Knot-riddled stretcher strips

Art supplies are absurdly expensive. Artists have to pay Cadillac and boutique prices regardless of the quality of the goods, which varies widely. What’s worse is the cynicism of manufacturers. You can buy ‘genuine copal varnish’ that contains no copal–none.  You can buy ‘genuine flake white’ that contains no lead–none.  The list can go on and on. And as soon as a manufacturer establishes a reputation for high quality, their prices go through the roof. You can easily spend $200 for a single tube of paint.

High prices for inferior products is normal. This is especially true for stretcher strips. Fredrix is the dominate player here and their stuff is crap–I stopped buying their products long ago.  Too many expensive heady-duty stretcher strips split on me. And their pre-stretched canvases are student-grade junk at premium prices. Artists have to stay alert for deals and sales. Thank God for the web!

My rule of thumb for stretcher strips has been to use heavy-duty strips for canvases larger than 36″ on a side. Below that size, regular strips are OK. The good news here is that prices are still reasonable. Quality isn’t as much of a concern as it is for the larger sizes. You almost never see a warped strip and the problems that bedevil larger strips–knots and joins–are rarely seen. Strips can split at knots and joins under the tension of the canvas.  Joins are especially to be avoided.  Fredrix is notorious for having joins in their large-size, heavy-duty strips. I won’t buy them any more, like I said.

For canvases larger than 5′ on a side I build my own stretchers from 2×2’s and pieces of trim. Most of my paintings are in the 3′-5′ range, so I use a lot of heavy-duty stretchers.

I recently purchased enough heavy-duty strips for 12 paintings; 6 @ 36″ x 48″. 6 @ 40″ x 50.” I got a good deal from Jerry’s Artarama ($275 for the lot plus cross braces and free shipping). The strips are Pro Strips from Creative Mark. Creative Mark manufacturers a wide-variety of products; some good, some not. I reviewed their brushes before. I’ve used Pro Strips before and was satisfied with their quality. You can easily pay twice as much or more for comparable merchandise from other suppliers.

Knot-riddled stretcher strips

Knot-riddled stretcher strips

I was dismayed to discover that this batch is absolutely riddled with knots. The 40″ x 50″ stretcher in the photo is one of the better ones, with only 3 knots (highlighted in the photo)! Thankfully, there are no joins in any of them. Once again, a manufacturer’s cynicism is on display.

I will try to use these stretchers; indeed, I’ve already stretched one painting. I’m hoping that their relative small size and the cross braces will prevent failure. To make matters worse, because of the shallowness of the top lip, I have to make these canvases especially taunt in order to prevent the canvas from sagging against the cross brace. We’ll see.

I might have to change my rule of thumb and start building my own stretchers for anything larger than 36″ on a side.

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