Colored Pencils on Canvas

Colored Pencils on Canvas

Today’s post about colored pencils on canvas is the result of a question left in the comments section a few days ago. An unexpected question.

Here’s a portion of the question.

I prefer to work with stretched canvas versus paper, simply because I like the look, and the ‘hangibility’ means the artwork sells better. HOWEVER, the pencils can easily damage the canvas. I have devised a method of placing my unopened sketchpad underneath the canvas and keeping everything flat on my kitchen counter. As you can imagine, it’s very inconvenient for my family, and with larger canvases. It’s also impossible to do this on an easel. I’m wondering if anyone knows of any better methods, or perhaps a product that exists for this?

Colored Pencils on Canvas

I wasn’t surprised by the fact that this reader enjoys using colored pencils on canvas. She isn’t the only one. John Ursillo also uses canvas supports for his wonderful colored pencil works. In fact, he was how I became acquainted with this method of drawing.

What did surprise me was the nature of the question. The reader is looking for a way to draw on canvas and still have the support she needs to keep the pencils from damaging the canvas.

An Explanation First

For those who don’t know, canvas comes in several forms. The most common form is inexpensive canvas panels. The canvas is mounted on a rigid support that’s usually some form of cardboard or fiber board. They are usually not archival, and are available in a variety of sizes from very small to quite large. This type of canvas is prone to warping if displayed unframed. A couple of my old paintings on canvas bowed because I displayed them propped on a shelf. They’re not that large, either.

You can also buy stretched canvas. Stretched canvas is stretched across a wood frame and glued or stapled in place. The wood frames are called stretchers. This is the type of canvas the reader is using.

If you’re a really ambitious artist, you can buy the stretchers and canvas by the roll, and stretch your own canvases. Yes, I have done this. The first few times, the effort that went into stretching my own canvas was satisfying. Then it just became a chore! Since I was also working outside the house at the time, I soon gave up stretching my own canvas and went back to other forms of canvas before giving up oil painting altogether.

Answering the Reader’s Question

After pondering the question and doing some research, the easiest solution I could come up with was something called a canvas board. A canvas board is just what it sounds like: Canvas glued to an archival, rigid support. This is not the same thing as a canvas panel. They are specifically designed for artists who enjoy painting outside and who need a lightweight, sturdy painting surface.

Sometimes the boards have a slot on the back for hanging the artwork unframed; sometimes they don’t. So while this solution solves the problem of providing a firm drawing surface that pencils won’t damage, it doesn’t solve the problem of hangibility.

To get around this, something called a cradled board or panel might fit the bill. These panels are mounted to a wood frame similar to stretched canvas. The frames aren’t stretchers, but they will support the weight of the artwork so you can hang it safely without framing it.

The largest problem I encountered here is that I couldn’t find very many cradled canvas boards. Ampersand Gessobord is pretty close, but it isn’t canvas. The surface is primed with a professional grade acrylic gesso, the same primer used on a lot of commercially produced canvases. It should handle colored pencil much the same way, and may be a useful alternative to using stretched canvas.

An internet search for cradled canvas panels may provide more options than what I’ve described here, so that might be a good place to begin.

Another Possible Solution

The only other solution I could think of was to purchase a special board or painting panel that’s the right depth for each size of stretched canvas the reader wants to use. The reader mentioned using an unopened drawing pad to support her canvas. It’s possible to get a drawing pad for each size of stretched canvas.

Your local lumberyard can also cut wood to size so that it fits inside the stretchers on canvas. This is more expensive, but might be more cost-effective in the long run.

And that’s the end of my useful suggestions! I admit I hadn’t previously given this any thought at all because I don’t use colored pencil on canvas.

If you have, do you have any suggestions for this reader?

Closing Thoughts on Colored Pencils on Canvas

May 2020 CP Magic

By the way, John Ursillo was the featured artist for the May 2020 issue of CP Magic, which included a very in-depth tutorial describing how he uses colored pencils on canvas. You can purchase that issue here.

Do you use your colored pencils on canvas? No?

Then you might be interested in a blog post John wrote for this blog. His article is a detailed description of the reasons to consider canvas for colored pencil work. You can read here.

Got a question? Ask Carrie!

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  1. Like you, I was surprised by the question. I have a reputation for using my pencils with a heavy touch. The few times I’ve used the pencils on canvas, I’ve found rather that the pencils wear down faster. This was especially so on my first canvas project, when I was still using Prismacolors
    Good luck to your questioner! And thank you, Carrie, for the post.

  2. Rick Steffens

    I, personally have only used canvas twice in my life, and I’m 70 years old. Once, when we finally got Art in high school my senior year [1971-1972]. And the other time when I made a painting for that same high school, Wilton [Iowa] High, home of the Beavers! LOL. But I have a stretcher canvas sitting here just waiting for me to do something with it. And after reading this article, I just might be able to put it to use. So, thanks again, Carrie!

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