Saturday, January 7, 2012

Stretched Canvas or Hardboard Panel?

Outdoor painters work on many different surfaces. I know one painter who even works on copper! But for me, it's usually a choice between canvas or hardboard panel.

I prefer hardboard panels. The reason is that, unlike canvas, they're puncture-proof. (The area around Sedona is thick with thorny vegetation like catclaw acacia, mesquite and prickly pear cactus.) I can also get more of them into a wet painting carrier. If I want a store-bought panel, I use Ampersand Gessobord or Claybord. If I want some interesting texture, I'll make my own on untempered hardboard sealed with Gamblin PVA size followed by a coat or two of Golden Acrylic Gesso randomly applied. I don't use linen or canvas on boards because I don't like to paint on a woven surface placed against a rigid substrate.

Unfortunately, above a certain size, hardboard panels become heavy to lug around. My solution for this is to use stretched canvas, which will be lighter than any hardboard panel over 16x20.

But canvas has its own problems. First, it's not puncture-proof. Second, the canvas transmits light. Anyone who's painted on canvas in a brightly-lit desert will have seen the effect of light passing through the canvas and illuminating the painting from behind. It's nearly impossible to judge value and color that way.

My solution for this is to insert a sheet of foamboard, cut to fit tightly within the stretcher bars, and to secure it with framer's points. If you use something like a gun (Fletcher's FrameMaster) to shoot in the points, you must be careful to not shoot the points through the canvas! I prevent this by gently pushing up on the canvas from below, which raises the board up slightly, letting the gun shoot the points a little higher up on the stretcher bar.  See the photo above for how this would look when done.

By the way, in case you missed the announcement the first time, I have a free 7-minute pastel painting video demonstration on my YouTube channel.


Kimberly Vanlandingham said...

Great idea about the foam board. It's so lightweight. I'll have to try that.

Mary Pyche said...

I like this idea but am a little confused. Is there a space between the canvas and the foamboard? Is it loosly positioned to allow for some bounce? I staple cardboard to the back, leaving a little "handle" on one side. It makes it easy to carry a wet canvas, keeps the sun out, and can be easily removed.

Michael Chesley Johnson said...

The foamboard goes right against the canvas, no space. I also leave the foamboard in after the painting is framed, as it further protects the painting from punctures in galleries, etc. And unlike the cardboard, it's archival!

Anonymous said...

My solution to painting on opaque lightweight supports outdoors is to use Meranti (Luan in the US) and cradle it afterwards. Meranti is much lighter weight than Masonite and also more dimensionally stable. You might like it, too. When I want to paint on stretched canvas, and am not walking far, I take two of the same size, put both on my easel at once, and thus one shades the other. I cannot paint on the second panel until the first one is dry - perhaps an argument for using acrylics, but I also prefer oils in sunny and dry climates.

Since I glue, not nail, my cradling to the back of the panel, I find I can do it after I get home, or when I am sure the painting is a keeper. This way they take up less storage space until ready to cradle. If they do warp a bit (I put a coat of paint or gesso on the back of anything above 10 or 12 inches in any direction), they seem to accept being flattened and weighted while the glue dries. After that, if it were to warp, it would probably be the outer layer of the panel that went. My understanding is that with acrylic gesso one doesn't need to prime-seal the wood, just gesso it. I use a small foam roller (those phallic-like ones) to roll on the gesso and find I rather like the dimply surface to paint on. I leave an bare border to get a good glue purchase to the cradling strips. It is not so prominent that it shows through the paint like, for instance, the back side of Masonite.

Steven S. Walker said...

Great info and it's good to hear that I'm not the only one making my own panels and using PVA sizing.