Makers and suppliers of
The Panel Paintings of
Masolino and Masaccio:
The Role of Technique
The master's dream surface
|Wood and masonite panels are
excellent choices of support
for almost every size and medium. Although there are many panels that
can be purchased ready made for your intended project, my objective is
to show the specifics to painting on panels successfully. There are
the size, design, or desired technique used in your painting project
favor wood panel over paper or canvas.
Some primary examples
- Medieval and Renaissance old world masters
utilized panel supports for
portrait and figure paintings. They traditionally prepared the surface
with sanding and priming to a smooth surface in which paint would flow
effortlessly to allow more intense detail.
- Paintings done in fresco,
those which use egg
tempera emulsions or casein
all which become brittle when fully cured. A wood panel is preferred
for these mediums because it provides a rigid support
- With heavy "Impasto" techniques, sculpting
or where an embossed texture
desired, work should not be applied to canvas due to it's tendency to
These large quantities of paint can eventually crack from the movement
that canvas permits.
| Click image to see larger view
"Ship of Fools"
panel 1490 - 1500
by Lynda Harris
|Back in the days before laminating,
were unable to cut
whole panels from wider trees they had to mill and join individual
to obtain the desired dimensions for their paintings. This seriously
the size, weight and quality of the piece as well as the time required
to complete it. Today, there are actually two types of panel available
for the artist. We can purchase laminated plywood or oil pressed
panel for the same task.
- Laminated plywood, favored for it's resistance
in a variety of grades and sizes. However, the only suitable woods to
for this application would be Birch for it's smooth almost non
texture, Oak for it's open grain that provides grip for the ground or Mahogany for it's light weight and resistance to
weathering. I would like to make note of the fact however, that almost
50% of all historical panel paintings collected were done
Due to it's lower expense, Birch is favored for
painting directly after preparing a ground. With paintings up to 784" sq. or rough
of 28" x 28" a 3/8" thick panel can be used.
However, due to
an excessive weight issue, larger pieces use of 1/4" panel
are more favorable. Because weight is always an issue for me I
prefer 1/4" panel for all work that I do.
- Masonite or hard board, available in 1/4" thickness, is
available in two versions.
clear of glued particle masonite which, has the appearance of, and is
much different than, a strong cardboard. It is highly absorbent to
and will eventually crumble in high humidity environments. Oil pressed
masonite is processed entirely different and is extremely durable. It
identified by it's smooth satin surface on one side and rough textile
on the other. The smooth side is exceptional for realistic detailed
such as portraits, directly after preparing a ground. The rough side
well with Impastos if you plan on creating a uniform texture across the
entire painting with paint or don't mind the texture existing as an
part of your work. This side also works well for applying canvas and
(see below) to where the porous area is able to hold more sizing which
grips better than the none porous side.
Use of 1/4" panel larger than roughly 784" sq. or 28" x 28"
will require you to fabricate a back brace (known as cradling) with 1"
x 2" Popular similar
to the canvas stretcher bars. Popular is the choice for this task
of it's density and light weight. Other stronger woods such
Mahogany, or Teak could be used but it is not necessary. There are several
used as a means to hold this support rigid. Most smaller pieces will
you get by with bracing around the perimeter. Larger pieces
require cradled cross bracing similar to canvas stretchers to prevent warping
and the panel's tendency to
(convex or concave) in the center. Experience has taught me
"X brace" bracing across from corner to corner glued to the panel is
the most effective
(see fig.1 below). Most twisting and warping generally pulls the
of your work "out of square". When you are positive that the distances
corner to corner will not change, you can effectively insure that your
will remain as it was originally created .
You can use the 1 x 2 " bracing
laying it flat similar to a canvas stretcher or on edge to give it the
museum profile. Many panel canvases with sides larger than
36" are set with the 1x 2" on edge. These pieces will also require additional
cradling to prevent the panel flex. One advantage of painting on panel is
that, multiple panels can be attached to complete one large painting or
mural. When these panels are made up in sections they can later be
taken apart for transport.
The next step, one of the most
important, is to sand your panel with course sandpaper to open the grain
providing grip for your ground. Then you will need to apply a Rabbit
skin glue sizing to seal the panel previous to applying the
ground. An alternative to RSG is to use a home made batch of Casein
glue. This step is as important with wood as it is with any other supports
the unsealed pores of the wood will result in the wood absorbing your
problems with adhesion and discoloration. Once the sizing has dried you
can prepare the ground. This is the best and most flexible part about
panel. You have so many choices to make depending on what type of work
you are doing.
Next some would not say is
necessary, but I will take that measure by priming the panel with
a good oil base sealer primer. If you are planning to take
panel's smooth texture for
painting, you would now apply either Gamblin Oil Painting Ground for an oil painting
Gesso depending on what
paint you where planning to use.
Again a Casein glue gesso can also be used
by hydrolyzing the 1-1/4 parts raw casein with 1
part of Slaked
Lime and immediately after the reaction takes place diluting the
mixture with distilled water to a paint consistency (water content would be roughly equal to casein and
slacked lime combined). Use caution to avoid contact with
lime (especially your eyes). Unlike acids,
alkaline substances continue to burn after washing the
area they've come in contact with. After the medium is
made any color dry pigment can be added to this ground.
Be sure to apply at least two coats
sanding between coats with a fine grade sand paper until reaching your
After sizing, wood panels provide
additional support to projects where canvas or paper is applied as part of the
ground. Fabric or paper can be
applied to the
texture. Brush on a diluted casein glue solution or a
pH PVA (poly vinyl acetate) Adhesive
diluted with distilled water to the panel and then
the fabric or paper in the glue solution and apply it to the panel
to the method used when hanging wall paper. Make sure to
all the air bubbles. Once stretched over the panel, allow the piece to
dry and trim off the excess from the edges with a razor knife. You will
need to then apply primer ground as above of varied build up depending on the
Wood panel, whether it be plywood or
masonite can easily be made into an excellent inexpensive
for Pastels. You can create the exact texture or
"tooth" for a panel that you are most comfortable with by making your own ground
from diluting acrylic gesso and adding any of a wide range
of grit minerals such as Pumice
Before use of these materials it is wise to read the
MSDS provided for each about possible eye / lung
exposure and safe handling.
Some of these grit
materials are used
as abrasive rubbing compounds or polishes. Marble dust is
recognized as a fine whiting filler used in traditional
The advantage of using the abrasives is that you have
freedom to experiment with the coarseness of the grit till
you find one that suits you.
By adding 1 part distilled water to 1 part acrylic gesso
you are thinning to prevent paint film resistance to pastels but
with enough medium to hold the pumice on the panel. The
ratios of grit added will be pending the material you use
and the amount of tooth desired in a range between 1 and
13 tbsp grit to 1 cup of diluted acrylic gesso.
Apply the gesso in coats preferably with a roller to avoid
unwanted brush mark texture alternating strokes across the
panel from up and down to side to side. If you find you
are not achieving your desired tooth, before the surface dries sprinkle
more grit evenly across the panel. Tap off the excess and allow to dry. Repeating
these steps, apply additional coats until you have obtained your desired ground.
"Have no fear of perfection, you'll never reach it." ....Salvador
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