Painting on Hemp Canvas

Up until some time in the 19th century, it was common for artists to work on hemp canvas. Then, for reasons that I don't fully understand, its use started to decline. But industrial hemp has proven to be a versatile crop and production has undergone a resurgence, especially in foreign markets. It's now possible to purchase artist's-grade hemp canvas for about half the price of linen of the same quality.

I am always looking out for new ideas in art materials, and especially ways to save money on what is one of my largest expenses. I was pointed in the direction of this particular canvas by an artist friend who had bought some, but had not yet used it for painting.

It's difficult to choose a fabric just by looking at pictures on web sites. Before committing to a large purchase, I bought a few samples of raw hemp canvas from an online retailer. After seeing them in person, I selected an 11oz weight fabric

A close up of raw hemp linen

This hemp linen has a plain weave

Hemp canvas is prepared in exactly the same way as you would prepare any other type of canvas, except that this fabric is washed. That means it does not shrink much when size is applied, therefore it must be stretched more tightly before surface preparation begins.

One of the drawbacks is that it makes it difficult to get an even tension in the canvas and you can end up with some "waviness" in the threads once the priming is done. If you prepare your canvas on a large frame, that won't be too much of a problem, but if preparing individual canvases it may have an impact.

For an overview of the way I prepare canvas please see this blog post.

Close up of oil primed hemp linen

The hemp linen I prepared has six layers of primer

I've done several paintings on my new hemp canvas so far (all mounted on to a panel). After priming it looks, feels and performs exactly like a medium weight linen—all of which should be no surprise since on a microscopic scale the fibers are extremely difficult to tell apart.

Due to the non-shrinking properties, I would not recommend hemp for those who are new to preparing their own canvases. You'll fare much better if you stick to cotton or cheaper grades of linen.

For the more experienced artist, I think it's a great choice.


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