Surface (also known as support) it's any physical material like paper, canvas, wood, fiberboards, PVC, copper, aluminum, paperboard, glass, wall, gypsum… All the different surfaces can be separated in two main groups:
In our time the most popular and usable surface is the canvas, but his status as a painting surface is relatively small. The old masters performed their masterpieces on wooden panels. In that period the most popular wood was oak and birch in the northern Europe, poplar was used in Italy (The famous portrait of Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci 1503 was painted on poplar). Metal mainly copper was the second choice of the painters; it wasn't so popular as wood. The paintings on the rigid surface have several advantages:
Canvas is a term applied to tightly woven fabrics that are used for sails, tents, awnings and paintings. Canvas comes in a wide variety of textures, qualities and dimensions. It can be chosen for a specific effect desired in a given painting such as: an extra smooth surface for detailed portraiture, a bold texture for impasto, or an abrasive “toothy” surface to enhance adhesion for collage.
The Structure of Canvas - the weave of canvas goes in two directions. The yarns running the length of the canvas are referred to as the “warp”. The yarns running across the width of the canvas are referred to as the “weft or filling”. The strength of the canvas is based on yarn thickness, closeness of construction, and fiber quality as indicated by its tensile strength.
There is an important difference between the regular materials and the ones that are designed for painting. Before I'll explain that difference I want to remind you what happens with natural materials after they get wet: they shrink! Take for example the jeans, after washing they become smaller and tighter, that is because they shrink. So what is so special about the artist grade canvases? During the spinning and weaving of artist canvas production, stresses are placed on the canvas fibers that stretch them beyond their natural dimensions. When wet (during sizing or priming), the canvas reverts to its natural state by pulling back to the relaxed fiber dimension (it shrinks). The term “shrink” in a woven canvas refers to the ability of the fibers to return to their normal relaxed state when subjected to moisture. It is the potential shrink in an artist canvas that keeps it taut on the stretcher frame through constant changes in temperature and humidity. A canvas that has been pre-shrunk is normally unsuitable as an artist canvas, because it has lost the ability to shrink. Pre-shrunk or chemically treated canvas tends to sag during periods of high humidity.
There is a small test that you can do, if you want to distinguish between the artist grade canvas and the regular one.
You can feel the difference between the materials when touching them; the Belgian one is very strong and stretched, when the second one is like cotton material. I took the corner of the material and stretched it with the fingers (fig.2 the arrows on the picture shows in what direction to pull the material and the head of the arrows is the place where the fingers should be placed).
From the fig.3 of the materials after the stretch, you can see the difference: the material that was purchase in a regular material store didn't changed much, compared with the Belgium one that did changed. You can see a stretched stripe, and in the circles you can see very clearly the place where the fingers were. You can remove that stripe by stretching the material with the directions of the running yarns.
What fibers are used for canvases?
The first use of the cannabis was in 8000 B.C. in China, the earliest known fabric is woven from hemp for cloth. In the 14-15th century Renaissance artists perform their masterpieces on hemp canvas. In 1537 hemp receives the name Cannabis Sativa, the scientific name that stands today. In 17th Century Dutch Masters, such as Van Gogh and Rembrandt, painted on hemp canvas. In fact the word canvas derives from the word "cannabis", in our days that word describes each of the coarse fabric. 16th-18th Century: Hemp was a major fiber crop in Russia, Europe and North America.
Ropes and sails were made of hemp because of its great strength and its resistance to rotting. Hemp paper does not turn yellow and disintegrate, as wood pulp paper does. The Library of Congress reports that 300-400 year old hemp paper is still in good shape. However, 97 percent of the non-fiction books printed between 1900 and 1939 on wood-based paper will be soon unreadable.
Hemp was a major crop until the 1920's, supplying the world with its main supply of food and fiber (80% of clothing was made from Hemp). The material that is made out of hemp is very strong and stable. This durable canvas was used by the great masters whose works we can see today. Hemp canvases are the best from the existing naturally canvases, the only problem is to find it and the good one.
This plant is known about 10,000 years, may be even
more. It was cultivated in the Delta, that land is placed at the mouth of the
The quality of flax varies according to soil and
The hemp and the linen come from the same genus of
plants; they have the same "bamboo" body. The fibers (that are used
in fabrics) are joined to the hollow woody core. The transition from hemp to linen painting canvases had occurred smoothly,
because the painters accepted two of them. The fabrics woven from linen, is
good as well as the hemp ones, they have pretty much the same characters.
Two of the plants have the same "bamboo" structure, therefore the main steps in production of the fibers is identical.
Spinning and Weaving
Cotton has been cultivated for over 8,000 years. It is
generally believed that the first cultivation of cotton was in
Cotton is a natural fiber of vegetable origin, like linen, jute or hemp. Mostly composed of cellulose (a carbohydrate plant substance) and formed by twisted, ribbon-like shaped fibers, cotton is the fruit of a shrubby plant commonly referred to as the "cotton plant".
After the cotton plant blooms the pod enlarges into a cotton boll.
Approximately two months later it is ready to harvest. After cleaning and
removing the seeds the yarn is obtained.
Today cotton it's the most saleable material not only
for clothing industry, it's as well saleable for art. Most of the canvases in
the art magazines are cotton canvases with a layer of acrylic "Gesso".
French artists did not adopt cotton canvases as
readily as they had linen ones. But even at the beginning of the 19th century,
the Industrial Revolution and the large production of cotton in the
Cotton is weaker than the two other fibers and much weaker when wet;
it will also not resist bacterial growth as well. Only starting at the turn of
this century did painters begin to paint on cotton canvases, because linen
fabrics had by then become much more expensive. Even
today, artists who are concerned with the durability of their works still favor
linen over cotton when it is available and affordable. At a study of French
painting canvases, no cotton was found before the end of the 19th century.
For centuries, Jute has been an integral part of
Bengali culture, which is shared by Both Bangladesh and West Bengal of
Jute is often found in rough fabrics, such as burlap sacking. It is inexpensive and sometimes used by students for sketches.
Jute becomes extremely weak and
brittle with age and should not be used for permanent painting. It will most
often deteriorate before a good cotton canvas, linen or hemp will last even
longer. Jute is easily rotted by water compared to other materials.
Those artists, who are fond of its rough and heavy surfaces, should be able to find a heavy linen or hemp textile of comparable weave to use in its place.
There are canvases made from nylon sailcloth, acrylic
fiber, polyester, and other synthetic textiles that can be used. More people are discovering the strength and
durability of using a polyester fabric. This
material is the modern solution to create a totally chemically compatible
environment. Polyester is almost flawless, and it has a real fine surface. It
isn't affected by moisture at all, and heat or cold causes it to expand and
contract much less than natural fibers. Because this polyester fabric moves
the least, it is a very stable fabric to paint on.
Oil painting on paper is not recommended, it is not professional and not archival. How far back in history paper was used as a combined ground and support nobody knows, because so few examples have survived. Plain paper, paper sized with gelatin (to minimize or retard the inevitable embrittling effect of aging oil paint), and parchment paper which will take oil colors nicely have always served the artist for small sketches, color notes, and other purposes where longevity of results is secondary. No major works by great painters have come down to us; because of disastrous failures no concerted group revival of the practice lasts very long.
Paper and oil paint do not seem to go well together, mechanically or
optically; they are not sympathetic or "naturals" like oil on canvas,
tempera on gesso panels, and watercolor on paper. It doesn't have structural
strength and stability and the resulting works are usually very fragile. Works
on paper must undergo extreme restorative and conservative treatments, usually
within 35 years, even when painted on 100% rag paper mounted to wood panel.
Several different designations are used to describe
the quality of cellulose in paper, and these can be somewhat misleading.
Till now we've spoke about flexible supports, let's describe some of the rigid ones. There is a difference when working with panels or with flexible support. First of all the paintings that are done on panels have smaller size, as compared with canvases that can be huge. The panels create a very stable, durable and strong support; it creates a "trusty" support. The primary disadvantage of plywood or wooden panels as supports for painting is their tendency to emit acidic vapors. This out-gassing phenomenon is extremely dangerous to the paint film. The only reason why old paintings on wooden panels survived is, properly applied glue gesso ground which contains calcium carbonate (Chalk, Marble, Whiting = CCaO3) effectively acting as buffer agent against those acid vapors. The painters always were seeking for a well aged panel, because it emits less acid gases. There a porous supports like the wooden panels and nonporous aluminum, PVC, glass metals.
Wood panels as supports for painting have been used from the earliest beginnings of painting. Wood types that have been used by artists include: poplar, oak, linden, pine, cedar and various hardwoods, such as mahogany and walnut. The wood selected by the early Italians for their panels was mostly poplar; that used by the Northern painters was oak. Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Northern panels are usually mahogany.
The best wood panels for painting are well seasoned, air-dried quarter-sawn hardwoods to avoid warping, shrinking, and it holds paint better. The quarter-sawed wood is to be preferred since the grain on the front and back of the panel is more nearly the same. In England well-aged boards from old paneling or furniture were often used, and the painters prefer them to new boards where the reduction of the vapors was higher. It is very important for the wood panels to be well aged because of the content of water that can cause the board to shrink and wrap. The wood of young trees is less valuable than that of old ones. When the panel is prepared for painting, it should be given the same number of priming coats (size and ground) on front and back, so that the tension on both sides is equalized. Finally, a coat of oil paint should be applied to the back to correspond to the picture on the face of the panel and to protect the back of the panel from moisture.
Wood expands in dampness, and in warmth will shrink very considerable through loss of moisture. Even very old seasoned wood is still subject to these conditions. The dried paint on a wood panel cannot follow the movement of the wood and may easily chip off. To prevent the warping of the wood panels, reinforcement strips are developed into the back.
There are a lot of boards that are made of saw-dust; the difference is the process and the size of the dust. There are some boards that are made from fine layers of wood that are glued together.
Plywood is made by gluing several layers of wood together. The center of the ply boards, the "core", is made of thicker piece of soft wood to witch have been glued on both sides thinner sheets of harder wood, the so-called veneer. There is a five-ply board used for doors and furniture witch is highly regarded. The veneer must be glued with "alternating grain direction", it makes the plywood stronger.
There are two kinds of veneers: sawn and peeled.
Any of several types of engineered wood panels made from sawdust. The sawdust, with or without the addition of polymer resins, are formed into boards using heat and pressure. There are three categories of fiberboards; the difference is their density:
Dry-process fiberboards are very stable and make excellent art panels; choose them over wet-process boards for this purpose. MDF and HDF are very similar panels and share most of the same qualities; they tend to differ only by a small amount in density. The manufacturing process of these products usually results in the thinner panels having slightly higher densities. Panels of a half inch or more are generally MDF; panels of a quarter inch or less usually fall into the category of HDF, though these are generally called "thin MDF" (TMDF) since the public is more familiar with the term "MDF' than "HDF'. Fiberboard should not be confused with cheaper particleboard.
The panels are available in two forms: tempered and untempered. Both untempered (or standard) and tempered panels can be used by the artist. They are made by the same process, the only different is the final step of the tempered, in witch a small amount of oil (usually linseed)is applied on the panel surface and then baked. Most of this oil is flashed off when the boards are baked at temperatures about 400 degrees F. This "tempering" oil is invisible and does not leave an oil residue on the panel that can cause adhesion problems, as did the outdated hardboard. The purpose of this process is to make the board stronger and less prone to warping. Unfortunately, artists and conservators have incorrectly been led to believe that even today's tempered hardboard is impregnated with a lot of harmful oil.
Particleboard, sometimes called chipboard (Flakeboard® is the company name of an early maker of particleboard) is a panel made of waste wood that has been chipped into small splinter-sized bits, and then glued back together using synthetic resin polymers. It is inexpensive, and resists warping. It is commonly used to make low priced furniture, cabinets, and shelving. It fractures and crumbles easily. Its delicacy in that regard makes it largely unsuitable for use in artist panels. It should not be confused with the much higher quality fiberboard.
Metals requires oilier and not liquid (water base) primers. All metals will expand and contract
Copper - a ductile malleable reddish-brown corrosion-resistant metallic element.
A cooper plate must be cleaned from colored iridescent oxide, it's very important to do it properly otherwise the painting will turn
green. You can do it by scrubbing the surface with fine grit paper or otherwise roughened in circular motion .The sandpaper or the
metallic wool will provide the copper with a "toothy" texture, the paint film that will be laid over can dig into by using the nooks and
the crannies. After that wash the plate with dish soap and wipe the surface with rubbing alcohol, allowing the liquid to evaporate. It's
very important not to touch the copper plate, since fingerprints will show up later.
All that will provide us with mechanical bond; you can make it even stronger by brushing some garlic fresh juice over the copper and let it dry. Garlic is acidic and the juice from the garlic will eat into the copper (it also used to degrease the surface). The chemical bond can be provided by using resin, it acts a lot like very strong glue; thinned mastic varnish which penetrates underneath the color skin will work just fine. The resin part is optional, but it will help if you use it.
White lead ground to as thick a consistency as possible in boiled linseed oil is then put on with an
brush in a stippling manner, very thinly, like a veil, but several times, over the metal. Care must be taken to see that each coat is dry
before putting on the next. The first coat must be thinnest and leanest.
On the layers of the lead paint brush a thinned transparent wash
of raw umber. Let the panel sit two weeks or more. Carefully wet sand the surface by hand outdoors until the transparent raw umber wash
is completely gone. Some recommend letting the primed panel sit for at least 3 months before painting on it. Never sand the dry surface,
lead white is very poisonous. Another important thing is to do the same on the back side of the panel; it is still the same copper that
needs to be sealed. Because of the fact that copper is easy bent it will always be a good decision to reinforce the panel with some kind
of frame. Color usually will hold very well on copper plates if they have been correctly prepared.
Aluminum - The use of modern acrylic laquers or polyurethane automotive and aircraft industrial catings on honeycombed aluminum or fiberglass-coverd aluminum panels is one of the most permanent means of painting available today. The most known supports of aluminum is the honeycombed aluminum. They are light in weight, thus suitable for large paintings.
Any of grounds can be applied, oil, gesso, alkyd, emulsion. Before the ground it is better to lightly roughen their surface with fine
sandpaper. Aluminum panels are degreased with solvents such as mineral spirits, denatured alcohol, acetone or naphtha. Do not use any
cleaner containing ammonia or other alkaline substances as aluminum will tend to react chemically.
There is another kind of support known as "DIBOND panel". It is a deluxe museum grade panel, and it is rated as a very archival product.
DIBOND - is made of two lightweight sheets of aluminum with a Thermoplastic Core. It comes in large sheets but can easily be cut to size.
Often used by Sign Manufacturers, it is gradually becoming popular as a Fine Art Painting Support. It will not warp, or deteriorate and
will produce no '"out gassing" that can harm the painted surface. It is designed to stand the test of extreme weather conditions. It is
coated with polyester paint to prevent oxidation. It is very light in weight and it is conservator recommended, definitely the first
choice from the rigid supports.
It's a synthetic material, it looks like plastic and it has variety of colors. It can be a very good base, second choice after the aluminum DIBOND, since it will not react to humidity and temperature change.
There are other different supports like glass or marble or any other minerals that can be used. One can paint on such bases without applying a ground, or one can give them a coat of oil color, the same as with metals.