Frequently
Asked
Questions

Art Alternatives Frequently Asked Questions FAQ

Canvas & Surfaces

What is canvas weight and why does it matter?

The weight of artist canvas is commonly expressed as ounces per square yard (oz) or grams per square meter (gsm). A canvas label may list pre-prime, after-prime, or both weights. Since these two weights can vary greatly from one another, it is extremely important to know how these weights are measured and which you are looking at when comparing canvases.

Pre-primed weight is the weight of the raw canvas before any sizing or gesso is applied, and is determined by the thickness of the yarns, the thread count, and the type and tightness of the weave.

Lightweight canvas generally has an open weave and a fine yarn. It is easier to stretch but is more susceptible to fluctuations in tension in either humid or dry conditions. Heavier canvas has a higher thread count, a tighter weave and is generally longer lasting. It will better support heavier paint applications and will better handle re-stretching due to its greater tear strength.

After-primed weight is the weight of the canvas after sizing and gesso have been applied. The number and thickness of the applied coats will affect the final weight, and can account for up to half of the after-prime weight. Since priming methods can vary between factories and machines, after-prime weight will vary between brands and even between canvases of the same brand.

Due to this variation, it is important to ensure that you are only comparing pre-primed weight to pre-primed weight and after-primed weight to after-primed weight when considering a canvas purchase and deciding between the various brands. In general, light-weight canvas before priming is about 4 oz or 5 oz; medium-weight is about 7 oz or 8 oz; and heavy-weight is about 10 oz or 12 oz.Art Alternatives canvas are color coded to make it easier to select the surface that's right for your project: Yellow denotes our Economy lines. These are made with light weight materials designed for classroom or volume use.

Aqua denotes our Classic lines. These are our most popular surfaces, made with light-to-medium-weight materials, slightly thicker stretcher bars and are available in the widest range of sizes. These canvases work well for decorative, craft, school and as a value-priced option for fine art work. Orange denotes our Heavy lines. As the name implies, these are made with heavy weight canvas and our thickest stretcher bars. These canvases are designed to last. Add link to "Which canvas is right for you?"

Why would I want to re-stretch a canvas?

The two most common reasons canvases are re-stretched are:

  • To prevent damage in shipping: Stretched canvas, especially large sizes, can be very expensive to ship and is quite fragile in transit. For these reasons, galleries and artists will sometimes remove the canvas from the frame, roll it up and ship it; re-stretching the canvas when it reaches its destination.
  • To correct surface tension or an issue with the frame: Changes in the environment can affect the tension of a canvas. Stretching and storing a canvas in a humid climate, for instance, and shipping it to a dry climate can loosen the canvas.
Why is my canvas warped? How do I fix a warped canvas?

Canvas and wood are both natural products affected by environmental conditions. Wood is inherently susceptible to fluctuations in moisture and heat. While we have set up QC checks and have strict controls in the factories, we cannot totally prevent this from occurring as long as we use these natural materials. A canvas that may have been perfectly square at the factory or when sent out from our warehouse may still warp. This is true of all brands and styles of canvas.

Art Alternatives stretcher bars are kiln-dried until their moisture content is minimal, making them as stable as possible before the canvas is attached. Still, even small changes in humidity can twist the bars, taking the canvas out of square. The best solution is to work and exhibit in a controlled environment. We recommend storing canvas upright in a temperate moisture-controlled room. Leaning canvas against a wall will eventually cause the frame to permanently lean. Just hanging a canvas on an exterior wall of a house can lead to it warping over time, as the canvas expands with moisture or dries and shrinks with heat.

Most warped canvases can be corrected by framing them in a sturdy frame. Mounting plywood or MDF to the back of a canvas is another option; both full panels and triangle corner braces have been effective. Some artists use metal braces from a hardware store to reinforce warped bars. Still other artists wet the stretcher bars and weigh the painting down with weights until the canvas has returned to its original flat shape. Sometimes the only solution is to remove the painting and re-stretch it.

What's the best way to store stretched canvas?

Canvas and wood are natural materials which will move and adjust over time in reaction to environmental changes such temperature and moisture. Thinner and lighter weight materials are more susceptible and even very wet or thick washes of paint can be enough moisture to cause a reaction in the canvas. It is therefore important to choose the right surface for your project and painting style.

No matter what type of canvas you choose, here are some tips for keeping your canvas square, straight and tight over time:

  • Do not store stretched canvas in a garage, shed, or other non-temperature-controlled space. Even in your house, hang or store it away from outside walls.
  • Store canvas vertically. Canvases leaning at angle against a wall may warp over time. Storing canvas horizontally will cause it to sag.
  • Store canvases face to face or back to back, as stretcher bars can leave impressions or stains on a stretched canvas surface.
  • Consider framing finished artwork. The frame not only protects the canvas edges but it will help prevent it from warping over time.
Why must an additional ground be added on the Art Alternatives Classic Linen Canvas for use with oil?

We suggest applying another coat of primer when using oils on Art Alternatives linen canvas because the clear gesso isn't 100% impermeable; there is a possibility that oil or solvents could seep through the gesso layers. If oil or solvent comes into contact with the fibers of the canvas, the canvas may decay over time, compromising the integrity of the artwork. An additional ground offers adequate adhesion, absorption and a protective barrier that makes the canvas archival.

This is especially important if you work with very fluid washes of solvent and oil color since a mixture with low viscosity may penetrate tiny holes in the gesso surface. For best results, we recommend a ground containing calcium carbonate and titanium dioxide. For the oil artist who wishes to use a clear gesso, we recommend Art Alternatives Clear Acrylic Gesso.

Or, if you don't mind that the painting won't last forever, you can go ahead and paint on it as is.

Drafting

How do I use a lead pointer? How do I sharpen the lead?

On the top of the lead pointer, there are two small holes with the little arrows next to them. One hole has a sharp pointed arrow next to it and the other has a blunt tipped arrow. These are used to set how much of the lead should be exposed for sharpening, depending on how sharp of a point you want. Select which hole you want to use and place your lead holder over the hole with the lead hanging down inside. Push down on the top button of your lead holder to release the lead so that it falls down to the bottom of the hole. Then release the button to lock the lead in place.

Now it's sharpening time! Place the lead holder with the exposed lead into the large opening on top of the lead pointer. There is a small hole at the bottom that the lead extending from the lead holder should go through. Hold the base of the lead pointer still and turn the lead holder (which will also cause the lid of the lead pointer to spin). You should be able to hear and feel the lead rubbing against the abrasive metal piece inside. Once your point is sharpened, use the white foam piece on the top to clean any extra graphite off your point.

Easels

Do you sell replacement parts for your easels?

We don't sell replacement parts for Art Alternatives easels. We do offer hardware and spare pieces as we are able free of charge to keep the easels in working order. Please contact us with any issues.

How do I remove ghost marks from the whiteboard on the Art Alternatives Children's Easel?

There are a few different methods you can try, depending on how stubborn the stain. We recommend trying each of these methods on a small test area first. Avoid using abrasive cleaners as the whiteboard surface will become microscopically rough and retain "ghost marks" the next time it is erased, making it more difficult to clean in the future.

One method involves a magic eraser sponge, like those made by Mr. Clean®. These erasers alone or combined with the cleansers listed below can be used to completely remove stains from the whiteboard.

90% Isopropyl alcohol is effective in removing stains from a whiteboard surface, as are solutions of vinegar or baking soda dissolved in water. To clean the whiteboard, thoroughly wet a soft lint-free cloth with alcohol and wipe a small section of the board. While the board is still wet, wipe it dry with a clean, dry cloth. Rinse the cloth in warm water and wring it dry. This process should be repeated until the entire board is clean.

You may also wish to try the dry erase marker method. This involves completely writing over the stained area and allowing the ink to dry for a few seconds to prevent smearing, then rubbing the ink away using a dry lint-free or microfiber cloth. If the stain is set well, repeat this process a few times and use more pressure while wiping. To prevent stains from settling in again rub a light layer of mineral oil or a spray-and-wipe style wax over the surface with a cloth. This will help seal the whiteboard surface.

Paint & Gesso

Can Art Alternatives gesso be thinned?

Art Alternatives gesso can be thinned with either an acrylic medium (recommended) or water, not exceeding 25%. For either option, pour the gesso into another container before mixing to avoid contamination.

My gesso has developed a bad odor. Why is this and what should I do?

A strong odor is a symptom of bacteria growth in your gesso. To ensure the archivalness of your painting, we recommend disposing of gesso that has developed an odor or changed colors.

To prevent contamination, never dip paint brushes or tools (even a clean ones) into the jar. It is best to pour the amount of gesso you need into a separate container and always dispose of the leftover gesso (do not put it back in the original container). Check that the jar is tightly capped between uses and store in a cool dry area.

There's mold on top of my gesso. Is it ok to scrape it off and continuing using?

No. If you discover any mold or other bacterial growth inside the jar, immediately dispose of it. Although it's possible to scrape off the visible layer, it's quite possible that there are additional non-visible spores in the gesso that could become a problem in the jar or even on a painting down the road.

The leading cause of mold or fungus growth is contamination usually by wet brushes or water being placed inside the gesso container. Any bacteria in the water can become an issue over time, particularly if left in a warm wet place which would encourage the growth.

To avoid contamination, never dip paint brushes or tools (even a clean ones) into the jar. It is best to pour the amount of gesso you need into a separate container and always dispose of the leftover gesso (do not put it back in the original container). Check that the jar is tightly capped between uses and store in a cool dry area.

The gesso I applied to my canvas is cracking. How do I avoid this?

Art Alternatives gesso is designed to be applied in multiple thin layers. The most common causes of cracking are:

  • Too much gesso was applied in one layer
  • Too little dry time between coats. Keep in mind that as multiple coats are applied, drying time extends.
Can gesso be used to create texture without cracking?

Art Alternatives gesso is made to surround and seal canvas fibers, creating a protective layer between the canvas and the paint. It isn't intended for use as an impasto medium or to create texture. Properly applied in mulitple thin layers, the gesso should not crack.

I've heard that PVA in gesso may cause paint to peel, crack or flake off a canvas. Does Art Alternatives Gesso contain PVA?

Art Alternatives gesso is an acrylic resin which does contain PVA. In general, acrylics are superior resins. This is because they form "harder" films which will not degenerate with water submersion. Most PVAs will yellow. Our acrylic, and most others, are non- yellowing; an important characteristic in gesso and white paints.

Painting Accessories

The rubber gasket in my Art Alternatives Stainless Steel Brush Washer is swollen and won't fit in the lid. What happened and what do I do?

The gasket can swell in reaction to a variety of environmental issues - the most significant of which are direct sunlight and prolonged solvent exposure (as would happen if the brush washer were carried upside down or on it's side). Although the gaskets provide a tight seal, we still recommend caution in transport - treating it similar to the way you would a travel mug of coffee - it's fine if it gets tipped but carry and store it upright to minimize any possibility of leaking.

The gasket will return to normal size if left out in a cool dry space for a few days. If it still will not fit back in the lid, please contact us directly for a replacement.

Pen & Markers

Can I use No-Shellac India Black Ink in my good fountain pen?

The Pen & Ink No-Shellac India Black Ink can be used in basically any fountain pen. Clogging is generally caused by the addition of shellac to certain inks. To explain a little further, normal fountain pen ink (dyestuff ink) is made using dyes that are soluble in water. They give nice bright colors but they have the disadvantage that they are not waterproof when dry, nor are they very light resistant and will fade in time. So for artistic use dyestuff inks are not suitable.

However, if shellac is added to the formulation this will protect the dried ink and make it waterproof. Unfortunately when the shellac dries in the feed of a fountain pen it blocks the fine channels, and as it is waterproof you cannot wash it out.

The Pen & Ink No-Shellac India Black Ink product is not a dyestuff ink, rather it is a pigmented ink. The difference is that the pigment is not soluble but in suspension and once it has dried on paper it is waterproof and light fast.

How do I fill an ink converter?

Use the Pen & Ink converter pump as an alternative to the ink cartridges. Fill it with ink from a bottle by depressing the pump lever, dipping the converter mouth into the ink and drawing ink into the pump. Insert the converter pump into the pen barrel and attach the nib section.

How do I care for my Pen & Ink or Calligraphy Set pens?

Wash the nib occasionally under lukewarm running water. Do not use with waterproof ink. Replace the cap after use and store your pen upright.

Sketch Books

What is the difference between "acid-free," "archival" and "pH neutral"?
ph scale

All of these terms refer to values on the pH scale, a standard, scientific scale from 0 to 14 used to measure the level of acid in a substance. Values between 0 and 7 are considered acidic and values higher than 7 are basic (alkaline).

"Acid-free" means that an item has a pH of 7 or slightly higher. "pH Neutral" means that an item has a pH of 7. It is not considerd acidic or alkaline. Over time, acids in a material will cause yellowing, staining, and deterioration (think of an old newspaper). Some materials (such as cotton) are naturally acid-free. Wood pulp (used to make most papers) is naturally acidic. Buffering agents are often added to adjust the ph of the paper, making it "ph neutral." This however does not make it acid-free and these papers could still deteriorate or yellow over time if the acid remaining in the sheet or formed during aging exceeds the capacity of the buffering agents.

"Archival" means that a material is suitable for long term display and storage. It should not contain acid or degrade over time. However, this term does not refer to an industry standard and has been loosely used by many manufacturers.

Art Alternatives sketch books are acid-free. They are made from wood pulp that has been buffered to remove the naturally occuring acids.

Tapes

What's the best tape to use for framing artwork?

The Art Alternatives White Artist's tape and the Art Alternatives Framer's tape are excellent choices for framing. Both are hand tear-able and ph neutral. The Artist's tape is a paper tape whose other main feature is that it is re-positionable, leaving no residue. The Framer's tape is a polyethylene coated cloth tape that is a bit more durable over time.

Neither will damage artwork; the main consideration when deciding between the two is timeframe. If you are going to mount the piece and never adjust or remove it, Framer's tape is your best bet. If you may want to adjust the piece or change the frame or mat, Artist's tape is an excellent choice.

What is the difference between "acid-free" and "pH neutral"?
Acid Chart

Both terms refer to values on the pH scale, a standard, scientific scale from 0 to 14 used to measure the level of acid in a substance. Values between 0 and 7 are considered acidic and values higher than 7 are basic (alkaline).

"Acid-free" means that an item has a pH of 7 or slightly higher. "pH Neutral" means that an item has a pH of 7. It is not considerd acidic or alkaline. Over time, acids in a material will cause yellowing, staining, and deterioration (think of an old newspaper). Some materials (such as cotton) are naturally acid-free. Wood pulp (used to make most papers and paper-based tapes) is naturally acidic. Buffering agents are often added to adjust the ph of the paper, making it "ph neutral." This however does not make it acid-free and these papers could still deteriorate or yellow over time if the acid remaining in the sheet or formed during aging exceeds the capacity of the buffering agents. Art Alternatives Artist tape and pH-Neutral Masking tapes use buffered papers and are pH-Neutral. Art Alternatives Framer's tape is acid-free as it does not contain acidic materials.

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