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Making Art

Painting: Surface Preparation

Tools & Materials



Two basic substances you might use to prepare a surface are: sizing and primer (or ground). The world of surface preparation is vast, and you'll find that product names and ingredients vary between manufacturers.

Most painting surfaces, such as wood, metal, and fabric, require preparation before you can paint on them. Without this step, paint may do one of the following: 

  1. fail to adhere
  2. peel away over time
  3. rot the uderlying surface
  4. react with the surface to create discolorations
  5. absorb into the surface too much an appear dull

A good primer can also provide a bright white base that yields true and luminous colors.

paint mixture

Image excerpted from Modern Acrylics

Sizing & Sealants

Sizing serves as a barrier between the surface (or substrate) and the paint or primer, sealing the substrate so that oils cannot penetrate the surface. Canvas, paper, and wood panel are susceptible to rotting when exposed to oils over time, and sizing acts as their defense.

Primers & Grounds

Primer bonds with your support to create a new, more efficient painting surface that is porous enough to offer ideal absorbency and tooth.

Artist Tip

"If you want to texturize your painting surface, consider scratching, drizzling, or pressing coarse weaves (such as burlap) onto your final layer of ground." 

art tools painting  

Images and text excerpted from the fine artist's guide to Tools & Materials: An essential reference for understanding and using the tools of the trade by Elizabeth T. Gilbert

What kind of questions do you have about surface preparation?




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