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The best fine art canvas is one the artist can prepare quickly and that will accept the painting medium in a predictable way. Choosing the best canvas begins with deciding whether the canvas should be made from linen or cotton, because each looks and behaves differently. Second, the way a canvas is stretched is important. Some artists are more comfortable with a canvas board as opposed to a stretched canvas, while others prefer to use their own methods to prepare raw canvas. The choice and preparation of a good fine art canvas is as individual as the artist.
A fine art canvas can be made from one of two materials. Linen was the first material used to make canvas for art purposes. It has a slightly yellow or brown tint but remains one of the most popular choices. It is incredibly strong and long-lasting but requires proper sizing or priming to be used. An added benefit is that linen does not lose its natural oils over time and remains more pliable.
Cotton canvas was developed later than linen and has become an equally popular choice for artists. While not as physically strong as linen, the same longevity can be achieved with thorough priming. The material has become a widespread favorite for artists because the color is closer to white than linen's color is, and it is less expensive.
How a fine art canvas is stretched or mounted can greatly affect the way it receives brush strokes and paint. The most popular method is to stretch a sheet of canvas across a wooden frame and tack or staple the sides to the frame. This provides a sturdy surface with some give in the center.
Another method uses a frame with a groove around the edge. This is called spline wrapping. The canvas is stretched over the edge of the frame and inserted into the groove, where it is secured. The advantage of this method is that the edges of the canvas can be used as a painting surface.
Pre-produced canvas art boards are a good choice for those who do not like the give of a traditionally stretched canvas. A fine art canvas board is a piece of canvas that has been stretched across a thick piece of cardboard or art board and glued into position. They are convenient, inexpensive and easily stored.
Some find that the best fine art canvas is not available commercially and choose instead to stretch their own; others do not stretch the canvas at all. Unstretched canvas can be primed and painted, although its display, storage and lifespan can cause problems later. While these methods require some additional knowledge and skill not required of those using pre-stretched canvas, they can help to create a canvas specific to the artist's needs.