Factors in paintings looking awful: 1) commercial canvases are generally rubbish.

Yes, they’re convenient. Yes, they’re affordable. And yes, they save time and effort. But unfortunately the reality is (if you’re painting in oils) commercial canvases are generally not going to make your painting look good. Generally every component in a commercial canvas is as cheap as can possibly be obtained, including the canvas itself and the gesso priming. If you paint on cheap stuff your painting is going to look, well, cheap (as in dull, dreary and lifeless). The acrylic gesso primer basically sucks the life out of oil paint, because it’s excessively absorbent. This results in the paint ending up chalky and dull. Why do paintings of the late 20th and early 21st century look so different to those done before? The answer is the materials have changed drastically. No one painted in oils on acrylic primer before. They painted on oil primer–gernerally lead white oil primer. Mostly people painted on linen rather than cotton. Linen gives a lot more character to the paint than cotton does–because it has more texture and variety. Cotton is comparatively flat and uniform, which gives the paint more of a dead look. You can stretch and prime your own canvas. It’s not that hard and it’s good to have this hands on relationship with your materials. You could also paint on a wooden panel eg Masonite or plywood. Either way you need to know how to seal and prime your support (surface). Here’s a link on stretching canvas: http://m.wikihow.com/Stretch-a-Canvas and a link to the useful forum wetcanvas with a discussion about canvas http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=861

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