canvas trimmed too close....customer miffed


SGF, Supreme Grumble Framer
Jan 7, 2005
Had a canvas in two weeks ago. (Actually had several of these). This one she brought from the Ukraine. Wanted it re-stretched & framed. There was about 3/4" of edge to work with. Also the canvas edge was very very brittle, so I couldn't exert much pressure even with my fingers. It had slight waves in it after stretching. I was dissatisfied. Removed staples carefully & started over. Waves decrease ever so slightly. She came to pick it up today & asked about this. I explained that the edge was very brittle (rotten, more like it) & that I had little room to work with & using a tool was out of the question. She asked if I could redo it and overlap the edges of the painting on the stretcher bars. I told her that would crack the paint, possibly ruin the art & I didn't want to even try that. (Not to mention the fact that a new set of stretcher bars & a new frame would have to be ordered.) It actually didn't look that bad, especially since it had been rolled and handled so poorly before I got it. Was I wrong in what I did & how I handled customer? Is there some other method I could have employed here?
If the canvas is in decent shape you could dampen the back and when it dries it shrinks the canvas.
(I have only used this when nothing else worked and there was little chance of complete destruction)

Just had a customer this morning call to complain that her canvas wasn't "expertly" stretched. In the most non confrontational way I could, I told her how it was a very crappy quality canvas, the paint was still somewhat tacky and if she remebered at the time of design I warned her of the possibilites that it will be close to perfect but with no guarantee. I also added to bring it back and I would be happy to try and address her concerns.

She just asked if she could have a couple dollars off and then the room started spinning as my pent up aggresion pulsed into my brain.

I told her to bring them in for a looksey and money will not make her perceived problem disapear but I might be able to.

You are not alone.
We get a lot of “Island Art” i.e. oils that folks bring back from the Caribbean rolled up in a tube. Very often, perhaps because the artists don’t have the financial resources. or supplies are hard to get, or they don’t know any better, the canvas only has gesso on the image part of it. Clearly, the un-primed canvas can fray and tear with normal stretching tension.

We have a stated policy not to accept canvas for stretching unless it has at least 3/4” of canvas surrounding the image <u>and</u> that surrounding canvas is primed.

When the canvas fails either of those criterion, and, if the art is not priceless (it generally isn’t), we often suggest that they have it dry mounted. We always caution them that this is not the preferred way of doing it, but conventional stretching it will most likely ruin the piece.

Certainly, this is not the ideal way of mounting the canvas, but it may save a sale. Most people just want a reminder of their visit and don’t particularly care how it is mounted.
From a previous thread, where I was asking about a similar problem, ripples in a previously stretched canvas that I had just restretched. I asked about a spray on product called "Tighten-Up".

Well I ordered some, used it and it worked very well! Took all the ripples out and made it very tight. You might try it.....
okay, so I shouldn't feel like a hack. Thanks for the comments & advice. I feel like I should call her and explain more in depth, but I don't know what that will accomplish. She has an appointment for some family portraits with Derek next week, & I want to keep her happy, but I am not a magician either. Thanks again for all the input.
Tom, Do you spray it before or after stretching?
You also could sew a strip of linen canvas along the edges before stretching to be able to get a grip, however if the canvas is rotting you could end up tearing the painting if you exert too much pressure.

Also, you could suggest, if the painting is of little monetary value, mounting it instead of stretching it on strainers. Relatively simple and easier than dealing with a rotting canvas. Use an acid free fabric glue and a stiff acid free board (depending on the size even AF fom board may be enough. Weight the package as it dries so that it doesn't bow.

Of course you shouldn't do this unless you fully explain your process to the customer.

If the painting has significant monetary or sentimental value, send them to a conservator for relining/restoration.

Dave Makielski
A method that works well for such items has been discussed on here before. The Lebron stretcher or expandable bolt strecther could have been used in this case. It is great for older brittle or canvases that have less then desirable extra canvas for strecthing. The strecther is actually made a bit smaller then strecthed a bit looser then one would typical stretch. Then when finished you dial the corners out equally (keeping it in square). This allows one to work with canvases that have some issues. Now these do cost a little. And it takes a bit for one to do them themselves.
Hugh migh be able to suggestion someone in your area that does this possibly? I only know a gent in DC, but I am sure there are many more out there doing it this way. You could also consult with a conservator. Many of them use this method and maybe able to tell you how to construct these.
Patrick Leeland
Originally posted by Framing Goddess:
These restretch jobs typically turn out to be the biggest PIA's.

That's why I charge A LOT for these.

edie the justtryingtoCMA goddess
I couldn't agree more!

I had one customer recently who brought in 11 to be stretched! I really think I amm charging too little for stretching ($100). Considering that one has to build stretcher bars and the stretch the
darn thing (and yes, those Russian one are really a PITA to stretch).

What do others charge for say, a 30 x 40 piece??
If they complain about something I have previously told them was not going to be satisfactory but that I would do my best, then they get the canvas unstretched and returned and their money back. I have had to do this three times since I started in 1981. It is worth it to me to get them out of my hair and go back to money-making jobs. Lots of times they are just looking for a discount and it don't happen here. I'd rather give them their money back and end the angst early.
After stretching! Do'nt do it before!

Very easy to use. It comes a couple of ways...I bought the one quart spray bottle but I think you can also get it in gallons or bigger! Just squirt the back, or pour some in a cup and brush the back of the hard to get to corners. can't really hurt it by to much or to little. The first time I did it I was stingy with it and did'nt get the desired result so I went back and layed it on heavier and it worked like a charm. Did not hurt a thing!

I did it on two problem stretches and it worked great!

If you need a source just let me know...

I do the EXACT same thing with my own art, never a problem!

I have issues sometimes with putting a stretched piece in a tight frame. After the canvas clips are in I notice my canvas is loose due to the warping in of the stetcher bars. Spraying with a little water and even using a blow dryer on the back a bit really tightens up the canvas.

I never had a problem with this method and I suggest you, Mecianne, try this.

Just don't tell your customer you're doing this. They might freak.
Ok a coupel of things...

If the customer said that they wanted it stretched into the image and they knew that it could crack the paint why not go ahead and do it? Let's face it, the canvas really does not have any monetary value correct?

If you do stretch it intop the image then why would you have to order new stretcher bars and a new chop, the bars and chop would be smaller so you could take them apart and cut them down.

Now if this was a valuable canvas (like a Kinkade
) I may say otherwise but, it is from the Ukraine, it's probably not even on canvas but some low quality cloth.

Why do so many framers not do what the customer asks?????
Originally posted by DTWDSM:

Why do so many framers not do what the customer asks?????
Because of the many times a customer comes back and says: "Why did you let me do it this way?"

Often the customer does not have a clear mental image of what the result will look like, while the framer does. (after all, it's our job) Sometimes, they say, "I really don't care.", but later they do.
I have to caution you all about using a spray on the back of a painting! If you read the first post, she was said that the canvas edge was very very brittle, rotten, more like it. When the canvas is not in good condition, it should not be messed with, unless you are a conservator! If it shrinks too much, the canvas could rip, the paint could peel off the canvas. Spraying the island art is not reccomended.
Originally posted by Tom Partridge:
...Just squirt the back, or pour some in a cup and brush the back of the hard to get to corners. can't really hurt it by to much or to little...
We've had this discussion before -- you might want to check the archives.

Wetting the back of a canvas is very risky, and I would never do that. It may do no harm in some cases, or it may do great harm, depending on how the canvas was prepared prior to application of the paint layers. The problem is that the framer has no way to know how the canvas was prepared, or what concoctions may be lurking in the layers.

One hazard is that if the canvas shrinks and the other layers (including paint layers) do not, then the components of the painting may suffer a sort of de-lamination. The damage may not show up for months or years. But when it does, it is very difficult to fix. How would you re-attach a loosened paint layer without disturbing its surface appearance?

What do you tell the customer when she comes back in six months or a year with paint peeling off the canvas?

Artisteric said:
...I suggest you, Mecianne, try this. Just don't tell your customer you're doing this. They might freak.
A framer doing something possibly invasive at the customer's demand is one thing -- we at least have an opportunity to reason with her. But to do it without informing the customer seems like a recipe for disaster.
This is a very interesting thread and really illustrates how our personalities determine the way we approach things. Some of us have a "hands off" the art attitude and refer everything to a professional. Others are willing to try proven methods as long as no permanent damage will be done. The rest of us - Tom, artisteric, and myself will step out and try anything! Right or wrong, I have done these things to oils over the years - sprayed, heated, cleaned with linseed oil and cotton balls (and other solvents I won't even confess to), dry mounted, even gessoed torn canvas and touched up! :eek: :eek:
Why don't you all ask for a paintings conservator to give a class on the do's and don'ts of canvas stretching, and trouble shooting etc at one of the big trade shows like Vegas or Atlants?

Seems to me there is a need, and should be pretty easy to fill it.

I've attended three different classes with canvas conservators talking about how ro do a canvas and one actually stretched one. None of therm sealed the wooden stretchers bars and they all used foam board for solid backs. Read the CCI notes and you'll find disagreement. Sigh, who to follow? Maybe framers need to do their own guidelines for canvas, which we have done, but they badly need updating, which is in the works in the near future.
I think there will always be some difference of opinion on materials; my thoughts were more on technique, edge reinforcement methods, addressing the misting issue, how to identify probable/possible troublemakers.

Could certainly benefit have more than one conservator- round table type format- as there are no hard and fast answers to anything (IMO) but sharing of experience and techniques and pitfalls would be useful for framers - and conservators.

You make a good point about exposing framers to the knowledge and opinions of conservators. However, it seems that most conservators -- present company excluded, thank you -- are not interested in talking to the Great Unwashed population of framers. Unfortunately, their disrespect for us is occasionally justified.

The major trade shows do offer classes on preservation framing of all kinds, including the handling, stretching and framing of canvas art. And the instructors try to make a clear distinction between conservation treatment and preservation framing. Paul Storch, a specialist in object conservation, is a welcome addition to the WCAF and PPFA schedule.

The question of whether to use foam center board or fluted polypropylene is moot, when you consider that framers are still debating whether to make holes in a solid backer or leave a canvas back uncovered.

I think it is wise for framers to understand the resoning behind a conservator's informed opinion, so I often ask questions like this:

Rebecca, would you recommend that a framer apply water to the back of a canvas, or is that an invasive treatment better left to a conservator? Why or why not?
Originally posted by stshof:
..Others are willing to try proven methods as long as no permanent damage will be done...
As I see it, there is no problem with any method that is proven to work without invasive risk. The problem is with methods that are either unproven or proven to be invasive and risky.
Hi Jim -

re the water on the back no, I wouldn't recommend it, but that is because I don't know enough about the subject to know specifically when it might work and when it could lead to disaster. I just know it can lead to disaster, and there are likely better options out there. But I decided way back in conservation school that paintings were not for me!

But paper conservators often give courses in basic flattening, surface cleaning and repair methods to non-conservators working in "the field" - archives, preparation dept's of museums and galleries etc. So I don't see why painting's conservators wouldn't/couldn't do the same for framers re basic things like stretching. And more importantly, the reasons behind some of the the do's and don'ts, balancing risks and benefits. There are some very non-invasive techniques like loose linings that might solve some of the problems framers run into.

If you're ever interested, let me know and I'll drum up some names.

Thanks, Rebecca. Looks like we agree completely on this topic.

Some of us find conservators to consult on certain subjects, which is how I learned about the moisture sensitivity of hidden layers between the canvas and the paint. And of course we value your input on all matters of conservation. "I'm not sure about this" seems a better answer than "Let's see if it works again this time".

There certainly is value in having conservators teach framers, but few seem interested in doing that. Perhaps they fear that offering specific, limited information could unleash a batch of loose cannons. To wit: framers who are confident that wetting the back of a canvas is OK porobably would not be interested in learning more on that subject.

As it is, framers (such as I) often know just enough to be dangerous. I think it is important to make a clear distinction between conservation treatment and preservation framing, and conservation classes could make that distinction fuzzy.

Specifically on the topic of stretching and framing canvas paintings, framers can learn a lot by studying the "CCI Notes", which seems to be generally regarded as the best source of information at this time.
Could this product -really- work better than just water? Is it archival? Isn't the point of the product to just dry tighter? Have had very good success with plain water.
Could this product -really- work better than just water?
I'd bet money that it's alcohol or a similar surfactant. By lowering the water tension, it allows it to spread out and soak into stuff better. It makes the water wetter.

I still don't think I'd use it, mostly for the reasons that Rebecca put so well.

Is it archival?
What does that mean? Anything like acid free?
archival = conservation quality

“When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean … neither more nor less.” – Humpty Dumpty