Linen versus Cotton Canvas

The word canvas does not refer to any specific material in the field of textile fabrics but is applied to a number of closely woven materials of relatively coarse fiber that are used for sails, tents, awnings etc. In painting, the term canvas generally refers to the material upon which artists paint, stretched across a wooden frame. It can be pre-primed or unprimed.


Unprimed linen and cotton canvas


Linen is by far, the better-quality support material because of its strength and resistance to decay. Woven from flax, the weave can show throughout many layers of paint. Most paintings created before the 1850s were made from linen which includes almost all of our most celebrated paintings in museums today. Since that time, Cotton has replaced linen’s popularity due to low manufacturing costs.

Primed with an oil primer this is the classical standard for oil paintings made using linen. An acrylic primer which is less expensive than oil primer, can be used with either acrylic or oil paints. Linen is difficult to prime and stretch properly, but it offers the smoothest and stiffest painting surface, one with proven longevity. Typically, an artist would not use a low cost primer on linen because it is so expensive. It would be similar to setting a rather large, high-grade diamond in a brass ring. If you’re going to invest

Some of the qualities linen has that makes it so attractive to painters are:

  • Linen is the most durable fabric to put paint on. Linen’s warp and weft threads are equal in weight so less susceptible
  • to the expanding/contracting problems created by moisture
  • Linen is very receptive to sizing and priming applications
  • Linen retains its natural oils which preserve the fiber’s flexibility and keeps the canvas from becoming brittle
  • Linen has a more “natural” weaved finish than cotton and is available in a variety of textures, weights and smooth or
  • rough finish

Cotton is desirable because of its affordable price and its ease of stretching.

Much less expensive than linen, it has become the most popular support for oil and acrylic painting. A properly prepared cotton canvas has longevity similar to linen, and is more flexible and easier to stretch properly. However, cotton is considered too flexible for very large paintings and is prone to sagging.

It is possible to stretch cotton tighter than linen, without straining the wooden support, because cotton fibers stretch more easily than linen fibers. Although not as strong as linen, a heavy grade cotton can make up for it’s lack of strength with its weight.

  • For both oil and acrylic painting, an acrylic gesso primer is generally used

Cotton duck. There are 10 grades of cotton duck which distinguish from one, the most heavy, to ten, the most lightweight. The grades refer to the weight and thickness of the cotton duck, and are standardized across most of the textile industry. Grades are assigned on the basis of how much a piece of fabric of a specific size weighs. Individual traditional names for each grade are still
used by some people, but they do not have specific grades attached.

Typical cotton duck for artists are:

  • #8 Extra-heavy: difficult to stretch)
  • #10 Heavy: stretchable but requires strength)
  • #12 Medium: typical weight for paintings)
  • #14 Light: easiest to stretch, prone to ripping under tension)

Students should never use linen unless the quality of their work and skill is comprable to that of a top selling artist. Even some of the most established artists don’t use linen as a support due to its price. This material also demands you use the highest grade primer and oil colour, which adds still more to the cost of linen.

There is also a PDF version of this post. Download it here.

Now you know.


How to make painting vanishes, mediums, balsams and resins

Here for your reading pleasure are a list of pdfs I’ve collected over the years. These files contain recipes for painting mediums, varnishes, balsams and resins. Included in this list of goodies are century-old master recipes. Some of the ingredients can only be obtained through the net, but it gives you something to add to your arsenal and a better understanding that the varnish you may be using is not all that there is out there. They contain definitions, techniques on how to make and use and drying times times of resins, oils and balsams. Some of these recipes claim to create jewel effects in the varnishes and resins while others claim to create a depth of field effect unlike any commercially available varnish.


  • Larch, Venetian and Strasbourg Turpentine
  • Canada & Copaiva Balsam


  • Fast-drying painting mediums
  • Copal concentrate and Canada Balsam
  • Canada Balsam And Copal
  • Cananda Balsam And Sun Thickened Oil
  • Canada Balsam, Double Mastic, Copal Concentrate & Oil
  • Canada Balsam Medium (Basic)
  • Copal Concentrate And Stand Oil
  • Copal Varnish Basic
  • Damar And Double Mastic And Wax
  • Damar-Oil Canada Balsam
  • Double Mastic
  • Egg And Damar Emulsion
  • Egg And Beeswax Emulsion
  • Gelatine Solution For Paper
  • Gesso For Panels (Technical Gelatine Formula)

Personally, I think it’s important to at least know how our predecessors worked with paint, before this information is lost to time forever. Some of these recipes have been in use for centuries before the advent of modern commercial varnishes and resins. Remember, I cannot verify their longevity but I can verify their authenticity.

Download the PDFs here:

Lens Correction in Photoshop

As a painter, I’m cursed. One of the things I have to always consider is documenting my paintings. What curses me is the curvature of the lens. By virtue of the curve, straight lines always come out curving around a bulge in photographs.  That’s the lens doing that. It’s called field distortion and it drives me crazy.

I could fix it by buying a lens for my camera that would correct it, but they’re expensive.

I could buy software such as DxO Optics Pro. It too can be expensive. DxO Optics Pro retails for $253.00 CAD.

I have Photoshop already… and guess what? It comes with a lens correction filter already (as of CS2). As it turned out, I had the perfect image to try it out on. I did a painting of Queen Street in Toronto from a series I’ve been working on of a row of buildings. As you can see in my original image, the distortion isn’t bad. But enough that I’m not happy with the way it is.

The second image shows guides to see just how far off it really is. Not much… but enough. Click for the enlargement to see the detail.

Original image

Original image


From the Filter menu, go to Distort -> Lens Correction.

That calls up a workspace window with controls on the right hand side and tools on the left.


The Workspace

The Workspace

Closeup of Menu

Here’s a closeup of the controls.

Remove Distortion is a setting that controls which way the distortion will operate, convex or concave.

Chromatic Aberration is when your channels or areas in your channels are not aligned and you get an offset occurring.

Vignette is when an area of your photograph is fuzzy and out of focus.

Transform refers to the entire image tilting in perspective top to bottom (vertical perspective) or swinging left to right (horizontal perspective).

The Edge and Scale settings refer to when the image is distorted to correct the aberration, the filter will squish in the image, pulling it away from the original edge of the image. This setting tells the filter what to put there in its place. The default is transparency, or in other words nothing.

So the first thing I need to do is straighten the image by rotating 1 degree. You can see the canvas exposed along the edges after the rotation. Had I changed the Edge setting to a fill colour, the exposed areas would be solid and not transparent.

Then I changed the horizontal perspective to -4 and the vertical to +6 to align the front picture plane to the viewer.

This was the result. It was enough that it represented what I wanted. Just enough to remove most of the distortion. I’m not going to fuss too much with it. The more I fuss, the less people are going to believe that this is what my painting really looks like.

From here, I used Free Distort to align and straighten the edges more

The final image

The final image

My finished file. 🙂

Hello world, no really

As a designer, your eye stays peeled for anything of design interest whether you want it that way or not. You can’t help but notice little things such as the fluid curving arm of your mom’s kettle or the unusual tight kerning in an ad. It’s just the way designers are wired.

This blog represents my travels… on the net or the world around me. Anything I find of design interest is going here for other designers to rummage through. As well, anything of art and culture is landing here. So, for your reading pleasure, here are the keywords for today… design, graphic, art direction, font, type, typography, colour (yes, in Canada we use a “u”), paper, pigment, canvas, brush, oil, watercolour (See? I did it again), acrylic, alkyd, support, medium, art, painting, illustration, writing, literature, short story, novel, book cover, art direction.

This blog will link back to my online portfolio.