Linen or Cotton? Why it matters.

As an artist and painter you are in charge of all aspects of an artwork: from choosing the project, through the paint media, the composition and colors to the canvas you work on. Everything is a matter of personal choices and preferences. I often hear that oil is classic and more professional, but for me I can’t use oils since I’m allergic to some of the ingredients so I paint with acrylic. Personally I don’t see many differences although I am sure many colleagues’ artists will argue. I do have my arguments and if you are interested to know what they are check my other article “The Artistic debate over the use of Acrylic versus Oil paints”. This is not what I wanted to discuss in this blog. I am more interested viewing different types of painting vehicles available on the market and what their uses, advantages and disadvantages are.

Neighborhood  | Original Art by Veny

"Neighborhood" 2010

Choice of canvas is as important for the painting as the foundation is for a house. At the time I am writing this blog my husband and I are searching for our next home. You can kind of tell by the comparisons I am using. I didn’t know zip about foundations before, but now after looking at over 60 properties I am almost a subject expert :).

Looking in the historical prospective the mankind was initially painting on the cave walls, then on masonry stone walls and wooden boards. The wood was predominant painting surface up to 16-17 century, where first painters in Venice, Italy and then a century later artists in France and the rest of Western Europe started to use linen canvases for their artworks. Venetian artist were among the ones led the change followed many other masters on the old continent. Sail canvases were readily available in Venice one of the major trade ports in Italy at that time and offered the highest quality of the trade. Cotton duck canvases became popular in the early 20 century at first as preferred base for students and beginners artists looking for cheaper alternative to linen.

On the other hand linen canvases have many advantages over cotton ones, but the major one in my opinion is the life expectancy. If you are serious about your art use linen as it will give you stable foundation and your work will last a lot longer than if it is painted on cotton. Now, there are different qualities of linen canvases so when you buy supplies choose wisely and do research resellers as nowadays words does not weight as much as in the old days . Internet allows merchants to offer low prices but be always use caution and don’t rely solely on the description as the marketing language become so clogged and tricky to understand that sometimes I can only compare it with lawyer’s dictionary. I do have a prefered supplier and I won’t lie to you, I buy online, but I already created a line of trust with my art supplier and they continue to prove me right.

Boats on the Lake by Veny

"Boats on the Lake" 2010


I do prefer linen for one other practical reason. My experience shows that while cotton canvases offer smoother surface they tend to suck the paint which cause change in the colors. No matter how many hands of primer I have used paint will still sink into the cotton. It made my work twice harder as I had to go back and correct the colors and even after that they didn’t appear as I wanted them to. From the economical stand point it made sense for me to buy a little bit more expensive linen canvases and use less of more costly paint and primer. Similar to high octane gasoline cost more but gives you more miles per gallon (km/l) and burns cleaner. Cheaper low octane gasoline cost less initially but produces less miles per gallon (km/l). The effect is the longer engine life. I hope you got my point. My entire collection of works is done on linen canvases and this should speak for itself enough.

Although the technologies have changed over the time the best linen is still produced in Belgium. Canvas quality is measured by its weight in ounces (in US) per square yard (grams per square cm in EU): the larger the number, the stronger and heavier the canvas. If you create large-scale works and especially murals the strength is crucially important. Linen canvas threads are longer, stronger and superior sustainable to decay. Linen materials retain its natural oils and thus preserve the flexibility of the fibers. Cotton on the other hand is easier to stretch and prime. With the advancement of the chemical technologies some can argue that with the proper base layers (acid free primers) preparation cotton canvases can successfully compete against linen canvases life expectancy. I do not disagree but as I said in the beginning I believe linen canvas are better choice for professional art. Yes, there are still the traditional painting standard, but only the time will and can prove it. Yet, many modern artists are experimenting with canvases made from synthetic materials which may be the choice of the future.

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2 thoughts on “Linen or Cotton? Why it matters.

  1. Pingback: The Yellow Boat | ARTbyVENY Blog

  2. Pingback: Lemons on sale « ArtbyVeny Blog

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