How to make a canvas

Here are some tips for anyone who wants to be more hands on and save some money in the process. A number of my works and  future works require a strong backing as they need to support wood, metal and various other materials as part of the 3d “relief sculpture”. For this reason (and because it does require equipment like a mita box and proper clamps to create old-school canvases) I have decided to start stretching my canvas over light wooden board supported by a frame, rather than just the frame.

How to..

Saw light wooden board into the desired size (square, rectangle in your chosen size). Measure and cut your frame (4 elements) from pine/ marantee (splits less than pine when you hammer nails into it) so that you have two long supports and two shorter. Place along the edge of the wood to make the box shape and hammer into place from the front. You now have a very secure frame with a hard backing against which the canvas and any additions can rest. Cut the canvas so that it is approximately 10cm larger than the frame. This is assuming that your frame “beams” are not bigger than about 3cm square so that your canvas depth is not too much more than this. Make sure that you choose the correct side of the canvas for the front and then stretch over the frame, securing the canvas with a staple gun. The corners will need to be folded diagonally so that only 1 x 45 degree angle fold is visible on the side/ top of the canvas at each end. The canvas then needs to be primed. If you are a student and cash is an issue, normal household white acrylic paint from your father’s garage will do fine – give at least 2 coats. The canvas I usually use it 10 ounce cotton duck.

Creating a focal point

I believe planning the focal point of any artwork is one of the most important things to do before/ while starting. Some people even use mathematics, concepts like the “golden section”. A focal point doesn't exist alone, according to an old art teacher of mine, who always encouraged us to create “ lines” in the artwork to lead the eye towards the focal point. These techniques together can make an artwork eye-catching, portray to the viewer the picture’s purpose and capture their attention. As an adaptation of the “golden section” my main concern is just to ensure that the point of focus is off-centre - not in the corners and not in the middle.

To achieve this, try to visually divide your page. Start with a landscape rectangle and divide down the middle. Now divide one half of this horizontally. Now, divide half of this vertically. If you did this in each major quarter, you will end up with a page divided into 3 panels both horizontally and vertically, creating four focal "dots". The upper page dots are above centre (horizontal), one is just to the left of centre, one is just to the right. The lower ones are below centre and also to the left and right of the vertical middle. The chosen focal point in most landscapes is the upper right hand one. I find that my eyes naturally rest on this position in an image. It may perhaps be because I am right handed, or possibly because people read left to right (right being where they end up). Either way, it is seldom that you will find a good photograph/ artwork (by good I mean your own judgment based on a wish to continually or repeatedly view the work of photo) where the main attraction sits slam dunk in the middle.

Leading the eye to the focal point

Sometimes, what you want to have as the main attraction in your artwork, is not always the most eye-catching element itself, sometimes other images/parts may outshine it in size or colour. To lead an eye to where you want it is achieved with “lines”. From what I can gather, humans naturally follow a flow when looking at an image, this is often what makes an artwork peaceful in my opinion. Artworks without flow can be over-powering, confusing and frustrating. Flow is created with actual lines but usually disguised as objects, shapes, abstract brush strokes even the curve of an arm or the profile of a face. You should half-close you eyes and assess the lines that bind your positive and negative space. These lines should, in general, be pointing towards the focal point, so if you literally follow them, you will end up there.