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A Remarkable Way to Stretch Canvases (and Other Essentials of Canvas Preparation)

24 thoughts on “A Remarkable Way to Stretch Canvases (and Other Essentials of Canvas Preparation)”

  1. Hi – It’s James Bernstein, author of the article. In the transfer of the publication from the previous golden website to the new, dedicated Just Paint website, a number of the images that accompany the text have disappeared and been replaced with other images that do not seem to correlate (e.g., the racks of Golden paint color swatches in image 2a have nothing to do with canvas stretching). When able to, would you kindly research this and pair the original images with the text in the reformatted article. Thank you so much.
    Best regards, Jim

  2. I find this article helpful as a custom framer with a particularly difficult canvas to stretch. However, won’t the action of shoving pushpins into the canvas leave little holes all around the perimeter? It seems like that would not be a great solution to a gallery wrap, where the sides are meant to be seen. Any thoughts?

    • You could always put a ribbon of canvas (its width the same as the stretcher’s depth and color suited to that particular painting) that hugs the visible sides, starting and ending at the center-bottom point (the least visible). I’ve seen this done with for whatever reason with a few museum pieces in floater frames, and it isn’t noticeable unless you’re really looking for it. I wouldn’t know what adhesive to use that would be reversible by a future framer or conservator, but I wouldn’t think it too hard to find out.

  3. Hello, Thank you for this fantastic writing.

    I am in search for a way to hang large format – 2’x5′ and larger – digital pigmented varnished paper ( Canson® Infinity Velin Museum Rag 250 or 315 gsm – Matte prints. Would this system work for fine art paper. I need the work to be conservation quality appropriate for museum hanging.

    • Hi Selena –

      The author of this article, Jim Bernstein, is a well-known conservator who is expert on all these types of issues and is quite approachable, so would encourage you to reach out to him directly. You can find his contact information on his website here: http://www.jamesbernstein.com/James_Bernstein_Website/Contact.html I do know that there is a common technique in conservation of stretching a painting over a blank canvas, usually called a loose lining, and so yours is simply in reverse! But whether there are any issues to be aware of, I would defer to Jim. Let us know if you don’t have any success and we would be happy to help further.

  4. I stretch & paint in large format. 8’×15′ would this technique work on this scale as well? It’s less expensive to stretch my own than to purchase and this technique sounds like it would be much easier than from inside out. Foundation is everything to me so this makes sense. Thx for this article & insight.

  5. This article is fabulous and will certainly employ this on my first stretch. so thanks!
    I have but owe question.

    As the outside lines are drawn to the outside of the bars, I surmise that you when you pull a side taught with the pliers that the drawn line then should end up pulled over to the side of the canvas.

    About how much ‘stretch’ is correct – meaning how far down the side of the canvas should I expect to see the drawn line for say at 18″ x 24″ frame?

    • Hello Karl,

      It is hard to say how far the marked threads would stretch over the edge of the stretcher bars. It certainly depends on the weave density of the canvas and also on the weave direction. There would be more stretch in the warp direction (along the length of a bolt) as the warp threads have more crimp (waviness) and thus can give in more. In comparison to cotton or linen canvas polyester canvas would bare stretch at all. As long as you get you reasonable tension on your canvas it should be fine. We are happy that you like this method of stretching and are glad that you are willing to try it. It certainly is a good learning experience.


  6. James Bernstein This is interesting, but I was not clear how it progresses from corner to corner. Do you go diagonal katy corner? or pinwheel?… a video would be fabulous or a diagram with arrows and numbers indicating the steps/locations in order.

    • Hello Elizabeth,

      thank you for your question. As long as you move forward, stretching always opposite sides, it should not matter what order one follows. You are right, this would be a great topic for a video. We will put this on our list! Thank you for suggesting that.

  7. First of all thank you guys for such insightful information, i know this article has been posted for some time but i have a few questions. would this method work with a piece that is already painted on? also as far as margin the stretch goes, you guys recommend 3-4″ when i paint a good amount of the time my paint passes the margin space area even onto the wall, will this cause damage to the artwork when stretching? i still plan to stretch the canvas with 3-4″ space but i’m worried the paint will damage the overall piece. thanks again for all your guys hard work, especially during this covid pandemic.

    • Hello Ramiro,

      thank you for your comment and please excuse our late reply. When stretching painted canvas it is usually best to first pin the painting in a couple of spots- a few pins in the middle and in each corner- to make sure the painting is positioned right. Then you can go ahead and staple the painting on. Since you won’t be able to see the canvas weave you might as well go from the middle towards the corners when stapling. There is always a higher risk of painting edges getting abraded, regardless of whether they are painted or not. Particularly if the painting is not framed. While you stretch your primed and painted canvas and bend the painted margin over the stretcher bars, there is a risk of the paint layers breaking open. Particularly in dry or cold environments. To work against that, you can try warming the margins directly before stretching with a hair dryer. This will make ground and paint layers more flexible and may help that the layers won’t crack open. Although we would not expect these cracks to pose a structural problem, they are primarily an aesthetic issue.

      We hope you stay well & safe and continue to enjoy painting!

  8. In my first attempt, the pushpins have worked very well, but I stapled on the back from the edges to the center and it appears to have introduced some unevenness. I’m concerned that when I remove the pushpins the canvas will have slack areas. Should I have stapled the canvas from the centers out, as it appears to be done in the photo?

    • Hello Peter,

      It should not matter where one starts stapling on the canvas, since the pins should hold the canvas in place. Especially when using an interleafing fabric band (as in image 12), it would be the easiest to go from one corner to the next in a circle. You can always correct uneven tension by either removing some staples and stretching that area again, or by keying out the stretcher bars. It should be fine to key out stretchers before painting. It mostly becomes a concern, when excessively keying out aged oil paintings with stiffer paint layers.

    • Hi Bill – That’s awesome to hear! It certainly revolutionized the way I stretch canvas, where, like you, I have adopted the corners-in approach.

  9. Hello
    Thanks for this wonderful article. However, one critical question still remains, the same as another commenter’s:
    “I was not clear how it progresses from corner to corner. Do you go diagonal katy corner? or pinwheel?”

    A reply states: ” As long as you move forward, stretching always opposite sides, it should not matter what order one follows.” However it is still unclear what is meant by ‘opposite sides’

    As the method works outward a pin at a time from each of the corners, I would assume ‘opposite’ means the opposite corner, not the opposite side. Which side would be opposite a corner?

    Please clarify, Thanks Again!
    Mark Luthringer

    • Hello, Mark.

      I believe you are interpreting the reply correctly. This method starts with pinning the canvas, then stapling/nailing from the corners, then inward to the center of the stretcher bars. This approach is opposite to what most artists traditionally do, working from the center of the stretcher bars and then securing them towards the corners.

      Initially, you would secure opposite corners first, then once all 4 corners are secure you continue securing inward towards the middle. You can continue working from opposite corners as you do this, but you can also continue in more of a clockwise pattern. The author would suggest to keep kriss-crossing opposities.

      I hope that helps!

      – Mike Townsend

  10. I might have been doubtful at first, but the step-by-step guide and the reasoning behind each move convinced me. Can’t wait to give this a shot and see the amazing results for myself.


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