Wood panel prep

I wanted to try doing an oil painting on a wood panel. It is bare wood, quite smooth. Does the surface need to be coated with Gesso first before painting? Can you just prime it with Mark’s Neutral Canvas Prep first then paint on it? Thanks


  • I usually buy wooden panels that already have been gessoed but I have just bought a batch of plain ones that I am going to gesso myself.
    Sorry I dont know much about Marks Canvas prep, if that is paint then I would advise applying gesso first.
  • Thanks @MichaelD, that sounds reasonable. It doesn’t feel right to paint onto raw wood, without priming the wood with some kind of base. 
  • Definitely prime it first, @whunt. Otherwise the oil will sink into the wood and cause it to rot. A couple of coats of Acrylic gesso should be fine.
  • whunt

    Consider a wood panel to be a sponge. It will absorb moisture from the air in accord with the usual diurnal humidity range. Swelling in every direction and shrinking daily. Any gesso/paint layer on one side will cause barrel or pincushion distortion as the other side drinks freely. This continuous movement is deadly for polymerised paint. Cracking and delamination is the certain future. A backed and glazed frame is a solution but is rarely used on oil paintings.

    Ply, particle and MDF boards are impregnated with glues and preservatives (formaldehyde) that are not good practice for archival art materials.

    If you must use a wood panel then all sides and edges should be sealed with several coats of a quality primer that will fill the grain and seal the wood from moisture and prevent outgassing. Gesso can then be applied to the painting side.

  • Yes, I forget to mention that it should be sealed on both sides and on the edges.
  • Building on @dencal 's excellent answer here are articles on a) Timber supports; b) Sizes; c) Grounds and primers. Timber needs sealing prior to primer/ ground. These PDFs are put together by conservators and have wide acceptance.
    If I was to paint on a piece of timber I would want to know it had sufficiently dried - but even then it will absorb ambient moisture without good sealing which minimises this. Wood 'grain' in its natural state is like bundles of straws designed to absorb fluid. I paint on hardboard /masonite which to a large degree minimises many of the problems of other timber supports but still needs sealing on all surfaces and edges.
  • Interesting responses.

    Here are the pre gessoed panels I usually use, I consider them to be good quality, the gesso is only on one side but I presume the back is sealed.

    Here is the back

    I recently purchased these plain wooden panels

    I contacted Jacksons and asked if I needed to gesso these panels front back and sides. They responded that I only need to gesso the front/work surface and sides.
  • If you are going to cover the surface of the wood and not have it show through then you could just use ACM panels (like DiBond) which don't have these issues.
  • Wow, I had no idea. So much pertinent information. Thank you @MichaelD, @tassieguy, @dencal, @Abstraction, @Richard_P

    I purchased the inexpensive 9 x 9 wood panel at a discount store here in the U.S. that sells everything from food to furniture. After reading your posts, I think the panel was intended for ‘craft’ use as opposed to ‘fine art’. I have purchased several stretched canvas panels there because they were inexpensive and they are fine for now at my level of expertise. 

    As I have mentioned before in previous posts here on DMP, I am both amazed and grateful for the overwhelming willingness to share information that ‘feels’ like it has been tested, scrutinized, and updated through the ages. Each of you seem to have unique backgrounds  and experience that compliment each other’s. 

    Grateful and humbled to be a beneficiary of such a cool collaboration. 

    I think I will stick with canvas for now. 😀

  • whunt

    Just wait ‘til you ask a question about canvas. 😱

  • edited January 24
    Canvas is great.  It's a time honored substrate. It's beautiful to work on and buyers love it. :p
  • tassieguy said:
    Canvas is great.  It's a time honored substrate. It's beautiful to work on and buyers love it. :p
    Don't you mean linen? ;)
  • I keep meaning to try ACM. I know it's a very archival substrate, but I've gotten so comfortable with canvas. It's so nice to paint on. And "Oil on Canvas" is what the average buyer knows. "Oil on ACM" has them scratching their heads. We need to educate. 
  • I too will try ACM at some point.

    Linen as well although that seems a bit harder to find compared to canvas. 

    I’m afraid I have been scratching my head for so long that it has left me a dessert for a scalp. 😀

  • Richard_P said:
    tassieguy said:
    Canvas is great.  It's a time honored substrate. It's beautiful to work on and buyers love it. :p
    Don't you mean linen? ;)
    Apart from the obvious difference - what's the difference from a painting perspective? I've realised all my early paintings were done on cheap canvas boards at the discount stores - hence encountering the struggle with finest nuance on a portrait and my shift to painting on wood. So if I wanted to use canvas or linen that gave a smoother texture suitable for fine details - what is the best of any of the variables within these two categories to use? Is it as good as painting on board? The conservation research is clear to me that if I did so I would secure it to a solid panel as best option.
    ACM has no romance for me and this is important. Masonite is a 1930s invention and a bit 'manufactured' but it's still 'wooden board', has no added glues or chemicals (except heat treatment with oil) and is a truly great surface to paint on. Yet I hear the term Belgian linen and it sounds so appealing to grace either my bed or my paintings. 'Oil on Belgian linen.' If I ever sell, that phrase is worth the entry price.
  • edited January 25
    Linen and cotton canvas are both time-honored supports, @Abstraction. Linen is stronger than cotton canvas, and comes in a variety of textures from smooth to rough. However, it is also inordinately expensive. I can get a 10 meter roll of good canvas for a few hundred dollars whereas a 10m roll of the best linen can cost a couple of thousand dollars. That's more than I am willing to pay.  I like canvas and linen because of their texture and tooth. And because they are lightweight and easy to transport. However, if I were painting very realistic portraits where I didn't want obvious brushwork and if I wanted to use canvas, I would need to apply several coats of gesso and sand between coats to get a very smooth surface.  As far as I know, Masonite is also a good substrate and if it works for you there's no reason not to stick with it. In my experience buyers don't know much about, and aren't much interested in, substrates. "Oil on Canvas" is what they know and I'm happy to give it to them.
  • edited January 25
    tassieguy said:
    I can get a 10 meter roll of good canvas for a few hundred dollars whereas a 10m roll of the best linen can cost a couple of thousand dollars. That's more than I am willing to pay.
    Your most convincing argument. 
    Since I have a researched rationale for painting on board when I eventually sell it will be easy to sell that as well.
    Thanks for that. It' more work to prepare and considerably more expense for not much gain. I guess if someone wants it I would do so. It's become difficult to get tempered masonite in Australia now. You can't get S2S (tempered both sides) here and you can't tell the difference any more in the colour. You have to order it in, pay more and have to take their word for it that it's tempered. No stickers or anything. How do you know this is tempered? 'It came off the pile of tempered masonite.' Sure, you look trustworthy enough to pay double the amount to. No-one mixed it up.
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