I have many inquiries on how to prepare hardboard panels for painting. I have found that nothing compares to making your own supplies for classical painting, from paint, to oil and mediums, to handmade panels. It really will make a difference in your painting, and you can customize your surface to your own working methods and needs. I like a lightly textured and absorbent surface to paint on. Surfaces do effect how the final painting will look and I have seen students struggle with store bought panels and fight against slippery smooth texture, or cheap canvas texture, both ruin the effect of layering and glazing. Materials do matter! If you must buy pre-made smooth panels give them a couple coats of acrylic gesso, it will help create some absorbancy and texture and greatly improve the painting surface.
list of supplies:
1. newspaper, I buy rolls of unprinted newspaper and they are only a few dollars each.
2. gloves, several pairs
3. large sponge, cut into squares
4. foam paint roller
5. several large housepaint brushes, 3" bristles
6. isopropyl alcholol
8. good quality gesso-acrylic disperson ground like Golden brand
9. plastic wrap
10. small bristle painting brush
11. hardboard, cut into various sizes
12. tin pie plate
13. a well vented space for safety against fumes
first I clean my boards with alcohol, I use the cut up sponges to go over the entire surface, removing dirt and dust.
Next I give the boards a coat of amber shellac, I use another cut up sponge to apply. I wear gloves to protect my hands, you need a lot of gloves on hand! The amber color helps me see if I've got an even coat but is not necessary. I have read that pigmented shellac is more protective than clear, so I figure that is a good thing. Coat one side and let dry, flip over and apply to back side, let dry completely. Please make sure you are in a well ventilated area!
all shellacked and read for gesso
I use a foam roller to apply a coat of gesso. I thin the gesso with a little bit of water, not much. The texture will be very grainy and orange peel like at first, keep lightly rolling the gesso as it sets and the texture will smooth out considerably. let dry. reapply, in the same manner for a total of two passes with the roller.
Wrap your foam roller in plastic wrap in between coats so that the gesso doesn't dry and ruin the roller.
Now I'm ready to use the brush, I use slightly thinned gesso and scrub the panel all over to make sure I have an even coat over the entire surface. Then I use the brush to create all vertical strokes from top to bottom. You an see I've wrapped my wet brush with plastic wrap to keep it from drying out.
First loaded brush with gesso, ending with even vertical strokes.
I use a small bristle brush to fish out brush hairs or dog hair or whatever
Now I go over the same vertical strokes in the same up and down direction with a dry, very smooth bristled brush as it is setting up. This must be done very quickly and watch the edges because they can get tricky. It's best to view the panel in raking light to check that the texture is correct, see pic below. Let dry completely.
First pass with the brush
After the panel dries I apply one last coat of slightly diluted gesso with a bristle brush going horizontally across the vertical strokes I just established. I smooth the brushwork with another completely dry and soft brush and I'm left with a nice faux weave of gesso on the panel. After this is completely dry I will give one last sanding to smooth out any bumps, or dust particles.
The final panels have a light texture and are nice and absorbent for my next step, priming with opaque lead white tinted with color. I get very excited when I have a fresh panels ready in the studio for painting. The effort is well worth it!