Friday, August 28, 2009

Everybody needs some support

Artists love to experiment and one of the things that painters often play around with is different types of supports. That's technical language for the things that you put the paint on. Canvas is common and there are many different types and weights of it. For smaller paintings - under 24 x 24 - I usually buy ready-made canvases which tend to be lightweight but for larger works, I buy a heavy-weight cotton by the roll and stretch it myself. It seems daunting but it's actually easy. All you need are the stretcher bars (the four wooden frame pieces that you knock together with a mallet), a pair of canvas pliers, and a staple gun. Stretching the canvas as tight as a drum and planning what I'll paint on it later is very satisfying, meditative work. Unwrapping a purchased canvas is anticlimactic in comparison.

Linen canvas is a traditional, sturdy support which makes smooth, durable canvases but it's very expensive.

Another common support is a piece of wood. I've seen masonite and birch used as painting surfaces and recently painted on a piece of shellacked plywood which was given to me by Sharon Williams, a terrific plein air painter and teacher. Rigid supports like these have the advantage of not moving with changes in temperature or humidity and so preserve a painting against cracking better than canvas does. The important thing to remember is to seal the wood so that none of the colour and adhesives used in it can migrate into the painting over time causing "support induced discolouration". Good sealants include shellac and GAC 100 (by Golden).

Because I like the way that paint adheres to fabric better than the slick way that it slides over wood, I sometimes make canvas boards by gluing canvas to a piece of masonite with lots of acrylic medium. This gives me the best of both worlds: the rigidity and portability of a board and the sympathetic surface of canvas. These canvas boards make great plein air supports. You can buy ready-made canvas boards and I can recommend the RayMar brand which comes in lots of sizes and surfaces.

I've also seen gorgeous work done on copper and aluminium sheets.. The gleam and colour of the metal shows through in the final painting. Like wood, these sheets need to be sealed first to stop discolouration of the metal and to provide a "tooth" for paint to adhere to. Before sealing, the metal has to be very well degreased - some people give it a light sanding and washing and then rub it with an onion for this!

Each of these supports allows you to make different types of marks and it's refreshing to try a new one once in a while and see how your manner of applying paint changes as a result.

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