When Painting In Oils What Supports Are Available?

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This does not refer to a kind of help line or financial support! A support is what a painter in oils puts paint on to. There are several alternatives available (excluding painting on walls and ceilings, which we shall not go into here), some of which are traditional, some developed much more recently. All will need priming (see below).

Wood Panels
Wood panels have been a common type of support for hundreds of years. Today, however, there are better alternatives available and types that are easier to use. The problems with wood is that the timber needs to be at least one inch thick, and even then, unless it is of very good quality (such as mahogany) and is well and properly dried and seasoned, it may warp or crack. Hence it generally needs to be cradled. Altogether, it is an expensive alternative.

Plywood is a very good support for painting in oil, providing it is not less than five ply (i.e. look at the edge and count the number of layers). The more plies the better. Mahogany faced plywood is good but expensive. Exterior grade plywood (usually available from DIY retailers) has its layers much more securely bonded together (marine ply even more so) and is thus less susceptible to warping or its layers coming unglued. Both sides will need to be sized twice.

Manufactured boards used as supports are commonly hardboard (although rather thin), chipboard (but is better than thinner sheets, yet still has a tendency to crumble at the edges) and MDF. The latter has increased in popularity in recent years for painting in oils, has a good smooth surface and is quite rigid. MDF is especially good for larger paintings because of its rigidity. It is also ideal for paintings of an unusual shape, such asScala Force, Yorkshire Dales. All these types of material can usually be obtained locally from DIY and timber stockists but do need to be primed. (See my article When Painting In Oils What Preparation Is Needed For Supports).

Canvass has been used for centuries and is made from either linen or cotton. The former makes a finer support, is generally preferable, and stretches and paints better; but it is more expensive than cotton. Many newcomers to oil painting use cotton because of the price differential and because it is generally more easily available from retail stores selling artists materials. Canvass needs to be primed (see my article: When Painting In Oils What Preparation Is Needed For Supports?) and framed but most art material shops carry canvass ready framed and primed. On the other hand, some artists prefer to buy their canvass by the roll and prime, stretch and frame it themselves.

Also available from many artists stores are canvass coverings glued onto thin boards and then primed. These are relatively low priced and very useful for a beginner to start out on.

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