Sunday, July 6, 2008

Linen vs. Panel

The majority of my paintings are done on gessoed masonite panel, with a perfectly smooth finish ideally suited to the highly detailed work I've been doing lately. About 1 in 4 of the paintings, though, are done on linen mounted on panel.

There isn't any particular rationale for choosing linen, nor do I decided based on the painting I'm about to do. Linen certainly lasts longer than cotton canvas, but compared to panel, I'm not aware of any superiority as far as longevity. When linen is mounted on a panel, it will not be subject to as much of the expansions and contractions that can cause paintings done on stretched fabrics (pulled around traditional stretcher bars) to crack. The one possible archival advantage of linen on panel vs. straight-up panel is that the linen (with painting on top) could be removed from a damaged panel. I imagine, though, that most things that would damage the panel would probably also do a number on the painting itself.

Basically, the real reason I use linen sometimes is that I just have a lot of it. Back when I did larger paintings (16x20 up to 24x30 or so), I bought several big rolls of oil-primed linen (Claessens - decent product; I've been pretty happy with it), as well as many yards of unprimed linen... buying in bulk is economical, right? All in all, there's probably enough linen to fully cover the dining room floor of an average-sized restaurant. Now that I work so small (average painting is roughly the size of a paper-back novel), it's tough to imagine I'll use half of that material during the course of my entire hopefully long and fruitful career.

There is one potential disadvantage to linen. A gessoed panel presents a perfectly smooth surface, allowing the paint to be sculpted in great detail, limited only by the range of the artist's vision and the size of the brush. The pattern of the linen's weave, on the other hand, limits this ability somewhat, and can produce a little bit of a pixelated appearance - click the above image for a detailed view. I do use portrait-grade linen, with a dense weave and high threadcount, so the effect is reduced. Standing two feet away, I simply can't notice it. Getting in close, however, and working under magnification as I often do, I am aware that the surface is not as perfectly responsive as a gessoed panel would be.

It's the kind of thing that probably only the artist notices and frets about, but on the wrong day, that can be very important, if only psychologically. In general, materials should work with you, not against you.

Nevertheless, there's a LOT of great, highly detailed photorealist painting done on linen, and I will continue to use it as a support for some of my own pieces.

I hate to waste good art material.


Madeira said...

I love painting on masonite...I paint every day and I have often wondered about linen on panel and "How you get it there"! Do you glue it on or stretch it with staples on the back? What kind of archival glue do you use if gluing is your method. You have hit one of my biggest "wonders"...Would LOVE to have an answer to this question.

Warmest wishes, Helen

Jeff Hayes said...

Hi Helen,

The linen should be glued to the support using an archival, neutral pH glue that won't damage the linen. There are a couple of good glues available; I use one called Lineco, but your art store will probably be able to recommend others as well.

Hope that is helpful to you,

Madeira said...

Just a note to say thank you for getting back! I will give it a try.

All the best,