Creating a Sketch on Stretched Canvas

When painting on stretched canvas, it is very difficult to get an accurate sketch before the painting begins because of the stretch of the canvas itself. Here are a four tips to help eliminate some of the frustration of sketching on stretched canvas.

Layout the Dimensions of the Final Size

After I have cut the canvas to fit the stretcher frame I’m going to use for the painting, I always layout a rectangle on the unstretched canvas by centering the stretcher on the canvas and tracing around the outside of the stretcher on the primed side of the canvas. These lines help me to accurately stretch the canvas by watching the lines as I stretch to keep them parallel with the stretcher frame. As I pull the canvas, I pull until the line on the canvas is straight and even.

Draw the Sketch on the Unstretched Canvas

After I layout the border of the stretcher frame, I then lay the unstretched canvas flat on my drawing table. I begin sketching in the details of the painting starting from the foreground and working towards the distance. I draw in the ducks first, then the closest trees, and so on. The reason I work from front to back is so I don’t have to erase any lines that would appear in the sketch of the foreground objects. By drawing near objects first, I can place other objects behind them and and only draw the part of the object that will be visible from behind the object in front.

Stretch the Canvas

When I’m ready to stretch the canvas, I place the line at the top of the canvas about 1/8″ above the top of the stretcher frame. If I place the line even with the top of the stretcher, and then stretch the bottom of the canvas, I will pull the canvas off center. By allowing the 1/8″ at the top, when the canvas is stretched, it will be centered. After I have stretched and stapled the canvas at the bottom, I then staple one of the ends and then stretch and staple the other end tight. When all four sides have been stretched and stapled, I then finish off the corners nice and neat.

Cover the Sketch

Before I start laying in the color for the painting, I cover the sketch lines with thinned burnt sienna or raw umber with a script brush to set the sketch and keep it from smearing. I don’t use fixative in my paintings so this technique sets my sketch for painting. I then start painting the most distant objects and work my way to the front which is the exact opposite of the way I sketched it in.

I hope you will try these techniques on your next stretched canvas painting. And as always, thanks for stopping by the North Forty.


Clark Color Labs

Thank you.

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18 Responses to Creating a Sketch on Stretched Canvas

  1. norman elton says:

    ive been in love with waterfowl at a young age,my father would take us with him on many hunting trips,i started drawing at an early age also,i am learning more tips and try to draw and paint more,its a wonderful feeling when i’ve a finished project and see and hear others comments!so im always looking for new ways to perfect my art.this will help me,thank you

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