I want to talk today about canvas or panels – what we call color support or what you know as the material that you apply paint to. There are some pretty good reasons to have certain types of supports and I’m going to try and cover those right now. First, I want to talk about the canvas type then I’ll discuss panels.
What I see as a really huge re-occurring issue for artists is painting on store bought canvas. The reason that this is generally bad is two fold; first is that its super absorbent and second is that the weave is really strong due to a lot of grain/texture. If you are a seasoned painter that uses a lot of paint when you paint you can get away with a store bought canvas. But most newbie painters don’t understand why a store bought canvas can be a challenge so I will explain why.
Let’s say you’ve got a paint brush and you are going to make a brush stroke, for example near the top of your canvas. What happens when make a brush stroke is the paint sits right on the top. Then, as the paint starts to dry the oil gets sucked down into the little valley’s created by the rough canvas. Imagine a zigzag stroke of paint to which you recently placed a new stroke of paint on. All of that beautiful paint gets pushed down and flattened out. This happens for two reasons; first is because the canvas is very absorbent, which is typical with acrylic gesso, and second because the weave is so strong. Another negative aspect of this canvas type happens when you “lick the canvas”. Licking is the process by which a painter applies the same brush stroke over and over. When you do this, all you are doing is pushing the paint down into these valleys. When the paint dries, all of the oil is absorbed into the gesso and instead of looking like a painting it looks like a colored canvas where you see very few or no brush strokes at all. It looks like someone colored the canvas very similarly to airbrushing.
So if you apply a couple of coats of acrylic gesso these gaps get filled. For example, by adding another layer of gesso on that spot that was mentioned above we will fill in those gaps and holes and when you come back in with another layer of paint it will have more of a tendency to stay on the surface. What does that mean on the final painting? It means that the paint is going to sit on top of the surface and the integrity of the brush stroke will be maintained. It will look like more of a painting and less like a colored canvas.
Now, unless you like the look of a colored canvas with no brush strokes, if you use store bought canvas, I suggest you apply three or four coats of gesso. When all layers are dry, sand it kind of smooth. Your paintings are going to look so much richer because the paint will sit up on the surface and you’ll see the brush strokes. If you have a tendency to lick the painting as discussed above, it will be less noticeable when working on the smoother surface.
If you like to work on panels the same process works. Take some masonite panels or mdf board and paint two to three coats of gesso on them. When dry, sand those to get the same kind of surface. An even smoother panel works well to keep the paint on the surface.