Aug 6, 2013

Different Surfaces for Oil Paints

I recently updated my Horse Portraits web page and, in doing so, talked a little bit about the various painting surfaces I use for my oil paints. I thought I'd share those differences here, too.

I normally paint on one of three different painting surfaces, or substrates, with oils. Which one I use depends on a number of things. Some of it has to do with the look I want to achieve in the finished painting. Some of it has to do with what lighting conditions I expect the final piece to be displayed under. Some of it has to do with size and handling. 

The 3 substrates I use are:

• canvas
• multimedia board
• gesso board

Let's start with canvas, the traditional oil painting surface. Canvas gives the traditional rougher textured look that many people love in a painting. Canvas also leaves the oil in the paint, creating the glossy sheen of oils that many are familiar with. The downside to canvas is that finer detail is harder to achieve on this surface.

When I want a smoother, more detailed painting I often paint on multimedia board or gesso board.

Let's start with multimedia board. Multimedia board is much smoother than canvas but still has a slight texture. It is also much more absorbent than canvas, which means it will draw some of the oil out of the paint. This doesn't hurt the painting but it results in a less glossy, more matte finish when the painting dries. While some people love the glossiness of oils, that sheen can sometimes making viewing difficult because of glare. If you have a difficult lighting situation then you might want to go with multimedia board to reduce glare issues. Another advantage of multimedia board is it is very thin and light weight. Multimedia board is mounted on archival acid-free foam board to keep it strong yet still stay light weight. Because of this, it is not likely to be damaged when dropped and, if you want to ship it, costs will be lowest with this substrate.

Gesso board has the smoothest finish of the three substrates. It is less absorbent than multimedia board, so the oils will retain more of their glossiness, though not quite as much as canvas. It's a good choice if you want finer detail than canvas offers but still want to retain some of the glossiness. I only recommend gesso board for smaller paintings, however. Larger size boards get heavy and can increase shipping costs significantly. These large panels may also make your painting more susceptible to damage since they can crack or chip if dropped or bumped.

Below are images showing some close-up details of paintings on the different painting surfaces. Visit my website to see the full images.

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