Oil painting - canvas, panels, pads etc

An oil painting support is any surface that you can apply oil paint to or at least prepared it for. Choosing the right support is one of the most important decisions you can make for your oil paintings, in the end it's what you are going to be working on and the base for your painting.

As with most things, there are a number of different types of oil painting support on the market and each has different qualities, which may or may not suit your style or planned painting technique. I would therefore encourage anyone to at least look at them all and see which support you like the best and/or which may suit your painting style and budget.


Cotton duck canvas:
Cotton Duck canvas is a type of textile derived from cotton plant and cotton duck canvas is the most popular and also the least expensive on the market. It comes in a variety of surface textures and weights from 9 oz up to 18 oz with 12 oz being the classic weight.  You can buy it pre-stretched, made to order, in rolls, primed and un-primed. For both oil and acrylic painting, an acrylic gesso primer is generally used.

Many beginners buy ready to use pre-stretched canvas, which comes in a variety of sizes although usually to set ones like 8" x 10" or 12" x 16". These are very convenient being just unwrap and begin painting.

Pre-stretched canvas usually comes in two styles - regular style and gallery wrap. This refers to the depth of the bars (frame) supporting the canvas.

Regular style canvas is wrapped around thinner stretcher bars and due to the method of attaching the canvas, nails or staples these usually require a frame to hide this before hanging.

Gallery wrap: this type of canvas offers crisp, deep and clean edges and can be hung framed or unframed as the usual method is to attach the canvas at the back and not on the side. Due to the thicker wooden bars these are more expensive than the regular.

Lots of companies make readymade canvas from 4" x 4" to 48" x 60", just check what canvas weight and texture is being used before ordering or have them made to order.

Linen canvas:
Linen is a textile derived from a flax plant and labour intensive to manufacture. Linen (Belgium, French or Italian) is better quality due to its strength and resistance to decay over time. This results in a more expensive product but it's more durable, more natural weave and doesn't slack like cotton etc.

Just like cotton canvas, linen canvas comes pre-stretched, in rolls, primed or un-primed. It also comes in variety of textures, weights and smooth or rough finish.

For the DIY fan, there is however a downside to using a pre-primed canvas is that it is much more difficult to get good tension in the fabric in comparison to stretching untreated canvas, and then sizing and priming it. Needless to say the correct tools are required whichever route is taken.

If doing your own priming, Acrylic primer is the less expensive option and can be used for both oil and acrylic painting.

Oil primer is the standard classic method (use only for oil painting) but needs more methods to prepare and therefore costs more plus time. Linen is both difficult to prime and stretch and if an oil primer is to be used the linen canvas must first be sized with PVA or rabbit skin glue, which serves to seal the fabric and act as a barrier.

Like cotton canvas, Linen canvas is available from a number of companies and comes in different weights, surface texture etc.

For larger canvas requirements I have them custom made or made to order. The beauty of this is that you can select the size required (not conform, if so required, to the standard readymade sizes), plus you can select from a range of canvas (cotton or linen) and finally the stretchers with different profiles and depth.

See the Russell & Chapple
website for more details and prices. Other companies like Jackson's Art produce handmade canvas to your requirements.

Canvas Covered Panels or Boards, Oil Pads and Blocks:

Canvas Covered Panels or Boards:
Canvas boards/panels have traditionally been used for sketching outdoors. Basically they are made from primed canvas stretched and adhered to a rigid cardboard backing . Boards take up less room and are less easily damaged than stretched canvases. These usually have a medium grain, which isn't always the best surface texture if you are after one for fine detail but ideal for beginner or those wanting to experiment with different techniques.

Like other things, there are other ranges and quality of Canvas Mounted Boards from different companies should you wish to experiment.

Belle Arti
Cotton Art Boards or Gesso Panels

Daler Rowney
Oil Primed Board - being oil primed only use with oil paint

Natural Linen Canvas Board

Jackson's Art produce a range of Canvas or Handmade Linen Boards with a variety of linens to choice from depending on the surface texture required.

Pads and Blocks:
Following the same lines as a watercolour block or pad there's also a range of products aimed at the oil painter.

Arches Oil:
A French made 300 gsm (140 lb) paper specially formulated for oil painting but has the look and feel of traditional Arches papers. In sheets or as a roll.

Canson Figueras Canvas Paper

Fredrix Canvas Pad:
sheets of acrylic primed cotton duck in range of sizes

Hahnemühle Oil and Acrylic Blocks