A phone conversation with a client has led me to write up this one. Come on, admit it, this has been a burning question in your life. Just what the heck is a stretched canvas? Well, since you ask…
So, I’m on the phone, giving out a quote for a fairly large canvas to be stretched, when I give the price, I hear a slight gasp. Assuming it was a gasp at the price and not at my wonderfully engaging phone manner, I ask if that’s what he was expecting. He replied that he had previously had a photograph of his Children printed on canvas (online), delivered ready “wrapped” and to hang on the wall for half the price.
Ah, I asked him to take a look at his current picture and tell me how the sides or back is finished off. He confirmed it had been stapled and then the fascinating conversation of methods and materials ensued. “Hello”? “Hello? Are you still there?” …
He went away satisfied with the explanation and decided quite rightly, that the previous service was the one for him and off he went happy.
It’s really important to be able to tell your clients the differences so that they can make an informed decision based on budget and knowledge of what they want. Yes, ok, we lost him on that order but in the long run, when he or one of his friends needs something doing professionally, hopefully he’ll come our way first.
Like most terms these days, they all get a bit mixed up. You might hear “stretched canvas” or “gallery wrap” or “wrapped canvas”. They all mean roughly the same thing but there is a bit difference in methods, quality and skill. For example, you might want the whole image to wrap around the frame, so you can see it on the sides of the canvas.
I’ve lost count of the times we’ve had a customer in who’s been on holiday to Vietnam or Australia and brought back a canvas. They’ve paid pennies for it from a street artist, it’s an original piece. They’ve taken it off the stretcher bars to roll it up and transport it. They bounce into the framing shop to get it re-stretched and then you tell them how much. Their usual reply is, “The artwork only cost me a fiver!”
The bottom line is whatever works for your budget and style is absolutely fine. If it’s an oil or an acrylic piece though, I would strongly recommend getting it done professionally.
The basic difference
The shop brought canvas, prints or printing companies that print your photos onto canvas, basically they use a soft, bendy type wood. They stretch/wrap the canvas around the “frame” and they simply staple it to the wood. This is fine but does have a tendency to sag or the cheaper materials can crack as you stretch it. They are also usually a standard size. So if you have a piece that is non-standard, you might have to pay out for it.
If your canvas is large, again, I would recommend getting it done properly. The sheer expanse of canvas needs proper support and might warp on your wall. A framer will fit suitable cross bar support for you.
If you take it to a professional framer to be stretched they will use the correct tools, skills and materials to stretch the canvas on to a more substantial wood frame (sometimes known as stretcher bars). Rather than stapling they might use “tacks” or “pins”. They are much sturdier.
They treat it kind of like a drum. Getting the right tension, is the where the skill and the time is. Essentially, that’s what you are paying for, believe it or not, it can be a bit fiddly and not everything is suitable to be stretched in this way.
Your Framer will normally fit “wedges” into each corner of the frame. These are banged into place and as inevitably over time, the material will move, you can take it back to the Framer at any point for maintenance.
Some Framers will fit a back onto the canvas but it’s perfectly fine to keep the back open or get it framed.
If you want to go into it more technically, try these sites for useful explanations. Or if you are really worried about standards and want to understand more, I’m sure someone at the Fine Art Trade Guild will talk to you about it. Their website is always linked at the side of this site, as it’s a good constant reference point to have.