Ways to deliberately deteriorate canvas?
August 29, 2010 2:22 AM   Subscribe

As part of an art project I'm trying to find out what substances and techniques can be used to deliberately deteriorate and decay raw unprimed canvas (no paint) or other materials (wood, plastic, wallpaper etc). Preferably I'm looking for something that can be put on to do its deteriorating work, then washed or somehow taken off again so that process of deterioration is stopped.

Perhaps someone has had an unfortunate experience that caused an unwanted result that I can utilise, or knows of a technique? Also, different substances that produce different results would be great.
posted by halcorp to Science & Nature (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I've had roaches nibble away on watercolour paper (no idea what they found attractive but they ruined it) and my mother had mice in her studio that ate a hole in the wall (panelling) that went through a cupboard and several stacks of fabric. So perhaps you could expose your canvas to rodents and other pests and see what they do? Rats and mice will also pee on and discolour it, but the smell would be atrocious.
posted by ninazer0 at 2:39 AM on August 29, 2010

Drops of dilute acid will create discoloration or holes in textiles - if the acid is dilute, the effect is not immediate. I found this out by carrying a leaky car battery: later in the day I realized I was walking around with significant extra ventilation in the pants region. You can vary the acid concentration and quantity or rinse/neutralize to get partial effects.

Standard disclaimers for working with acids apply - make sure you are familiar with the safety aspects before trying anything.
posted by Dr Dracator at 2:44 AM on August 29, 2010

If you don't find the sort of solution you are looking for, here are some other techniques: several ideas for canvas here; How to Distress Wood; Here is a thread on aging plastic (guitar) hardware.
posted by taz at 3:34 AM on August 29, 2010

Simple bleach might be worth experimenting with.
posted by antiquated at 7:42 AM on August 29, 2010

Andy Warhol did a series of piss etchings where he (and others) pissed on the printing plates and left them to bite. You could probably find examples easily online for the look.

A few artists here in Los Angeles make works by exposing their chosen art ground to smog fallout, which is acidic.

Some artists have shot holes or put out a lit cigarette (I suppose if you were Julian Schnabel you might prefer a cigar) or ash.

Turpentine will deteriorate raw canvas. Linseed oil will as well, but the process will take a couple of years.

Stretching the canvas then sizing it with rabbit skin glue will cause it to shrink and the frame will rip open the canvas.

The bugs mentioned in the first post are after the potato and gum based binders in art materials. When I lived in Hawaii I learned not to smash the art roaches or I would spend the rest of the day cleaning color off my studio.
posted by effluvia at 8:14 AM on August 29, 2010

See Enzymes for Textiles
Papaya has natural enzymes as does Pineapple.
Leather will be affected by enzymes. I am not sure what results would be on canvas but it could be worth playing around. You can always eat what you don't use!
posted by adamvasco at 10:01 AM on August 29, 2010

Effluvia has it. You want a solvent that will deteriorate the raw canvas. If you dilute the solvent, the effect is slowed. Try using a spray bottle with your solution in it, splattering, etc. It would be helpful to know if you are trying to accomplish this in a timely fashion. If you want a visual effect of deterioration, a strongly brewed black tea will stain the canvas and is irreversible. Expose the canvas embedded with solvents to sunlight for a few days. Bleach will do a number on your canvas.
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 11:55 AM on August 29, 2010

Response by poster: Guys, thanks for all the suggestions, some interesting ideas in there!

I'm not in a huge rush to complete each piece, but would ideally like this to take place over a few days, or a couple of weeks to keep up the work flow.

I've been 'faking' the deterioration for a while, so some of the techniques I've looked at before, but I'm keen to start to eat into the surface for real now and there are quite a few ideas there that I'm going to look into further for sure - though I'm not so sure about the rodents! Totally open to any more ideas too...


Thanks again...
posted by halcorp at 4:48 AM on August 31, 2010

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