What do you like to paint on?
The surface you choose is more important than you might think!
You may already know that I have been painting my whole life. I took every art class I could find and I even majored in fine art in college. This means I’ve done a whole lot of painting on a whole lot of different surfaces. I started with paper like most kids do. Then I moved on to cardboard and cheap bumpy canvases. In college I made so many paintings that I looked for scrap wood which I could use for all my daily assignments.
Now that I’ve been working as a professional artist for quite some time, I’ve gotten into my groove of finding the best quality products and not over spending on my materials. I prefer a smooth painting surface. It’s just what works best for the way I like to lay paint down. I like my strokes to flow effortlessly across my paintings and I don’t want them hung up on unnecessary canvas weave.
Here’s my list of my favorite painting surfaces!
For small paintings (12″x16″ or under)
I like these wood panels from Jerry’s Artarama. I prefer the 1.5″ thickness panels because it makes the painting feel more substantial. They don’t require framing this way. I just paint the edges of my painting a corresponding color to make the painting feel complete. I paint a lot of 8×10 size pieces in my live Paint Alongs. If I order a box of 4 this size they come out to less than $8 each.
On a budget? Try these panels from Hobby Lobby!
While I do prefer the deeper panels above from Jerry’s Artarama, these 7/8″ thick wood panels from Hobby Lobby are also a great option when they are on sale.
Y’all know just about everything at Hobby Lobby goes on sale 50% off every other week right?
When these panels are half off, you can get an individual 8×10 panel for $3.50!
For medium size paintings (18″x24″ up to 30″x40″)
I like to have my panels built for me by a local carpenter. I have found that ordering panels this large from an art supply store is very expensive. I found a fantastic carpenter here in Chattanooga who builds me exactly what I’m looking for.
Here are the details on what to ask your carpenter for:
- Have them create panels using 1/8″ smooth masonite or birch on the front.
- The sides or the “cradle” should be made from select pine 1x2s or slightly thicker depending on the size of the panel you are having built. You want to be sure they use select wood on the side to avoid any extra knots or wood grain.
- They may need to add additional supports in the corners of the panel to give extra strength. Here are some photos of the panels that my carpenter has build for me.
- Make sure that they miter the corner where the side pieces meet. This means cut the wood on a 45 degree angle so you only see a joint at the corner.
Want another discount option for painting medium sized pieces?
Try painting on just the masonite board! You can purchase a 4’x8′ piece of 1/8″ masoite at Home Depot for about $12. You can ask to have it cut down for you while you are in the store. Just look for the big panel saw in the back. You can cut your piece into eight 24″x24″ pieces.
That comes out to only $1.50 each!
You can always add the “cradle” (sides) to these after you make your beautiful paintings on them or you can pop them into an open back frame from Hobby Lobby and call it a day! Make sure you wait for the week when the frames are half off!
What about really big paintings?
If I’m creating a piece that is larger than 30″x40″ I like to paint it on canvas that can be rolled up and shipped if necessary. It’s really difficult to ship any panel larger than 30″x40″. It can be done but it’s not easy. I learned the hard way that a 4’x4′ painting is next to impossible to ship. Just don’t do it. The solution is to paint the piece on canvas. Then roll it up, ship it in a tube and hire someone to stretch it on a panel built like the ones above once it reaches it’s destination.
Here’s the thing though. I hate painting on canvas!
I found a solution! There is a material that is similar to canvas but it’s actually really smooth and lovely to to pull your paint across. It’s not sold at any art supply store that I know of. I get it from a company called Indiana Coated Fabrics. It’s called TFR material and it is sold by the yard in 3′ and 6′ widths cut to size or by the roll. You can’t order it on their website so you just need to give them a call to purchase a custom amount.
Call for pricing: 574.269.1280
Here is why I love TFR
- It is super smooth and doesn’t even require priming (but I still do)
- It can be stretched over a wood panel and stapled to the back the same way traditional artist canvas would be. BUT, be careful because unlike cotton canvas, it can rip!
- When I paint on this in the studio, I make sure that I have it stretched tight. I either staple it to a wall or I temporarily stretch it over a panel that I have on hand.
- Leave a 4″ boarder around your painting. That way you can paint it a solid color and when the painting is stretched on a frame, it’s ready to go!
- This is a fabulous material to use for in person workshops! Back in the days before Covid, when students would fly to my studio to take classes from all over the country, I would always have them paint on this material because it was so easy to take home with them rolled up.
- It can be used for murals too! I paint my murals in the studio on this material and then hire a wallpaper hanger to install it using the same method you would use to install wallpaper. If you have a wall wider than 6′, you can include a seam and this material won’t shrink once installed so you don’t need to worry about a gap showing up! It’s also light weight and easy to install!
Installation day is always exciting when I paint my murals on TFR in the studio.
This class created their TreeScape paintings on TFR at my studio and then rolled them up to fly home!
I hope you have found this information helpful! You don’t have to spend a lot of money to have good surfaces to paint on!
Bonus tip: If you get yourself plenty of panels and material to paint on, you will paint more! Have them primed and ready for when inspiration strikes!
Speaking of inspiration…
Have you checked out my LIVE Paint Alongs yet?
I offer free live painting demos on my Facebook page every Monday at 5 est! You can download the outlines and paint with me for just $10
Becky Steele says
I absolutely love these tips! I’m always comparing quality vs price and wondering about the many many options out there. I love the idea of painting on TFR and shipping it or installing it like wallpaper! Such a creative solution! Thank you for sharing your tips and expertise!!!
Kathy Green says
Thank you so much Aly for these tips. I have problems with bumpy canvas too.
And money is limited on what I can pay for canvas.
Thank you for sharing all of this wonderful information. It’s very helpful.
Thank you, Ali! How generous of you to share these tips in order to save us the aggravation (and money down the drain) of trial and error,