Thursday, March 22, 2012

Artsies on a budget- How to make a recycled canvas

 As you've probably already guessed, I'm a huge advocate of using recycled materials in artwork. I've tackled the subject before- you can save a lot of money if you gather up the right (free) materials. One thing I'm especially enthused about is preparing my own canvases for artwork. Why buy an overpriced piece of primed cardboard when you can create a unique canvas for a fraction of the price? In this tutorial, I'll explain how I "wrap" scraps of wood (or even cardboard) with fabric to create a wonderful surface for almost any medium or style.

For my project I decided to create a cute little mutant deer painting out of india ink, acrylics and gesso. It's just one example out of an endless variety of possibilities. Try your own combinations. You didn't have to pay for this canvas, so why not experiment a little?

Things you'll need:
First of all, you'll need to find some scrap pieces of wood to use as canvases. There's tons of places you can go to accomplish this.  Be a scavenger. Keep an eye out for any people throwing out wooden furniture like desks or wardrobes that you could disassemble. Check behind major businesses (like Wal-Mart) for discarded wooden crates and slats. You can also visit your local lumber warehouse or home improvement store and ask them for any unwanted left over scraps. I'm sure they'd be happy to at least let you have them for a discounted price, if not for free.

After you have a good piece of scrap wood, get some mod podge and a really cool piece of fabric. You may also need gesso to prime your fabric (not pictured here.) Optional: Get your iron out, too.
For my canvas surface I chose an unusual emerald green printed fabric I found at a thrift store. However, you can literally use any textile you want. If you want a clean white surface to work on, simply use some basic white cotton fabric or muslin.

Preparing your surfaces:
Lay your fabric and board out flat and cut the fabric out in the shape of your canvas. Leave a 2 to 3 inch border on your fabric. After this, you may want to consider ironing out your fabric so that there aren't any wrinkles or folds. They're very likely to show up on your canvas if you leave them there.

Building up layers will make
the bleeding effect look cool.
Admittedly, while originally writing this tutorial I forgot to include an important step that can greatly effect the outcome of your project: My canvas was not primed with gesso before I glued it down. Oops! In result, any very wet paint I applied began to bleed outside the lines. Luckily for me, it was a "happy accident" that actually gave my project some interesting variety. You can notice the bleeding effect especially in the background, where I used heavily watered down india inks. It took many layers of drying and re applying to get a look that I was finally happy with, but it still turned out okay in my case. Once again, I encourage you to experiment with the different effects you can achieve. You can definitely use this to your advantage depending on your style and subject. However,  if you don't want paints to somewhat bleed/run on your recycled canvas, you will have to use gesso on the back of your fabric as a primer:

Squirt some gesso into your favorite paint palette. I wouldn't suggest trying to directly apply it to your fabric because it will not spread on evenly and will likely bleed through the front (something you want to avoid!)  

Instead, get your paintbrush fairly wet, scoop up some gesso and begin to paint it on the back of your fabric. The idea is to put on enough to make the fabric stiff, but not saturated with gesso. If done correctly, not a spot of white will show up on the front of your canvas. 
(BTW, I explain gesso more thoroughly in a previous post if you're curious.)

Putting it together:
Immediately (but carefully) place the fabric
over the freshly mod podged board. Try to keep the
board as close to the exact center as possible so
that there is an even border around it.
Press the fabric completely flat against the
board and smooth it down with your hands.
Apply a thin layer of mod podge to the board.
You need a smooth, even coat.
If you apply it too thick, it will seep
into your fabric and show through the front.
Wrapping the edges:
There are many ways to wrap a canvas' corners, but this is the way I do it: Cut parallel slits on the fabric at every corner. Your cut should line up very closely to the edge of the board, with every cut going in the same direction (either vertical or horizontal.) Be careful with this step.. it's better to cut less than to cut more.
With your board turned over, add mod podge to one of
the sides. You can add as much as you want here
since this part won't be showing. Don't forget
to get the edge, it will also need to be glued!

This picture is showing two
of the flaps glued down.
Fold the border flap over and press it firmly onto the back of the board. You can further stabilize it by adding even more mod podge over top of the flap..
Continue gluing down the edges. Make sure the
fabric is pulled crisply over the edge.
Folding the corners over:
The border's excess material will become your canvas' corner.
First, apply mod podge to where the corner will be.
With a little bit of manipulation, the corner will naturally fold into a triangular shape.

Pull the corner tight and press the fold down onto your canvas.
Add more mod podge over top and underneath the fold to keep it stuck down.
The tighter the fold is adhered, the crisper your canvas corners will be.
The Finishing Touches:
Pretty legit canvas ready for some art work!

TADAH! After all the corner are glued down, this is the outcome..

Here are my final results... That's one horny deer!