8 Painting Substrates (And the One Thing You Should Never Paint On!)

Editor’s Note: Today’s painting advice comes to you from Nancy Reyner’s book Acrylic Revolution. Get the book for tips on selecting and priming these painting substrates, and much more advice for painting with acrylic, in Nancy’s Acrylic Revolution.

Read through this list for eight surfaces, and see the one thing you don’t want to paint on below.

Yours in art,

8 Painting Substrates for Acrylic | ArtistsNetwork.com

You Can Paint on Anything: Painting Substrates for Acrylic

By Nancy Reyner, from Acrylic Revolution

Acrylic can be painted on just about any support. Select among the many choices in this section for convenience, longevity and aesthetics.

8 Painting Substrates for Acrylic | ArtistsNetwork.com
Selecting canvas: Canvas comes in three weights: light, medium and heavy. Use lightweight for smaller works, medium-weight for medium-sized works and heavyweight for larger pieces. The quality of canvas varies depending on the weave—the tighter the weave, the more expensive. If you are painting a realistic, detailed portrait with thin applications of paint, use the tighter weave. A coarse weave can add an interesting element to a textural landscape or abstract painting. Canvas also comes pre-primed or raw. It is easier to stretch an unprimed canvas, but a pre-primed canvas allows you to skip the priming step and start painting sooner.

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.

8 Painting Substrates for Acrylic | ArtistsNetwork.com
A deckle edge is a beautifully ripped edge found on nicer sheets of paper such as Arches 140-lb. (300gsm) cold press. Hold a strong metal ruler down at the place to be ripped. As you press down on the ruler with one hand, use the other hand to tear the paper along the ruler’s edge.

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.

8 Painting Substrates for Acrylic | ArtistsNetwork.com
Reinforce the back of the panel: If the pieces of wood are 1⁄4-inch (6mm) thick or thinner, have them braced or cradled on the back to create a wood panel. This will add support to keep it from warping and make handling easier.

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.

8 Painting Substrates for Acrylic | ArtistsNetwork.com
Glue lightweight fabrics onto a rigid support such as wood, panel or card- board using the directions in technique 55 for gluing paper. You can also glue thin fabric onto a stretched canvas. Just add support under the canvas and follow the same gluing technique.

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!

8 Painting Substrates for Acrylic | ArtistsNetwork.com
Secure the silk to a stable surface to make it easier to paint and to control your brushstrokes. The method you choose should be temporary; use pushpins, staples, fabric tacks on stretcher bars or an embroidery hoop.

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.

8 Painting Substrates for Acrylic | ArtistsNetwork.com
Painted car (acrylic on metal) by Rick Garcia

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, 18-inch (3mm) Mild Steel. Whatever metal you choose, have it professionally cut to your specifications.

8 Painting Substrates for Acrylic | ArtistsNetwork.com
Clean the glass using a rag soaked with liquid dishwashing soap, diluted 1:10 with warm water. Wipe the glass with denatured alcohol, glass cleaner or distilled vinegar to remove any grease. Clean both sides of the glass. Be careful handling the edges, as they may be sharp.

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.

8 Painting Substrates for Acrylic | ArtistsNetwork.com
“Four-Year-Old Dominican Girl (Self Portrait) (acrylic on porcelain, 13.5x10x8) by Julia Santos Solomon. The artist first sculpted this porcelain portrait, then applied an undercoat using a bright color. Additional acrylic paint for the features was built up in layers.

8. Objects

Painting on 3-D sculptures or objects encourages you to think differently because the object needs to be considered from all angles. You can make your own ceramic sculpture, have a metal shop cut shapes according to your template, or just use an interesting shell, branch or rock. You can also purchase ready-made objects in lawn and garden shops or hobby and craft stores. If the ready-made object is already painted, lightly sand it, prime with acrylic gesso and repaint. Contact the manufacturer’s technical department to get recommendations for cleaning and priming. If you are placing the finished artwork outdoors, ask about special sealants or protective finishes, and use paints that rate high on light- fastness tests to keep your art from fading quickly. ~Nancy

Do Not Paint on This >>>  >>>  >>>Briony-kitty-cat

Just being silly! I hope you learned a new variety of painting substrates for acrylic, and that you smiled, at least a little. 🙂 

Click here to get your copy of Acrylic Revolution by Nancy Reyner today, and watch the ArtistsNetworkTV video below for some instant art inspiration from Nancy herself. ~Cherie


2 thoughts on “8 Painting Substrates (And the One Thing You Should Never Paint On!)

  1. Sebiha Reshid says:

    I have an assignment about creativity. I have to do printmaking, collage or mixed media, sculpture, technology, drawing and painting. Do you have any tips? Really stressed out!!!

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