A wood panel is a better painting substrate because it is less susceptible to expansion and contraction than flexible supports, like canvas. The movement of these flexible supports can result in cracks and damage to the artwork created on them.
Ampersand offers several ready to use sealed and primed panels, but for artists that prefer to prime their own painting panels, enjoy working with a natural wood texture, or need strong support for encaustic, collage, or mounting, Ampersand also offers three unprimed wood panel options: Hardbord™, Unprimed Basswood, and Birch Wood Panel.
Commonly, artists ask us if unprimed wood panels need to be sealed. The answer is yes. If wood is not sized or sealed properly before applying gesso, yellowing can occur. This is because water (a solvent) can cause acids that occur naturally in wood to migrate to the surface. In fact, it is extremely important to properly seal all unprimed wood substrates to prevent support-induced discoloration that can cause your paint film to yellow over time.
My artwork often involves combining several techniques and materials. Ampersand Claybord is great for this kind of work because of its versatility. The strong, rigid panel can take the pressure of an image transfer process without bending or tearing. Its smooth surface allows for a clean transfer and collage materials make a perfectly flush connection. The fact that Claybord is an archival surface is an added bonus.
Museum Series Gessobord™ is the most trusted pre-gessoed wood panel by artists for their work. The coating is 88% thicker than other gessoed panels on the market. The superior quality acrylic gesso ground does not dull colors, and the wonderful lightly sanded surface provides exceptional brush control. Continue Reading >>
Golden® brand acrylic gesso is our first recommendation. However, these instructions are virtually interchangeable with a number of other brands if there’s one you like better or have more readily available. Gesso is a flexible liquid ground that seals, protects, and gives “tooth” to wood panels, which promotes good paint adhesion. It comes ready-to-use, but can be mixed with water for thinner applications. Golden® Gesso is available in Black or White, and can be mixed with Golden® Acrylics to produce a range of colored grounds. Gesso can be applied with a brush, roller, putty knife, Catalyst™ wedge #W-06 or sprayed on. Dilution of the Gesso is only necessary for spray application, but may be desired for brush or roller applications as well. When diluting with water, use a maximum dilution of 25%. Any mixture within this range offers little risk of cracking or other adverse effects.
Step 1 – Size and seal the wood
A size is a thin solution (often a weak glue) that is brushed directly onto a support. Sizing or sealing is recommended to protect Ampersand’s uncoated panels from support-induced discoloration when using acrylic gesso. If wood is not sized or sealed properly before applying the gesso, yellowing can occur because water [a solvent] can cause acids, occurring naturally in wood, to migrate to the surface. In fact, it is extremely important to properly seal any and all un-primed wood substrates to prevent support-induced discoloration that can cause your paint film to yellow over time. Hardbord™ is manufactured using Aspen fibers, a wood with a very low acid content, but still needs to be sized and sealed. The Natural Wood Panel™ and Unprimed Basswood panels are made with a thick basswood plywood top that has been sanded ultra-smooth. They are both seamless and knot-free and provide a perfectly smooth and uniform painting finish. When you size and gesso the basswood surface, you won’t experience the raised wood grain fibers that can happen with some other rougher types of plywood; the surface stays nice and smooth. The basswood panels have solid wood cradles and braces that may be more susceptible to moisture and environmental changes than the birch plywood cradles we use on the Hardbord™. Therefore, Ampersand recommends that you prime both the front and back of the Basswood top to ensure long-term stability of the panel.
Apply Golden® GAC100 directly to the basswood or hardboard surface with a 2″ paintbrush or putty knife. Apply to the front and back if applicable. Allow the GAC100 to dry completely and follow with an additional coat. Do not sand between layers. Before applying oil primer or the painting ground, allow the GAC100 to dry for 1-3 days so that the sealer can coalesce into a uniform film for maximum protection. If you’re using Gamblin® PVA Size, use 4 coats and follow the same application instructions as for the GAC100.
Step 2 – Protect and prepare the cradle
Hardbord™ is available in either a flat 1/8″ panel, with a 3/4″ cradle, or with the 2″ DEEP cradle. The Natural Wood and Unprimed Basswood panels are available in both a 7/8″ cradle and 1.5″ cradle profile. You have the choice of painting all the way around the cradle or leaving the natural wood showing for framing purposes. Be sure to size and seal the bare wood if you want to paint completely around the edges of the cradle. Or, to protect the wood from paint and gesso, cover the sides of the panel with painter’s tape up to the edge of the surface. Do not remove the tape until the painting is finished. Painter’s tape does not leave a sticky residue like many household masking tapes that can be difficult to remove, and will leave a pristine surface underneath when the painting is complete. For instructions on different ways to prepare your cradles for presentation, consult this article: https://ampersandart.com/featuredartist/featured-artist-pramuk1.html
Step 3 – Apply the Acrylic Gesso
Thin the gesso with up to 25% water for the first coat so that it will flow more evenly on the [sized] panel. Use a 2″-3″ brush for the first coat and a foam roller for subsequent coats. Begin by working the gesso back and forth with the brush in one direction and then in a cross direction with a little pressure so that the gesso penetrates the panel better. Apply gesso to the side edges of the panel and the plywood cradle if applicable. Don’t forget to seal the cradle with Golden® GAC100 first if you are going to gesso the edges for painting. The basswood panels have solid wood cradles and braces that may be more susceptible to moisture and environmental changes than the birch plywood cradles we use on the Hardbord™. Therefore, Ampersand recommends that you gesso both the front and back of the basswood top to ensure long-term stability of the panel. Allow the front of the basswood to dry completely, then, gesso the reverse side.
Step 4 – To Finish
After the first coat of gesso is dry, smooth out any rough spots with light grade sandpaper. Apply a second coat of gesso with the foam roller (or brush). Allow it to dry and then sand again. For best results, apply a minimum of 2 coats of gesso and sand in-between. Subsequent layers of gesso will produce an even smoother painting surface. For spray-application, you may have to apply more than 2 coats to achieve a film similar to a brush application. For basswood panels, follow the same instructions, but also prime the back. For each additional coat to the panel face, apply the same number of applications to the panel back.
Image Transfer and Collage: A Demonstration by Dana Brown using Claybord™
My artwork often involves combining several techniques and materials. Ampersand Claybord™ is great for this kind of work because it is so versatile. The strong, rigid panel can take the pressure of a transfer process without bending or tearing. Its smooth surface allows for a clean transfer and collage materials make a perfectly flush connection. I also really like that Claybord is an archival surface and that the panel is well sealed and primed.
For this demo, I combined a color copy transfer with collage. I began by selecting an image for the transfer. I chose a family photograph in digital format. I resized it and reversed the image left-to-right on my computer with image software. I flipped the image because in the transferring process, it will print in reverse. Once the image was ready, I printed it out on a color copier. Alternatively, you can resize and reverse a printed photograph by using a color copier directly.
Positioning the image
Next, I prepared the 9″x12″ Claybord with 3/4″ cradle for the transfer. I used a 3″ foam brush to apply Daniel Smith’s World’s Best White Acrylic Gesso to the surface. This layer should be evenly applied so that it adheres well to the color copy and doesn’t dry too quickly. Daniel Smith’s gesso works great for this step because it is already the perfect viscosity right out of the can.
Apply pressure before flipping over
To make sure I positioned the image correctly, I set the color copy face-up on the table and lay the gessoed Claybord face-down onto the image. Then, I applied pressure to the back and flipped the panel over.
Burnish the image with a rubber brayer
The next step is to burnish the image to the panel. The purpose of this step is to make sure that the gesso adheres properly to the ink from the copy. You can smooth the back of the image copy with your hands. While this works, it can result in a inconsistent and irregular transfer. Likewise, too much pressure can either tear the paper or squeeze too much gesso out from under the paper causing faint areas or areas with no transfer at all. The method that I find works best is to use a rubber brayer, rolling from the middle out to the sides using medium pressure. This pushes out any air bubbles and achieves a flat, even bond. Make sure to go over the entire image thoroughly with the brayer or it can result in an uneven or poor transfer. For a good bond, it is very important to make sure there is enough gesso on the Claybord, especially on the surrounding and outer edges of the panel.
Rubbing the paper off gently
Once the gesso is dry, begin removing the paper from the surface, so that the ink from the copy is left intact in the gesso layer. This is done by dissolving the paper with water. Slowly remove the paper by dipping your fingers into the water and gently rubbing it off the surface. This part of the process generally takes 2-3 passes to remove all of the paper lint. The first pass allows you to remove most of the paper as well as the excess paper hanging over the sides. Be extra careful with the edges of the image so that you do not peel or rub the ink away too. This is the most fragile area of the transfer. For best results, start rubbing from the center of the panel outward and in one direction only or the edges of the image might peel up. Do not be afraid to re-wet the area if the paper is not rubbing away. After the first pass, I allow a few minutes for the surface to dry slightly. This makes it easier to see where the paper lint is still on the image. These areas will look “faded” or “dull”. When finished, the transfer surface will feel consistent and smooth.
There are many different uses for image transfers. Because the surface is Claybord, you can paint, collage, print on, or even scratch into the transfer with Ampersand Scratchbord™ tools. I decided to collage on top of the transfer. I “drew” shapes by connecting small magazine strips to make lines and curves. I used Lineco neutral pH adhesive to attach the tiny papers to the transfer. To finish, I brushed Golden® soft gel medium over the artwork to seal it. Then, I attached hanging hardware directly to the back of the cradle.