September 15, 2018
PREPARING YOUR PAINT PANEL
Choosing a surface on which to create your work is a much overlooked step in fine art. Your gesso layer is not just a pleasant white surface to hide the canvas. Structurally it plays an important role in the stability of your painting.
The canvas, paper or wooden panel, onto which you apply the initial layers of gesso.
LINEN CANVAS: Linen has been the standard in painting canvas for over five centuries. No other fabric has yet equaled its textural qualities which persist through several layers of primer and paint. The best linens come from Belgium or Ireland, however artists’ linen is not too widely available. Try a speciality shop for artists materials.
COTTON CANVAS: Cotton is the cheapest canvas for purchase and the most widely available. It has a smoother texture than linen and can be identified if you flip to the unprimed side. Compared to linen, cotton stretches poorly, does not take priming well and is more susceptible to damage and discoloration due to exposure to atmosphere.
COTTON DUCK: Though not quite equal to linen, cotton duck is a less expensive and more acceptable alternative. Primers however, do not penetrate and grasp your surface fibers quite as well as linen.
COTTON-LINEN MIXTURES: Gesso for oil painting takes fairly well to mixed weaves however mixed weaves are vulnerable to unequal tension when you’re trying to stretch it over a wooden frame. The cotton and the linen are also affected differently by atmosphere. This option is best left for the more experienced craftsman.
MASONITE: As wood goes this option makes an excellent support for both oil and tempera painting. Dense, strong and durable, it’s superior to hardwood or plywood, in that it won’t crack, split or warp. Note: Masonite has only been around since the 1930’s and thus it’s track record for longevity can't be compared to canvas.
These are the more common choices. Canvas papers and metal panels are also sometimes used.
The surface layer on which you paint. That white coating (not actually limited to white if you want to try another colour) applied to raw canvas or wood, called ‘gesso or primer’.
The word ‘gesso’ means a while coating made from hide glue mixed with something like chalk or whiting. It’s applied to panels, picture frames, wood, etc. to create a smooth or textured surface on which your subsequent layers of paint will penetrate and adhere to.
TRUE GESSO: You can find this product in art supply stores. It comes as a dry powder and needs to be mixed with water before applying it to your canvas or borad.
Most canvases available now are primed with an acrylic polymer (usually white) and offered as multi-purpose, suitable for either oil or acrylic paint. A multi-purpose ground is going to be inferior for either oil or acrylic artwork and for archival quality pieces, should be avoided.
Acrylic paint or gesso is more pliable in it’s dried state than oil paint or an oil primer. If you apply more flexible paint (acrylic) over a less flexible base (oil primer), your final piece of artwork will be vulnerable to cracking. The same problem holds for using an acrylic primer under layers of oil paint since oils tend to become more brittle as they age.
ACRYLIC GESSO: Contemporary acrylic gesso is a combination of chalk and an acrylic polymer binder, a pigment (titanium white) and other chemicals that create flexibility. Acrylic gesso is not absorbant and won’t provide the same adhesion properties as true gesso.
Technically you don’t actually need to prime your support for acrylic paints but painting directly onto raw canvas or wood, is not a pleasurable experi-ence. In addition it cuts down on your ability to blend and smooth in a big way, not until several layers of paint have built up.