Sunday, September 18, 2011

Hardboard Panel Prep

As I mentioned previously, my substrate of choice these days is plywood.  I find it to be durable, cheap, and about as convenient as possible considering I have to do all of the prep work.  I use both storebought "art" plywood and hardware store sheets.

The "art" plywood is baltic birch and comes in packs of 5 cut to size.  The advantage of this material is that the cuts are perfectly clean and the board should be very square.  The downside is that they are only available in 1/8" thickness.  This means that sizes are relatively limited without cradling.  In fact, I will only use this material up to 12X16.  That may actually be the upper size limit available, I don't remember offhand.  One of my favorite things about painting on board is that it is extremely easy to frame these paintings with only a point driver.  Having to resort to a cradle for large sizes eliminates this ease and also adds a lot of weight to the finished piece!

For larger pieces, I go with good old hardware store sheet plywood.  I usually use 1/4" oak panels.  It is also available in maple and I think birch may be available as well.  The 1/4" thickness resists warping in sizes up to 30X30.  I have found that propensity to warp is a function of the individual sheet more than anything and is probably due to insufficient curing at the factory or a defect in the internal plies.  I have had some that warp up badly and some that stay nice and flat no matter how or where stored.  If you buy a sheet that wants to warp, you will be forced to cut smaller sizes.  But I'd say in more than 90% of the panels I've bought, I've had no issues with warping at all.  A good stable sheet might could be cut into sizes larger than 30" but only if used in a fairly square aspect ratio.  The longer the aspect ratio, the more likely you are to see some warpage.

After cutting my panels to size, I use coarse sandpaper to remove burrs and smooth the cut edges.  At this stage, you will have two edges that cannot be smoothed very well.  These edges are cut against the grain of the internal plies and will look porous.  I'll fix that later.  I will also lightly sand both faces.  You'll notice that one face is slightly smoother than the other.  That's the face I usually paint on but not always.  Sometimes I might find a flaw in the smooth face or maybe I want that rougher surface for some reason.  After wiping the faces down, it's time for gesso.  Using the precut baltic birch, I avoid all of the previous steps.  I use acrylic dispersion "gesso" from Liquitex, the relatively thin stuff.  I use 3 coats on the face I intend to paint on and usually one or two on the back side.  Whether or not I gesso the backside is sometimes dependent upon time and how impatient I am to use that size.  I do not sand between coats unless the panel is small and I have large brushmarks left.  I have learned that the brushmarks usually are aesthetically pleasing to me in large sizes but distracting in smaller ones.

I know that some artists use a primer or sealer but I do not and I have a very specific reason for that.  Most artists use what's called GAC100 from Gamblin as a primer.  I also know of at least one artist who uses one coat of clear gesso first and then 2-3 coats of the standard gesso over that.  Remember now, when I say gesso, I am referring to acrylic dispersion primer and not traditional, real gesso.

On a hot day here in Arkansas, I can do all 3 coats in a single day.  The longer, more difficult part is sealing the edges.  This is not a necessary step but I like to do it.  It produces a more professional product I think.    I will gesso all 4 cut edges and sand them as smooth as possible.  It may take several coats for the rough edges cut against the grain of the internal plies.  I still use only coarse grain sandpaper.  I don't think you need to use anything very fine, all you want is a sealed edge with no burrs.  This step is something you shouldn't bother with if you are using the precut 1/8" panels.  With these panels, they are so thin you will only succeed in building up a bead of gesso on the face of the panel and it won't do anything for the cut edge.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Lonoke Depot, Lonoke County

Lonoke Depot
11X14, Oil on Panel

Three weekends ago I went over to the next county east of here for some plein air in the town of Lonoke.  Lonoke is, aptly, the county seat of Lonoke County.  Before going over there, I checked the town out on Google Street view and really liked the downtown area.  It's an odd sort of layout, with two main rows of businesses centered on the sides of the railroad tracks.  This very interesting depot anchors the downtown area.  The courthouse square is about 2 blocks north of the downtown.

Unlike many other areas of the Delta, Lonoke is holding up quite well.  I'm sure being within commuting distance of Little Rock has a lot to do with that.  The downtown, while not thriving, is holding it's own in a time when so many others are just falling apart.

I did the underpainting for this one on site and then moved on to another painting of the end of the building.  There is a large relief on the end that proudly proclaims, "Lonoke" and I wanted to show that.  The painting turned out to not be of the quality I expect so it I paint over it with oil primer and reuse the panel.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Ralph Michaelis Memorial Merit Award

Last Friday night was the reception for the Hot Springs Fine Arts Center Diamond National Show.  My entry won the Ralph Michaelis Memorial Merit Award.  This show had an unusual award structure, there were 3 Honorable Mentions, 3 Merit Awards and Best in Show.  I was told I just barely missed the Best in Show.  This painting has won 2 awards this year.  If it doesn't sell, and at this point I hope it does not, I have another show I want to try to get it into.  

Here are some of the other award winners:

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!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Burns Park Plein Air

Burns Park Covered Bridge
9X12, Oil on Panel

A few weeks ago I went out plein air painting with David Paul Cook and Pat White of Sage House Gallery at White Wagon Farm.  We visited this covered bridge at Burns Park in North Little Rock.

Burns Park is one of the largest municipal parks in the country at 1700 acres.  It has a rather magnificent soccer complex which has hosted the US Soccer junior national championship as well as several regional qualifiers.  It also has some fantastic mountain biking trails.  I'll be enjoying those tomorrow morning with a brisk ride before I deliver paintings for the upcoming ALA show.