Throughout history, many artists have used linen as their canvas. Why has this been a thing? What is linen? Is it like painting on bed sheets? Is it like painting on the kind of linen textiles humans wear as clothing? Was it just a primitive form of today’s airbrush-on-tee-shirts painting? In this post, we explore what painting on linen actually means today and the pros and cons of it as well as why some artists prefer painting on linen to painting on a primed board.
What is linen, and what’s the deal with it, anyway?
Let’s get super basic and talk about natural vs synthetic fibers. Linen is one of the 4 natural fibers and it’s derived from the flax plant. You have linen, cotton, wool, and silk. These are all plant or animal-based materials we humans have made into textiles and have used over time for all kinds of purposes. A lot of us know about cotton--we learned about the cotton gin and Eli Whitney in school/growing up. Linen is a similar fiber--it comes from a plant but the process is a little different and takes more time and resources causing it to be a bit more expensive than cotton. Still, it’s redeeming qualities like texture and strength give it significant value and ensure that its place for use in human textiles is solid.
For example, linen, when used as a textile to clothe humans, has several properties that make it ideal for that purpose. It’s breathable, cool in hot weather, drapes well, holds dyes well, has a beautiful sheen, and is attractive overall. But how do its properties translate to artwork?
Artwork by: Todd M. Casey
- Super durable - less susceptible to expansion and contraction problems from moisture
- Retains natural oils (canvas won’t become brittle)
- Receptive to sizing and priming apps
- Variety of textures and weights that make it interesting to paint on; even through layers of paint you can still see its distinct weave making it more interesting than cotton
- Linen can be expensive
- It can be difficult to stretch and prime (At Trekell, our linen is pre-primed and we save you the hassle by pressing the linen to our panels)
Here at Trekell we offer 4 types of Pressed Linen Panels -Acrylic Primed Linen -
This Claessens Linen #13 has been primed for acrylic or oil paint with two layers of titanium white and bound with glue. This fine weave linen is what is considered “portrait grade” and offers a smooth surface with little texture.
The linen has been primed by A.E. Art Canvas in New York. It’s primed with Williamsburg Lead Oil Ground; a traditional oil ground made with Basic Lead Carbonate and marble dust for the desired amount of tooth and absorbency, with a slight amount of Titanium White added to improve opacity and brightness. Ground in 100% alkali-refined linseed oil. Contains no zinc or alkyd. The surface of this linen has little to no texture, making it ideal for showcasing fine details. Use Lead Primed Linen Panels with oil paint for best results.
This Claessens Linen #13 has been primed for oil paint using one layer of zinc white bound with linseed oil. After drying and sanding, a layer of titanium white bound with linseed oil is then applied. This fine weave linen is what is considered “portrait grade” and offers a smooth surface with little texture.
Quadruple Oil Primed Linen -
The Artfix L64C Quadruple Oil Primed Linen has been sized twice to completely seal the fine-weave, Belgian linen. Four coats of an oil primer is then applied. This primer is meant to look and feel like a lead primed surface without the toxicity. This surface for oil portrait and fine detail work as it is extremely smooth.
Primed board is great to use if you don’t like painting on a woven surface like linen. At Trekell we offer primed panels, it provides a smooth surface for painting, especially with acrylics. If you’re an oil painter, or you prefer a lot of texture and visual interest in your actual canvas, primed board probably isn’t for you.