Sunday, September 4, 2011

Hardboard Panels

I thought I might write some about how I like to work and a great place to start would seem to be at the very beginning, the surface or support.  Supports are often taken for granted but the support you use can have a major impact on the way you work, whether you realize that or not.

Most everyone out there paints on canvas.  That's just the automatic thought, oil on canvas.  It's fairly cheap and easily obtainable.  Every arts and crafts store out there carries pre-stretched cotton duck canvases.  Many of those store brands are less than exemplary.  A couple of years ago, I began to look at alternative surfaces.  I noticed that a couple of artists whose work I loved worked on board so I investigated that.  "Board" can mean quite a number of things, I found out!  But, at the end of the day there are 2 basic varieties of board:  the fiberboards and the plywoods.  Every other option relates to how the surface is prepared.

Fiberboard, or MDF (medium denstiy fiberboard),is also commonly referred to as masonite but that is a trade name for a particular brand of fiberboard.  MDF is basically shredded wood fiber which is mixed with an adhesive and pressed back together under heat and pressure.  Fiberboard is hard but brittle and susceptible to warping under even relatively minor exposure to moisture.  The adhesives used in it's manufacture are also typically formaldehyde resins and these materials do release volatile organics from cut edges.  There do exist some fiberboards which are supposedly archival and these are what you can usually find in art supply stores under names like gessoboard.  I do not know what is done differently in these that make them archival but it's a sure bet they still use formaldehyde resins in their manufacture.  I have used these myself in the past but do not anticpate ever making them a standard part of my practice.  I also certainly would not use hardware store MDF as a painting surface.

Plywoods are pretty well know to most people.  They consist of layers of wood veneer with successive layers arranged such that their grains are at right angles to each other.  Plywood is possibly the first composite material humans ever produced.  It has been around for millenia.  Plywood is strong and light and resistant to warping in smaller footprints.  Larger panels can be made warp resistant by cradling.  I paint on plywood almost exclusively now.

More on hardboard panels later!