Canvas or Panel?

Note: This post has been updated and will be updated again in the future. And, oh my gosh, why didn’t someone write and tell me that below I had two, identical segments of text?! Do feel comfortable letting me know that I made a blunder and I will thank you profusely! Ahem- on with the subject at hand.

One of the first decisions you have to make when you begin painting is what to paint on. And first things first, what you paint on is called a "support".

If you are just beginning or getting back in the groove, you think canvas. Artists paint on canvas, right? But even that small guidance is of little help when you start looking at all the canvas choices! Smooth surface? Textured surface? Linen? Cotton?
If you like refined work... or at least some technical emphasis on making subjects look like they have volume but are new to the painting scene, I recommend starting with art panels as opposed to canvases. Art panels by Ampersand, the Gessobord, Museum Series have a fantastic surface for the sort of painting I do. They are not slippery and have good absorbency.
 If you’re a beginner, please purchase panels that are already primed. Priming your own supports is something to consider down the road, but it takes some experimentation and time to get it the way you want it.

If archival quality is super important for you... If you are a painter selling work
and charging a professional price for your work and want something “better” or different from Ampersand panels, sells aluminum composite panels by Artefex. The oil-primed linen panel has more texture than I like for myself,  but if you paint with a heavier hand than I do, you might like it. They sell an eggshell oil ground that looks promising. I’m painting on that soon. Another experiment is a Claessen’s DP13 on a hardwood cradled panel that I’m using right this minute for a small portrait. “DP” stands for double-primed or two finished coats of ground (lean paint). “Cradled” means that the maker has added strips of wood to reinforce the support and fight warping as it ages and is exposed to moisture. I’m a fan ordinarily of Claessen’s linen (as you’ll read in this post), but I have a hard time believing the too-absorbent, rather knotty linen on these pricey panels is double-primed! It also feels like they used their worst quality linen bits that they didn’t want to sell on rolls or larger pre-stretched linens! Anyway, it’s okay, but I have added my own additional lead white lean layer over the portion of the canvas where the face will be in order to have it be a smooth surface. I don’t want unsightly linen knots on the eyelid or nose of my subject! I also had to wait a couple weeks for that harden enough to paint over.

No matter what panel you choose, wood or primed metal, the front corners are prone to damage. Treat them gently and framing is recommended. If you work on wood panels, be sure and coat the sides and backs with a moisture barrier, like an acrylic medium or art-grade PVC glue to the edges and back of the panel if and when you’re creating quality work.

If you like refined or somewhat refined work... and have already tried painting on panel and didn’t care for it... try painting on portrait/fine weave cotton canvas or single-primed (SP) linen.
I personally like SP linen better than double-primed (DP) linen, because the first layer of paint sits back, settles better, on the single-primed. The double-primed work surface is very slippery.
If the other surfaces I’ve mentioned feel too scratchy or dry, maybe double-primed linen will work for you.
If cost is an issue for you, but you want to experiment with painting on linen or cotton stretched canvas, an inexpensive portrait canvas will be nicer to work on than the standard-econo cotton canvases that make up the bulk of art supply isles of craft stores. Shop carefully there or consider shopping online and comparing prices.
When working on canvases or linens larger than 30 inches on a side, warping wooden stretcher bars can become an issue. If you’d like more information about how to handle the challenges for larger work, let me know. This is an advanced painter issue.
I hope this has article has been helpful.
The main concept to understand is that the support does affect the looks of a painting!

If you don’t like how you paint, consider changing what you paint on. It might be a simple change with a big payoff. Your brush handling may be hindered by the surface you’re working on.

Super Summary?
If you’re here, you probably like something about my work. I generally recommend starting with painting on panel. If you don’t know which one, try Ampersand Museum Series Gessobord.

Left to right: bumpy texture is Artefex linen on aluminum composite, two on right are both Ampersand Gessobord brand, one has a light red wash

Left to right: bumpy texture is Artefex linen on aluminum composite, two on right are both Ampersand Gessobord brand, one has a light red wash


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Thimgan Hayden

website of Michigan portrait artist and painter of still life, landscape, Italian and American, and floral subjects.