Wednesday, October 6, 2010

How to Make Linen Panels

Surfaces, brushes, paints and mediums. Those are the materials of an oil painter. Each of those elements are important to the finished product. One of the very best painting surfaces is an oil or alkyd primed linen mounted to a panel. For my larger paintings I stretch linen or canvas over wood bars, size the fabric and then prime the surface with an oil primer. But for smaller paintings I prefer the linen panels for several reasons:

  • Less fragile. When you're storing or moving paintings, this is important.
  • Easy to handle.
  • A nice stable surface with no movement. There is no flex when you paint on it and later, that makes them more archival.
  • You can achieve a gorgeous surface effect.
  • You have more frames to choose from (and yes, panels must be framed!)

Linen panels seem complicated to make but they're not. It's easier than stretching canvas or linen and a much higher quality surface than buying stretched canvas. And the beauty of making your own panels is that once you have the materials assembled, making them is quick. Now that I keep the materials in stock in my studio, I can make a panel in the evening and start my painting the next day.

Materials:

  • GatorBoard. This is a stable surface made from extruded polystyrene foam between two layers of wood-fiber veneer. Yes, it looks like you're painting on styrofoam but get over it. You're not. Yes, you can use a smooth plywood instead. I'd varnish the plywood before gluing. I buy my GatorBoard from Foam Board Source. I use the 3/16 thickness for anything up to a 16x20 and larger than that, I use the 1/2". I prefer the natural color. Shipping on this product is expensive!
  • Oil or alkyd primed linen. I love the 359 Alkyd primed linen from Wind River Arts in Texas. It's the kind of surface art dreams are made of. There's also a variety of lovely oil or alkyd primed linens from you can purchase from Utrecht. For all of these, you can either get a small sample or purchase small panels ahead of time to try them out. A roll of linen is a big commitment so I recommend you buy a variety of panels and paint on them to see which you prefer. What's that you ask? Can you substitute acrylic primed fabric? No! 
  • Miracle Muck Glue. I buy mine by the gallon from Source-Tek. (And yes, you're not imagining it, they do have the worst shopping website in the industry.) Shipping is a killer on this product and I have to plan ahead so I'm not shipping this in the winter (freezing ruins it).
  • Small paint roller with a short nap. Get this at your local hardware store.
  • Condiment bottle. This will help you apply the glue evenly. Can't find a condiment bottle? As it turns out, you can use a sippy cup! (See below.)
  • Brayer or rolling pin. To evenly press the linen onto the panel and roll out any air bubbles.
  • Weights. To weigh the panel down as it dries. I use my largest art books and put hand weights and small bronze sculptures on top.
  • Scissors, a box knife and a straight edge.
Here are the steps, photos follow:
  1. Cut your GatorBoard to size. Use the straight edge and a box cutter.
  2. Cut pieces of linen slightly larger than the GatorBoard. I cut mine using good scissors about 1/4 inch larger on each side. When I cut the linen I roll it out on my kitchen table, put the panels on top, and cut around them. Very easy.
  3. Put the miracle muck in the condiment bottle and squeeze it onto the GatorBoard in a spider web pattern all over. 
  4. Spread the glue evenly onto the GatorBoard using the paint roller.
  5. Put linen primed side down and place the GatorBoard glue side down on top. Flip it, use the brayer or roller to firmly press the linen onto the board.
  6. Place weights evenly on top and let it set at least overnight until dry.
  7. Trim the edges.
  8. Paint!
The photos below are all courtesy of Deborah Paris, who taught me how to make the panels at a painting workshop in her studio in Clarksville, Texas. 
Supplies assembled in Deborah Paris' studio. You can see the roll of linen on the left, the cut linen under the gatorboard, the miracle muck glue, the small paint roller and the green sippy cup for distributing the glue. And bonus: note the gorgeous underpainting on the shelf on the left.

Deborah Paris distributing the glue on the gatorboard. In the background you can see her bookshelves FULL of wonderful art books and on the wall, some of her best paintings. Her studio is an incredible space!

Rolling out the glue. You can see the spiderweb pattern that she used to evenly distribute the glue.

6 comments:

loriann said...

Great post Lisa! The world thanks you for the precise information. (Miracle muck freezes during shipping? Who would have thought it?)

Janelle Goodwin said...

Thank you for posting this great information, Lisa! I've bookmarked this post so I can use the step by step process for making linen panels.

Sara Lubinski said...

Hi Lisa! Have you considered wood panels for larger pieces? I am wondering how large one can go. I suppose warping is the chief concern the bigger the panel, and a bit heavier of course. I dented a big painting mounted on Gatorboard - I know, pretty careless of me, but it was in my car and unframed. I'd love to have a better support, but may have to stretch or be less careless. thanks!

Lisa McShane said...

Thanks Loriann and Janelle!

Hi Sara - I haven't tried plywood for larger. I think if you varnished on both sides you'd reduce the odds of warping. You could also build a frame behind it to keep it stable but that's all very heavy.

I'll be using 42" wide gatorboard at 1/2 thickness next week to make new panels and I expect that will be fine. So far the largest I've gone is 24 x 36.

I stretch canvas or linen over 1.5" bars for larger sizes. Those are fragile too as nothing can press against the back or front without denting. But at least they're not too heavy to move around.

Sara Lubinski said...

Thanks, Lisa. Think I will probably stick with the gatorboard too for the larger paintings and be more careful when I transport it. Now to order and pay those big shipping fees :)

nean12350 said...

Hi Lisa, this is a great post. I make my own panels too but this really helps when doing alot at one time. Have you ever tried using multi-media artboard as a support? Here's my method.
MATERIAL: I love to use primed linen CLAESSENS #15 54"X3YD ROLL (kind of expensive) or primed smooth cotton canvas make sure it is a tight weave. I buy canvas by the roll and just cut off what I need when I need it.

SUPPORTS: My first preference at home is a stretched canvas but when travelling panels are easier to carry. My two favorite lightweight supports for travelling are archival museum board (multi-media artboard) or archival gatorboard. The museum board is good because it is lightweight but is rather flimsy so handle with care. You can easily cut both with a utility blade and a straight edge.

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