Updated: June 14, 2015

Art Canvas Reviews and Buying Guide:

art canvases Among the more basic of human drives, like the drive to survive, is the drive to create. We see this with primitive cultures: their beautiful pottery and cave paintings were not strictly utilitarian. There was an element of aesthetics involved in even the earliest pre-art pieces. The world has evolved and changed so drastically that our ancestors would not recognize it. What hasn't changed, though, is the need to create and express oneself through art. Painting has progressed from simple pictographs on cave walls to Renaissance masterpieces to abstract splatterings. The tools with which we create have changed as well. Where a rock face used to be a canvas, today, we have a plethora of art canvas options. Which is right for you? This guide will help you find the canvas that will become your masterpiece.

What Do You Need to Create Art on Canvas? - When you are a kid, all you need is some fingerpaint and paper. As you progress as an artist, your needs grow more sophisticated. And confusing! There are a host of options available to those who love to paint, from cheap canvas panels to do-it-yourself canvas stretching, to pre-made stretched canvases. Let's take a look at the options, starting with the most affordable and easy.

Painting on Canvas Panels or Board - Some artists may scoff at the idea of using canvas panels, but they are excellent for the beginner or the artist on a budget. Panels are made of inexpensive canvas which is glued to a piece of heavy duty cardboard. The reason why many do not like them is that the canvas material is cheap, and often, the glue holding it on the board is cheap. It may be difficult to get an even coat of thinner paint onto a canvas board and have good coverage. Pulp board is similar to canvas panels in that it has a cheaper card surface that is covered with heavy gesso. You won't get the same high quality as you would by using a stretched linen canvas, but the upside is that these canvas boards are inexpensive, easy, and ideal for painting outside or on a flat surface because they do not have the give or stretch of a stretched canvas. If you want to use canvas panels, try the 100 percent cotton panels from Art Alternatives. These are higher quality panels that review well with consumers. One happy Amazon customer said he was deployed to Iraq and packed these along with him. They were slim and lightweight enough and provided him with a great surface for painting. Art Alternative's panels are designed to be used with all media and the cotton surface is triple primed with acrylic gesso. The board is 100 percent recycled and acid free. They are priced to sell, too. A pack of 12 8x10 canvas panels is about $20. Browse the top selling art canvases online here.

Best Art Canvases:

Paper Painting Canvas - Canvas paper can be a fantastic tool to have in your artist's kit. It is cheaper than fabric canvas: a package of 10 9x12 canvas paper from Strathmore, for instance, is just under $6. This type of canvas is perfect for studies or traveling. You probably don't want to paint your masterpiece on this because of the limited durability, but it is ideal for practice, studies, experimenting with color, brush strokes, or different types of media, and improving your technique. Strathmore is a leading name, and you can find a variety of sizes here on Amazon.

Getting on to the Good Stuff: Stretched Art Canvas Options - If you want a smoother, more professional surface, stretched fabric canvases will be your best option. Again, though, there are a few choices to make. You can purchase pre-sized, pre-stretched, and primed canvases that are ready to use or you can assemble your own. Let's look at the latter option first (because it's more work!). If you choose to DIY, you'll need to assemble stretcher bars, which are like the frame of the canvas. You can do this by getting 1.5" x 0.75" planed timber and joining them with butt joints. The benefit of making your own stretcher bars is that you can make any size you like, so this is a good way to use up spare canvas. On the downside, it is more time-consuming. The other option is to purchase pre-made stretching bars. This has the advantage of being quicker, but they also ensure you have accurate, right angle corners. They are beveled to eliminate a "ghost line" around the edge of your painting, and they can be tightened with wooden wedges if your painting sags a bit. If you want to do it yourself from start to finish, you can make your own, but if you want to cut a small corner, pre-mades are just about as inexpensive as making your own, and maybe even more so. You can find a pack of 12 Masterpiece strips, measuring 3/4 inch x 1 5/8 inch for about $8. Look online for a variety of different sizes. Now, onto the canvas. The most inexpensive, and common, fabric for canvas is cotton duck. This comes in different weights and weaves. On the cheap side of the spectrum, you'll find more loosely woven fabrics. These tend to distort when you paint, and the weave can appear in your painting. You can either incorporate the weave or prime the surface with gesso for a smoother surface. This costs about $4 for a yard with a 72-inch width. Linen canvas is more expensive, but many artists prefer its tighter, finer weave. A roll of unprimed linen measuring 52 inches x 6 yards is about $200. You can find smaller, primed pieces as well. The ArtFix Hand Primed Belgium Linen One Coat Oil Primer is about $37, and it is primed and ready to go for oil painting. Whether you choose linen or cotton duck, you may need to prime the surface before you get started. To do this, you apply several layers of a primer to prevent paint from leaking through the surface. A common choice is acrylic gesso, which applies easily, dries quickly, and produces a nice white surface. Three good coats (each painted at right angles to the previous) will give even coverage and a good work surface. Gesso is a great tool to have on hand. You can find a 16-ounce bottle for about $5, as well as larger containers.

Pre-Stretched Canvases:

There's no shame in buying pre-stretched canvases. It saves time, and you can be sure you have a tight, professional look and feel. According to consumer site, BestCovery, the best pre-stretched painting canvas is Windsor and Newton Stretched Canvas. The company allows painters to test out the canvas and provide feedback. The canvas is made of cotton duck and primed with gesso. They are great for both oil painting and acrylics. A pack of 6 16x20 canvases costs just over $30, making it a relatively affordable choice as well. Another top pick for cotton duck canvases is the Frederix GalleryWrap Canvas. It resists deterioration and is acid-free. It is also more expensive than the Windsor and Newton canvases. A single 10x20 canvas is about $14. If you prefer linen, BestCovery recommends the Frederix Green Label Linen Stretched Canvas. Linen is not for everyone, but those who prefer a rougher surface will like it. While you can use acrylics, oils do work better on this surface. The Frederix canvas features a double-primed surface and Belgium linen, which is widely believed to be the best. A single 20x24 inch canvas costs $25, so if you are just starting, canvas panels and paper is a much safer route to go! When you find the right canvas, you can express yourself and grow as an artist. Whether you enjoy doing quick studies on canvas paper or want to commit your masterpiece to a $30 linen canvas, you can find the materials you need on Amazon.