Tuesday, February 17, 2009

PT3: Twin Brooks Stretchers

I was asked, "What makes these stretcher bars so special?" And so I felt compelled to give a review:

I heard about Twin Brooks Stretchers a while from my colleagues, and they came highly recommended. While I can paint a figure like no body's business, I admit, I'm not the best carpenter. I wanted a museum-quality support for my new work, something that I could feel comfortable selling with confidence. I was also in a hurry to make the most of my sabbatical and found, to my great joy, that they could have my stretchers ready in a few days.

When I arrived yesterday Chris Polson and Joe Calderwood greeted me. Chris gave the full tour and the shop was quite impressive. Again, I'm no woodworker, so I won't embarrass myself trying to recount the details of their superior setup. Here are some photos instead:

I will try to explain the basics. To the laymen, a stretcher is the basic skeletal support that a painting is put over. It is "stretched" over it like a drum. Accordingly, in our comment usage, we refer to any underlying support as a "stretcher." To the aficionado, a true stretcher is movable support that can expand and contract with a painting to compensate for the natural expansion that occurs with environmental temperature and humidity. (The sense of stretching comes from behind, not over the top.) Most of what contemporary artists are taught to make are simple unmovable frames, or “strainers” that are glued together at the seams. Building an actual stretcher is beyond the knowledge I care to achieve, when I can leave it to the experts.

Chris patiently explained the mechanics of not only the assembly to me, but also the manipulation. When the canvas is stretched to be primed, the stretcher is pulled together at the corners by these nifty fasteners. As the primer dries, the canvas loosens. This often creates a floppy surface, leaving the artist with the simple frame-strainer with the longing, “ if I only pulled a little tighter during the stretching.” Sadly it’s only fighting against nature, and as Chris explained, those using linen should expect even less ability to pull tight, and more slack after drying. With these stretchers, the corners can be expanded after drying to pull up the slack to as tight a surface as is desired. I’ll spare you further detail, but they can also be shifted to compensate for almost any type of natural warping or torque.

I assembled all three of my new 58 x87 inch stretchers today, and the process was completely painless. Although I admit that I enjoy the challenge of assembling Ikea furniture, this was much, much easier. It took maybe two hours, and I didn’t have to wear protective goggles. or worry about the safety of my fingers. So three cheers for Twin Brooks!

I'll let you read about their Eco-friendly Aspen for yourself, and see photos of the nifty hardware:


mimicvii said...

Wow, the corner joint contraption looks impressive. Did you also get their "super dooper stretcher pliers"? I never used canvas pliers back in the day, but my hands sure did pay the price. =P

Also, doesn't the act of priming the canvas do just the opposite? Doesn't it tighten the canvas as it dries? The same way cotton clothing shrinks after the first wash.

Joel Michael said...

Ooh. That's nifty. Reminded me of many uneasy moments with power tools in the basement of the Rike.

Begnaud said...

Whoa, I'm slow on the reply and the updates. The canvas tightens a lot when its wet, but somehow the acrylic gesso leaves it much looser when it dries. I remember rabbit skin glue leaving it tighter, but I've given up on the old tech. The theory is when the acrylic dries, it more or less stays the same from then on out while the rabbit glue will change more with moisture.

Well, the update is my first canvas was very loose after three coats of gesso, and I successfully tightened it, so the joints work. As to the pliers, I have no idea what the advantage is over the old grab/lever pliers. I'll have to ask for the demo next trip up.