Monday 23 January 2012

Frames and Canvas

Picture Framing

For my own paintings, I make my own frames. Life would be very expensive if I had to send off my pictures to be framed professionally each time. This applies mainly to watercolours and acrylics as I usually paint oils on "3D" canvas which doesn't require a frame. More about that later.

Some artists paint their pictures to match one of the standard sizes that one can buy in the shops.

I read a Forum recently about framing which asked artists if they framed their own material. There were several replies by picture framers, one of which said that "artists know nothing about framing", which I thought was a bit of a cheek (but it made me laugh!). Well, they would say that, wouldn't they? Pere, a carpenter in the village where I live makes three profiles for me which I've published on my web-site: http://www.mezcla/framing_UK.html l buy these in 3m lengths and then cut them to size on my mitre saw. I have to be careful the cut doesn't get distorted by movement of the wood or the blade; it's not ideal. I did have a look at power mitre saws which would give a more precise cut but they were all a bit fearsome for what I wanted. For watercolours, I mount the picture conventionally with mount-board and 2mm glass which, conveniently, I also buy, cut to size, at a really good price from Pere.

For acrylics, which often I paint on 3mm MDF, I have a frame profile (B) which creates a kind of display case where the picture is actually mounted on a backing board a little behind the glass. I know there is nothing terribly original about this but I like it a lot.


Now to another order that I place with Pere. I've recently become interested in making my own canvasses. What converted me was going to a shop in Girona to find that a 50x50cm (x35mm) "3D" canvas was almost €18. From Barna Art in Barcelona, the price is €10 but one has to allow for shipping. From the UK, the price drops to €8 if one buys a pack of 5 but the shipping costs are prohibitive. There was only one thing to do. I went back to Pere and ordered some profiles 35mm thick to match the side of the canvas which I can cut on my mitre saw.

On my last trip to Barcelona, I went to Barna Art, which is not far from the Metro at Paseig de Gracia, just a walk away. Not only did I spend a leisurely time looking at different materials, cotton and linen, both primed and unprimed but I also managed to pick up one or two tips about making my own canvasses. I was keen on buying unprimed material as I had learnt that the material would shrink on the frame (bastidor in Spanish) after being primed. Normally the wood frame is referred to as made up of "stretcher bars" which implies that they can be adjusted after the material has been fitted. But I'm not buying stretcher bars as this limits me to the size of canvas that I can make unless I hold a large stock or wait for the shipment to arrive. My profiles don't stretch; they are completely rigid, being glued and stapled at each corner. Another item that has always intrigued me is the wedge that gets slotted into each corner of the bastidor. When I used to buy ready-made canvasses, often the wood frame appeared to be so rigid that it would be impossible to stretch it even if one bashed the wedges into the corners. I think I understand their role better now. I suspect it is more a case of "locking" the wood frame into a rigid and square shape, rather than actually increasing the dimensions after the canvas has been purchased. If the material has been fitted well and stretched onto the bastidor, then it shouldn't be necessary to stretch it further. Well, that's my story, and I'm sticking to it!

As you can see from the photo, I came back with a good selection of samples and material; a mixture of linen and cotton both primed and unprimed. I started off by making up a couple of canvasses using frames from which I'd removed the original material due to failed paintings. I used unprimed material and, having seen the shape of a frame which had been distorted due to too much shrinkage, I was careful not to stretch the material too much but I found that, after priming, the material (each a different type) had shrunk by different amounts. But not by a great amount. So, obviously one can't depend on shrinkage to achieve a tight canvas. Since my profiles are quite thick and strong, I use my stretching tool whether or not the material is primed. But, a word of warning, don't stretch the material too much if it is unprimed and the frame isn't very strong as it could well distort the wood after the primer has dried.

Another advantage of making my own canvasses is just what I've described. That is, if a painting is a failure, then the whole canvas isn't a write-off. I just rip the material off the frame and stretch a new canvas.

Rather like framing my own watercolours, it all feels part of the creative process.

Here is a photo of my bastidor-making department, I'm waiting for the glue to set. Then I'll turn the frame over and bang a strong staple across each corner. I guess I should be using corner clamps, that will be next time. I just wrap masking tape around the corners to hold them together.

The bastidor on the table is 50 x 28 cm which represents an aspect ratio of 16:9, the same as a widescreen TV. I imagine a great deal of time was spent choosing the most pleasing ratio for television screens so I thought I would copy it. My "mini" paintings on MDF are also 16:9 (24 x 13.5 cm).

Wednesday 18 January 2012

New Painting Discoveries

Like all budding artists, I've discovered that the internet is full of art classes, information and tutorials. I wanted to make my own canvasses so I went on a search for the same. I watched a video of a young woman who didn't seem to have a work bench, instead she made her frames on the floor of her workshop using a power mitre-saw. Everything she did was on the wooden floor. I did discover one useful tip and that is that (naturally) the material, whether it be cotton or linen, will shrink after it has been primed. So I decided that the best bet was to buy my material unprimed and then prime it after I had fixed it to the frame (bastador in Spanish). I have a local carpenter who makes the wood profiles which I can then chop into whatever size I want without having to wait for a delivery.

As part of my search, I came across . It comprises a very friendly art site administered by an artist/teacher who provides help and advice in addition to organising many different tutorials. I had a browse and decided to submit a painting in response to a "Painting Challenge". There is a selection of photographs and the artist is invited to provide their own version and post it on the site. I uploaded my painting and received a rapid response. So, I followed the advice and did it again and submitted the second version:

If you follow my blog and you're interested in art, I can recommend this site. It feels quite intimate which is unusual for the internet. One is used to numbers in millions and yet there were only 12 other versions of this particular photograph and I ended up swapping e-mails with the teacher. Why look further? I'm hooked! I'm sure there are many other similar sites but I'm happy with this one.

Back to canvasses. I went to Barcelona yesterday to buy canvas (ie cotton and linen) from Barna Art and then met a friend and went to the Miró exhibition at the Fundació Miró in Montjuic. This is a superb exhibition (if one like surrealism) and the usual paintings were augmented by many more which were borrowed from galleries around the world. Previously it had been in London at Tate Modern and it was due to move to Washington, USA in May. Aren't I lucky, living so close to Barcelona!

I really liked Miró's early work but I found videos of him burning canvases and daubing paint on the side of buildings in later life rather sad. I bought a book of his pictures and the story of his life (in Catalan) so I will have to swot up on my non-existent Catalan. It was only €8 so I couldn't resist it.


As part of my keeping fit (I hope!), I go swimming about once a week at the Piscina Municipal de Girona. I only heard about the pool from the lifeguard at Celrà outdoor pool during the summer when it was about to close for the season. Previously I went to the pool at Salt, which is a "suburb" of Girona, but is was much more expensive, probably because it also included the gym which I never used. When one is used to cycling down country lanes, I can't understand the appeal of cycling and not going anywhere!

Anyway, back to Palau. On Wednesdays I meet my friends from Girona Grapevine for coffee in Girona and then I catch a bus to the area around Decathlon, Bauhaus and Media Markt. I always enjoy browsing around Meda Markt, even if there's nothing I need to buy. I have lunch at McDonald's (shock, horror) and then take the short walk to the pool, having wandered around the stores to let my lunch settle down.

Since I'm over 65, I only pay €31 a year for the membership at the pool which is great value. Normally there are six lanes open, labelled Slow, Medium and Fast but, on Wednesdays, there's an aquarobics class which takes up half the pool, so it's not the best time to go. Apart from concentrating all swimmers into three lanes, the class makes the water rather choppy; more like swimming at sea! Fortunately, normally there are only around six swimmers at any one time, so it doesn't get too crowded even with the class in action. I normally end up in the Medium speed lane but I can't swim more than 2 lengths without taking a breather. Maybe I should swim more slowly but I'm then in fear of sinking!

During the summer months, I go to the outdoor municipal pool in Celrà which is superb. One can easily avoid the busy times when the pool is full of children so I can swim several lengths without too much traffic!

I added this paragraph after returning from my trip to Girona. I was at McDonald's and, as I looked up at their name on the side of the building, I realised I had left off the apostrophe earlier in this post. So I added it just now while no one was looking. This is a contentious issue in the UK at present with the book shop Waterstone's removing their apostrophe! You see, McDonald's actually belongs to someone called McDonald... I think.

Sunday 8 January 2012


I used to have a regular theme with a friend in the UK. Not having a family of my own, from time to time, I would send her a photo by e-mail of my bike parked at some beach or another, in place of a family photo. When I stayed in Ibiza on holiday, I sent her a photo of my bike in Formentera. I cycled from Santa Eulalia, where I was staying, to Ibiza Town, took the ferry to Formentera and then rode right up to the lighthouse at the far end of the island, which is a fairly steep climb. This was a great adventure - I did it twice in total. Having said that, I ought to have a photo of my bike here but I'll have to wait till next time. It's an old Peugeot racing bike which I'm very attached to.

Now that I live in Spain, my cycling is in the immediate area of the Costa Brava, between Girona and the coast. This morning, I went on my regular 37km circuit. The sun was warm but the air was cold so I had to wear loads of gear, including black tights. My route takes me, firstly, to Bordils which is the next town in the direction towards the coast. Then I take the long climb up to Madremanya and try to reach the top in about 30 minutes. After that, it's downhill all the way to Monells and then there's a flat section which takes me to Corça where I re-join the C66, the main road to Palafrugel. After less than a km, there's a roundabout where I turn right but this is the moment of decision in the summer. If I'm feeling fit, I carry straight on to la Bisbal (where there are all the pots outside the shops) and continue to Playa de Pals where I sit on the beach most of the day!

But today was not beach weather! So I carried on to Parlava and then turned left for home. This is a deceptive stretch of road which I don't like very much. It looks like a very gentle uphill climb but, by the time I reach the turning for Foixa, I'm panting for breath (well, I am 68!) I pass the picturesque old town of Foixa and then there is a very steep climb out of the village which I have to take with my very lowest gear.

Then there's a long decsent through the woods, past St Laurenc, where, on a Sunday, men are out shooting (presumably) wild boar. I arrive in Flaça and then it's plain sailing, I re-join the C66 again and pass through Bordils.

I often see other bikers, some look very young and fit - there are several professional racing teams based in Girona.

Unfortunately I'm rather limited in the routes that I can take. The road to Girona, to me, is too dangerous with various turnings off to other main roads and there's not much to see in that direction anyway. Who wants to cycle in Girona?

But my favourite trip is Pals and back in a day. Apart from the lure of the beach and sea, I have friends there. I don't have a car so that is the only opportunity I have to see them, unless they come to see me, of course.