Do you paint your canvas edges? 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 canvas conveys a more modern design that works well in most home and office interiors.
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 or deep panel boards.
After unsatisfactory online research for resources about painting canvas edges, I embarked on my own trial and error journey to figure out how to achieve the quality of presentation I wanted. A clean professional look of my canvas edges is important to me. Below I outline my process.
Step-by-Step Demonstration of Painting Canvas Edges
One caveat: because I do not like the manufactured texture of canvas, I gesso all of my canvases/boards irrespective of the edges.
1. After I apply 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 below. 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.
2. For this particular canvas, I wanted the edge to literally ‘frame’ the painting, so I wanted the gray to overlap the edge onto the painting surface about 3/8th of an inch. (See example at end of post of a finished painting using this overlapped framed idea.) 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 as demonstrated in the photo above.
Why is the space wider than my desired 3/8th? Pencil lines can often show through paint, so I wanted the line to get covered up with the next layer of gesso.
3. 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.
4. 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 or the green frog tape you can buy in a hardware’s painting department, but I forgot about using it here. 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.
5. 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 dries, which does not take long, I then apply at least two more layers of gesso with a large palette knife. These extra 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!
6. Once you reach the stage when you think it is a good time to remove the tape, do so v-e-r-r-y slowly and carefully, because you do not want to rip the tape or the 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 multiple 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. See “Dancing with the Light” below.
Now, I must determine if this middle gray is the appropriate color for my painting. In this example, I decided I wanted the canvas edge color to be more of a green-gray. I then mixed up this color and painted the edges. I find it much easier and faster to paint the final canvas edges over my middle gray versus painting the edges on white or raw canvas after the painting is finished.
Even though there is no expense for purchasing a frame – the time involved in painting or finishing these canvas edges is no less than that of presenting the painting in a conventional frame.
This step-by-step process of painting your canvas edges will work if you only want to paint the sides of your canvas and not overlap onto the painting surface as I did above. Below is an example of a deep panel board of mine where I have contained the gray edges to just the sides.
Originally posted August 2013.