How should an artist finish the back of their canvas for a gallery

I am trying to figure out how to finish the back of my canvas professionally. Any help would be great

Question 1
To present it professionally does the artist need to do anything special such as use brown paper and staple to the back or leave it without a backing?

Question 2
Does the color extend all the way to the very back of the canvas or should one paint it white? I know the edges are to be colored with black or wrap the color around but the very back always has messy paint, should anything be done with this area?

Question 3
Also, where ideally would the artist place information such as title and signature, size on the lip of the canvas on the back or anywhere on the canvas backing, and is that ideally done in a micron pen?

Thank you for your help.

Hi Roe, I think I can answer two of your questions and will check back to see what others say about question 3. I wonder about that as well.
Question 1. I do not do anything to the back of the canvas except trim any excess folded bits to be all about the same size.
Question 2. Always neaten up the folded edges with white gesso or white paint so it looks clean. This was drilled into us at a workshop years ago and has stuck with me. It does really look so much better.
Happy painting, Barb

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Hi Barb
Thanks so much for responding, this is a real help. Let me know when you have some information on how to sign the back of the canvas with title etc…and if it is in mirco pen or another type.

I have one other question would you know how to safely transport canvas to a art show without them getting damaged? I have damaged so many of them.

I have card board corner on the canvas now but they will not stay on and keep falling off. I read somewhere to use parchment paper and tape it over the front and then place it in bubble wrap

All help is greatly appreicated.

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I paint on primed and gessoed hardboard. I coat the back, white. I write the title and location on the back and my website address. I also write a couple of sentences about, the painting or location or experience while painting there. I paint on location. Collectors love that there is a message on the back of my work. It feels personal. Hope that helps.

Thanks that is interesting about writing about the peice

How large are the canvases you are talking about?
Are they gallery wrapped (finished folded canvas sides meant to be painted) or a standard type meant to be framed?
What are the measurements of the stretcher bars? ie; 3/4", 1", 1.5", 2’ ?

It makes a difference for the answer.

Hi David
I have a range of sizes from 16x12 ,16x20,18x24 and 20x20 they are Michaels Artists 1 and Artist 2 canvas. Not framed they are meant to be painted.

And would you know a nice safe easy way to transport them? How would you wrap them for transport?

Thanks for your help

What type of board do you use?

I use hardboard or what is sometimes called masonite. I buy big sheets and cut them to size. I seal with gak, then apply 2 coats of primer, like Zisser. Lightly sand, then a coat of gesso, sand again and apply final coat. Then I tint with a transparent color. Hope that helps

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Thank you for sharing that info!

If you prefer to extend the background color to the back, ensure that it’s done neatly and uniformly. However, leaving it white or a neutral color is a common practice. This helps keep the back of the canvas looking clean and professional.
With Question 3, I think placing the information on the lip of the canvas is a popular choice. This keeps the information discreet and close to the artwork. You can also include this information on the backing paper you attach to the back of the canvas. This is useful if you want to keep the front of the canvas completely free of any distractions. I find using a Micron pen or other archival-quality pen is great. These pens are fade-resistant and provide a professional look.

Thank you for answering my questions. I always thought the excess paint on the very back of the canvas looked unprofessional so I will be painting it white to have it have the clean look. Over the years I have tried many pens I will retry the mirconpen.

You have been a great help

Many artists choose to leave the back of the canvas clean, without any backing. This is a minimalist approach and is suitable when the back won’t be visible, such as when the canvas is framed. If you go this route, ensure that any excess staples or rough edges are neatly trimmed and the stretcher bars are well-assembled. Besides, I think attaching a sheet of acid-free brown kraft paper to the back of the canvas provides a clean and professional appearance. This not only covers the staples and stretcher bars but also adds a layer of protection against dust and debris.

I apologize for missing this. For some reason I thought I would get notification emails for questions directly to me.
Your original questions:

  1. Professionally it is always a good idea to present work as clean as possible, framed or unframed.
    Larger stretched canvas’s, roughly 24x36", are typically not covered on the back with paper and that is considered acceptable. Smaller, as the ones you indicated in your second comment, could go either way.
    If it were me I would make sure the sides are cleanly painted either the ‘image’ wrapping around or the nearest color on the sides. What I mean is if the painting is comprised of a lot of darks I would not paint it white. Too stark. But is a personal preference somewhat and one that is driven by what makes the painting look best, present the image without distraction.
    The same with framing. A frame that overpowers the art in some way defeats its purpose.
    Let that mindset determine how you frame, not frame, paint sides etc.
    Professional minded, so do not use sawtooth hangars.

  2. Do not worry about painting the back. the ‘messy’ back, paint that gets on it during painting is part of the process and galleries aren’t going to be concerned about it as long as none of that ‘messiness’ shows around the sides where it counts. Others might disagree but my experience has been as long as it looks professional once it is hung that is enough. No sense in doing a lot of needless busy work.

  3. Info? Do NOT write it on the back of the canvas itself, meaning the part of the canvas with the ‘image’ (backside). If it is written in pen it might bleed through eventually.
    Write that info and sign if you want on the back of the stretchers but on the canvas itself (the part of the canvas that wraps over the stretcher bars). If it is covered in paper it won’t show but will always be with the painting and never lost. You can repeat that info on the paper backing but still always write it on the canvas on the stretcher bars.
    Why on the canvas part and not the stretcher bars? If the painting ever needed to be re-stretched (by someone else years later) and it was done on new stretcher bars that info is now lost. Done by the artist originally it is part of its provenance.
    You can use pen but keep in mind pen, other than real india ink, is not permanent. Not even permanent ink is permanent. Pencil will last for centuries. Or use paint for the same reason.

The most important thing to remember and do not vary in this.
I was just in a gallery recently viewing a show and one of the artists in the show was there removing plastic and those cardboard corners from the painting. They had stuck to the surface of painting during transport. The essentially painting was ruined, needing a fair amount of re-painting to fix it. Needless to say it did not get hung in the show.

Mine are usually framed but either way I always make a cardboard box or sleeve for that painting specifically. On that takes the framed or unframed work snug and has a lid so nothing can touch the painted surface.
I then wrap that in plastic so if the package gets wet the art is still protected.
A large paint, instead of cardboard I would use luan wood from a building supply. It is sturdier than cardboard for larger sizes. You are doing the same type of box/crate but it’s not as flimsy as cardboard.

Oh my gosh, I cannot thank you enough. You have explained everything in detail which has made it easy for me to understand.

I have a question on the cardboard boxes, where do you get them from? I have been placing corners on and then I have been wrapping my art in tissue paper and then placing them in bubble wrap sleeves. Similar to that one artist you were describing and had ruined their painting

Not ideal but I didn’t know what else to do. Would be quite interested in knowing where to obtain cardboard boxes that fit all different size canvas

Also, do you place a certificate of authenticity with your painting ? And if so how do you adhere it to the back of the painting ?

Thank you for all your responses. You have been a tremendous help.

I get cardboard boxes from from a variety of sources. When you have to be budget minded you can often get them from stores.
Sometimes I can get them from local stores from their own orders. One local pharmacy store throws them out back to be recycled. When I am in need I will watch for them to get them as fresh as possible. You can also just ask them when they get typically get orders delivered.
These often are blank, no printing on them because the smaller ones are boxes that were inside of larger boxes. The larger boxes are the ones that are dirty from shipping but the interior ones are clean enough for my need. They have emptied them of dry products for their shelves. I don’t get boxes from grocery stores or any source that could be wet goods.
With these smaller ones I can modify them, cut them down to size, to fit the painting.
Sometimes there are cardboard sheets I can use as well. They were dividers or sheets between layers.
For home storage larger paintings I have gone to Electronics stores and grabbed TV boxes to keep them in. They are the right proportions generally and it keeps them dust free.

You can also buy cardboard online. Google cardboard boxes and cardboard sheets.
U-line is a good one for both boxes and sheets meant for shipping, They are blank, no printing.
It is not hard to make a box from a sheet to fit a painting. It doesn’t have to be perfect as long as it protects the painting, the frame and keeps anything from touching the painted surface.
Remember, you can wrap that box in plastic, a plastic bag (from the dry cleaners for larger ones?) to protect it from water, and wrap it in bubble wrap for shipping, putting all that in a box to be shipped.

One note on shipping:
ALWAYS write the “To:” and “From:” on the box that contains the painting, the interior box wrapped in plastic and bubble wrap.
Why? Sometimes shipping boxes get destroyed or addresses get obliterated and then can’t be sent or returned in the middle of being shipped. I know this because I have received show paintings for The National Watercolor Society from all over the world for their shows. I have seen boxes torn to pieces and taped back together by the shipping company. It was a miracle the addresses were still legible otherwise they go into some warehouse and maybe identified and claimed through a search by the sender.
I have also seen post from other artists on Instagram who have had art sent to a gallery for their show get LOST, and never found.
It may not happen often but it is a simple thing to do and is your safety net. Any box obliterated the shipping company would find that info, re-box it and continue it to it’s destination.

One final thing. I frame some work myself but I also make quick cardboard ‘sandwiches’ whenever I take paintings to a framer. I don’t care if it is only a short distance to drive. I spent hours painting it and it is safer than just throwing it in the car.
It is a cardboard sheet about one inch larger than the painting all the way around.
A second sheet of the same size serves as a lid.
Cut strips of cardboard one inch wide, stack and glue them together until those strips are taller than the painting. Example, I paint on wood. It is about 3/16’ thick (just thinner than a 1/4 inch) Three layers of strips glue together makes it thicker than the painting.
I glue the first two in an “L” to the sheet. I place the painting against that. I gently snug the other two up to the painting, mark with a pencil, remove the painting and glue them.
when done the painting will fit snug. Just remember to leave a finger slot on one side to easily remove the painting. So, one side is made of two pieces with a gap in the middle of the strip.

These are only meant for transport, not shipping but I use them over and over since I paint in the same 5 or 6 sizes. Smaller ones I put rubber bands around them to hold them closed. Others you can use blue tape.

I have not put a certificate of authenticity but is something I am considering now. It’s all about available time.
I have put what I call ‘painting plates’ It is a description of the painting, its info, date medium etc and I will add my thoughts about making it, what it is about, something like that. I hand sign it.
I put that on the back of the painting on the paper in an open envelope. It is like a card they can remove and read. Collectors love that because it is personal to that painting and it serves as a certificate of authenticity. I will probably rethink it and make it a certificate of authenticity still with the rest of the info and thoughts.
I print it on a quality heavy stock paper and hand sign it.

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Thank you are the most helpful person I ever met that goes into details and answers all the questions. I can not thank you enough.

Do you always varnish your peices? That is one last question I have. To varnish or not to varnish. I work in acrylric and mixed media. I hate varnishing and do not want to spray varnish either. I know some artist don’t and some that do. I am looking for a product that gives a gloss like varnish but is not varnish. Would you know anything about this?

I won’t take up any more of your time after this, thank you so much

You are welcome. Glad to help.

Yes, I always varnish my work. I work in oil so it makes the final art look better and gives it a unifrom sheen. I also work in watercolor but do not varnish them, although I could. preferring to frame them behind plexiglass.

It has been a while since I worked in acrylic so I am not as up to date on what to use. I used to coat them in a clear acrylic matte medium. Not a true varnish but that would allow me to paint back on top with if I decided to.

You have to keep in mind once you varnish you can NOT rework on top without removing the varnish first. This means delicate works, like watercolor, mixed media, works on paper etc it is too hard to remove, separate, the varnish from the media to rework. Once you varnish it is done.
Paintings in oil and acrylic that don’t have the ground exposed too much, the ground being paper or some illustration boards (paper surface) can be varnished and the varnish removed if necessary.
Of course you have to select a varnish that is removable.

For a varnish to be removable it has to be chemically different than the medium otherwise the remaval of it will also remove the medium (artwork) and you don’t want that.
Select a good conservator archival varnish.

You said you don’t want to spray varnish. I prefer it because it makes me nervous to physically brush across the art. I spray because it is a more passive application so I never have to touch or drag across the painting. I have sprayed up to medium sized paintings (24x36") without too much trouble. After that I have to brush it because it’s too big for a spray can. One of the 24"x36" paintings I forgot to sign so I had to remove the varnish in one corner, sign it, then respray the varnish so I know THAT works.

I use the Krylon UV Archival varnish in the link below.
I use a satin because I hate the glossy/high gloss glare with anything else. I find it a distraction when I go into a gallery, am looking at paintings and to avoid the glare I have to duck and move back and forth to actually see the whole painting.

I also want to point you to this link which is more specific for acrylics. Mod Podge might be a good one for you based on your comment.,surface%20you%20are%20painting%20on.


This is great useful, detailed advice. Thank you so, so much.
Happy Thanksgiving!

You’re welcome. Have a Happy Thanksgiving!