Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Linen, Canvas, Panel....What's It All About?

"Turn For Home," 24 x 30 oil on canvas

 I had a great question on my Facebook page yesterday.  It was noted that I use a number of different supports when I paint, and I was asked how I decide which support I'm going to use for a painting. As the answer to that question is not a short one, I decided a blog post was in order.

Now....where do I begin?  Sometimes many factors can come into play with my decision...and  other times, it's as simple as what I have on hand.  Each surface has different atrtibutes, so it may be a matter of what I'm hoping to achieve with that particular piece.  I think the simplest thing to do is go through each type of support I have worked with, and what kind of painting that support lends itself to.

First off, we can group supports into two types - flexible and rigid.  Rigid supports are more durable by definition - ask anyone who has had a stretched canvas torn or damanged.  Paintings on rigid supports are also thought to stand the test of time better - they are far less likely to crack and fall right off the support than stretched (flexible) works.  I don't paint in heavy layers, so I don't expect to see any of my paintings part company with the support in my lifetime, but cracking is still a possibility once the work leaves my control(ie. if the painting is taken off the stretcher bars). I tend to favour rigid supports - partly because they aren't as easy to damage, but I also like the firmness they provide.  They are also somewhat easier to frame, because they don't tend to have as deep a profile as stretched canvas.

I do still work on stretched canvas from time to time.  Sometimes this is just to change things up (there is a different feel to working on flexible vs. rigid), and sometimes it's because I need an odd size for a commission work or something else I have planned, and it's easy just to cut a piece of linen or cotton and ask my framer to make up a stretcher frame in the appropriate size. For larger sizes, warping of a panel can become an issue, so often that means working on stretched canvas.

Types of rigid supports I use:

1.  Gessoed masonite - just what it sounds like, this is about 3 coats of acrylic gesso applied to masonite hardboard panel.  Sometimes I will add a bit of marble dust, which increases the absorbency of the surface, so the painting dries faster.  If I'm working on a small study, I'll use this because the drying factor allows me to complete it more quickly.

"Twine," 8 x 10 oil on gessoed panel - study. You can actually see the texture of the strokes of gesso on panel - it's not perfectly smooth like a commercially-prepared surface would be.

2. Shellacked masonite - again, just what it sounds like. Shellac creates a sealed, non-absorbent surface, so the oil paint glides very freely over it.  If I want to do something nice and loose, this is pretty much the ultimate choice!

"Baby Grace," 5 x 7 oil on shellacked masonite - completed in an hour, so nice and loose!

3. Linen panel - oil-primed linen canvas adhered to masonite panel with acid-free book-binding glue.  The ones I make are with Artfix ultra-smooth portrait linen, and it is just an amazing surface to work on.  This particular weave of Artfix is very smooth, and with the firmness of the panel behind it, it creates, to me, a very paint-friendly surface. So far I have only prepared small panels myself, so I've only used it on small works.

4.  Raphael linen panel - this is a commercially prepared support, oil-primed Raphael portrait linen adhered to birch panel. It's my favourite commercially prepared support, and what I use for commissioned portraits the majority of the time.  The quality is exceptional.  The surface is a little bit slicker than that of the Artfix panels I make myself, so it takes a little bit more work in the early stages, but it's worth it in the end! If money were no object, I would paint on Raphael panels more often than not!  Instead, I reserve them for commissions and gallery work. The downfall of the Raphael panels is they are made in Italy, and I have to order them through one of the American art suppliers, so I try to keep a variety of sizes in stock and hope I have what I need, when I need it!

Up close and personal with a WIP on Raphael linen panel. Linen tends to have a more uneven weave than canvas, and you can see it here below the even more random brushstrokes with which I toned the surface.
5. Raymar panels - Raymar makes several different panels using different canvas types, both cotton canvas (acrylic-primed) and linen (oil-primed). I often use their cotton canvas panels for smaller studies - I tend to keep a supply of them readily available so I always have them to work on. I've also used some of their portrait linen panels.  They're nice for a change, but close enough in price to the Raphael panels that I would stick with Raphael for the larger work. Their appeal - made in North America, easy to get, lightweight, archival and professionally made.

Flexible supports are much simpler:

1. Cotton canvas (stretched) - these can either be bought commercially, or as I mentioned, I'll buy the canvas and either stretch it myself, or get my framer to do it (I don't really like stretching canvas, so that's my preferred option!). The pre-stretched ones are typically a lower quality canvas than the ones I stretch myself (okay I know, the ones my framer stretches) so I will often apply a couple of extra coats of gesso for a smoother surface.  Again gesso is absorbent, so the surface has more grab.

"Hush," 14 x 18 oil on linen - this is a coarser-weave Artfix linen - it was a fun change.

2. Linen canvas - Linen comes in a variety of weaves, from very fine such as the Artfix portrait linen I have, to quite coarse. It is also typically oil-primed, therefore non-absorbent, so the paint moves more freely than an absorbent surface.  In either case of stretched canvas, as I mentioned earlier, I tend to opt for them when I either just want to change things up, or I need a large or odd size quickly.

"Strategizing," 15 x 28 oil on linen - this one is the super-smooth Artfix portrait linen.  Ridiculously expensive, and took some getting used to, but it was great for those sleek racehorse coats and powerful muscles.

That was actually a lot more difficult than I thought it would be, and I'm sure I could have babbled on more and still left things out.  So you see, it's part size, part complexity, part texture, part whim!  On the flip side, I use Old Holland oil paints almost exclusively!

If this inspires any other questions, ask away! 


T Myers said...

Interesting....I love the way the colours jump out on the last one!

Jo Castillo said...

Thanks for your info and sharing your beautiful work. It is always interesting and a learning experience to read the how and why by other artists.