Synthetic Canvas Or Natural Canvas. Which Is Better?

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Art mentor Jacqueline Coates and student Kellie McHugh, both painters, discuss the pros and cons of synthetic canvas and natural fibre canvas

Synthetic Canvass or Natural Canvass, Which Is Better?

Jacqueline; Hi Kellie, I understand you have tried a synthetic canvas with this painting? What was your reason for making the change from natural fibre canvas with gesso to a synthetic canvas ?

Kellie; My local framer makes art stretchers and he recommended the polymer canvas because he said it doesn’t sag. I live in a very humid area of Queensland and to be honest I’ve been struggling over summer with paint consistency so I thought I would try it. The paint has been drying out really quickly so I thought I would try this in case the surface helped me to get a different result.

Jacqueline; Did you try the wet palette technique?

Kelli; Yes, and with everything I tried the paint still dried too quickly. So I thought I’d try this synthetic canvas in case it made a difference.

Jacqueline; How did that go for you? Were you happy with how the paint went on?

Kellie; The texture of the polymer canvas is very smooth. It feels nice. I found it didn’t take the paint like the natural canvas in the same way. It didn’t absorb it. The natural canvas by contrast slurps up the paint and you can build on that . For this kind of painting which uses blending, and needs a wet surface, the synthetic canvas felt like it rejected the paint and it was hard to build up the luscious result on the canvas.

Jacqueline; You also mentioned you had flaking issues where the paint flaked off the surface from your painting on the synthetic canvas

Kellie; That’s right. The paint actually chipped off on the front in two places and on the edge of the canvas as well. Now I’m wondering how to patch that.

Jacqueline; It sounds like you have put a lot of effort into a detailed painting on a canvas type that now makes your work vulnerable and unstable. We are not sure what will happen next to it.

Kellie; Yes.

Jacqueline; That’s disappointing.

Kellie; Yes it is. It’s a learning experience.

Jacqueline; I haven’t used synthetic canvas but I was told about an experience an artist had which put me off even trying it. I was given the heads up by an industry expert some time back about synthetic canvas.

The story from the art supply consultant who went out to advise on the situation a professional artist had goes like this...

A top selling artist started using polymer canvas instead of his usual choice of natural canvas on the recommendation of his canvas stretcher person who said it would be great. The exhibition of work painted on the new canvases sold out at high prices.

Three months later the paintings now hanging at the clients started having issues when the paint began falling off the synthetic canvases in clumps from where they were hanging on the client’s wall.

The paint literally peeled off and lay on the floor. It wasn’t just one canvas and one client, it was with many of the canvases from the series painted on the synthetic canvas. This presented a huge issue. I can’t tell you if there was surface preparation before adding the paint.

However this was an experienced artist, and he clearly wasn’t expecting the paint to fall off and for his product to be unstable.

I’m not sure what the outcome was but the paintings had to be returned to the artist to deal with the dilemma. Let’s hope he could find a solution for the clients.

After hearing this story I decided not to use polymer canvas ever as too risky. Artists have used natural canvas for hundreds of years successfully. Though I’m open to hearing a good story and a positive use of synthetic canvas.

Quite possibly it works for lots of people who are happy with it.

I’ve been using natural canvas and wooden stretcher bars for years with few issues.

I haven’t had a problem with natural canvas since I decided at the beginning ( 30 years ago) to use minimum weight of 9 and a half ounces weight to avoid canvases being vulnerable to tearing.

I have sometimes had issues with stretcher bars warping with thin edge canvases but since using thick edge or gallery style thickness stretcher bars with cross bars these issues have largely disappeared.

I go through a lot of canvases for workshops with issues on natural canvas being rare. However what I’m hearing is the polymer canvas didn’t work for you or this other artist.

Kellie; No, I’m going back to natural canvas.

Jacqueline Coates; I like the tooth on the natural canvas that takes the paint.

Kellie; I love the way the natural canvas takes the paint.

Jacqueline; So at this point it’s a thumbs down on the synthetic canvas from us?

Kellie; Yes it’s a thumbs down for the synthetic canvas!

Jacqueline; Thanks so much for sharing your experience!