Our artists use acrylic paint on cotton or linen canvas. As acrylic is flexible they can be easily rolled up and delivered in mailing cylinders without any harm coming to the painting. Unlike ochre and some other natural pigments.
One of the most common ways to display an Aboriginal art work on canvas is simply to hang it on its stretcher frame - often no border or additional frame is needed.
A stretcher is a wooden support that a canvas is attached to for stability. A frame around the stretcher, in addition to complementing the appearance of the painting, provides extra support for the canvas.
A competent picture framer will be able to stretch the painting onto a stretcher frame quickly and economically. *Alternatively, you can stretch the canvas yourself fairly easily if you have the right tools and materials.
* Only attempt to stretch the canvas yourself if you’re confident that you have the ability or you could damage the painting. The following is a guide to making a stretcher frame. We cannot be held responsible for any damage that may occur during your effort in stretching your art work.
Making a Stretcher Frame
First you need to collect the necessary tools and materials: a stapler with staples (or hammer and tacks), stretcher strips (bars), and possibly also a pair of canvas pliers to grip the canvas (similar to ordinary pliers except they have a broader gripping area). In addition, a T-square is convenient to help make sure that the stretchers are square.
You can buy stretcher bars, staplers and stainless steel staples from art supply shops or framers.
Measure the size of the painted area that you want on display and cut the stretcher strips to size. Then assemble the stretcher frame using the strips, pushing the mitred ends into each other and gluing the joints.
One or more cross bars may be needed (one is shown in the diagram) depending on the size of the painting and the strength and stiffness of the stretcher bars.
Check that the stretcher frame is square, either by using a T-square or by taking a tape measure and checking that the diagonal distances from opposing corners are equal. If these are equal, the frame is square. If there is a problem, correct it by attaching a small metal right-angle brace or a small right triangle of plywood on the inner frame corner.
For stretcher bars longer than 90 cm (36 inches), an inner brace should be inserted between the bars to support them from bowing inward after the canvas has been attached. This will also protect against frame distortion during periods of fluctuating humidity.
Stretching a Canvas onto a Stretcher Frame
To stretch your painting onto its stretcher frame, follow these steps:
- Unroll the canvas and lay the painted side down on a clean (dust-free) flat surface. Place the frame on top of the canvas. It is important to leave any excess overlapping material because this is what you use to grip, stretch, and attach the canvas to the frame.
- Fold one side of the canvas over one of the shorter stretcher bars and then attach a staple or canvas tack at the centre of the outside edge of that bar.
- On the opposite side, use pliers to grip the canvas at mid-bar. It may be easier to have the frame upright while doing this. With a firm grip, pull the canvas until a straight crease is formed to the tacked end. While keeping tension on the canvas, insert another staple or tack at the centre edge of the bar, just like the other side.
- Move to the next stretcher bar (one of the longer ones) and repeat steps 2 and 3. As you do, a triangular canvas crease will form as you attach the third side and then a diamond-shaped crease when the fourth tack is attached to the remaining bar.
- Now, place temporary staples or tacks at all four corners. Starting with the centre of one of the long bars, grip the canvas tightly with the pliers and fasten tacks at 5 centimetres (2 inch) intervals. Repeat with several tacks in both directions (from the centre) and then switch to the opposite side and repeat the process. Continue working from the centre until both long sides are completely along the side, stretching the canvas evenly as you proceed.
- Once both long sides are finished, remove the temporary tacks that you fastened in step 5. Now repeat the same fastening process for both of the short sides, working out from the centres. For smaller canvases, one entire short side can be fastened first, followed by the opposite side. Larger canvases should be rotated several times to evenly stretch the material over the frame. Note that a linen canvas will normally require that the staples or tacks be placed closer together, due to the limited stretch of this material.
- Fold and pleat the corners of the canvas and then neatly wrap them around to the rear of the canvas frame. Keeping tension on the material, staple all of the excess cloth to the rear of the frame so that it is neatly secured. Then staple or tack all four outer corners. This excess material is important to have in case you ever need to re-stretch or remount the canvas.