Hello everyone, what’s next after making my pochade box?
You guessed it, making my own painting panels. Again, I decided to make my own painting substrates to save money and end up with the surface that I like to paint on. For the most part, I like painting on rigid surfaces over canvas. I would like to try painting on Belgian linen but it’s more expensive than canvas. So if you are interested in my process, read on below:
I recently got some Ampersand’s Gessoboard panels that I like and have used. The ones I bought are small panels that come in a pack of 4. Even so, buying pre-made gesso panels can get pricey if you plan to use a lot of it. Case in point, for me it would have cost approximately $300 CAD vs. $45 for the amount of panels I got out of my diy batch.
Despite my wanting to save money, I do not compromise when it comes to best practices for producing archival quality work. The word “archival” is very loosely used in legal terms when it comes to commercial art materials. For me, I think of “archival” as preserving artwork in the integrity of the methods and materials used. That means using artist quality paints with pigments tested for high lightfastness against colour fading, acid/lignin free substrates that does not yellow over time, taking steps to prevent warping and cracking of the artwork, to the best of my ability. I try to take into account all current available precautions to ensure an archival quality work. So, I went about making my panels taking these considerations into account.
On to the process, I ended up getting 1/8″ Baltic Birch plywood. Some people use Hardboard or MDF which are cheaper, but depending on the manufacturer of these products you don’t know whats in them. So I got the birch plywood which is composed of wood sheets laid in perpendicular directions for stability, and glued together. I intended to only make relatively small panels, largest being 11 x 14″. If I wanted larger panels, I would go up a size to 1/4″ thick. If the size gets larger than that, the plywood might end up being very heavy and you might want to consider other options. I got my local hardware store to cut the plywood sheet into 30″ square sections to make it more manageable, then I brought it home.
Next, I want to talk about Support Induced Discoloration, SID for short. When working on wood, I used to seal my surface with Golden’s GAC 100 This prevents yellowing that is caused by contaminants released by moisture from the paint, into the wood. SID is especially applicable with acrylic or water-soluble paints that are light in colour. The yellowing and discoloration will show through.
When using oil paint on a wood surface, the sealing of the wood is to prevent the wood from sucking out the oils in the paint and causing “sinking in” of the paint. This makes the oil paint look dull and uneven. I wanted to seal the wood surface but I was looking for a bulk size sealer to save money. So I called Golden; a company that manufactures the GAC 100 and professional quality acrylic paints/mediums. I found out that their current testing revealed that their Gloss Polymer medium is even better at preventing SID. They also informed me that wood can be sealed with a commercial sealer without any problems. I have to say that I appreciate Golden’s honesty and impartiality in sharing this information.
At first, I tried cutting the panels out by hand and I used 2 coats of gesso with a foam brush. I loved the fine linen texture I got, but it look way too long:
Looking to save money and time in this project, I wanted to make a large batch of panels. So I sealed both sides of my plywood with a commercial sealer using one of those small microfibre rollers. After both sides of the plywood was dry, I switched out for a new roller and gessoed one side of the plywood in a mid-tone gray. After the first coat of gesso was dry, I rolled on the gesso in the opposite direction. I gessoed for a total of 3 coats and made sure it was dry.
Then, I borrowed my father’s table saw and his help, and cut the plywood into pieces. I tried to optimize the amount of panels I could get out of them, so I cut them into various sized small panels. I left the gessoed plywood unsanded until all the panels were cut out. I didn’t want to worry about damaging the surface while cutting the plywood.
After they were cut out, I test sanded the gesso surface. It came out great, it felt velvety with only a slight tooth, just the way I like it. It only takes a quick light sanding that can be done before painting or it can be batch sanded when time allows.
I wanted to mention that when oil painting on acrylic gesso, you have to wait until it’s completely dry. This does NOT mean dry to the touch. Depending on temperature and humidity, total water evaporation could take 3 days to a couple of weeks (this information also from Golden). If water is not completely evaporated, it could cause cracking and peeling off of the oil paint. This is another reason, I wanted to bulk prepare all the panels so I can paint on it at any time.
I hope I didn’t bore you with the technical details. And I want to say that my going on about my work being archival, is not because I consider my artwork is “all that”. I have just seen so much deterioration in artwork in my former job as a picture framer. And I feel that since I have invested time, energy, money and soul into my work, why not do it right? At the same time, I am not against being spontaneous and using whatever is on hand to create something. However, that creation might not look exactly like it did, the day you created it.