The Best Types of Oil Painting Canvas and Boards to paint on. By Don Finkeldei: A ranking of surfaces by the quality, paint handling characteristics, edge control and absorbency.
Both Board paintings and stretched canvas/linen paintings sell the same… people will buy either and it's up the the artist to select the type of support. Boards are probably a little easier to frame. I paint on a board/panels for smaller paintings and on stretched linen/canvas for larger paintings (above 20” x 24”).
There are 5 popular types of priming:
- Traditional True Gesso (uses calcium carbonate and rabbit skin glue)
- Acrylic Gesso
- Lead (It's a wonderful surface, too bad it's highly toxic). It's not used much now days and I highly recommend avoiding it.
The type and quality of linen/canvas/board and primer is important for ease of oil flow, vibrancy, detail work and edge control. The worst surface by far is what is sold at an art store – and what you’ve probably bought in the past… cotton duck panels primed with inferior acrylic gesso (Frederix art panels, etc.).
Here’s the order of surfaces by what I think is best first… and descends to what is worst.
- Alkyd Primed Linen, type 350DP (Medium Weave) or 359 (Fine Weave). It’s slightly more absorbent than Oil Primed linen but really allows fine control of paint and edges. Superior for field and studio painting.
- Utrecht Double Oil Primed Belgian Linen Roll, Type 15, Medium Smooth Texture. It’s fairly non absorbent. You can wipe the paint off and get back to the almost pure white primed surface. It has a minimum absorbency and holds the vibrancy on drying but is a little harder to control the paint thickness because it can be a little "slick". Nice though. http://www.utrechtart.com .
- Traditional prepared Gesso boards. If you don't like to paint on a linen weave and you prefer board painting with gesso priming, this could very easily be ranked # 1. It's only ranked # 3 here because I prefer working on a weave type surface. You may prefer a gesso type non weave surface. I use this type of surface for some of my Tonal paintings where I want the transparent effects of the surface showing through. These boards use only the highest quality calcium carbonate and rabbitskin glue to make the gesso. It's not the same as Acrylic Gesso you buy in an art store. It's less absorbent than acrylic gesso and really holds vibrancy upon drying. In addition to oil painting It's also one of the best surfaces for drawing techniques, egg tempera, silverpoint and icon painting. You can get prepared panels from True Gesso, Santa Fe, N.M. , http://www.truegesso.com/main2-13.html .
- Acrylic Gesso priming on boards/panels. Very absorbent. Nice for field sketches and dry brush techniques. I prime my own boards to control the texture and absorbency.
- Cotton Duck Canvas primed with acrylic gesso either on board or stretched. It’s absolutely the worst. Too bad this is what’s generally recommended and sold through most art supply stores (Frederix panels, etc). It's also too bad that it's what most beginning art students buy. If there's one suggestion I can offer to beginning art students to improve their painting it's "Don't use these types of panels". Edge control is very bad, the highly absorbent surface doesn't allow paint to flow on smoothly and easily, it dries dull, small details are hard to achieve and re-touching a painting is almost impossible.
The weave and primed surface I like even better than oil primed linen is Alkyd Primed Linen. It’s sold at http://www.windriverarts.com
type: 350 DP (a medium weave, better for large paintings).
Type 359 (a fine weave, better for small paintings (under 14 x 18 in size).
The panels with this alkyd primed canvas already glued on can be bought through New Traditions Art Panels, Inc. http://www.newtraditionsartpanels.com .