Thursday, January 12, 2012

Making My Own Panels

I like to make my own panels rather than buy them from an art store. I can control the quality and texture of the panels this way and I happen to like the canvas covered type the best. I started by making them with Masonite, but have lately been using lauan, which is a thin and light birch plywood. Lauan is cheap but it is also light and easier to cut. Making my own boards is time consuming, but it is a cheap way to stock up on boards of all sizes. I can make around twenty 6’x8’ boards or around ten 9”x12” boards with one panel. These are the sizes that I prefer. For larger than this, I use stretched canvas. When I’m ready to make my boards, I buy a 2’x4’sheet of lauan at Home Depot, though I believe you can get larger sizes. This size is easier for me to transport.
Using a pencil and a metal straight edge ruler, mark out your measurements for the panels in pencil and then cut them on a table saw. Cover the boards with canvas. I use a medium or portrait grade canvas and measure out a piece for each panel with about an inch margin all around. To attach the canvas to the panel, I lightly drizzle Elmer’s glue on one side of the panel, getting it all over the panel as best as possible. Turn it upside down and use a brayer and press and roll it on the canvas surface until it is smooth without any air bubbles. Stack a group of heavy books on the panels and leave them to dry overnight. I like to use paper or plastic between the books and the table so that the glue doesn’t leak out and adhere to the surface. I usually stack the panels with the wrong sides together as well. The next day, apply glue to the margins and fold the canvas around to the back, carefully folding the corners inward.
I use medium bulldog clips to help hold the glued edges in place for a few minutes until it is set. Remove the clips and then stack heavy books on the boards as before. Finish the surface of each board with one coat of PVC glue. This gives the surface a seal that keeps the gesso and paint on top of the canvas rather than soaking through it.
Thin the gesso with one part warm water to one part gesso. Using a small roller, apply a thin coat of gesso to each panel. Let dry at least an hour, preferably two or more. Using a fine grade sanding sponge, sand the surface lightly. Repeat this exercise with two more coats, letting them dry for two hours and sanding the surface in between each coat.
Turn the panels to the wrong side. Using leftover house paint (latex is fine), apply a thin layer of paint to the back side of the panels. This keeps out moisture and prevents warping.
This supply will usually last me about a year. The panels are great for short plein air paintouts, field sketches that can be used for larger paintings, and for small still life paintings.I also like to stretch my own canvas, and use those throughout the year. In a later post, I will include my instructions for preparing stretched canvases.

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