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December 31, 2013 / pleinairman

Kickstarter Project Update – Prepping Panels

Batch of hardboard panels, ready to be prepped

(There is still time to give your support to my Kickstarter project. Here is a link to it for details: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/pleinairman/50-paintings-roosevelt-campobello-intl-park-50th-a)

As I mentioned in my previous update, I’ve received an order of panels I’ll be using for the project.  This weekend, I worked on preparing the panels, and I wanted to share that process with you.

It would be far easier and less time-consuming if I bought ready-made panels, but I am picky about the surface I’m painting on.  I like to prepare my own.  Some people just slap on a coat of acrylic gesso, but I go a good deal further than that.

First, I buy precut hardboard panels.  The panels need to be accurately cut, and I’ve never been able to do that well on my own.  (I’m of the “measure once, cut twice” school of carpentry.)  I find the precut ones have no trouble fitting into ready-made frames.  (These are from Dick Blick: http://www.dickblick.com/products/hardboard-panels/)

Alcohol rub

Next, I rub each panel with alcohol to remove any surface oil.  Most of what you get for hardboard these days is what they call “tempered,” which means a small amount of oil was used in the manufacturing process to improve durability.  I’ve checked with my supplier, and these days not enough oil is used to cause the product to not be archival.  (Artists should always use archival materials so they will last the ages.)

Sizing the panels
Waiting for the size to dry

Once the panels are dry, I seal each panel with Gamblin’s PVA size.  I brush on a very thin coat.  The coat is enough to keep oil from my paint from penetrating down into the board, which could cause the board to deteriorate; it also keeps any bad chemicals from the hardboard from wicking up into the paint layer.  Basically, it isolates the board from the oil paint.

First layer of acrylic gesso
Texture in the gesso

The PVA dries pretty quickly, so I’m able to put on my first layer of acrylic gesso not long after.  I use random strokes to apply the gesso.  Although each layer of gesso is thin, the gesso itself is thick enough so it holds the strokes and creates a bit of surface texture.  It’s this texture I like that I don’t get with the “store-bought” painting panels.  (By the way, if I am prepping panels 9×12 or larger, I will brush on a thin coat of gesso on the backside to avoid warping.)

After this first layer dries, I follow with a second layer.  I don’t sand between layers, and I again apply the gesso with random strokes.  This second layer is the last, since it creates a white ground upon which to paint that isn’t blindlingly white but sufficient to do its job.  (If you apply oil paint transparently, the white ground will bounce light back through the paint and make it glow like stained glass.)

Applying the acrylic matte medium
You can really see the texture the matte medium gives

Once this final layer dries, I brush on a layer of acrylic matte medium.  This layer makes the gesso a little less absorbent.  (I like a certain degree of absorbency in my panels, but not so much that the brush drags.)  It also applies even more texture to the panel.

Sanding the panels

After the acrylic matte medium dries, I give each panel a very light sanding with a fine grit sandpaper to knock off any high points.  The final panel will still have a good deal of tooth and texture to it – just perfect for my painting style.

Final drying

Finally, to make sure the whole package dries sufficiently, I assemble the panels in a sort of “house of cards” that will allow good ventilation.  I do this in a room that is warmer than my studio.  These days, my studio seems to be holding around 54 degrees – a little chilly!

The whole process, not including final drying time as a “house of cards”, takes about three days.  So, when you ask how long it took to make a painting, make sure you add that into the calculation!

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