Preparing Panels

Mr. Frog helping to weigh down the canvas….

Sometimes I paint on stretched canvas, but wood panels are my usual choice for plein air painting. I have a trusty handyman who will cut 4×8′ wood sheets into any size. I mostly use 8×10″ size for plein air work, but sometimes I like to go larger. And sometimes I find a cool frame that is an odd size, calling for a custom-cut.

The problems with using wood panels are: 1) sometimes it’s impossible to get good quality plywood and 2) it’s a tremendous amount of work to get them prepared. It can take days to sand, shellac and tone. And: 3) large works on wood panels can get pretty darn heavy.

So I’m trying another type of panel: Gatorboard, 1/4″ thick. It’s like Foamcore on steroids. Very strong and lightweight. I learned about this method years ago at a workshop with the great landscape painter, Clyde Aspevig. For large works, he’d use 1/2″ thick Gatorboard, coated both sides with gesso and finished with canvas, held in place with Yes paste.

I’m using the 1/4″ thick Gatorboard for my plein air panels. Why 1/4″ and not 1/2″? The advantage is that they can easily slide into a RayMar carrying case. It can be a big problem juggling wet panels out on a painting trip!

I love that Gatorboard is easily cut to size with a razor. No more scary buzz saws! But you don’t paint right on the Gatorboard. First you must give the Gatorboard a generous coat of gesso on both sides. Allow to dry. Then apply a coat of Yes paste on one side with a brush. Yes paste needs to be mixed with water (I used hot water and mixed it with an immersion blender). Then lay the canvas down on the wet, glued surface and smooth out. The canvas needs to be cut larger than the panel. Once the glue is dry you’ll want to flip the whole thing over and fold the excess canvas neatly onto the backside.

I ended up laying a board on top (weighed down by Mr. Frog) to try to keep things flat. I hope it works! We’ll see how it looks in the morning.

In case you were wondering how I prepare wood panels, check this out:

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