Alternatives to canvas

24 Feb 2009

Q: I am planning an acrylic painting that will measure five feet by six. I am put off by the cost and fragility of a large canvas, so I am considering plywood (or something similar) backed by 1"x3" boards for stability. What kinds of support would you recommend (plywood, masonite, luan board, etc.)? How should I prepare the board for my paint? Would these be considered archival? What other factors should I consider?

A: Any of these options will work, but it is questionable whether a heavier, more awkward surface is less likely to be damaged in transit than a light canvas. The advantage of Masonite over plywood is that Masonite already has a smoother finish, making it easier to prepare for painting. Plywood, however, is cheaper and a bit more rigid, so it will need less bracing on the back. The multiple layers (plys) of plywood also prevent the surface from warping. Luan board has a smoother finish but tends to be thin and will need to be braced. All of the surfaces will need to be prepared to take the paint, otherwise the surfaces will absorb the paint too quickly--and oils and other chemicals in the surfaces may work their way up and become visible in the painting.

Plywood comes in several thicknesses and this variable will greatly affect the final weight of your piece--and at 5’-x-6’, weight is going to be an issue. Canvas can be adhered to the plywood and painted on, or the plywood can be sanded and then prepared with two or three coats of acrylic gesso. Applying gesso to the edges of the board is advisable.

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