Foundation | Blank Canvases | Wood | Artist’s Papers | Copper as a Painting Support | Other Supports 


Painting Foundations

Create your masterpiece to endure the test of time.

“Self Portrait”
Pen and ink on paper

The Notebooks of 
Leonardo Da Vinci
by Leonardo Da Vinci

Somewhere in your reading you may have already begun to realize one consistent repetitive subject in my writing. Expressing the importance of creating your work to “archive quality standards” is most likely the foremost important discipline to consider as an Artist. It should always be your first objective. Negligence in regard to proper preparation and choice of materials can cost a considerable amount of loss in time and money..

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Understanding the cause and effect of deterioration may assist you in understanding how you can make a difference in how long your work will survive. While analyzing the general condition of the above drawing by Leonardo da Vinci, with the technology curators have today they possess the ability to theorize and determine the exact cause of deterioration (as if being a 600 year old drawing where not enough). Limited to the access or even the knowledge of the need for archive quality materials, Leonardo was challenged to experiment with various mediums and not without his share of personal failure with his creations. There are many biograpies available that explain more of Leonardo’s frustrating attempts experimenting with painting mediums. Some of the most destructive elements to a painting are ;

  • Improper storage and exposure to moisture, which can cause warping, paint peeling and mildew to name a few.
  • Improper preparation of support & grounds (covered below ) and painting technique are the two main causes of problems such as peeling or crackling of paint (see oil painting),
  • UV light has been known to discolor or bleach areas of a painting.
  • Acidity in the materials used which induces decomposition and discoloration or (yellowing).

The foundation and preventative preparation of your painting is the beginning and basis to which experience has taught us by trial and error. In this sense there is no need to experience an error or failure in your painting provided you pay close attention to the quality of materials used. The supports to which you can apply paint vary and each requires their own unique method of preparation. The links below provide details about preparation requirements for each specific support.

Wood – Paintings do not have to be created on canvas. Wood was one of the first traditional supports. Many of the old master’s paintings were done on wooden panels. You can effectively use 1/8″ mahogany, birch, or even masonite for pictures up to 18″ x 24″. However, I would recommend reinforcing and cross bracing larger painting panels (known as cradling) similar to canvas stretcher bars. A sealer (sizing) and primer ground must first be applied similar to canvas.

Plaster – Better know to the art world as fresco, experimental results painting with plaster have proven to be both disappointment and an exhilarating experience. Mostly used in an architectural settings, these techniques have provided continued interest for centuries.

MetalSheet copper is an outstanding support that has proven to survive centuries with minimum amounts of deterioration. Generally used in 18 to 24 gauge due to weight and cost copper provides a smooth textured surface to work on favored by some portrait Artists. Opted specifically for use with oils it is probably the best proven archive quality material available to paint on to date.

Aluminum is becoming a close second only due to it’s relatively recent discovery in 1825 and minimal time for testing as a painting support. The advantage of using aluminum is it’s light weight and comparable to copper it’s natural resistance to rust.

CanvasWith linen being the most expensive, strongest and highest quality canvas it is still an economical choice for a support. Cotton canvas may also be used as a support on small works or attached to a wood panel for additional support. The fabric is available either primed or unprimed and in various weaves: coarse (landscape), medium (general), and fine (portrait). Appreciated for it’s rich textured appearance, canvas is usually stretched over a wooden stretcher frame and sometimes more effectively stretched and glued over wood panel or cardboard. Most cardboard is used for preliminary sketching it is not always pH stable and is susceptible to warping so I don’t personally recommend using it for archive quality work.

For centuries canvas was sized with a coat of warm rabbit skin glue and prime coated only with either a white lead oil base or a rabbit glue white lead mixture. Since the mid 1970’s use of lead in many chemical substances has been phased out in America due to it’s claim to long term heath exposure hazards. Click here to learn more about ” The Risk of Lead Paint Exposure”. The only advise offered here is that, by now you should understand there are many harmful natural and synthetic substances that you handle as an Artist and that a substantial effort should be made to avoid personal lead environmental exposure. Read the labels of the materials you are handling and educate yourself to their hazards. Although there are still many “lead” oil base primers available, with my personal objection acrylic primer or gesso has become the most frequently used.
Paper– Paper is made of various natural pulp fibers which, are glued in a method known as vat sizing. Most archive quality paper is pH neutral and is made of cotton commonly know as ” rag 100%”. Some of your better know and reputable Artist’s papers are Canson, Strathmore, D’Arches, Fabriano, Winsor & Newton, Whatman, Lanaquarelle, and Waterford. Additional conservational measures must be taken to preserve this support.

Other Supports

  • Silk – has many traditional applications
  • Glass, Plexi, & Fiberglassare complicated non porous painting surfaces used primary in the Sign Making industry

I can not personality endorse any one product over another from the variety of materials I use. However, I must emphasize the fact that all of the elements that can destroy your masterpiece can be avoided by utilizing the proper preparation techniques and being discriminative about what materials you use. With all the experience the old masters have provided us with as well as the advancement in analytic technology, there is no reason any work properly planned and created today should not exceed the timeless quality standards of our predecessors.

” A kiss from my mother made me a painter.”
Benjamin West


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