Product Reviewed: 11oz hemp canvas
Summary: Good for experienced artists creating non-portrait works. About half the price of raw linen.
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 hemp canvas online for about half the price of linen.
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 Bulk Hemp Warehouse. After seeing them in person, I selected an 11oz weight fabric.
My first impression was that the hemp canvas is a bit coarser than linen of the same weight, but it looks and feels very similar to linen. Their archival properties should be identical.
This hemp linen has a plain weave
I went about preparing the canvas in the same way as I would any other type, however, I soon discovered that this fabric is washed and does not shrink when size is applied. I had to re-stretch it with care before continuing.
The drawback of this feature 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. I prepared my canvas on a large frame, so that wasn't too much of a problem except at the edges, but when preparing individual canvases I found it to have a significant impact.
For an overview of the way I prepare canvas please see this blog post.
The hemp linen I prepared has six layers of primer
The canvas required copious priming and it resulted in a heavy primed weight, but afterwards it looked, felt and performed 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.
I've done several paintings on my new hemp canvas so far and I'm reasonably happy with it but the surface texture makes it better for medium to large landscapes, say 16x20 and larger. On smaller canvases or portrait work the texture can be a bit overwhelming, hence this surface is better for those artists who work with thick paint layers.
For the more experienced artist, working on larger canvases, I think this is an acceptable choice. Its an easy way to save money on what is one of our biggest purchases.
Because the heavy weight and non-shrinking properties make it difficult to stretch evenly, I don't recommend this 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.
This review was edited and updated March 2020.