Back of painting on cotton has mechanical texture you can click on to see clearer
back of painting on linen irregular weave you can click on any of these pics
another painting on wood board
wooden ‘key’ is pushed into slot to tighten canvas
slots in corner of artist’s canvas
This is an old painting I did on a wood board, shows off brushstrokes
painting on cotton
A close up shows the texture the cotton see under the eye
close up show cottons texture
Maybe the title of this blog should be “More than you need or want to know about the differences between cotton and linen”. I thought I should add some final words on the subject and include some illuminating pics, It occurred to me that the art gallery visitor might not be able to determine what the painting he is considering is painted on. As I talked about in the earlier blog, paintings can be on linen or cotton and I might as well mention wood panel too (also for that matter glass, metal, ceramic and paper but these are rare). If you look at the back of a painting you will see either cloth or a board. If you see cloth it’s either cotton cloth or linen. You can easily tell them apart the cotton is off white and linen is usually a darker khaki. I’ve included some pictures and tried to show the textural differences I talked about earlier. It does not matter how expensive the cotton is, it always seems to give an annoying mechanical quality to the paint surface. Linen cost about 35 dollars a yard and cotton is much cheaper. The oldest paintings were done on wood. Centuries ago paintings were made with tempera paint and this required a stiff support. With the invention and popularization of oil paints cloth became a viable option. Cloth is lighter which becomes important with large paintings. Wood seems to be a good choice for small paintings and work on wood has a beautiful way of showing off brush strokes but with larger work you have to worry about warping and the weight. With cloth, especially linen, you have a hygroscopic fabric in other words it can expand on humid days just like your linen shorts. This hygroscopic effect is something you probably don’t have to worry about because in the late 19th century artist started using specially designed stretcher bars that can be adjusted (While you’re looking at the back of the painting you will notice that the wooden bars have little slots in the corners. Wooden keys can be pushed into these slots to keep the canvas tight). One more curve, if you see a board in the back of a painting it could be a canvas painting glued to a board which is not uncommon, look for a cloth texture on the painting surface. Oh boy what started out as a simple explanation for the amateur gallery visitor has kind of exploded on me so I’ll end it here. A final thought, although the support of the painting is interesting what an artist does on top of the support is of much greater consequence. The next time your wife, husband, friend drags you along to a gallery you now have something to talk about.
This is another question I’ve heard lately at the gallery (in our gallery we usually describe our works as oil on linen). If you go to a museum ninety percent of the paintings you will see are painted on linen. Linen is a preferred support. In art lingo ‘support’ means whatever surface you are painting on. Linen is a preferred support for oil paintings because the weave is irregular and can add subtle variety and movement to passages in a painting that would otherwise not have enough interest such as a flatly painted area. Cotton, though commonly used, has a very regular pattern that can look odd and simple. On the other hand I saw a group of cool landscape studies by John Sargent at an auction and when I turned them over I was surprised to see they were on cotton. So good work can be done on cotton too. I noticed the Deibenkorn still lifes at a recent show were on heavy cotton so maybe its fine for work that not trying to look traditional. My own theory is that the shape of the linen fiber (if you would cut it and look at it sideways) is a polygon, it has points, and when a brush loaded with paint is dragged across linen it aggressively pulls the paint from the brush more so than the round cotton fiber. For me that’s a good thing. I guess bottom line is the choice of supports effects how the brushstrokes look.
alla prima painting
How long does it take to finish a painting? That is an age old question that has been asked of artist since time immemorial. When I was a young artist I was told that the proper answer is twenty five years and three days. However I will try to give you a short but more complete answer here. Of course I can only speak for myself and it will vary from artist to artist. Van Gogh seems to have painted 4 or more paintings a day while Ivan Albright took 21 years to finish a portrait. The important factor when it comes to time is technique. Many artist and more so in modern times paint using some version of the alla prima, or “all at once” style, which means that you try to get the image completed in one session. Total time, from a few hours to a couple of days but time is up if the paint starts drying . When this goes south the artist has entered what is known as the modified alla prima mode, where one must paint additional “adjustments” on top of the dry but unsatisfactory “alla prima” painting. Actually this is a slippery slope and if the artist was rational he would just chuck it all and start from the beginning. But many artist struggle on not wanting to waste the time and effort expended so far. Anyway this can go on for some time and in the end it may take many days or weeks to finish what you thought you could pull of with a few days effort. I read the analogy that if the wagon doesn’t make it over the hill its best to go back to the bottom and start over again. Many great works have been created in this manner.