Painting surfaces and supports - How to build a better painting

I've been preparing canvases and painting panels this week getting ready to create new paintings for several upcoming shows. I hope today's post about the preparation of painting surfaces will be helpful for the students in a high school art class whom I've been told read this blog.

The quality of a painting and it's ability to withstand environmental damage depends in large part on the materials used under the surface layers of oil paint.

For smaller paintings and plein air works, I prefer the strength of wood. A painting on a properly prepared wooden surface will last indefinitely. Since the 6th century BC, wood panels have been used as painting surfaces. The major drawback to using wood as a support is it's ability to hold moisture. Modern plywood panels eliminate many of the problems of warping and cracking associated with older wood panels. (Canvas on a wood panel is also good.) Any wood panel over 16"x 20" should be cradled (reinforced) on the back to prevent warping. Applying gesso to the sides and back of the panel will also reduce warping.

First, sand the panel to remove imperfections.

Next, apply a good quality gesso. I use the Gamblin or Utreck brands because they are both highly pigmented. More pigment in the ground reduces the dulling effect on oil paint and seals the support (wood or canvas) from chemical and environmental deterioration.

Allow the gesso to dry. Apply at least 2 to 3 coats of gesso , sanding between each layer. This ensures the gesso has coated and sealed the painting support making a stable foundation for the layers of paint and varnish in the final painting.

I like to paint on a toned surface. Here I'm applying a warm burnt sienna undertone to the panting support. Using an undertone layer of paint reduces the absorbency of the surface and can be used in many ways to enhance the final painting.

I use a warm toned surface for my plein air paintings and landscapes. The warm tone enriches the cool blues and greens found in nature. Notice the warm undertone showing in the "etched" lines of the path, bench, and grass.

For portrait painting, a cool green-gray undertone works well to complement warm skin tones in the finished painting.

Whether working on wood panels or canvas, it's good practice to apply at least 3 coats of gesso, a layer of oil ground (if desired for oils on a rigid surface), and a thin undertone to build a strong foundation for a painting that will last many years.
"Autumn Gold Marsh"
Oil on canvas panel


TJP said...

Good idea to gesso the sides and back of a panel.
I use a short nap paint roller to get a smooth surface on my gessoed panels. Works great and cuts down on sanding.

Katherine Muschick Schneider said...

I'll have to try your roller method. I'm all for cutting down on sanding.

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