Painting Supports

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I receive many questions about the painting supports I use as many people are only familiar with acrylic paintings on canvas. As a new artist I was frustrated with this assumption so I went in search of alternatives.  I would love to share my experience and the knowledge I have learnt along the way!

Six years ago when I started painting with acrylics, I was under the same impression as most that canvas was my only viable option. I was frustrated with the texture of canvas – I was fighting against it trying to blend and get small details. There are techniques that exist to completely smooth a canvas but I find the solutions to be much too time consuming and labor intensive to want to commit myself.  I also had a constant fear of ruining my painting by leaning my arm too heavily on the canvas and causing it to warp. This began my journey to find other painting surfaces.

PAPER

My painting journey began with watercolors – this beginning shaped much of my style with acrylics.  My watercolor painting were all painted on paper therefore provided a natural place to start experimenting with acrylics .

The first acrylic paintings I completed were done on black 250 GSM Cold Press paper with a light texture. Prepping for an acrylic painting on paper follows much the same concepts as if you were doing a watercolor painting including taping the paper to a board to prevent warping as well as being cautious with excessive puddling of water. An example of this painting support is the below painting – In the Shadows was painted on paper in 2014.

In the Shadows – 2014

Pros

  • Inexpensive which can be great for learning artists that are experimenting and learning the medium
  • Can start with a colored background to avoid the daunting start of a clean white surface
  • Easy to make custom sizes
  • Lightweight & easy to ship
  • Readily available at any art supply store

Cons

  • Can warp and bubble if you are using too much water or had not properly prepared the paper before painting
  • Needs framing which can be costly especially if you are using a non-standard size
  • Watercolor paper typically has a slight texture that can affect the look of the final painting

MDF & PLYWOOD

Although I enjoyed the experience of painting on paper I realized there were even better option out there that I had not explored. I had been following along with Alyssa Mees on Instagram and was introduced to the idea of painting on wood – particularly plywood and MDF. 

The wood I used for my first experiments was 3/4″ or 1/2″ G1S plywood. I found these boards at my local hardware store and recruited some family to help prepare them for paintings. Below is an example of one of these paintings.

Wood Backs Painting
Wood Backs – 2014

PROS

  • Inexpensive – you can buy a large sheet of wood to cut into several painting supports
  • Can customize the size and shape with the right tools
  • Smooth surface with some slight prep work
  • No concern about warping
  • Can leave wood grain visible for an added visual option

CONS

  • Need access to power tools to cut down to size
  • Needs somewhat extensive prep in order to be ready to paint on including cutting, sanding & priming/ gesso
  • Can become heavy when working on larger sizes and therefore difficult to ship or hang

MOUNTED WOOD PANELS

I painted several of my early paintings on plywood before I discovered my current go-to favorite painting support – mounted wood panels. These panels are made of 1/8″ birch which are mounted on a cradle to create a raised surface with wooden sides. I purchase these locally but are available at most major art supply stores – like these.

I found many of the same appealing traits as I had found with the plywood and MDF, however these were more easily available, required significantly less prep work and hassling of woodworking family members as well as them having an added professional presentation. Below is one of my first paintings using the mounted wood panels.

Veins – 2015

PROS

  • Reasonably inexpensive
  • No need to frame
  • Readily available in many sizes
  • Light weight
  • Simple to prep and get ready for painting
  • Perfectly smooth surface
  • Rigid surface so no concern about warping

CONS

  • I’ll update if I come across any 😊

This list just scrapes the surface of the options available to acrylic painters however I think the most important thing to remember is to keep an open mind and experiment. Something that might work for one painter may not work for another. Different surfaces 

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