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Old 10-29-2009, 03:33 PM   #1
Jane Bradley Jane Bradley is offline
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silk canvas?

I have several painting students who have been painting on silk canvases - they order them and they are very expensive. I am wondering about any potential problems in painting with oil on silk? Is it archival, or will the paint fall off in a few years? I would appreciate some input if anyone has experience with this.
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Old 10-30-2009, 09:24 AM   #2
Steve Craighead Steve Craighead is offline
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Pound for pound, I've always heard than silk is stronger than steel. I would think, if prepared in the traditional manner (i.e. rabbit skin glue and a primer etc.), it would be as good of a support as linen for painting in oils. It usually has a very fine weave, finer than linen. However, if oil paint is apply directly to any cloth I believe the acids in the oil will destroy the cloth over time. I don't think dyes or probably acrylics will adversely effect the stability of the fabric. I'm not an authority though.
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Old 10-30-2009, 01:36 PM   #3
Jane Bradley Jane Bradley is offline
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Thanks for your input Steve. I thought it sounded not so good. A restorer I just talked to agreed.
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Old 10-30-2009, 03:58 PM   #4
Richard Bingham Richard Bingham is offline
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Perhaps the application is the oriental custom of painting decorative motifs on silk panels? Oil painting was not a tradition in the Far East.

We tend to think of fine satin and light, diaphonous stuff when the word "silk" is mentioned, but raw silk, while spun from a fiber much finer than linen, cotton or hemp staples, can be woven into heavier fabrics with much coarser textures that don't have the sheen of satin.

As Steve notes, it is a very strong fiber, which recommends it for many purposes. Also noted, all natural fibers need to be isolated from the oil in paints to prevent their decaying within a short period of time, by applying a glue size under the prime coatings.

One reason why silk was not among fabrics traditionally used in oil painting through the last 500 years would have been its prohibitive cost . . . and that may, indeed, continue to be the case.

There is probably a current (misguided?) perception that the "swankiness" of fabric used for a painting will enhance the value of the piece, something that entirely overlooks the practical aspects of constructing a sound painting support. The primary advantage of painting on a stretched "canvas" is that fabric stretched over a wooden frame presents the lightest, flattest, seamless support for paintings of considerable size.

There is no advantage in stretching canvas for paintings under 16"x20", as the smaller sizes present all of the disadvantages of textile supports, and none of the advantages.

On the other hand, rigid panels of adequate strength and stability in sizes over 24" x 30" become so heavy as to be unweildy and cumbersome. Simply as a consideration of archival permanence and longevity, a panel is a better support than a stretched canvas over the long-haul.

The English word "canvas" is a corruption of "cannabis". Frome Roman times, textiles of heavier weights were generically woven from hemp fiber. Hemp is an excellent painting support - strong, and less reactive to changes in ambient humidity. While linen is often perceived to be the "gold standard" in painting supports, although strong and resistant to sagging, it's especially susceptible to decay in contact with painting oils, and very reactive to changes in humidity. Cotton is the least desirable material, it is weaker, stretches easily (slacking off even under the "attack" of being painted on) and prone to "bagging" under its own weight in time.

These days, polyester fabrics make an admirable painting support, as the material may be painted on without sizing or priming without ill effects (a light sanding will suffice). It is arguably stronger than silk, and entirely resistant to decay.
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Old 11-02-2009, 11:33 PM   #5
Jane Bradley Jane Bradley is offline
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Thanks for the wonderful and interesting information Richard! I have passed it on to several people.
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