Art Technical Q&A: Repairing Canvas

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on 10 Mar 2009 10:57 AM | Locked

Q:  A painting I was working on fell from my easel and landed on top of a stool. This accident left a big bulge in the canvas where it hit the edge of the stool, a dent on the bottom edge of the stretcher bar, and a quarter-inch tear in the canvas. Can I repair these damages?

A:  Your canvas can be repaired. The first area to treat is the bulge. Lightly mist this area from the back of the canvas using a mixture of water and alcohol (isopropyl, or rubbing, alcohol is fine). The alcohol will make the moisture evaporate more quickly. Wait overnight to let the canvas thoroughly dry. This should allow it to shrink to its original size. Linen canvas has a better memory than cotton canvas, but the result should be very good either way. Repairing the bottom area, however, is a bit more difficult. The ideal solution is to remove the staples from the stretcher bar and fill in the dent with wood glue or putty, sanding smooth when dry. Apply gesso to the back of the canvas to repair the tear. Once dry you can retack the canvas to the stretcher bar and paint over the repair. However, considering that the canvas has been out of shape, it is probably not advisable to remove it from the stretcher bar at this point. You can finish the painting and repair the bottom edge later, allowing the canvas plenty of time to return to its correct shape. For a quick permanent fix, you can apply gesso with a cotton swab directly over the tear in the canvas, patching it together while filling the gap in the wood by building up layers of gesso and allowing each application to dry. If the original sizing on the canvas was hide glue rather than acrylic gesso, the quick fix should be executed with hide glue. You may also be able to slip a spatula between the back of the canvas and the stretcher bar to apply some glue size (or gesso) to strengthen the repair.

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