Friday, March 31, 2017

Making canvas panels - the easy way

The easiest and least expensive way to make panels is to use a Masonite or Gatorboard substrate and apply a sealer to the surface. Liquitex acrylic gesso provides an excellent surface without too much absorption. Note: Use the professional or standard Liquitex, not the Basics Liquitex. Three coats applied with a small foam roller works great. (Two coats on a white surface can be sufficient.) But if you want an easy and fast way to make canvas panels, here are a few tricks.

You will need the following: an iron, your choice of canvas, Gator Board or another substrate like Masonite, a heat-activated adhesive such as Raphael’s Miracle Muck, a lightweight cloth, and a paper-creasing block or tool, often called a bone folder. You will also need a brush or roller to apply the adhesive.A good source for Gator Board is Artgrafix. The Natural Kraft Gator Board works best and I often order 18x24 boards. This is an easy size to store and work with and panels can be cut as needed. The 18x24 size is not listed on their website, but you can call the company to order it. The 3/16" thickness works for this size if you are cutting the panels down, but if you work very large, use the 1/2" thick boards.  

If you have ever worked with a roll of canvas, you know one of the biggest problems is the curl in the canvas which makes it difficult to lay it flat and also difficult to adhere to the panel surface, which is usually done by rolling with a brayer. This is where the best trick of all comes in – use an iron.

1. First of all, cut your canvas to size. I add a half-inch to both width and height. Since I frequently use the 18x24” Gatorboard panels, I’ll cut my canvas to 18½ by 24½. Set your iron to a medium to medium high heat setting and iron the backside (unprimed) side of the canvas. You now have perfectly flat pieces of canvas. (I use Claussens oil-primed canvas, usually #66.) When you are done, turn the heat setting on the iron down to a little less than medium or less than half-way.

2. Apply a coat of adhesive to one side of your panel. The best and fastest way is to use a foam roller. You need an adhesive that is heat reactivated. Raphael’s Miracle Muck works great. Miracle Muck  

3. Lay your canvas face down (primed side down) and carefully align the panel to the canvas, allowing some of the canvas to extend past the edges of the panel.
Flip the canvas panel over and place a lightweight cloth on the primed surface of the canvas. Flour sack cloth works great, but any lightweight cloth will work. You just need something between the primed surface of the canvas and the iron. (Trust me, I learned this the hard way.)

4. With the iron turned down to a little less than halfway, iron the face of the panel, starting in the middle and working out. Do not over-iron. Three to five passes is usually sufficient. Avoid getting the canvas too hot. This is a fast process and so much easier than using a brayer/roller. Remove the cloth.

5.Take a smooth block of wood or a tool called a bone folder (used to crease paper) and firmly crease all the outside edges of the panel and also press down on the outside edges. This step is critical for making sure the canvas adheres well on the edges and does not pull up from the sides or corners as the adhesive dries. Bone - square bone folder

This wood block works great but not sure where to find another.

6. Stack the panels up and weight them down for a day. Trim the excess canvas from the sides and you should now have perfect canvas panels, ready to be used as is, or cut to any size.

Additional tips and tricks: Gator Board can be scored and cut with a utility knife. It will take several passes to get a good cut, but is easy to do. I quit rinsing out the roller tray to keep excess adhesive from going down the drains. I just put any extra adhesive back in the bottle and let what remains dry in the tray. I do wash out the roller but make sure to use some soap. I also keep brown paper on my framing table which can be easily replaced as necessary. No work table - no problem - just use newspaper or something. Years ago when I made most of my frames and did not have a separate work space, I did most of the finishing work in my kitchen. I just made sure to cover all the surfaces with plastic. As the saying goes - whatever works . . .