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View Full Version : Misconceptions about painting on panel/finely sanded canvas


jdown
01-02-2019, 03:53 PM
As a beginner, I can sorta take the hubris of those here who declare that you must spend dozens of hours and weeks, even months laboring to prepare a surface before you can ever apply paint to said surface. And that if you merely buy a canvas from a reputable vendor and start painting it, you can scarcely call yourself an artist.
Having taken a Fredrix canvas and gessoed it, then sanded it to fineness for the purpose of painting a portrait in oil, I would like to offer the following initial impressions:
a) oil paint most assuredly does not flow smoothly and evenly onto a smooth, well-sanded canvas. The paint now has nowhere to go - it can only sit on the surface. The result is brush strokes that are much more visible and distracting than when using an "untreated" canvas.
b) blending is far more difficult when the surface is smooth and well-sanded. For example, I use a relatively dry brush to blend when painting on an untreated canvas - I apply it to the region where the two components meet and smooth out the border. When I try to blend painted regions on a smooth, well-sanded surface with a dry brush, the brush of course merely absorbs the paint that was on the surface.
Thus far I have found about 1,770 articles and Youtube videos on how to prepare a panel or canvas to make it ultra-smooth, and extolling the virtues of doing so. What I have yet to find is a detailed account of how you actually paint on such a surface. This question was put to Will Kemp three years ago on his website, but his answer was confusing and made little sense. The responses to a similar post here on WC in June 2018 were likewise unhelpful.

stapeliad
01-02-2019, 04:04 PM
A nice smooth surface is my favorite- either an eggshell-like finish or smooth oil-primed. All surfaces are treated somehow, usually oil-primed or with acrylic gesso.

A couple of things... your ground might be absorbing the oil, making the paint more difficult to work with. Are you toning your surface first? That can help. You can also mix up 50/50 oil and solvent and add a few drops to your paint as needed.

Another thing many people struggle with, especially beginners, is not using enough paint. Make sure you are using enough paint to begin with. Lay your brush strokes down next to each other and gently blend the edges as needed.

AnnieA
01-02-2019, 04:17 PM
This may be a little bit OT, since you're talking about covering it with gesso and sanding, but I've found Fredrix brand canvases to be incredibly absorbent - way too much so - making it very hard to lay down paint on the surface (this is without any additional treatment). I've also noticed that on Fredrix canvas boards, the canvas doesn't always appear to be properly affixed to the board, as there are little wavy lines that appear to be areas standing up from the surface and that remain visible in a finished painting. This isn't something related to the weave of the canvas threads, but in the surface of the canvas (I hope that's clear). At first, I thought this was a fluke, but I now notice the problem on most Fredrix canvas boards.

I had thought Fredrix was a very good brand, but maybe that's changed or I was not right in thinking that in the first place. Perhaps the choice of Fredrix canvas is creating some of your difficulties?

WFMartin
01-02-2019, 04:18 PM
I paint on both sorts of surfaces--the rather rough, weave-textured, surface of an acrylic-primed canvas, AND the very smooth, untextured surface of an acrylic-primed hardboard (Masonite) panel.

Like many other things, the challenges are a bit different when applying image oil paint to either of them.

Blending seems a bit easier on a rough, weave-textured surface, because of the reasons that you have presented, but it is a great deal more difficult creating the very, very fine detail that you may wish to accomplish with a realistic painting.

Most surely, the paint does seem to "have nowhere to go", and to leave streaks when applied to a smooth-surfaced panel, but when I paint on a panel, my object is to do so with many, many, very thin layers of paint. Once I get past the initial "ugly stage" in which my paint appears blotchy, and streaky, my subsequent layers of thinly-applied paint hide these irregularities, and even build upon them to create a smoother appearance than would even be possible when using a rough-textured surface.

Painting upon a smooth surface is merely a "condition" of the painting operation, albeit a different one than is experienced with a rough-textured surface. Each of those surfaces is appropriate, but each must be dealt with in a different manner in order to achieve success with the final painting.

Easy, and accurate blending early-on = rough-textured surface.

Fine detail, with many thin layers of paint = smooth-textured surface.

TomMather
01-02-2019, 08:05 PM
I prefer the texture of primed canvas to smoother surfaces. However, when I have painted on smooth panels, I found that it was much easier to paint using softer, more flexible brushes. Stiff boars hair brushes are much harder for me to paint with on smooth panels.

jdown
01-03-2019, 10:32 AM
The responses to my post have already proved very helpful - many thanks. Some other questions/comments:

Stapeliad - What is involved in "toning a surface?" Remember, I'm a beginner.

AnnieA - My main complaint about Fredrix canvases is that the canvas seems loose, not held tightly, or taut, by the frame. Do you have another brand you would recommend?

WFMartin - the idea of applying the paint in small amounts, in many layers, had occurred to me. Do you just load much less paint onto the brush, or mix it with oil, or both?

TomMather - I can see where that would help. Which brushes do you prefer? I have some larger Grumbacher Bristlette brushes and also one or two Silver Bristlon brushes, both synthetic and rather soft. Should those work?

Again, thanks.

cb3
01-03-2019, 12:12 PM
What kind/brand of gesso did you use? Brands can behave very different from one another in how they accept the paint. (example: very plasticy surface vs chalky absorbent surface. Just like cars: they all have 4 wheels but drive very differently. Try different things - eventually you will find what works for you.

Fredrix is a nice brand. Any canvas can become loose due to fabric make-up (cotton, Linen, polyester - weave - thickness), humidity and how tightly it was stretch. Depending on how it was stretched to begin with, some canvases can be tighten if need. Again - lots of variables out there.

stapeliad
01-03-2019, 12:51 PM
Stapeliad - What is involved in "toning a surface?"

Getting rid of the white. This is usually done with a layer of thinned paint, maybe rubbed in with a cloth. Some people like to use an earthy red, some people like a raw umber wash. it should be something neutral. But the main thing is getting rid of the white.

jdown
01-04-2019, 10:29 AM
cb3 - I used Golden white acrylic primer and mixed acrylic greens in with it to take away the white of the canvas (next time I'll use earth tones, I believe, and try a verdaccio-type underpainting).

WFMartin - you were right about the layers. The layer with which I was so dissatisfied was the burnt sienna underpainting. After it had dried I began to paint over it, finding that the next layer, painting-on-paint, went on much more smoothly. And I still have the advantage that a smooth surface offers for painting fine detail.

Richard P
01-04-2019, 11:36 AM
Easy, and accurate blending early-on = rough-textured surface.

Fine detail, with many thin layers of paint = smooth-textured surface.

I agree with this.

If you paint on a panel you can use a gesso with silicia to add a tooth and a rougher textured surface. W&N Clear Gesso or Liquitex Clear Gesso can be used.

WFMartin
01-04-2019, 03:52 PM
WFMartin - you were right about the layers. The layer with which I was so dissatisfied was the burnt sienna underpainting. After it had dried I began to paint over it, finding that the next layer, painting-on-paint, went on much more smoothly. And I still have the advantage that a smooth surface offers for painting fine detail.

Glad you've had some experience with this now, and can understand what I was explaining. When painting on smooth panels, one learns to ignore the "ugly stage" that occurs early-on in the paint application. The subsequent application of paint works miracles, when painted over the streaky, blotchy, first application. (The third application makes it even better!):thumbsup:

To answer the other member's question, Yes, I use a bit more medium, and I also apply the paint more thinly. Also, after the application of paint, I gently perform a blending operation for which I use a 1 inch, flat, clean, dry, Taklon brush, to smooth out the blotchiness that the initial application of paint has left. I use smooth, criss-cross strokes to smooth the brush strokes, and to blend the values, and soften the edges of the subject.

jdown
01-07-2019, 11:33 AM
Glad you've had some experience with this now, and can understand what I was explaining. When painting on smooth panels, one learns to ignore the "ugly stage" that occurs early-on in the paint application. The subsequent application of paint works miracles, when painted over the streaky, blotchy, first application. (The third application makes it even better!):thumbsup:

To answer the other member's question, Yes, I use a bit more medium, and I also apply the paint more thinly. Also, after the application of paint, I gently perform a blending operation for which I use a 1 inch, flat, clean, dry, Taklon brush, to smooth out the blotchiness that the initial application of paint has left. I use smooth, criss-cross strokes to smooth the brush strokes, and to blend the values, and soften the edges of the subject.

Thanks for the tip on using a Taklon brush. That's something I want to try as well. BTW, you have some fine paintings on your blog.

RomanB
01-07-2019, 02:59 PM
I like to paint on wooden panels with real gesso made by old recipes. They require another approach than canvas - other paint rheology, other brushstroke technique.

Actually, I don't like factory-made canvases, mostly because I don't know how exactly they are made. Acrylic dispersions with photocatalytic Titanium White and cracking Zinc White are just the right combination for guaranteed disaster.

Harold Roth
01-07-2019, 09:54 PM
When I painted with acrylics, I enjoyed painting on panels that I had prepared with hard sandable gesso--six coats which I then sanded smooth so it was like ivory. With oils, I can't stand to paint on a smooth panel, not even the panels right out of the box. The paint just smears. It doesn't "catch" like on canvas. So I just paint on canvas now and no more preparing a smooth gessoed surface.

Re Fredrix, I have found that the Pro-Dixie canvases are great--finer weave than the Blick Premier and nicely made stretchers with a brace in larger sizes. But the regular Red Label Fredrix canvases are crap, IMO. For instance, strings from the weave of the canvas gessoed right over the surface and the stretchers are thin and lame. Quite a difference.