Smooth canvas for solvent free oil painting 2

One important thing to think about when painting solvent free is the texture of your canvas or support. Without solvents the paint is thicker and doesn’t apply as smoothly. More rough texture causes more drag on the brush making the paint harder to apply smoothly. This can be to your advantage if you want lots of texture and aren’t too concerned about smoothly blended paint. However if you want the paint to apply as smoothly and blend as easily as possible it is best to have a nice smooth surface.

Linen is renowned for allowing the brush to ‘glide’ over the surface whereas cotton canvas is bit rougher and stickier. Painting on panel or board is the smoothest you can get and the paint blends and applies incredibly easily and smoothly. You can usually only go so big with panels though so if you want to paint on cotton canvas it’s best to try and find the smoothest canvas you can get. Canvas comes in many different textures and thicknesses and it is sometimes quite hard to tell what the texture is like without feeling it in person.

I have read that the Old Masters used to spend months getting their canvases ready for painting. They too liked the canvas to be incredibly smooth and the lead white oil grounds they used took quite a long time to dry. They used to sandpaper between each layer of ground to build an incredibly smooth surface.

When I’ve stretched my own canvas I always do the same process, making sure each layer is nice and smooth before apply the next layer of gesso. When buying canvases pre-stretched I don’t know how much effort they put into smoothing out each layer of gesso. It always seems a little too rough to me. Because of this I sand the canvas lightly with a fine sandpaper before commencing painting.

Along with my techniques on glazing without solvents I have found that this really helps smooth out the paint and brush strokes in solvent free oil painting.

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2 thoughts on “Smooth canvas for solvent free oil painting

  • Bas Juijn

    Hello Daniel,

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge. I have been endowed with the gift of painting and a love of doing it too, as you have.
    Could you help me with some questions please?
    Have you heard of the maniera lavata? Anthony van Dyke used that term for filling in the contours of a complete shape with a flat color, like a wash. I think he would do that on a dried monochrome underpainting and with very thin paint, possibly without any medium, so the modelling of the monochrome would stay visible. I see the strength of this method and want to apply it. But I have some questions: is it safe in respect to the fat over lean -rule to first cover the monochrome with a very thin film of linseed oil and then paint into that with just tube paint? I mean I certainly need some method of oiling out to restore the values of the monochrome, but maybe a rubbing with retouching varnish would be just as well? What do you think? Now after putting the thin flat color over a shape in the monochrome underpainting, would it be safe in respect to the fat over lean-rule you think to build up the lights using just tube paint and flake white (since flake white dries so fast)?
    I wish to have a method of glazing that takes the least time to dry while obeying the fat over lean-rule. I prefer as simple a manner as possible and without the use of any solvent. [I doubt if solvents were used by the old masters other then perhaps for the first monochrome block-in and found by the way that the monochrome can very well be done using paint without any additions. And the flake white makes for fast drying.]
    For possible final glazes I am thinking of just using a little linseed oil as a medium to help spread the paint, for that would be following the fat over lean-rule and those glazes do not have to dry really fast as far as I am concerned.

    I Hope you want to help me by giving me your thoughts on these ideas of mine and maybe some suggestions (by e-mail). Thank you already and good luck with your painting!

    Greetings from Holland,


    • Daniel Rigos Post author

      Hi Bas,
      Sorry for the big delay in responding to this question!

      I have heard of this technique of starting with a monochrome and then glazing over it many times.

      From my research the fat-over-lean rule is sometimes misunderstood to mean that it has to get fatter and fatter (i.e., more and more oil) each and every layer. I have read that this is not the case and it is only important to ensure that each layer is as fat (oily) as the layer preceding it. So, if you start off with a monochrome with no oil and then use the same oil rub in every layer then you should still be sticking to the fat over lean rule. You could also use water soluble oils or acrylics for the monochrome if you want to get really washy and thin.

      Hope this helps!