What can I use on top of photos printed to canvas?
April 12, 2006 1:48 AM   Subscribe

Fellow artists: I want to paint and collage over photos printed onto canvas. Looking for advice about pitfalls, materials that work, etc...

Ideally, I will be scanning black and white photos from the 1960s, sending them to an online service that can transfer them onto canvas, then painting and collaging on top of them with acrylic paint, oil paint and acrylic medium. Then I'd like to be able to varnish the whole thing.

This is not about photo retouching or just adding color to black and white images. I plan on working pretty heavily on top of the canvas (with the photo printed on it) so that only some parts of the original image show through.

I wonder if anybody has experience working this way? Some specific questions I have are: Will the oil paint, thinner, or varnish damage the image that is printed on the canvas? Is there a kind of printing on canvas in which the ink is embedded in the grain of the canvas rather than sitting on top of it? Is there a difference between a giclee print and a standard photo-to-canvas print? Which would be better for this project? Any specific recommendations for pastes or binders for collaging that dry uniformly clear and are strong and archival? Can I work on unstretched canvas and then stretch later, or will that be a mess? Any specific companies for photo-to-canvas prints that you recommend?

I expect to do some experimentation before settiling on a technique for this series, and I know that this is a highly highly specific question, but any guidance is greatly appreciated!
posted by wetpaint to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I can't give you a straight answer on all your questions, you'll have to experiment on your own. However, stretch the canvas first. If you stretch it after you paint it, you could run the risk of it warping, tearing, or being put on a frame crooked.

Modge Podge is my personal favorite clear coat/binder. It dries ultra clear and is available in several finishes.
posted by idiotfactory at 2:33 AM on April 12, 2006

I can understand the attraction to the professional printing on canvas, but for the subject matter, you can't do a lot better than screen printing it yourself.

And if you screen print it yourself (something easily done at home, and in the long run, cheaper) you can print on stretched canvases with acrylic inks that won't run or interact with your other chemicals. Several of my friends in art school used similar techniques.

Furthermore, with screen printing, you can do several colors and work off of them. To me, it seems like a much better solution.
posted by fake at 3:04 AM on April 12, 2006

There are definitely methods you can explore for transferring the image to a stretched canvas yourself. For a collage medium, have you considered beeswax? You can really build very heavily with it.

I took a workshop from Claudine Hellmuth, who wrote this book - I've successfully used both the image transfer techniques described, and now prefer beeswax for collage over any other medium.
posted by ersatzkat at 3:51 AM on April 12, 2006

I would ask the printer what inks they use to put the image on canvas. This should tell you whether oils or solvents will take the image off (unless they are sealed with some clear medium, I would bet they would) Also ask if the canvas is primed or raw.
Generally, I prefer not to mix oils with acrylics. If you must, lay the oils on top of the acrylics.
A giclee print is, basically, a glorified ink-jet print. High resolution, large format, umpteen print heads. Usually on high-quality paper. You see it used a lot these days in fine-art prints, especially by the hot new surrealist artists. It's not meant as a basis for additional working in the manner you plan. The process by which your image is put on canvas is probably similar, though.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:26 AM on April 12, 2006

Just to pick at a specific part of your question -- you can safely use oils on top of acrylics, but I really do not recommend putting acrylics on top of oils. Oils take a very long time to dry and the length required is high variable. If you put acrylic on top of still-wet oils, your painting will eventually develop cracks and general nastiness.
posted by Marit at 6:49 AM on April 12, 2006

I would run, not walk, to your local bookstore, library or Amazon and pick up a copy of Digital Art Studio which features techniques perfected by Dorothy Simpson Krause who has been working with mixed media using inkjet printers and paint longer than you would think possible.
posted by jeremias at 8:02 AM on April 12, 2006

1. Stretch the canvas first. I used to frame for an art gallery and had to stretch many a painted canvas. It ain't fun.

2. Use acrylic paint and when you are all done seal it with an acrylic varnish. Gloss, matte, whatever.

Also, have you thought about having the photos printed on a heavy stock watercolor paper? That would avoid the weave of the canvas and the photo will be clearer. Just a thought, I'm a painter that doesn't like to work n canvas. . .
posted by spakto at 10:33 AM on April 12, 2006

Response by poster: Thank you all so much! I usually work with oil over acrylic, know not to do it the other way around. Screen printing myself sounds intimidating but I will look into it, and I'll be sure to check out the recommended books.
posted by wetpaint at 2:26 PM on April 12, 2006

Response by poster: Also, one more question if anybody is still lurking (Thorzdad?):

The giclee prints are done on canvas as well as paper, and yes I believe they are just inkjet prints. Would a varnish over that ink eat into it?

Oh, and spakto -- I love to work on paper as well, but then you get into the extra expense of framing to exhibit those pieces, and people not liking the frame, and...well, you get where I'm headed with that :) But you're right, printing on paper would save a lot of this headache...
posted by wetpaint at 2:30 PM on April 12, 2006

I second screen-printing. I started down this same path about 15 years ago but because of problems I had in getting images to layer the way I wanted, I headed off into creating real-world collages that I then rephotographed. Screen printing at the time was really the only way to get the base images. Nice thing about screening is you have a wide array of ink types or paint types that you can choose to meet your needs. You don't need to change your painting system to meet the constraints of the commercial printing process.
posted by johngumbo at 2:45 PM on April 12, 2006

To all the users recommending screen printing. I'm doing a screen printing night class and was wondering what process people use to screen print onto the canvas?

A friend tried it and said that he ended up with the profile of the frames coming throught on the print? (Terrible description of the problem I know) - Know what I mean?

posted by atomicjeep at 4:41 AM on January 30, 2007

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