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Oil painting, using pigments in an oil binder, has been in existence for over 2000years. In Northern Europe, in the late 15th century, oil paintings began to be done on canvas supports instead of timber panels. There were many reasons for this but the main reasons were weight and portability.

This meant that a painting could be bought by someone and transported to their home. Works could be owned. Before the time of photography, this was also symbolically a form of possession of what the painting portrayed.

Today, there are many varieties of supports for paintings, and many different painting mediums being used on these supports.

Here, we will focus on "artist canvas". (Some of the other supports will be discussed elsewhere.)

Most people use the term "canvas" generically, to describe any woven fabric e.g. "I have started on another canvas"; whether it is cotton or linen.

The main requirements for artist's canvas are as follows:

  • A surface that will accept the medium applied to it.
  • A texture on the surface that the artist desires
  • Light weight (compared to boards and masonry)
  • Portability
  • Stability and permanence


The quality of the support is dependant upon (a) the material (woven cloth), (b) the ground (or gesso) and (c) the stretcher or strainer – the skeleton on which the cloth is stretched.

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