AskDefine | Define canvas

Dictionary Definition



1 heavy closely woven fabric (used for clothing or chairs or sails or tents) [syn: canvass]
2 an oil painting on canvas [syn: canvass]
3 the setting for a narrative or fictional or dramatic account; "the crowded canvas of history"; "the movie demanded a dramatic canvas of sound" [syn: canvass]
4 a tent made of canvas [syn: canvas tent, canvass]
5 a large piece of fabric (as canvas) by means of which wind is used to propel a sailing vessel [syn: sail, canvass, sheet]
6 the mat that forms the floor of the ring in which boxers or professional wrestlers compete; "the boxer picked himself up off the canvas" [syn: canvass]


1 solicit votes from potential voters in an electoral campaign [syn: canvass]
2 get the opinions (of people) by asking specific questions [syn: poll, canvass]
3 cover with canvas; "She canvassed the walls of her living room so as to conceal the ugly cracks"
4 consider in detail and subject to an analysis in order to discover essential features or meaning; "analyze a sonnet by Shakespeare"; "analyze the evidence in a criminal trial"; "analyze your real motives" [syn: analyze, analyse, study, examine, canvass]

User Contributed Dictionary




  • /ˈkænvəs/, /"k

Extensive Definition

Canvas is an extremely heavy-duty plain-woven fabric used for making sails, tents, marquees, backpacks, and other functions where sturdiness is required. It is also popularly used as a painting surface, typically stretched, and on fashion handbags and shoes.


The word canvas is derived from the Latin word for cannabis -- hemp was popularly used to make canvas.
The online etymology dictionary shows a more expanded etymology
1260, from Anglo-Fr. canevaz, from O.Fr. canevas, from V.L. *cannapaceus "made of hemp," from L. cannabis, from Gk. kannabis "hemp," a Scythian or Thracian word. PGT

Physical characteristics

Modern canvas is usually made of cotton. It differs from other heavy cotton fabrics, such as denim, in being plain weave rather than twill weave. Canvas comes in two basic types: plain and duck. The threads in duck canvas are more tightly woven. In the USA, canvas is graded two ways: by weight (ounces per square yard) and by number. The numbers run in reverse of the weight; so, number 10 canvas is lighter than number 4.

Canvas for painting

Canvas has become the most common support medium for oil painting, replacing wooden panels. One of the earliest surviving oils on canvas is a French Madonna with angels of about 1410 in the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin, which is very early indeed for oil painting also. However panel remained much more common until the 16th century in Italy and the 17th century in Northern Europe. Mantegna and Venetian artists were among those leading the change; Venetian sail canvas was readily available and regarded as the best quality.
Canvas is usually stretched across a wooden frame called a stretcher, and may be coated with gesso before it is to be used; this is to prevent oil paint from coming into direct contact with the canvas fibers, which will eventually cause the canvas to decay. A traditional and flexible chalk gesso is composed of lead carbonate and linseed oil, applied over a rabbit skin glue ground; a variation using titanium white pigment and calcium carbonate is rather brittle and susceptible to cracking. (Of course lead-based paint is also poisonous so care has to be taken in using it.) Various alternative and more flexible canvas primers are commercially available, the most popular being a synthetic latex paint composed of titanium dioxide and calcium carbonate, bound with a thermo-plastic emulsion. Notwithstanding the concern for deterioration of materials, many modern artists, such as Jackson Pollock, Kenneth Noland, Francis Bacon, Helen Frankenthaler, Dan Christensen, Larry Zox, Ronnie Landfield, Color Field painters, Lyrical Abstractionists, and others sometimes paint onto the unprimed, or "raw canvas".
Early canvas was made of linen, a sturdy brownish fabric of considerable strength. Linen is particularly suitable for the use of oil paint. In the early 20th century, cotton canvas, often referred to as "cotton duck", came into use. Linen is composed of higher quality material, and remains popular with many professional artists, especially those who work with oil paint. Cotton duck, which stretches more fully and has an even, mechanical weave, offers a more economical alternative. The advent of acrylic paint has greatly increased the popularity and use of cotton duck canvas. Linen and cotton derive from two entirely different plants, the flax plant and the cotton plant.
One can also buy small, prepared canvases which are glued to a cardboard backing in the factory, called "canvas board". However, these are only available in certain sizes, and are not acid-free, so their lifespan is extremely limited. They are usually used for quick studies. Gessoed canvases on stretchers are also available. These pre-stretched, pre-primed canvases are suitable for all but the most exacting professional standards. They are available in a variety of weights: light-weight is about 4 oz. or 5 oz.; medium-weight is about 7 oz. or 8 oz.; heavy-weight is about 10 oz. or 12 oz. They are prepared with two or three coats of gesso and are ready for use right out of the package. Artists desiring greater control of their painting surface often add a coat or two of their preferred gesso. Professional artists who wish to work on canvas may prepare their own canvas in the traditional manner.
One of the most outstanding differences between modern painting techniques and those of the Flemish and Dutch Masters is in the preparation of the canvas. "Modern" techniques take advantage of both the canvas texture as well as those of the paint itself. A novice artist often finds it nearly impossible to approach the realism of such classic art, despite skill in applying the paint. In fact, Renaissance masters took extreme measures to ensure that none of the texture of the canvas came through. This required a painstaking, months-long process of layering the raw canvas with (usually) lead-white paint, then polishing the surface, and then repeating. The final product had little resemblance to fabric, but instead had a glossy, enamel-like finish. Though this may seem an extreme measure to the modern painter, it is crucial if photographic realism is the end goal.
With a properly prepared canvas, the painter will find that each subsequent layer of color glides on in a "buttery" manner, and that with the proper consistency of application (fat over lean technique), a painting entirely devoid of brushstrokes can be readily achieved.
To un-wrinkle the material, use a warm iron (not a hot iron) over a piece of wet cotton to flatten the wrinkles, although hot water on the back works just as well.
Canvas can also be printed on digitally to create canvas prints. After printing, the canvas can be wrapped around a stretcher and displayed.

Splined canvas, stapled stretched canvas and canvas boards

Splined canvases offer advantages that the traditional side-stapled canvas does not. The most obvious is that the edges of the stretched canvas are staple-free. This allows the painter to incorporate painted edges into the artwork itself. It also allows the artwork to be displayed without a frame. Splined canvas is easier to restretch. It's far easier to remove from the stretcher bars (just pull the spline out) and is easier to attach to another support since there is more fabric at the back to work with. Additionally, there are no unsightly staple holes to deal with.
Stapled canvases stay stretched tighter over a longer period of time, but are more difficult to re-stretch when the need arises.
Canvas boards are made of cardboard with canvas stretched over and sealed on the backside. The canvas is typically linen primed for a certain type of paint.

Non-traditional uses for stretched canvas

It has become popular to use the myriad of stretched canvas's sizes and shapes for unconventional creative expression. Artists create miniature works on business card sized stretched canvas and use them as trading cards to make connections with other artists. Many artists use canvas for altered art pieces as well as for scrapbook pages—because stretched canvas is available in many sizes, from miniatures to wall size, it is used for decoupage and needlework projects, made into lamps, or painted simply for home decor.

See also

canvas in German: Leinwand
canvas in Estonian: Lõuend
canvas in Spanish: Lienzo
canvas in French: Toile (peinture)
canvas in Indonesian: Kanvas
canvas in Italian: Interfodera
canvas in Dutch: Schildersdoek
canvas in Japanese: キャンバス
canvas in Norwegian: Kanvas
canvas in Polish: Płótno
canvas in Portuguese: Lona
canvas in Russian: Канва
canvas in Simple English: Canvas
canvas in Swedish: Kanvas

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

agora, air brush, amphitheater, aquarelle, arena, art paper, athletic field, auditorium, background, bear garden, big top, boltrope, bowl, boxing ring, brush, bull ring, camera lucida, camera obscura, campus, chalk, charcoal, circus, clew, cloth, cockpit, coliseum, colosseum, course, crayon, cringle, crowd of sail, drawing paper, drawing pencil, drier, earing, easel, easel-picture, field, finger painting, fixative, floor, foot, fore-and-aft sail, forum, gouache, ground, gym, gymnasium, hall, head, hippodrome, lay figure, leech, lists, locale, luff, marketplace, mat, maulstick, medium, milieu, muslin, oil, oil painting, open forum, paint, paintbrush, painting, palaestra, palette, palette knife, parade ground, pastel, pencil, pigments, pit, place, plain sail, platform, precinct, press of sail, prize ring, public square, purlieu, rag, range, reduced sail, reef point, reefed sail, ring, round top, sail, scene, scene of action, scenery, scratchboard, setting, siccative, site, sketchbook, sketchpad, spatula, sphere, spray gun, square sail, squared circle, stadium, stage, stage set, stage setting, stump, tempera, tent, tentage, terrain, theater, tilting ground, tiltyard, top, varnish, walk, wash, wash drawing, water, whitetop, wrestling ring
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