Choosing a Canvas Floater Frame for Your Art. Step One: the substrate

The final design of your frame starts with the surface on which you paint.

If you use traditional canvas/linen stretched on canvas stretcher bars one important item to remember is to select stretcher bars which can be keyed out. Some people think they can cut four lengths of wood, join them together with nails or screws then stretch canvas over the frame they made. Yes, it can be done. But what results from that ends up needing to be un-done.  Canvas/linen is flexible, and, over time, depending on the atmospheric conditions, will sag. If your canvas stretcher bars are joined at the corners the painting will always sag and buckle. The surface of a stretched canvas needs to be drum tight and canvas stretcher bars with keys or the Lebron type stretcher bars are the only way to go.

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Lebron-type canvas stretcher bars

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pre-cut canvas stretcher bars

detail of the back of an improperly built canvas stretcher bar. Notice the corners are joined together, not allowing the canvas to be keyed out


Back of a stretched canvas
This back view of a stretched canvas shows that the stretcher bars are correct in that they have keys in the corner to stretch out the canvas if it sags. However, when the artist stretched the canvas onto the stretcher bars, they added staples to the corner, several of which are underneath the canvas, and one which you can see straddling the corner on top of the canvas. While the corners can be keyed out somewhat, they cannot be keyed out as needed because the staples are in the way and won’t allow the bars to move freely

Other surfaces artists like to use are cradled panels, masonite or birch panels, and masonite panels which have linen or muslin mounted to them using rabbit skin glue.  If you choose the latter options, an additional cradle will have to be built to use a canvas floater frame.

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