Have you noticed the increased popularity of wrapped canvases during the past couple of years? Though the deeper canvases, commonly called gallery wrapped canvases, are slightly more expensive for the artist, they do save us the expense of a frame. Also, as the styles of painting trend toward more abstract, mixed media and contemporary, the gallery wrapped – sometimes called ‘gallery wrap’ – canvas conveys a more modern design that works well.
During the past year, I have learned that the expense is less, however, the time involved in ‘framing’ these canvases is no less than that of presenting the painting in a conventional frame. As I have wandered through galleries inspecting the painted edges of numerous paintings, I have been quite surprised by the wide range of care – from poor to exquisite – artists have taken in painting the edges of their gallery wrapped canvases.
After some unsatisfactory research, I embarked on my own trial and error journey to figure out how to achieve the quality of presentation I wanted. Because I do not like the manufactured texture of canvas, I gesso my canvases. After I applied the first layer of gesso with a brush and it has dried, I then paint the edges and overlap the front of the canvas with an acrylic middle-gray paint. See photo above. By the way, this middle gray makes it easier to paint the final color of the edges after the painting is finished, be it darker or lighter.
For this particular canvas, I wanted the edge to literally ‘frame’ the painting, so I wanted the gray to overlap the edge about 3/8th of an inch. To give my eye a guide, I drew a pencil line 5/16th of an inch from the edge using a favorite matting tool I have. See photo above. Why is the space wider than my desired 3/8th? Pencil lines do not always erase easily, so I wanted the line to get covered up with the next layer of gesso.
Slowly, I apply the tape – a thin tape made by Nichiban – just inside of the pencil line. Once I know it is nice and straight, I rub the tape down several times to make sure it has a good grip on the painted canvas.
To protect the outer edges from extraneous paint and finger prints, I tape it with a wider tape. I am sure masking tape would work for this task, but I forgot about using it. When the painting is about completed, all of this tape needs to be removed and I don’t want the tape to take off any of the gray paint; this is why I use an artist tape or low tack tape.
To assure that no gesso or paint sneaks up under the tape, I apply a light layer of gesso where the tape meets the painted canvas. You could think of this as being a sealer. Once this dies, which does not take long, I then apply at least two layers of more gesso with large palette knives. These layers of gesso are due to my personal preference to create an organic texture and because I do not like to paint on the texture of canvas. Otherwise, if you do not want more gesso applied, proceed to paint!
By the way, I have used this process for both wrapped canvases and deep panel boards.
Once you reach the stage when you think it is a good time to remove the tape, do so v-e-r-y slowly and carefully, because you do not want to rip the tape or paint. I prefer to do this when the paint is dry. As you can see above, a tiny white edge may appear between the painting and the painted edge. It is up to the artist to decide whether he/she wants to do deal with this line. My line is more evident because of the layers of paint I apply. An added feature with my work, is that the painted ‘frame’ is a different texture from my painting and creates a soft contrast.
Now, I must determine if this middle gray is appropriate for my painting. In this example, it is. I will then go around the edges to do any necessary touch-up.
This step-by-step process of painting the edges of your wrapped canvases will work if you only want to paint the sides of your canvas and not overlap onto the painting surface.
How do you paint the edges of your canvases? Do you take the image around the edges?