A canvas is the type of fabric used as a surface for a painting, there are a few different types of fabrics used for canvases but the two most common are cotton and linen. Cotton and linen are both sourced naturally and woven similarly, but linen tends to be a more sturdy material compared to cotton, making it longer lasting and less flexible than cotton.
Cotton which can also be referred to as cotton duck, is a softer material which is slightly fluffy and is stretched easily. Cotton is best for oil and acrylic paintings, however, due to the softer and stretchier material, it is best to avoid painting on cotton for larger paintings due to the slack that may appear over time. Cotton is cheaper than linen so tends to be more preferred and popular for a lot of artists.
Linen is made from flax which is a long stemmed plant which is harvested and then steeped in water. Doing this makes it easier for the fibres to be stripped from the woody base. Flax is mainly grown in the district around River Leie where our suppliers Claessens are based.
Linen is a more expensive fabric than cotton, due to the quality and the effort it takes to weave the flax fibres. Although it is more expensive, for some artists it is cost-effective as it is stronger and longer lasting than cotton. Larger paintings tend to be painted onto linen canvases due to their durability and reduced stretchiness, especially when applied with primers or size. Before linen is primed the material is pale brown, after the primer has dried the material's appearance will be white, unless glue sized, where you will still see the natural colour of the linen.
The Main Differences between Cotton and Linen Canvas
Before painting onto cotton or linen canvases, it is important to use oil or acrylic primer onto your canvas for absorbency as well as to fill the fabric pores. This ensures the paint won’t be absorbed directly by the cotton or linen but will dry onto the primed surface.
Although both canvases will last a long time, a linen canvas will last longer due to the tight weave fibres and durability of the primer.
Which canvas should you choose to paint on?
If you are painting a larger and more detailed painting and would like to invest in the detail and long-term appearance of your artwork, linen is more suitable. However, if you are painting a smaller, slightly less detailed painting, then a cotton canvas is most appropriate. Cotton is the most popular fabric which is created and sold in masses due to the affordability of constructing the canvas. Therefore, it is cheaper to buy and most preferred by a lot of painters, especially students and younger artists.