When I am unable to make my art, for whatever reason, I fill in with cooking, and lately, the physical act of stretching my own canvas. I seem to be drawn to what I call "pioneer" crafts, canning and preserving, handmade soap, baking and handmade pasta. I consider stretching my own canvas to fall into this category.
About a year ago, I bought 3 yards of Belgian linen from a seller on E-Bay. I am just now working up the courage to actually do something with it. I have been intimidated by a piece of brown cloth that looks like something you might make a potato sack out of.
So, I dug up my bag of Rabbit Skin Glue, also purchased a year ago. For some reason, I thought I would have to use the entire bag at once, and therefore be forced to use the entire batch of glue in one sitting - or (gasp!) throw out the leftover, as it does not keep well. I read the directions (again) and it calls for 3 Tablespoons (approx) to what amounts to 2 cups of water.
So, as it turns out, I have plenty of RSG to whip up whenever I need it. For years to come. Really.
What you do is let the glue dissolve in water overnight, then you heat it up. You don't cook the glue, just warm it enough so that it has thoroughly dissolved. So I looked through my cupboards to find a suitable jar to prepare the glue in, I found an old hermetic canning jar -- I am sure that Vermeer used the same type of jar to mix his glue in, or he had his assistant, Scarlett Johanssen do it for him. I let the glue powder stuff soak overnight (btw, I was really disappointed when I read about the overnight bit, I had finally cut into that canvas, stretched it, and goddamn it, I was ready to size it too! I was on a roll, or so I thought). So anyway, the next day, I looked at the stuff, and it had dissolved, sort of, into a large mass that sat at the bottom of the jar. Obviously, it needed to be heated.
So, I put a saucepan of water on the stove and let it come to a boil. Then I shut off the burner and put the jar into the hot water and stirred it until it didn't need to be stirred anymore. It wasn't thick, at all, but very thin and watery. In fact, it looked like "clean" pond water. I was feeling like I had the measurements wrong, so I checked and they were correct.
So, into the studio I went, laid down the drop cloth and hoisted the newly stretched linen canvas onto the easel (it's a 24" x 30", I say hoist because I have no room anymore, and I have to lift the canvas over several objects in order to reach the easel)
I dipped the brush into the watery glue and began to paint the glue onto the canvas. When I was about half finished, I noticed that the canvas was sagging, a lot.
A side note here, when I mention to my friends, who are artists, that I am stretching my own canvas, they all look at me like I am insane, and cannot believe that anyone would want to do this, how hard it is, how unnecessary, yada yada yada....
When that canvas started to sag, I heard the voices (of those friends of mine) in my head, and I wanted to cry. I hadn't even started to paint on it yet, and it was already a disaster. I hadn't stretched it tight enough. And there is no way I could have stretched it any tighter, without asking J to help, and I want to be able to do this myself. It was pretty wet. So I just kept on until it was finished, and I laid it flat to dry, which made it sag more. Sigh. I walked out of the room and tried not to think about it, I told myself that I should reserve judgement until it was dry.
I actually did forget about it, too. I occupied my time by taking old paintings off of their stretcher bars, finally admitting to myself that no one was ever going to buy any of these, so I may as well roll them up and stick them in a closet somewhere until I release the apparent emotional attachment I have to them.
So when I did remember to look in on the canvas, to see if it had dried, not only was it dry, but it was as tight as a drum! Beautiful. The only thing now, is that I think I need to put 2 more coats of the glue onto it, and I am wondering if it will just keep getting tighter with each layer, and what will happen when I apply the ground?
I let the glue sit out overnight, which I think is s no-no, but I wanted to have more stretched canvas before I heated it up again, because that process, is what I think diminishes the properties of the glue. A day passed, and I am still not ready. I picked up the glue and it had turned to jello. Technically, I think it is now Aspic
So, since I wasn't going to be home all weekend, I put it in the fridge, and there it is now. awaiting it's final water bath before I apply it to the other 5 canvas that I am almost done stretching.
So now I am back to my thinking, that this is not so hard to do afterall. I am saving myself a siggnificant amount of money, and I will have a painting surface similar to what the masters have used. Sounds good? No?
We will see how this pans out.....