How Do You Prepare a Panel for Painting?

As an artist, I have painted on a variety of surfaces, and such experience has shown me that the unique qualities of our paints do require some considerations:

-Watercolor paints work well on paper-like surfaces: hot-press paper, cold-press paper, Yupo;

-Acrylic paints are versatile and can be used on firm or flexible substrates: fabric, canvas, board, metal, glass, etc;

-Oil paints require inflexible surfaces such as metal, glass, ceramic, and plaster. Gessoed board and gessoed canvas can also make acceptable options.

I prefer to prepare my own wood panels and, for me on a personal level, making them is both enjoyable and cost-effective, more so than merely buying premade panels from a local art supplier. Plywood and hardboard materials are easily acquired and can be purchased at any local lumberyard, Sutherlands, Lowe’s, or Home Depot. Employees at some of these places have willingly cut wood for me, upon my request, free of cost or for a nominal price.

Canvas, itself, has only been used as a painting substrate for little over a century, whereas wood panels actually predate them. Wood panels have long been the most frequently chosen surface for an oil painter’s artwork. Even today, they remain popular among artists.

When making a gessoed panel, I cut a 1/4″ thick board (Masonite or hardboard works well) to the size I wish to paint upon, then I sand it over with a fine grade of sandpaper (300-400 grit).

Hardboard has both a textured side and a smooth side. I usually prefer to paint upon the smooth side. I personally find the smooth side to be ideal for efforts at detailed paintings and I prefer the textured side for impasto.

I gesso the edges and the face of the panel (smooth side), then I allow it to dry. I use the fine grade (300-400 grit) sandpaper to smooth off the brush strokes before I once again gesso over it, brushing my strokes along a different direction than during my first layering of gesso.

I will do a few repeats of sanding and gesso to achieve an eggshell finish. When the gessoed panel seems acceptably dry, I keep it set separate from all other work and take pains not to rest any other panels on top of this panel. I have found that pressure will sometimes bond gessoed panels together, even when the gesso feels dry to the touch.

Finally, I paint a dark color on the oposite side of the panel, to distinguish it from the gessoed side, and to prevent humidity from working through the panel. Later, upon the dark colored side, I secure labels for identification of my painting.


Charity Goodwin, Artist


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