Which Art Supports for Oil Painting Techniques

With a choice of oil painting surfaces to suit many different art techniques, the artist might be confused as to which to choose. Examples are stretched linen canvas, cotton duck, primed panel, canvas panels and oil painting paper. What is each for?

The Best Art Supports for Painting in Oil

Various oil painting supports can be found to suit a variety of techniques, from glazing and detail to scumbling and impasto. In the case of certain art techniques, the choice of support might be vital. This would not be the case of robust art techniques such as impasto, alla prima or the use of expressive brushwork. For these applications, the artist could employ any art surface, as the nature of the support is not too important. Primed board or medium-grain canvas would suffice. These supports are more economical and can easily be found in most art shops.

Cheap Art Surfaces for Oil Sketches

The beginner, indeed, might wish to invest in cheap art surfaces for exploration. This might be oil painting paper, which can be found in sketchpads. These are thick paper embossed with a canvas-like texture. The surface is ready-sized for oil painting. The artist can also use thick card or hardboard primed with artist’s acrylic gesso. This will cut on the cost of art materials whilst the oil painter tries out different oil painting methods. Such surfaces would be suitable for an array of simple oil painting techniques from rough expression and scratching textures, to reasonable detail. Oil painting paper might also be ideal for quick oil sketches.

Smooth Surfaces for Detail

But when it comes to higher demands, further consideration for the art surface will come into play. The artist who wishes to create a photorealistic painting with few brushmarks, flat glazes and high detail might benefit from a smooth art surface. Panels that have been finely sanded and subsequently overlaid with a series of thinned acrylic gessoes will serve well. Such primed panels can also be found in art shops in the form of sized art panels. Running the hand over the surface will reveal bumps or imperfections.

Best Uses for Linen Canvas

But what about stretched canvas? There are basically two main types of canvases: cotton (or duck) and linen. Linen canvas is considered to be higher in quality, as the strands are finer and can therefore be more tightly meshed. The ‘roughness’ of the canvas is also found in different degrees, from fine (defined by a higher number, ending with 12) to coarse (described by a lower number ending in 1). The number 1 denotes very coarse canvas; 12 very fine. With this in mind, what is the best artistic use for artist canvases?


The Best Canvas for High Detail

Fine stretched canvas might suit the artist wishing to express high detail and flat glazes, but retaining the ‘traditional oil painting’ look. Such subject matter might be intricate detail on wildlife, flowers or portraits. Indeed, ‘portrait canvas’ will serve this purpose, as the texture is very fine. However, a fine granulated effect can still be seen when viewed close up. Fine grain canvas was used by the traditional portrait artists between the 1700s to the 1900s. If the painting is to be large, avoid fine canvas, as the material could sag in the middle. Always purchase large canvases with supporting struts at the back.

Best Canvases for Oil Painting Traditional Techniques

Coarse canvas might be preferred if the artist desires a textured feel to the painting. Scumbling paint is one such technique. Scumbling is the application of a thin, broken glaze over another glaze. The paints skids over the art surface, catching some of the ridges of the canvas weave, creating a pleasing, textured feel. Coarse canvas can often be seen in large landscape studies or seascapes. Coarse or thick canvas would make more sense if the oil painting is to be large.

Impasto Techniques and Textured Paint

The texture of the canvas is perhaps less important if applying a thick layer of paint, such as impasto or Sgraffito. Such paint effects produce their own textures and using stretched canvas might not be the wisest choice – unless wishing to express thin glazes in the same painting. With such robust techniques, the art surface should also be robust. Thick canvas or hardboard might be best.

Which Art Support Should I Buy for Oil Painting?

With a wide choice of art supports for the artist, which is best? The beginner might benefit from cheap art supports such as oil painting paper or primed card. Quick oil sketches completed on such art supports will keep the cost down, as well as provide a good, all-round art surface. Techniques with higher demands will require a particular choice. Smooth panels or fine linen canvas might suit high detail and flat glazes, such as in portraiture. But coarse cotton duck might suit more expressive art, such as scumbling, as can be seen in landscape painting or skyscapes. Impasto or scoring techniques means the texture of the canvas will be concealed anyway, but a more robust support will be required.