The Apprentice – Session One

Forget expensive gyms and personal trainers, just try canvas stretching instead!

After my first three-hour session as Alice White’s apprentice, I feel fitter than ever. Do you know that pleasant heaviness of the muscles that reminds you that you have done a good job? Yes, that’s what I am feeling as I type this, and I am thoroughly looking forward to the next session! Time went very quickly as Alice and I went through all the stages of canvas stretching for her new huge (A0 size), glamorous project: a portrait of a flamboyant singer against an intricate mural that includes Elizabethan, North African and Islamic motifs, created especially for this project.

Before we started I had a chance to look around her studio and take everything in: old and new paintings, comic strips, an old wooden rocking moose, photographs, spray paint, lists, books, sketches. It felt like getting into Alice’s brain and have a peek from its balcony (if there was one). 


After a snack and a chat we got started. I had to familiarise myself with some new tools that I’d never touched before, including a big scary stapler that I could not get to shoot properly (ahhh, is this going to get my finger? Ahhh, is this straight? Oh no, not again at an angle!). Some swearing later…and I am firing away like it was second nature.


First, we stripped off the old canvas from the frame (yanking away the material is ideal if you need to let some steam off). Then we cut the new canvas to measure so we could start stapling it to the frame. This is quite tricky and you have to follow a certain system: corners first, then middle of each side, making sure you alternate between opposite sides, and then carry on in equal steps until you feel the canvas has been stretched enough (It makes a funny sound too, I am pretty sure you could play it). Corners are very important as they can compromise the way the painting will look once it is hung on the wall. I can tell you I am never going to look at a painting in the same way, get those corners right, artists!

Last but not least, we primed the canvas with a top-of-the-range primer. This is quite relaxing; it reminded me of priming furniture with my uncle when I was a kid, it made me daydream a bit. Still, you need to work quick before it dries, alternating horizontal and vertical strokes to follow the structure of the material, making sure there are no patches. Crazy to think that all this takes place before you even get started with your painting!

At some point during the job, it occurred to me: ‘why not buying a pre-stretched/pre-primed canvas, Alice?’ (you better have a good answer for this) – ‘Because I can decide what material to use, and what primer I want to paint on, it makes a big difference to the way the paint sticks and feels whilst you are working’. Good point. So I carry on, confident that I am contributing to a piece of art that will be incredibly vibrant with colour, a proper Alice White’s piece.

You can follow our artistic adventures on Twitter at: @alicewhiteart @larobby @daisy_beau

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