About supports

You can paint pictures on just about anything. The only thing about it is, you have to know how to prime your support so that the paint will stick to it and stay stuck to it. My favourite support is linen canvass, but I have painted on wooden panels, copper panels, and hospital bedsheets. The only support I have found that I actively dislike is cotton – even though it has become very popular, and can be easily bought just about anywhere. Hospital bedsheets? Yes indeed. I was staying in Hamburg, Germany at the time and had pretty much run out of funds to buy canvass. A girlfriend thought the sheets of the hospital where she worked would be strong enough to paint on, and brought me some sheets that the hospital didn't really need any more.

A note on the word “canvass”; in the context of art it is taken to mean a support of either linen or cotton, or (rarely) jute.

A support which I have used on many occasions is canvass board.  My very first oil paintings were on canvass boards, and they are still in excellent condition today. The quality varies according to the maker. Some are finer and some less so, look around and see what you like. For smaller formats (up to 30 x 40cm) you can’t really go wrong – though it isn’t the same as painting on a stretched canvass. It is interesting to note that you can make your own canvass boards – and you don’t have to limit yourself to the use of linen! Practically any cloth (provided it’s clean) can be stretched on a panel and primed.

Before canvass became the support of choice for most artists, it was customary to paint on wooden panels. Cennino Cennini, writing in the 15th century describes methods for preparing panels for drawing and painting and gilding. Although antiquated, his methods are perfectly usable today, and give excellent results. He also describes the preparation and painting of frescoes - the use of tempera paint on fresh plaster. He describes methods for painting on several surfaces including metal, parchment, wood, and various kinds of cloth.



Less so






7 x 10

18 x 24


18 x 24

45 x 60

10 x 12

24 x 30


24 x 30

60 x 75

11 x 14

28 x 35


30 x 40

75 x 100

12 x 16

30 x 40


36 x 48

90 x 120

16 x 20

40 x 50


48 x 60

120 x 150

20 x 24

50 x 60


48 x 72

120 x 180

24 x 36

60 x 90




How big should your support be? As big as you like! What size it should be (not quite the same thing) is absolutely up to you. However, you can potentially make your life a little easier by sticking to the canvass sizes that are generally accepted as standard. Let me explain; years ago I had got into the habit of painting canvasses 85 x 95cm. (approx. 34” x 38”). My customers and I were happy with this format – although it is far from standard. Then one day I was asked to exhibit a few of my works at a local gallery. The gallery owner wanted to frame the works for the exhibition and started cursing when he realised that none of my paintings were of a standard size.

What are the standard sizes? The French standard sizes for oil paintings were set down in the 19th century and refer to a list of sizes that is still supported by most main suppliers of artist’s materials. I have included the most common sizes in a little table with equivalents in Inches and Centimetres. It is worth bearing in mind that the length of stretcher bars is always a multiple of 5cm or 2”. Unless of course you get a carpenter to make you a custom set!


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