Alternatives to Stretched Canvas for Oil Painting

Most artists enjoy trying new materials. Here are some alternative surfaces for painting in oils. Most are easily found in art supplies sources.

Stretched canvas is the most common surface for oil painting. Canvas practically defines the genre. Let’s face it, people are used to seeing paintings on canvas stretched on frames. It may be traditional, but stretched canvas is NOT the only surface that artists can use for painting in oils.

Alternative painting surfaces and supports:

  • Paper Materials
  • Panels
  • Unstretched canvas.

Paper Supports for Oil Painting

Paper as a support for oil paintings has never really taken off. There are a few good reasons for using paper materials, but also potential bad problems. Paper is light in weight and less expensive to use. Also, paper supports take up much less space than either canvas or panels. These features make paper materials seem like a good option.

Potential paper supports:

  • Museum board
  • Canvas paper
  • Stiff cardboard
  • Watercolour or bristol paper.

All paper supports need a barrier between the paper and the oils, such as acrylic gesso or acrylic varnish medium. Without question, only acid-free or rag products should be attempted. There is some question as to how archival paintings on paper will be as they age. These supports tend to be flimsy and may lead to cracking or damage to the oil surface as it hardens.

Museum board or illustration board is a multi-ply cardboard-like paper with a nice surface for artwork. Canvas paper has a prepared canvas-like texture and is available in pads. Various cardboards can be coated and painted on, but cardboard is noted to be susceptible to dampness and breaking down quickly. Watercolour paper or bristol paper is archival, but the flimsiness doesn’t bode well for a hardened oil surface.

Panels Alternative to Stretched Canvas

Panels are attractive support for artists. They are thinner and take up less space than stretcher frames. The solid surface may be better suited to oil painting preservation. And wooden panels are common to the tradition of oil painting from the Renaissance on. All panels must be coated before painting on with oils.

Panels for Painting:

  • Hardboard or Masonite
  • Birch or maple plywood
  • Wood boards

Artists have been painting on Masonite or hardboard panels for long enough now that they are considered archival. The disadvantage to these panels is that they may warp. Large size panels need to be braced or framed. Smaller panels up to about 16 x 20 are usually not braced.

Plywood is a tempting large, smooth surface. However, plywood is susceptible to separation of layers and splitting along the surface. Wooden boards are seldom wide enough alone and joining boards together to create a larger surface may lead to splits in the surface much later.

Unstretched Canvas

A canvas that is pre-coated with gesso may be painted on without being stretched. The flexibility of cloth without backing or support makes it

less desirable for oil painting. The unstretched canvas can be taped to a lightweight firm backing, such as gatorboard or foam core, and then painted. After it is painted on, it may be simply stored flat, transferred and mounted to a hard panel surface, or stretched onto a frame.

There are many reasons for seeking alternative support materials. Convenience, weight, storage, and aesthetics are some of the motives. Stretched canvas paintings remain the most common supports, but artists are wont to experiment. As long as the materials are prepared specifically for oil paint qualities, there is a great degree of success in using alternative materials for supports.

Choosing the Right Easel for Painting and Drawing

Choosing the Right Easel for Painting and DrawingArtists in the market for a new easel for their art studio may be stunned by all the choices. There are metal easels, wooden easels, A-frame, H-frame and French easels and all types of features that may make the easel more attractive to certain types of artists, and useless to others.

Here is a guide to help even new artists weed through the choices to find the perfect easel for their needs.

 Wooden Easel vs Aluminum Easel

When it comes to the material choices, one is not necessarily better than the other. Wood is a classic choice for easel construction, but metal has many advantages as well.

– Advantages of Wooden Easels:

  • Sturdier construction
  • Less likely to wobble during the painting and drawing process
  • They often come in a wider variety of designs

– Advantages of Metal Easels:

  • Lighter and more portable
  • Many fold up and can be stored away in small areas
  • Easier to clean because they are non-porous
  • What Types of Easel Styles Are There?

If an artist looks hard enough, she will find an unending amount of various sizes and styles of easels. There are three main styles, though.

A-frame or tripod easels are shaped like the letter A with an extra leg jutting out to support it. This three-legged structure makes it easy to fold up for storage. The problem with A-frame easels is the lack of support on the upper part of the canvas. Also, this type of easel isn’t a stable as other easel types, though they are often less expensive than H-frame counterparts.

H-frame easels have a square-shaped frame with a crossbar or tray that runs along the center to hold the canvas. H-frame easels are very sturdy and support the canvas from top to bottom. The only problem with this style is that it takes up a lot of room. Space conscientious artists should look for a version that folds flat so that it can be stored against a wall of the art studio or under a bed. Both the H-frame and A-frame easels come in large floor sizes or smaller table-top designs.

French easels are small boxes or cases with pop-up painting supports and extendable legs. These types of easels are made for plain air painting since artists can store their supplies in the easel and carry it to various locations easily.

What Features to Look for in an Easel

Besides size and construction material, easels come with a wide array of features. Here are some easel features that artists should look for:

  • Telescoping legs make A-frame styles take up even less space.
  • Extending support bars keep even large canvases steady. Make sure to look for information on
    how large of a canvas the easel will accommodate.
  • Look for built in trays and cups for holding art supplies.
  • Make sure the canvas support bars are wide enough to hold deep, gallery-style canvases.
  • Rubber tipped feet keep tripod and A-frame legs from slipping during the painting process.
  • After considering all of the easel’s features and options, an artist will be able to make an informed decision when buying this high-ticket item for his art studio.

Tips for Sketching with Watercolor Paints

Sketching with Watercolor PaintsSketching with watercolor paints instead of traditional dry media can give you the advantage of colorful, textured sketches that offer a more complete impression of a scene. Here are some tips for getting started with watercolor sketching.

Watercolor Sketching Tip #1: Keep it Loose

The first key to sketching with watercolor is to keep your hand loose and use big, sweeping strokes. This will speed the sketching process and leave you with the feeling and composition of a scene without taking too much time. Remember, you’re not trying to make a painting worthy of a frame. You just want to record what you see for a complete painting in the future.

Watercolor Sketching Tip #2: Skip the Details

One of the best reasons for sketching with watercolor instead of sketching with dry media is simplicity. Broad strokes and a loose hand will keep your sketch spontaneous, but you may still fall into the trap of over recording. To combat this, always use the biggest brush possible. Using a larger brush will help you record the big picture, not all the fussy little details, keeping you more focused on capturing the atmosphere and composition of the moment.

Watercolor Sketching Tip #3: Paint in Chunks

If you are a stickler for details, go ahead and paint them, but not with your composition sketch. Do separate sketches of the details that catch your eye. For example, if you are sketching a busy farmer’s market you should paint an overall composition sketch, a sketch of the gourd display, a sketch of the intriguing older lady, a sketch of the farmer’s dog…you get the idea.

Watercolor Sketching Tip #4: Use White to Your Advantage

Your first instinct may be to cover your white paper with color, but not so fast. Use the white to your advantage. Use it to signify light in your sketches. The pure white paper can be highlights, sun bleached areas or just a visual note to yourself to leave an area lighter in color.

Watercolor Sketching Tip #5: Carry a Minimum of Tools

Nothing is more distracting than having a jumble of painting tools that you don’t really need. Keep it simple.

Follow these tips as you fill the pages of your watercolor sketchbook and you will end up with sketches that are useful references for your paintings.