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Stretching a Large Canvas - Building the Frame

I grew up around a scenic art studio and was fortunate to pick up some very useful skills for an artist. Stretching very large flats for the stage just came in handy. I have been commissioned (by my daughter) to paint a few 8 foot abstract paintings for her new home. I though some of my very talented artistic friends might find this tutorial helpful.

I started by ordering some heavy duty Jack Richeson stretcher bars from Jerry’s Artarama. I placed my order at the Norwalk store and found the staff very helpful. On line ordering is also possible. I ordred two 96 inch and two 60 inch heavy duty stretcher bars.. The Framing Guide on the Jack Richeson website has good information on how many and where to place the cross bars. I needed one 96 heavy duty cross bar with three evenly spaced notches and three 60 inch heavy duty cross bars with one centered notch on each. These had to be special ordered and took a few weeks to arrive. When they arrived they were perfect! I first had to decide where to stretch and paint these large paintings. I could have painted them I my studio, but I was unsure about making the turn at the top of the stairs with the stretched paintings. It is possible to take them off the stretcher bars, to get them out of the studio and transport them. I always prefer to leave them on the bars if they are stretched tight. It is much easier to get a drum tight stretch when the canvas is raw and then dries with gesso. The garage is now home to several large paintings in progress.

The tools I used to stretch the canvas are pictured above. A sharp scissor, L shaped framing square, tape measure, screw driver and screws (I prefer electric), rubber mallet, staple gun (I use electric with heavy duty staples) and canvas pliers.

The bars are placed on the floor flat side up. The small raised lip on the bar should be resting on the floor. Eventually this lip will elevate the canvas a bit from the wood frame to prevent shadow lines while painting.

I begin by putting the long and short corner together and then doing the same to the opposite corner. Use the rubber mallet to get the corners together. I measure each of these corners with the framing square and try to get close to a 90 degree angle. I then put then remaining two corners together and again measure all four corners with the framing square. When all four corners are together, I measure the distance from one corner to the opposite corner, the hypotenuse, and then the same across the other hypotenuse. Essentially looking for both lines of this X to measure the same. If I am within 1/8 of an inch on this measurement I am a happy camper.

Next I find the center of the 60 inch stretcher bars and mark them. I put the long (96 inch) cross brace in place and also just place the shorter cross braces. I use the best cross brace brackets from Jack Richeson (also pictured) to secure the long cross brace first and then the shorter cross braces. I start with the center for the other bars. Each cross bracket is secured with three screws.

The canvas is now ready to be stretched and primed.

Cross Bar Brackets

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