Canvas Board Painting – Test

Small canvas boards are a super convenient beginner artist medium. We test out the Kokuyo – Camlin square canvas boards. This stiff pre-gessoed stiff canvas panels are an inexpensive painting surface to start on. We test out various ideas, from the surreal to calligraphic lettering using acrylics, Posca paint pens and even decoupage/modge-podge with magazine collage pieces. Is this is a good medium to get started in canvas painting? Watch the video for our thoughts and experiments.

Reviewing the Kokuyo – Camlin Canvas Boards for Painting

Vishal: Hello and welcome to Stationery Test Drive where every week we take humble tools and exotic tools and strange pieces of stationery and we make things with them. I am Vishal.

Minjal: This is Minjal.

Samir: I’m Samir. And this week we are going to be looking at canvas and this particular canvas board by Kokuyo – Camlin.


Vishal: So this is a nice hard piece of board with canvas stretched on it, it has acrylic priming and it’s acid free. It’s 8 x 8 inches or around 20 by 20 centimeters. So fits well within the A range. I think that’s why we liked it. We picked this one over larger canvases or smaller canvases because it’s a nice size, it’s just about the size of a hand if you stretch it out. And here’s what I did with the canvas.

Portrait Painting on Kokuyo Canvas Board

CanvasBoardPainting 1

Vishal: So I am by no means or any definition a painter. I do some digital things that you could call painting but I don’t really have much experience with it. Despite this I have hundreds of tubes of paint and dozens of brushes accrued over the years and I used some of them for this portrait painting.

I had a good time making this painting on the Kokuyo canvas board. If you’ve never used canvas I would suggest starting with something like this.

Samir: What we have here is a piece of cotton canvas that is pre-stretched or stretched on the board. The other common thing is for canvas to be stretched on a frame in which case the fabric in the middle is kind of just loose and hanging.

Vishal: That was the problem I had with previous attempts. And this one was nice because it was like a piece of paper in terms of you could push into it a bit more and you don’t have to worry. This canvas board by Kokuyo is a really great beginner’s tool.

History of Canvas Painting

Minjal: I think we have to consider ourselves fairly lucky because from what I’ve read, canvases were very, very expensive in the earlier days and they were not easily available. So in ancient times most painters or artists would paint on surfaces like oak which were known for their stability and rigidity.

Vishal: Wood panels!

Minjal: Yes! Wooden panels were popular and they were followed by vellum or cow hide. It was only sometime in the 16th century that linen and hemp was introduced as a medium for painting. And, surprisingly it was also thick enough that the same material was also used to make ship sails.

Samir: As Minjal is saying, the cloth or the fabric that’s used on canvas boards has changed immensely over millennia. The idea of painting on cloth is not that new. So, canvas as a painting medium has existed for two or three thousand years.

But the problem is that when you paint directly on cloth using oil-based paints you end up with cloth that is very biologically heavy. It immediately within a decade or so catches various kinds of bacteria, fungus and those cloths just do not survive. So we probably have an entire history of painting on cloth which has been completely lost to us.

Cloths started being popularly used in the way that we now use them was when linen came into the picture and when, as Minjal said, when linen sails were the thing that were being made a lot. And, Venice being the center of shipping used to make some of the best linen sails and that’s where some of the art started because people would paint on those sails and then the idea of painting onto cloth and painting onto canvas sort of grew from there.

Vishal: So, in a wonderful juxtaposition of trade and happenstance, artists there used what they had and they made nice things with this. Minjal, what did you make with this? Because I know it’s nice, I’ve seen it, so let’s show it to the good people at home. Ah, that is superb and that is the kind of control and evenness that I could only hope to get from this.

Abstract Calligraphy and Acrylic Painting on Kokuyo Canvas Board

AbstractCalligraphy 1

Minjal: I’ve used the Winsor and Newton professional paint tubes. I started with a couple of background washes of black and blue and then the strokes with white. Winsor and Newton have a couple of different shades of white, and I’ve used the Titanium shade which gives you this nice, thick, opaque kind of finish. Now, one of the problems that I had with this canvas was that I’m not sure if it has the gesso coat? I think it does?

Vishal: We’re guessing about gesso!

Minjal: I guess it does. Also, it’s not the smoothest surface to paint on, there are a lot of gaps when you’re trying to paint.

Vishal: I like that actually because it adds to the texture, it adds to the uniqueness of it.

Different Types of Canvas for Painting

Samir: So there are a couple of issues here. Yes, the board is essentially what causes the texture, obviously the texture comes from the fabric but because this is stretched and glued onto the board it makes the fabric inflexible, the thing that Vishal liked about it which is that it essentially behaves very much like an old school wood panel painting. You can get much smoother results on a canvas that’s stretched on a frame because there you wouldn’t have the glue sitting underneath it and adding that sort of extra texture.

Vishal: I have also tried free canvas, in the sense that it just came in a set of sheets like you would get a sketch pad, and that was fun to use. But yes there you could get more even coats. We should check out all of those as well.

Minjal mentioned paint and that I guess is such an essential part of the thing. I used my old Daler- Rowney paints which are about five or six years old, but they were still good and I guess that’s one endorsement for buying higher quality paints in even bigger tubes. I could just shake them up a bit and squirt them out and they’re fine.

Minjal: The realization with canvas is that if you want to do professional level of work then you have to spend on a canvas that is actually a little more professional level. This is available for 45 rupees in India.

Vishal: It’s not even a dollar.

Samir: In a strange sort of connection I think what matters as far as the quality of the canvas is concerned is actually the quality of the fabric that goes onto it. So cheap canvases like this are brilliant. I have to say that when we were growing up you couldn’t think of affording a canvas.

Vishal: Or even a canvas board which existed but were mostly imported brands like Daler-Rowney.

Samir: The reason that you have these extremely affordable canvases these days is because you can have a very low grade cotton fabric that’s used for the canvas. Now literally this is very similar to bed linen, in that what you get for a cheap canvas is probably something with a lot looser of a weave and less of a thread count.

People who are familiar with bed sheets will know this. A higher thread count is a more sort of luxurious fabric. So, you will still get Daler-Rowney canvases or Winsor Newton canvases which are much more professional, which cost easily 10-20 times what we paid for this and will have a much better fabric on it and that’s what gives that sort of professional quality.

So it’s both the the quality of the fabric that goes on the canvas and also the paint that adds to that. The weird connection with bed sheets that I brought up is that bed sheets were actually used as test canvases by a lot of artists through history. The reason that you don’t know about it is because bed sheets were not gessoed and therefore they never survived beyond a few decades.

What is Gesso?

Vishal: And can someone explain gesso to me because I sort of know.

Samir: Essentially modern canvases are coated with probably just a white acrylic paint which essentially protects all the actual fibers in the cloth from any paint that goes onto it.

Vishal: Does it impregnate the cloth or is it on top?

Samir: It impregnates part of it but it essentially puts a protective layer between the cloth and the painting.

The reason we don’t have ancient paintings on cloth is because they did not gesso it. Now the the term gesso is become kind of a general term. Even something like this is said to be acrylic gessoed. So it’s become a general term for protecting the fabric of the canvas from the paints.

Earlier before acrylic existed there was actually a medium called gesso which still exists and that’s a mixture of a binder with chalk. So something like a modern gouache, and that medium was applied onto the canvas till it kind of filled in all the gaps and coated it so that the paint would sit on top of that chalk.

Vishal: In some way the gesso almost takes it halfway to a fresco.

Samir: Yeah, you are you are almost painting on the wall just like a canvas board is you are almost painting on the wood panel. So essentially, yes, bed sheets used to be used for sketches. People like van Gogh would actually have had hundreds of paintings on bed sheets because they were the cheapest thing you could buy that you could paint on.

Actual canvases were expensive even up to the time of, well, our lifetime. But certainly when someone like Rembrandt or someone like van Gogh were painting, a decent sized canvas was worth one or two weeks of pay. That’s how much it cost. So it’s not something you could just waste on on trying things out with.

Minjal: Samir, what did you make on the Kokuyo Canvas Board?

Mixed Media on Kokuyo Canvas Board

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Samir: What I came up with was this completely mixed media piece. This is a mixture of acrylic paints for a lot of the colors, and it is actually a very rudimentary form of decoupage.

Vishal: What is decoupage?

What is Decoupage?

Samir: Decoupage is where you take printed material on paper cut it up and then stick it onto surfaces including canvas but it’s also used on things like bottles and actual objects that you can decorate. Then you coat it with, in modern times you coat it with an acrylic medium which is called, popularly the brand Modge Podge. It’s essentially a decoupage medium which is an acrylic adhesive of sorts which when it dries up is transparent. So what I ended up doing since I didn’t have Modge Podge is actually to use an acrylic white glue with a bit of water and that was what I used to coat it and sort of impregnate it into the canvas.

Vishal: Good old fans of ‘Art Attack‘ will be very familiar with this technique.

CanvasBoardMixedMedia 2

Samir: Exactly. So my piece includes the acrylic paints, the decoupage and then also some Posca Acrylic Paint Pens.

Vishal: Right, because when we covered the Poscas a few weeks ago, please check that episode out, we talked about how it was in essence a paint marker.

Minjal: I wanted to share how when you go to buy a canvas in an art shop, they will also try to sell you multiple things like a gesso, varnish, brushes, paints, fixatives, etc. and I think people sometimes tend to complicate canvas painting and this acts as a deterrent because you feel like maybe you’re not at a professional artist level to actually use canvas boards.

What is a Parabolic Curve?

Vishal: Speaking as someone who creates things in many mediums now over the years, the one thing I find common with a lot of creative mediums is that there is a parabolic curve. At the start you’re a novice and you just get a piece of canvas or a bed sheet or whatever and some kind of crayon or regular paints and you put it on. Then when you become a hobbyist and go into a store, the store’s entire purpose is in some ways not to sell you art things, it’s to sell you things.

It’s called, especially in photography circles, it’s called ‘gear acquisition syndrome’, where when you buy one camera, then you need two cameras, then you need a lens, and you need a tripod, then you need lighting, then you need a better computer to edit images, etc. And then the parabola comes back down to where you’re a professional or even an advanced hobbyist where sometimes you just pick up the one specific stationery object and one brush and two and a half colors, and the curve comes back down to enjoying things through simplicity.

Samir: And I think what we need to realize is that when we today are buying a canvas board that’s 45 rupees we are pretty much doing what someone else would have done 200 years ago which was doing a sketch on a bed sheet. Like this is cheaper than the bed sheet today.

Vishal: Yes, and we have no idea if this will archivally last.

Samir: So a lot of that equipment and add-ons and varnish and all of that which is being sold to you is more for when you’re using like a professional canvas which costs 20 times this and then you want it to last forever, you want it to be perfect, you want it to be protected.

Vishal: And they want to sell you some varnish!

Samir: So yes, we have been artistic, we have tried out the Kokuyo Canvas Boards. I definitely would like to do more on canvas, because like Vishal I’ve stayed away from it because it’s always had a certain amount of effort involved.

Vishal: And layout, I mean you have to have the water, the clean water, the brushes, everything has to be set up right, it takes a lot more than me just whipping out a sketchbook and your favorite pen and just going at it for 20 minutes. There is at least some kind of prep-up which is why people have studios.

Samir: But obviously the results have a certain finish to them that you just can’t get any other way.

Vishal: Even in something like calligraphy you may not enjoy all these textural bits but I really do! Even mine as much as it’s just kind of, it’s just thrown together, I do enjoy the chaos of a canvas board which I would not be able to get with any other medium including digital. Lot of people are digital painters now and yes, you can do wonderful things with that but I think once in a while you should get back to basics and paint some happy little clouds on canvas boards.

Minjal: So, the Kokuyo Canvas Board is definitely worth buying?

Samir: It’s worth it absolutely, because it’s just so inexpensive. And if you think that this is something that’s only for kids and not adult enough let me inform you that a canvas is called a canvas because it used to be made from hemp and the word comes from the same word as cannabis. So, there’s always that!

Vishal: On that note I don’t think we have anything else to add other than to please follow us on YouTube. Do subscribe to the Inky Memo newsletter where we have several tales of how stationery has been made, how it continues to innovate. We will continue to innovate in some form or the other with some kind of tool. So stay tuned for that.

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