Painting Canvas Edges

Painting Canvas Edges

A question from a viewer asks, "How do you finish the edges of your canvases?" There are two options for finishing canvas edges:

  1. Continue the image from the front around the edges.
  2. Paint the edges another color.

I opt for the latter and paint my edges black. You can paint them any color of course, but my recommendation is a medium to dark grey or black. Leaving the edges a lighter color leaves them prone to finger and hand prints, and other blemishes show more easily on light colored edges. Which ever option you choose, aim for consistency so that all the edges are treated the same. This approach shows consistency and professionalism whenever you have a grouping of paintings in an exhibition. Nothing looks worse than having your canvas edges all treated differently with multi-colored edges.

You will need two things to make the job of finishing your edges easy: a 1 or 1-1/2" wide nylon bristle brush and soft body (pourable consistency) paint. The nylon brush provides a sharp, flexible edge and the paint is soft enough to easily create a bead of paint that can be worked down the edge of the canvas.

Some artists will mask off the edges of their canvas with painting or artist's tape so that no other paint gets on them during the painting process. I actually like it when some of the gesso and paint roll over onto the edges. This to me is a reflection of the messiness of my painting process. For me, it would be inconsistent with my process to mask the edges. But it may work great for you.

I begin with the canvas mounted on screws on the wall. The screws in my setup are screwed into 1x2 wood strips mounted to the walls in my studio that I use as a hanging system. I hang the canvas on the screws and rotate the canvas around to paint all the edges. This is a great system because the canvas is stable and is not sitting on a surface, nor do I have to try to hold it in with one hand while trying to paint it with the other. You can replicate my system by putting screws into your wood easel and hanging your canvas from the them. The canvas then does not have to sit on the easel, allowing you to rotate it around to paint all the edges.

I begin by painting a corner, then work the paint along the back edge of canvas working all the way down, leaving about 1/4" or so of the front edge unpainted. I then get more paint on the brush and begin the front edge. I develop a bead of paint and run it down the edge until the paint runs out. I then grab more paint and continue until the edge is complete. It is really easy once you get the hang of it. It is just like painting wood trim in your house. Try to keep the edge as straight as possible and don't get too much on the front surface. It's a balancing act that takes a few tries to get the hang of. After a few canvases you'll be a pro.