Design Concepts – Rumpled Canvas

This will be the first of several articles on design concepts. As artists, we all use tailored ideas to make our art. Some we’ve gotten from others and made into our own. Others have been created from scratch. What makes them all valuable is how you as the artist perceive them and make them work for you. I love learning about how other artists work and experimenting with those ideas and combining them with other ideas to create new concepts.

The idea of a rumpled canvas is nothing new. But it can be intimidating if you’ve never worked with it before. The key thing to remember, is that its still a painting. Its no different from a flat canvas, with the exception that it gives you more than one dimension to work with. If you don’t have a good idea of how to use those dimensions to further the composition, then a rumpled canvas isn’t for you.

Fabric & Backing

There are no hard and fast rules to the type of fabric used for the canvas. Some fabrics work better than others. Stiffer fabrics create different effects than lighter materials might. I suggest using a common white house sheet, cut into sections for your first attempts. The material is easy to work with and no loss if you mess it up.

For backing I prefer using a hard board of some type, something that wont bend or warp.

Base Adhesive

For the first step, I use a simple mixture of flour, water, sugar and vinegar. I usually heat the water till boiling first, drop in the ingredients slowly and then use an electric beater to mix it until its a glue consistency without lumps.

After it cools, I bring it into my studio and let it cool until its just warm.

I cut my sheet to overlap the board by at least 6-8 inches, because your going to pull on the fabric and you want extra to work with.

Now comes the messy part. Take your fabric and thoroughly immerse it in the adhesive. Make sure that none of it is left dry or semi-dry. Its sometimes easier to wet your fabric prior to putting it in the glue. Now take the fabric and using your hands, wring out most of the adhesive, but not so completely that there is none left. What you want to avoid are large puddles of the stuff, pooling on your board.

Now lay the fabric out flat across the board totally covering it.

Now comes the creative part. What you do with it from here, is totally up to you. Pull at it, move it around, peak it. The possibilities are endless and its all in the design of what you want your canvas to look like.


Once you’ve got it into a formation that you like, then take some of your additional glue and make sure you’ve sealed down your edges. I just stick my hand in it and then run my fingers along the edges to make sure that nothing is left hanging in the wind.

The edges are the most difficult part. In some cases you may have no edges that overlap because the fabric is all on the board. In other cases you may have parts that overlap. Sometimes I let mine just hang and then cut them off when they are dry. Other times I overlap them around the board, but be careful to not let the fabric stick to your work table or surfact as it dries or you’ll rip it off the board.


Drying time takes up to two days depending on the temp and humidity of the room your working in. DO NOT attempt to work on the canvas until its completely dry. After a day, I sometimes take a hair dryer to the remaining damp areas and dry them that way, but don’t attempt this until most is dry because otherwise your hair dryer may peel back your fabric from the board.

Once dry, check the canvas out completely by running your fingers lightly across it. What your looking for are any areas that seem to not be stiffened by the first adhesive coat. If this happens, I suggest coating it with a light coat of mod podge or a spray adhesive, just to give it some added support.

Once totally dry, then you need to coat your canvas with a base coat, usually gesso or a related product. I sometimes substitute gesso for spray paint as I like the way I can get all the nooks and cranny’s coated. What your base is, is totally up to you. Once completed and dried, your canvas is ready for whatever you choose to put upon it. Here are three examples of rumpled canvas pieces that I’ve done. You can see how each is unique from the next even though they were all done on 2′ x 4′ board.


If you try these design ideas, please let me know how they worked out and what adaptations you created!

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