Priming wood panels with acrylic gesso or oil grounds
Do I need to seal and prime unprimed panels? Yes.
Ampersand offers several ready to use sealed and primed panels, but for artists that prefer to prepare 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. The only exception is if you are working with encaustics, otherwise, it is strongly recommended to seal all unprimed panels to create a barrier between the wood and the ground. This barrier isolates the wood tannins and lignin to prevent them from seeping into the priming and painting layers which can cause your paint film to yellow over time. This yellowing phenomenon is called Support Induced Discoloration, or SID, and it is prevented by properly sealing the surface before use.
How to prime wood panels with acrylic gesso
Ampersand Hardbord, Unprimed Basswood, or Birch Wood Panel
Golden Gloss Medium
2"-3" flat bristle brush
Small foam roller (optional)
Sanding block with fine 400/grit sandpaper
1"-2" painter's tape (optional)
Step 1: Size and Seal the Wood
A size is a thin solution (often a weak glue) that is brushed directly onto a support. When using acrylic gesso as the ground layer, sizing or sealing a wooden panel is recommended to protect your painting from yellowing due to support-induced discoloration.
Because of the lower density of plywood panels like Basswood and Birch, the sealer should be applied to the front and back to ensure they are fully protected. Due to the high density of Hardbord, this panel only requires sealing the front of the painting surface.
The products we recommend to seal wood panels are:
Golden Gloss Medium
Using a 2"-3" flat bristle brush, apply the sealer to the front of the panel. If using a plywood panel, apply it to the back as well. Allow to dry completely and follow with an additional coat. Do not sand between layers of the sealer. Before applying acrylic gesso, allow to completely dry so that the sealer can coalesce into a uniform film for maximum protection.
Step 2: Protect and Prepare the Cradle
Ampersand unprimed panels are available with wood cradles in various depths. Artists may choose to paint the cradles or leave them untouched and allow the natural beauty of the wood cradle to show.
If you prefer to paint the cradles, be sure to seal the cradle first, as it is also constructed of unprimed wood. Or, if you choose not to paint the cradles, cover the sides of the panel with painter’s tape, up to the edge of the surface, to protect the wood from paint and gesso.
Step 3: Apply the Acrylic Gesso
Acrylic gesso is a flexible liquid ground that protects and gives "tooth" to wood panels, which promotes good paint adhesion. It comes ready-to-use and can be applied with a brush, roller, putty knife, or even sprayed on. Follow the directions provided with the gesso product that you are using for product-specific information. For this example, we will share instructions of application using a brush and roller.
Using a 2"-3" brush, 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. If using Unprimed Basswood or Birch Wood Panel, remember to gesso both the front and back of the panel.
If you sealed the panel’s cradles, you could apply gesso to the cradles at this time.
Step 4: 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 for a more even application, (a brush may also be used if you do not have a foam roller). 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. Follow the directions provided with the product that you are using for the recommended number of coats. For spray-application, you may need to apply more than 2 coats to achieve a film similar to a brush application.
For plywood panels like Basswood or Birch, follow the same instructions, but for each additional coat to the panel surface, apply the same number of applications to the back.
Once the final gesso coat is dry, your panel is ready!