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7 Painting Substrates Acrylic Painting Tips

1. Canvas

Canvas is commonly used as a painting surface and offers many advantages: it’s absorbent, has a wonderful fabric texture, is lightweight and portable. Canvas supports comes in three types: unstretched, stretched and commercially made canvas boards. Canvas paper also comes in pads, but canvas paper feels very slick, not at all like real canvas fabric.

Stretching it yourself takes practice. You’ll need wood stretcher bars, a staple gun and stretcher pliers. Wrap the canvas around the bars and tack it down in the back, pulling it tightly each time. Start from the center and work outward. Stretched canvases can be purchased in standard sizes, or custom-made by your art store or framer. Those that are mass-produced with a machine can sometimes cost about the same or less than supplies for stretching it yourself.

2. Paper and Cardboard

Paper and cardboard are great support choices if you are a beginner or just want to experiment. Both are economical and easy to find. Both have absorbent surfaces that make washes and over-watered acrylic techniques possible. Select acid-free papers or cardboard, which are more archival and will not have impurities that might stain through into your painting.

3. Wood and Composite Panels

Wood is a great support for paintings, especially for thick applications of paint and other techniques that require a rigid, sturdy support. There are many types of natural wood available, as well as composites such as Masonite, high-density fiber board (HDFB) and medium-density fiber board (DFB). Birch makes great thin, lightweight panel for large paintings.

Wood has many impurities, resins and other natural elements that may seep through into paint layers, causing stains and yellowing. Always clean the surface first, coast it with a stain sealer, then prime before painting.

Composites are strong and have the feel of wood but don’t have a natural wood grain. Another type of composite product is particleboard, which is made of pressured sawdust. Moisture will cause the surface of particleboard to swell, so sand it after the first few coats of sealer and primer to smooth out the rough surface, and it should remain smooth for subsequent coats and painting.

4. Patterned Fabric

I love browsing in fabric stores to get ideas for colors, patterns and textures. Sometimes I buy small pieces of fabric just to hang around my studio for inspiration. A fun technique is to take your favorite fabric and use that as the starting surface to begin a painting. No need to stare at that white canvas with fear. Get a jump-start by beginning your painting with colors and patterns already there!

5. Silk

If you want to paint on silk and hope to keep the fabric soft and freely flowing to use as a banner, fabric installation or wearable art, fluid acrylics offer a more stable alternative than fabric dyes. Dye works well on silk, but is not as lightfast and stable as acrylic. This technique demonstrates how to use acrylic on silk for durable, lightfast, washable color while maintaining the softness of the fabric. This technique may be used on fabrics other than silk.

6. Metal

The two issues of concern for preparing a metal support are adhesion and rust control. This technique works best for ferrous metals like steel and will provide a long-lasting rustproof support for indoor or outdoor use, suitable for coating with acrylic paint. There are many types of metal to choose from. Research safety issues, availability and necessary additional preparation. This demonstration uses 11-gauge,1⁄8-inch (3mm) Mild Steel. Whatever metal you choose, have it professionally cut to your specifications.

7. Glass

One reason to paint on glass is to take advantage of its clarity. The main concern with painting on glass is adhesion. Etching or sandblasting the surface will add tooth. Both methods will make the glass slightly cloudy, so etch only in the areas where paint will be applied.

Purchase glass at any glass supply store and have it cut to size. Float glass and window glass are smooth, clear, inexpensive choices that will work well. Glass also comes colored or textured. If you are sandblasting, use glass that is at least 1⁄4-inch (6mm) thick. If your glass piece will be freestanding, cover the sharp glass edges with framing.