Jul 19, 2017

SIx Steps to Stretch Linen Successfully

Ah, the feeling of painting on stretched linen! Artists' linen is nice and smooth but still has just the right amount of "tooth" to accept paint from your brush (Learn which types of linen we use in "Our Favorite Painting Surfaces").

When you stretch linen, the material reacts to each brushstroke with a nice "spring." Furthermore, stretching your own linen allows you to work in any size you wish.

Today, I'll share how I stretch linen evenly and without ripples—nearly every time.

Step 1: Gather Materials


Here's what you'll need:

  • Linen
  • Stretcher bars (also called stretcher strips)
  • Long square ruler
  • Pencil
  • Strong scissors
  • Canvas pliers
  • Staple gun
  • Heavy duty staples (I use 5/16" T50 staples)

Step 2: Secure Stretcher Bars

After fitting your stretcher bars together to form a frame, ensure the frame is square by using a square ruler or by comparing the diagonal measurements of the frame (if both diagonals are equal in length, your frame is square).

Now, secure the frame by sinking a couple of staples in each corner.

Note: If your artwork is larger than 18" x 24" or so,
I recommend using thicker, heavy duty stretcher bars
like these from Blick. Otherwise, the tension of the
stretched linen can cause the frame to twist. On very
large frames, I add a cross brace for added support.



Step 3: Cut Linen


Cut a piece of linen generously larger than the size of your artwork. For standard-duty stretcher bars (about 3/4" thick), I add 3" to each length of my artwork (1.5" extra all the way around). For heavy-duty stretcher bars (about 1.5" thick), I add about 7" to each length of my artwork (3.5" extra all the way around). Obviously, if you use even thicker stretcher bars, such as the ones intended for gallery wrapping, you will need an even larger border of extra linen.

As in the photo above, place the linen face down with the frame face down on top. Make sure the frame is centered and straight.

Quick Tips
  • Don't step or kneel on your linen, as this can create bulges or dimples. Clean your work area, as even a small piece of debris can emboss a divot into your linen.
  • Ensure you cut a piece of linen that is square. First, draw pencil lines on the linen where you intend to cut. Before cutting, make sure the pencil lines are square by checking them with a square ruler or by comparing the diagonal measurements.
  • I find using scissors the easiest way to cut linen.
  • To ensure even tension when the linen is stretched, make your cuts parallel and perpendicular to the weave of the linen.

Step 4: Find a Diamond

Wrap the linen over one side of the frame and secure the linen with a staple. Place the staple directly in the middle of the stretcher bar (below).
Note: I place my staples along the side of the stretcher bar
rather than along the back, because this allows a better angle
for the canvas pliers to stretch the linen tighter. However,
with a gallery wrap, you have to staple along the back
of the stretcher bar to keep the staples unseen.

Using canvas pliers, firmly stretch the opposite edge of the linen over the opposite side of the frame. Staple directly across from the first staple (below).

Now, stretch and staple in the middle of the third side. Do the same on the fourth side. Once you have a staple in the middle of each side of the frame, the linen should have creases in the shape of a diamond, like this:

Step 5: Continue
Stretching and Stapling

Next, add two staples to each side of the frame—one staple on either side of the middle staple. Place these staples about 2 inches apart. Each time you add two staples to one side of the frame, add another two directly across from them on the opposite side of the frame.

Continue adding two staples at a time to each side, working from the middle outward, toward the corners.

Helpful Tips
  • As you stretch the linen, pull at a slight angle away from the middle staple. This will help prevent ripples.
  • The goal is to create even tension over the whole surface of the linen, so try to use the same amount of force with each pull of the canvas pliers.
  • I pull the linen with quite a bit of force, but nowhere near enough to rip the linen.

Step 6: Fix any Ripples

Normally, I don't encounter those pesky ripples along the edges of the frame when I use this method. However, they do still happen occasionally. Hold your canvas at different angles to the light, and any ripples will become evident.

To eliminate ripples along the frame edge, use a screwdriver to pry up the staples that span the length of the ripples. Then re-stretch the linen, pulling at an outward angle to flatten the ripples, and re-staple.

Once your linen is stretched evenly and without ripples, gently hammer in any staples that may be raised.

Helpful Tips
  • If your linen slackens over time, you can tap stretcher strip keys
    into the corners of your frame to re-tighten the linen.
  • Lightly wetting the back of your linen can flatten ripples once dry.
    However, water can be harmful if your linen contains a
    water-soluble substance such as rabbit-skin glue.


Unfortunately, rippling is not the only nuisance when stretching linen. The excess linen at the corners can be so bulky that the artwork is prevented from fitting nicely inside the picture frame! Next time, I'll show you my method for making the corners of your linen slim and professional-looking.

Did you find this lesson valuable? You can have lessons like this one delivered directly to your inbox when you subscribe to our email newsletter below. Plus, you'll receive a free 20-minute painting video. Sign up below and be sure to check "Free art lessons".

See you next time!

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Jul 13, 2017

Invitation to Our Family Tradition

Today, Andrea and I would like to invite you to enjoy one of our favorite family traditions. As you join us, we'll show you nine paintings we've never shared publicly until now.

Since our wedding, Andrea and I have instituted a few family traditions. This one holds special importance to us. Each Christmas, Andrea and I harvest a tree from our own property (we have enough volunteer evergreens for many Christmases to come!). After selecting the perfect tree (usually one that resembles Charlie Brown's), we use it to celebrate Christmas in an artsy way. 

Homemade lattes are a warm welcome from the cold.

After stringing the lights and hanging our ornaments, I'll bet you can't guess what we do next… ;)

We paint the tree!

When the holidays are over, we re-plant the tree alongside others that have served as Christmas trees in years past.

Below are our Christmas tree paintings from all five years of marriage. Seven of these have never been shown publicly until now. After sharing our Christmas tree paintings, I'll show you two more never-before-publicized paintings. Enjoy!



(Left: Andrea's | Right: Adam's)



(Left: Andrea's | Right: Adam's)



(Top: Andrea's | Bottom: Adam's)


(Top: Andrea's | Bottom: Adam's)



(Left: Andrea's | Right: Adam's)

Two More Never-Before-Publicized Paintings

Because our Christmas tree paintings hold special memories for us, we don't sell them. However, these two winter-themed paintings are available: (UPDATE: "Paper House" is sold, but "Snowy Tracks" is available as of 7/11/17)
"Paper House" by Adam Clague
Oil • 6 x 6.25 • SOLD

Above: The paper house and trees are Christmas decorations made by Andrea. The glow of the lights against the geometric shapes are reminders of the simple pleasure of a warm, welcoming home.

Below: Deep tire tracks in our freshly-fallen snow created a beautiful pattern that was inspiring to capture on canvas.
"Snowy Tracks" by Adam Clague
Oil • 4.25 x 6.25 • $300 (incl. framing & shipping in U.S.)

If you'd like to feel cooler this summer by having one of these paintings in your home, please email me at Contact@AdamClague.com. However, please act quickly, as I'm accepting qualifying purchases on a first-come-first-served basis.

See you next time!

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Jul 6, 2017

Our Favorite Painting Surfaces

Today, I'm going to share our favorite painting surfaces and when we use them.

1. Stretched Linen
(For Larger Studio Paintings)


The first time I painted on linen instead of typical cotton, I knew I would never go back. To me, the difference between linen and cotton is like the difference between fabric car seats and leather car seats (heated ones). Simply put, I love how linen receives paint from my brush. Furthermore, some believe linen is longer-lasting than cotton.

Because linen is more expensive, Andrea and I purchase it the cheapest way possible—by the roll. We also wait for sales and coupons, which online art supply stores issue frequently.

Here are the three types of linen we use:

  • Claessens Double Oil Primed #13 (very fine texture)
  • Claessens Double Oil Primed #9 (fine texture)
  • Claessens Double Oil Primed #15 (medium texture)

Generally, we prefer the smoother #9 and #13 linens for subjects that are softer, more delicate, and require more detail, like a young lady's portrait. We like the coarser #15 linen for more textural subjects like landscapes. However, this is totally a matter of preference, so please try a variety of surfaces to discover what you like best.

We use stretched linen for most of our larger studio paintings. However, when we travel, we use another surface that is much lighter and takes up less room…

2. Linen Mounted to Gatorfoam Panels
(For Traveling)


In case you're not familiar with Gatorfoam, it's like foam core board, but much more dense and durable. It is also archival and very lightweight. Many top artists have started using it both for studies and for gallery paintings.

Before switching to Gatorfoam, Andrea and I used hardboard (HDF). However, hardboard is heavy, and when you're traveling (especially flying), every pound counts. Gatorfoam helps us avoid those overweight baggage fees!

The best price for Gatorfoam
we've found is at FoamBoardSource.com.

The shipping is expensive, but overall, the prices at
FoamBoardSource.com seem to be lower than at most other suppliers.
In addition, FoamBoardSource.com pre-cuts the Gatorfoam
in various sizes, including 8x10 and 11x14.

You can enjoy the texture of linen without the bulkiness of stretcher bars—just mount linen to Gatorfoam with a glue like Miracle Muck. However, if you have to prepare a large number of panels, mounting linen to each one can be time-consuming. This is why Andrea and I frequently use another solution…

3. Primed Gatorfoam Panels
(For Traveling with Little Prep Time)

For one particularly long painting trip, Andrea and I prepared 80 panels (below)!

If we had mounted linen to each of these panels, it would have taken forever! To save time, our preferred method is to simply prime Gatorfoam panels with acrylic gesso or Gamblin Oil Ground.
Helfpul Tips:

  • Many acrylic gessos are very absorbent, which makes your paint dry and become matte very quickly. We like Utrecht Artists' Acrylic Gesso because of its low absorbancy.
  • Both acrylic gesso and oil ground can be sanded to the smoothness of your liking. 
  • Apply primer with various rollers and brushes to find the texture you like best.
  • Gamblin Oil Ground can take several days to dry, but adding a few drops of drier medium can speed the process.

Of course, finding your favorite linen is only half the battle… Next time, I'll share how I stretch linen and canvas.

See you then!

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Jun 15, 2017

Our Simple, Portable Plein Air Setup


If you've ever set up a French easel, you know it can feel like wrestling an octopus.

That's how I felt the first time I set up my French easel as an art student. Little did I know that my awkward struggle would become legendary. Years later, I learned that our instructor had observed my clumsy attempt that day—and had been using it as an example to students of what not to do!

There is a way to set up a French easel quite easily. But the easel's bulkiness, along with joint-tightening issues in some brands, have caused some artists to seek alternative solutions.

Plein air painting has grown hugely popular in recent years, and with it, many easel solutions have become available. Andrea and I don't claim to have the best solution, but we like our setup because of its portability and ease of use. Plus, it was partly homemade, making it fairly economical!

In this email, I'll break down our plein air setup for you…


Palette Box


Our palette boxes were made with love by my wonderful wife! Andrea created them by modifying paint boxes similar to this one (shop around for best price).

She cut the lid of the box into halves and attached these halves to either side of the box with hinges (A). These new lids serve as trays for brushes, towels, etc. They also hold the palette in place when the lids are closed. In one lid, she added a compartment to hold our brush washing containers (B). Clasps on the front keep the box shut (C).

The palette is a piece of plexiglass (D). The back side is painted with middle-value gray acrylic paint, which makes it easier to judge values when mixing colors.

Our plexiglass palettes are lightweight and durable, making them better for travel than glass palettes. However, a razor blade glass scraper can gouge them, so we try to clean them off promptly with a palette knife after use.

Underneath the palette are compartments to store supplies (below).

Andrea's dad cut angled brackets for the palette box, so it can hang over the legs of our tripods. Below are several pics of the brackets, in case you'd like to make your own.


My palette box (not including brackets) measures about 15" x 10.5" x 3.25" when closed.

Don't Want to Make Your Own?

Andrea designed our easels after James Coulter's Coulter Easel, which you can purchase in a variety of sizes here. The difference between our setup and Coulter's is that, instead of using a separate piece to hold our paintings, we use a tripod easel to hold both our paintings and our palette box (see below).

Tripod Easel

Andrea and I use Italian steel tripod easels from Richeson (Shop around for best price). We've broken other brands, but the Richeson easels have held up well. Plus, they come in a variety of fun colors!

My favorite thing about this easel is that it can hold my painting high enough so I don't have to bend over to see it straight-on. I like to stand while painting, and having to bend over hurts a tall guy's back after awhile!


Best of all, everything fits inside our matching backpacks! Aren't we cute? ;)


One of the annoying things about plein air painting is the hazard of transporting your wet paintings! Next time, I'll show you our homemade wet panel carrier.

See you then!

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