View Full Version : Ideal smooth hard surface support?

09-03-2004, 04:13 PM

I apologize for another thread on supports, but I have some questions that I could not answer weeding through the endless information.

I am interested in the most archival hard and smooth-surfaced support for acrylic painting. Exotic surfaces like metal are abit beyond me. Masonite and other hardboards have ideal surface properties but their archival properties seem to be hotly debated, given the variety of types, unpublished or unknown compositions, and the lack of being time-tested.

A post by Michael Skalka in the following thread is particularly interesting:

All this has led me to believe that canvas glued to hardboard offers the best alternative, with the canvas gessoed and sanded to a smooth surface. Larry Seiler has an excellent tutorial on doing this with acrylic medium as glue:
I think I am safest if I use some kind of "artist quality" hardboard, rather than what is sold at Home Depot.

My questions are:
1. Does anyone see any inherent problems with this approach (other than time)?
2. Is acrylic medium sufficient to act as both a strong glue and a protective seperating layer from the hardboard? Or should the hardboard be "sized" with something else first, like Golden's GAC 100 or something?
3. If the glue ever fails, or over time it is decided that the canvas should be removed from the panel and re-glued to another, how is the dry acrylic medium disolved without damaging the canvas?

I ask these questions in order to provide the best surface and best archival properties. These questions probably seem excessive given that I'm an amateur, but if I intend to sell professionally I want to be able to offer the highest level of craftmanship.

Thanks for any help with this exasperating subject,

- Matthew Durante

P.S. I am not a chemist so I have a hard time understanding all this!

EDIT: Edited for "hardness".

09-03-2004, 04:17 PM
i'm just curious....if you are going to go to the pain of preparing a surface and then putting canvas on it.....why not just paint on stretched canvas? or is there a reason for wanting it on a board of some sort?

09-03-2004, 04:26 PM
Woops, I was lazy with the title. I should have said smooth "hard" surface, hah-hah. Yes, I'm looking for a surface without any play to it. Let's see if I can edit...

But that does bring up an interesting idea. I wonder if one could glue canvas to panel, paint, dissolve the glue then stretch the canvas on a regular frame? This would make it lighter for shipping... :)

Thanks for clarifying,

- Matthew Durante

Lady Carol
09-03-2004, 04:58 PM
So you don't like the feel of canvas, or there is another issue to wanting to use a hard surface?

You could always use illustration board. This is relatively hard, smooth, and archival.

09-03-2004, 05:17 PM

Well I use canvas (store bought canvas-panels) but I tend to fill-in the tooth with gesso and sand until its smooth. I've found this better for detailing and leaves all the texture up to me. Just a personal preference. The flex of regular stretched canvas is always strange to me...

Illustration board is something I haven't really thought of, though I know alot of airbrush artists use it. I've never tried it. Perhaps it's worth a look.

Thanks for the suggestion!

- Matthew Durante

09-03-2004, 05:33 PM

I get all of my canvases (stretched and boards) pre-made and primed. I personally don't think it's worth the effort of making your own. I noticed that Fredrix makes "archival" canvas boards. They are mounted to an acid-free hardboard to prevent warping. It's medium texture, but you can always sand it down and it's much easier then making it yourself. They come in sizes from 8"x10" to 20"x24" and the prices are great. They cost about the same as quality stretched canvases, but the canvas quality is more or less the same. They are much better then other canvas panels mainly because they won't warp. Just a thought.


09-03-2004, 06:33 PM

The pre-made canvas boards you describe seem much superior to what I have used, which are also Frederix but are a few years old. It's warp-city with these. I worry that the paper-cardboard "board" is absorbing all kinds of moisture in back.

Next time I order some materials I'll try one of the newer Frederick boards and see how the quality has improved.


- Matthew Durante

Mike Finn
09-03-2004, 08:03 PM

I am a beginner also and I have tried just about evry type of support. I have settled for now on buying canvas pads up to 24"x18". I use masking tape around the edges to tape it MDF board. I brush some water over the canvas and it expands just a little then tape it and it shrinks down nice and tight. Then a couple of coats of Gesso, sanding in between, gives a good hard smooth surface to paint on. When the painting is dry just peel of the tape leaving a tiny white border around the edge. The painting can then be matted and framed, or stretched etc... For posting it can be rolled into a tube. Simple, cheap and effective.

Mike Finn

09-03-2004, 09:03 PM
Hi Matthew, you've already touched on one of the points I was going to bring up, the texture of the canvas. I would not recommend using canvas unless you want the texture in the finished work (or want to paint on a surface with give, in the case of stretched canvas) it's not really cost effective to fill the weave with acrylic 'gesso'.

If you do go ahead with making your own canvas panels I would suggest you seal the hardboard with polyurethane varnish. In addition to being probably the best material bar none for this it's also going to work out significantly cheaper than any artists' material used as a sealer.

Your point number three is actually one of the most critical, I asked Michael what he would suggest as a good reversible adhesive for this type of application in a past thread which you might want to have a look at too. It's near the end of this thread in the colour theory forum, Gesso coating or paint primer? (http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=170002)

Although I too have a strong concern for archival issues and I applaud the idea of taking a professional approach to materials at an early stage, I would suggest some realism about the issue. Unless you think your work is either now, or will be in the future, of the level that wealthy collectors and/or museums will be looking after them, an approach that's reliably good for 30-50 years or so should be more than adequate. In such a case hardboard is perfectly fine as far as I'm concerned (chosen and prepared properly) but if you're committed there's nothing better than metal as it has a proven track record. I've seen copper panels many times that are hundreds of years old that are practically as good as the day they were finished, some with no cracks at all. Plastics or one kind or another might be just as good but their brittleness is a potential problem.

Sheet copper, aluminium and stainless steel are all relatively easy to get and can be mounted to plywood to make a rigid panel that's protected from easy bending if dropped or something knocks against the surface.

Is the absorbency of the ground an issue for you by the way?


09-03-2004, 09:07 PM
Also, if you do want to stick to canvas, to minimise the texture to fill and maximise stability don't go with cotton or linen, choose polyester instead. It has a pretty minimal weave that's easy to fill and doesn't respond in any way to changes in humidity.


09-03-2004, 11:43 PM

That is a very practical and wonderful suggestion! I've done similar things soaking watercolor paper in my bathtub and stapling it to gatorboard, but it never even crossed my mind to try something similar with canvas! Quite clever. I will definitely consider it.


As always excellent information.

The urge to use canvas comes primarily for two reasons: it seems to be what most buyers of paintings expect, and it can be rolled and is light-weight for shipping inexpensively. Obviously gluing onto panel negates the second. These of course are "business" considerations and I make these points as an observer without much experience. But, you are absolutely right that I am not taking advantage of the nature of canvas.

The thread you linked to is excellent and new to me. For others interested, I think post #10 is what is being referred to (though there may be other mentions). The adhesive mentioned is something called BEVA and here's where you can buy it:

Einion your point about being realistic is well-taken. It seems that choosing a support is a series of trade-offs, archivabillity vs. cost vs. preparation-time etc. Doing the absolutely best thing would probably be expensive, and as a beginner I probably would not get back my cost. It also seems that a knowledge of conservation can be a major asset!

If I am going to attach canvas to panel but the adhesive is not "reversible" (without investing in an expensive product), that seems to negate the whole advantage of using canvas on panel in my situation; if the support starts to eat into the canvas no one will be able to take it off! Therefore I'd be better off just painting directly on the panel and doing my best to prepare it properly, or look into Mike's suggestion.

Polyester canvas is new to me, and I have never seen polyester as I was only a baby in the age of disco.

Metal supports seem to be highly regarded, but honestly I've never dealt with sheet metal and potentially haveing to cut it etc. is probably a bit more than I can deal with at present. I will keep this in mind for the future.

I don't think the absorbency of the ground is an issue for me. I've always painted on acrylic gesso and that's what I'm used to. I'm not looking for a completely non-absorbant surface...

All this gives me quite a bit to consider. Thanks Einion and everyone else for all these great suggestions.

- Matthew Durante

P.S. Someone should write a book called "Support for the Bewildered Artist". :rolleyes: