different types such as rough, cold-pressed, and hot-pressed, offering various textures, absorbencies, and tooth.

How do I properly prepare canvas and wood surfaces before painting?

Apply a primer called gesso to seal and protect the surface, conserve paint, and provide a better binding surface for the paint.

How can I prevent watercolor paper from buckling?

Stretch the watercolor paper before painting by soaking it, draining the water, and securing it to a sturdy board using tape along the edges.