How to Stretch or Frame Your Canvas

How to display one of my large abstract art canvases

Summary

My paintings are normally supplied as un-stretched canvases. The canvases are sheets of fabric that are not yet attached to support frames. I send these painted un-stretched canvases to you as rolled-up pieces of fabric in strong cardboard tubes.

Most customers chose to get their local picture framer to stretch the canvas for them. The canvas is wrapped over a simple wooden support frame and usually then stapled to the back of the wooden stretcher frame. This is the simplest and usually cheapest way to display my art.

My Customer Photos show paintings that have mainly (but not all) been stretched by a professional picture framer.

The picture framer can offer lots of advice. Their prices do vary quite a lot so you may like to get several quotations, if possible. Sometimes customers opt for an external 'traditional' picture frame to surround the stretched canvas. The picture framer is likely to have lots of frame mouldings to chose from for this.

I don't stretch the canvases myself. Overall it works much better for you to get my paintings stretched by a picture framer in your local area.


Some More Details

If you'd like some more background information about the canvas stretching process, or if you're thinking of adopting a d.i.y. approach and want to stretch the canvas yourself, below are some details that you may find useful.

There are quite a few YouTube videos showing people stretching canvases at home using different methods. Some of these videos are very helpful.

The first two photos below show a fairly typical appearance of the back of a stretched canvas. The canvases were large and so central cross bars were used to provide additional strength to the wooden frames.

The second two photos show alternative approaches to making a wooden stretcher frame. They still produced frames that were strong and rigid, allowing the canvases to be stretched firmly over them.

 

Wooden stretcher frames can vary in thicknesses, from about 2 cm, to 3.5 cm and up to approximately 5 cm. A 2 cm thick wooden stretcher frame is usually adequate for a canvas of up to about 1.5 x 1 m. You would normally include a cross bar with stretcher frames of this size to help give the frame strength.

With canvases larger than approximately 1.5 x 1 m, a picture framer may advise using a thicker 3.5 cm (or so) stretcher frame for the additional strength. However, it may still be just about possible to use the thinner 2 cm thick stretcher bars, but more intermediate support / cross bars are likely to be required to ensure the stretcher frame is strong enough so that it does not bow or twist when the canvas is stretched over it. However, most people would probably use thicker bars that are 3-4 cm thick for these larger sizes.

Here's two photos showing one type of wooden canvas stretcher bar.

Wooden canvas stretcher bar cross section 1
Wooden canvas stretcher bar cross section 2

Another consideration is the final appearance. Some people prefer the look of a thicker stretched canvas when it is hung on your wall. The thicker canvas stretcher bars give the painting a deeper look when viewed from the side. This may work especially well for my paintings that are completely abstract in design.

When the canvas is stretched over a wooden frame like this, most customers chose not to then add a traditional external picture frame as well. However, it may be possible to still add an external picture frame. One or two customers like the appearance of this, especially when using a relatively minimalist-style picture frame for a chic, contemporary look that adds a clear border between the painting and the surrounding wall it is displayed on.

Prices from picture framers can vary quite a lot. I would probably recommend getting several different quotations, if possible. To stretch one of my 160 x 112 cm canvases there are some framers that will charge about £65-£75. A more typical price may be £80- £95, though some may quote quite a lot more.

If you enjoy d.i.y. you may like to stretch the canvas yourself. Wooden stretcher bars can be bought online from many shops. The wooden stretcher bar frame needs to be a little bit smaller than the total canvas size, to leave some canvas to be wrapped around the stretcher bars and stapled to the back. How much smaller the wooden stretcher bar frame needs to be depends on the thickness of the stretcher bars you chose. The thicker the stretcher bars, the more canvas will be used to wrapped over them. Wooden stretcher bars that are pre-cut to length will usually have mitred joints that allow the bars to be slotted together to make the frame. You are likely to need a cross-bar as well to give the frame rigidity.

You don't necessarily need actual pre-cut canvas stretcher bars. One of the main advantages of them is that they usually accept 'corner wedges'. These allow you to add extra tension to the canvas as soon as you have stretched it, or at a much later date, by expanding each stretcher bar joint by carefully tapping each corner wedge in to the corner. Another advantage is that the stretcher bars will normally have a rounded front lip to them. This is the part of the stretcher bar that is in contact with the canvas material on the front face. In theory, this can stop any unsightly lines appearing on the front of the canvas, caused by the inside edge of a wooden bar pressing on the canvas.

However, if you're happy to forgo these features of actual canvas stretcher bars, you may be able to use timber from a local d.i.y. shop to make a wooden frame to stretch the canvas on to. It's helpful if the timber has rounded edges, to aid the stretching process.

One customer used 40 x 10 mm timber with a rounded edge to make his own frame to then stretch the canvas over. The photo below shows the timber he used and the 3 other photos show the brilliant result he achieved.

Rounded edge timber used to make canvas frame Finished stretched canvas in customers home 1
Finished stretched canvas in customers home 1 Finished stretched canvas in customers home 1

'Canvas stretcher pliers' make the process of pulling the canvas fairly tight much easier. They are used to grip the canvas fabric and pull it over the wooden frame. However, it is still possible to pull the canvas reasonably tight without these, if you have a strong finger and thumb pinch grip. You normally work from the middle outwards when stretching, putting a few staples in on one side and then on the opposite side. The YouTube videos will help show the actual workflow most people use.

A hand staple gun is used to staple the canvas to the timber frame.

One customer attached a large sheet of mdf to a wooden frame and then stapled the canvas to that and has told me that this worked well. So I would say that if you're an experienced d.i.y. person, there are a few options available to you.

This all being said, most of my customers do use a professional picture framer in their local area to stretch my abstract art.